The Borgias: Apocalypse Now

Previously on The Borgias: Della Rovere went to France and asked King Charles to invade Italy. Charles agreed, as long as he got to conduct the fighting his way. Lucrezia’s affair with Paulo continued, while Cesare’s affair with Ursula fizzled. Jofre got married to a woman who started sleeping with his brother, Juan.

The French are packing up their cannons and getting ready to invade Italy. A French commander asks della Rovere what the Italian words for cannonfire, recoil, and gunpowder are. DR says there are no such words that he knows of. Frenchie seems glad to hear it.

Meanwhile, down south, Juan and Sancia are in bed together. Even though they’re having a pretty enthusiastic time of it, Sancia pauses to glance out the window at her little husband, who’s playing with the doves in the courtyard. She tells Juan that Jofre’s sweet, but lacks his older brother’s vigor. Give the poor kid a chance, lady, he’s only 13!

Elsewhere, Lucrezia strolls with Cesare and tells him she has to get on the road in the morning and return to her husband. Cesare’s not happy to hear that, because he knows she’s unhappy in her marriage. He says the lightness has gone out of her. He’s not wrong, despite the happiness she’s found with Paulo. He threatens to hurt Sforza if he’s hurt Lucrezia, but she still won’t tell him anything about her husband’s treatment of her. So, Cesare asks what Sforza’s pleasures are. Hunting and the marital bed, according to Lady Sforza. He winces at the last one and says he dislikes Sforza already. Lucrezia happily says that Sforza’s had an accident and can indulge in neither pleasure. Cesare reminds her that Sforza will recover. She sadly acknowledges it. Cesare sits heavily beside her and says she’s no longer a child, and he won’t forgive Sforza for that.

In the early morning hours, Lucrezia rides out of Rome, heading home.

Cesare takes a little trip of his own, to the convent where Ursula’s hiding out. The abbess shows him to Ursula’s room and leaves them alone, which I find questionable, but then, Cesare is a very powerful cardinal.

Ursula’s not surprised to see him, but she’s not happy either. He goes to her, but she dodges him, warning him not to touch her, because she’s given herself to Jesus entirely. She tells him that she spends her days in penance and has found peace now. She also tells him that he has strength even he doesn’t recognize, and she’s sure he’ll use it someday, and all of Italy will be changed by it. She then asks him to leave, pushing him away when he goes to kiss her, and ringing a bell to call for someone. Cesare respects her wishes and departs with one last look over his shoulder. Once he’s gone, she bursts into tears and fumbles at the cross around her neck.

Cesare goes to visit his father, who’s pacing nervously back and forth. Alexander tells him that 25,000 French troops are on their way to Milan. Woah. I’d be scared too. Alexander calls it an apocalypse. Cesare says that it’s a long march from France, and anything can happen. Alexander has already written off Milan as being on France’s side, but he’s curious about Florence. All Cesare knows is that Florence will do nothing unless its territories are invaded. Then, it will act. Alexander isn’t sure that Florence’s help will be enough, even if they do get involved. Cesare asks if the College of Cardinals knows yet. They don’t, but once they do, it’ll be chaos as they all panic and start dividing into different camps. Looking worn, Alexander tells his son they’re facing a battle for their survival.

Lucrezia is cuddled up with Paulo in the woods, in the middle of a thunderstorm, blissfully unaware of the approach of French troops. She mentions her husband will be back on his feet soon, and what will they do then? It saddens her, but she knows the affair can’t last forever. Still, they have this moment, and Paulo cutely trips her to the forest floor and starts making out with her.

Later, Lucrezia returns home, soaked, and comes in through the kitchen, where Francesca spots her and wraps her in a towel. As she’s drying Lucrezia off, Sforza comes limping in with the help of a cane. He observes that his wife is wet, then tells Francesca to dry Lucrezia off before dinner. Lucrezia heads to her room, and as she passes her husband, he tells Francesca he wants to have a word with Paulo the next day.

Cesare has a pedeconference with Cardinal Sforza, informing him that his cousin, the Duke of Milan, is now harboring the French troops. Cardinal S says they won’t be there for long, but Cesare knows better and asks Cardinal S how he thinks the pope will regard this betrayal? Cardinal S mildly says that he was under the impression the French were after Naples, not Rome. Don’t play dumb with Cesare, Sforza. You should really know better than that. Cesare reminds Cardinal S that della Rovere has one goal in mind, so clearly Rome’s not going to get off scot free in this matter. Cardinal S is unconcerned, but he boredly promises to continue supporting the pope. Cesare warns him and his cousin, Lucrezia’s husband, to remain steadfast in their support of the Borgias. And we all know Cesare doesn’t make threats lightly.

Lucrezia’s having dinner with her husband. She casually asks him what he wants to speak with Paulo about. Sforza says he wants Paulo to have his horse ready so he can go riding. She asks if that’s wise and he says his leg’s healing well enough for him to ride his horse and his wife. Lucrezia looks a bit sick.

Later, she carefully slops some water on the floor near the bed, before climbing up on the mattress, the picture of innocence. A few moments later, Sforza comes in and informs her it’s about time she got pregnant. Before Lucrezia can respond, he slips on the water and hurts himself again. Lucrezia pretends to be concerned for her husband.

Alexander and Giulia are getting ready for bed too. Alexander dully says that the French army is bearing down on Lucca. Not Lucca! I love that place—it’s lovely! You can bike ride all over the walls; I highly recommend it. Anyway, Alexander doubts that Lucca will put up much of a fight. He tries to console himself with some sex, but gets a cold shoulder, because it’s that time of the month. He just can’t win this week, can he?

Poor Lucca stares down a sea of French soldiers. Della Rovere waits beside King Charles as an envoy rides out of the city and reports that Lucca won’t put up a fight, but they want to talk terms first. Charles isn’t in a term-talking mood, so he has the cannoneers start firing on the city. The new weapons wreak havoc, and it doesn’t take long before they manage to blow the gates right open. The French soldiers start pouring into the city and commence slaughtering everyone in sight, men, women, and children alike. Man, what a dick! They were going to let you through, Charles, they probably just wanted you to promise not to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down along the way!

The terrified populace tries to flee, but they’re helpless, to della Rovere’s horror. He asks Charles why the carnage is necessary and Charles says this is war. No, Charles. Slaughtering children isn’t war, it’s a massacre. War is soldiers fighting soldiers. Della Rovere points out that they would have surrendered, and Charles says that once word of this gets out, everyone in Italy will surrender without a peep. Della Rovere dismounts to comfort a dying woman, and he flashes back to Savonarola’s vision of seeing blood in the streets and castles aflame, all because of a cleric in red. He doesn’t look so sure about this being a good idea now.

That night, the French are dining and celebrating their “victory”, but della Rovere turns down all food. Charles notices and della Rovere merely says he has no appetite, and tries to excuse himself. Charles won’t have it and reminds della Rovere that they’re in Italy because he invited them in the first place. He also tells him that the troops fight because they get to share in the spoils, and they’ll pick the town clean because they know once word gets out of the slaughter in Lucca, there won’t be too many other towns to sack. One of the captains pouts that he was looking forward to trashing Florence. Della Rovere’s ears prick up and he asks Charles to ride ahead to Florence and negotiate terms with them so the army won’t find it necessary to slaughter everything that moves. Charles comments that della Rovere has no stomach for slaughter (maybe because he’s not a sociopath or complete monster, Charles?) and asks the captain to lay out their terms. They are as follows: Free passage through the republic, 200,000 ducats, and free room and board for all the troops in the city. Della Rovere can’t believe they’re forcing these people to pay for their own invasion. Captain ignores him and tells Charles they should ask for more. Something like 400,000 ducats would be more in line, and he should ask for good faith hostages from all the Florentine noble families. Della Rover says these demands are too harsh and they probably won’t be met. Charles smirks and says they’ll look forward to battle, then.

Della Rovere arrives in Florence and takes the time to listen to Savonarola preach about Death coming in on a pale horse. The people in the crowd look terrified, as does della Rovere, looking around at them and wondering how many will survive.

In Naples, King Ferrante’s in bed, looking even more than usual like he should be joining his stuffed dinner guests. Alfonso comes in with breakfast and tells his father about the approach of the French army. Alfonso’s less creepy and more scared and vulnerable here. He goes to feed his father breakfast, but Ferrante’s dead, and this is all in Alfonso’s hands now. He starts to cry, and I don’t blame him. Nice work from this actor, he really covers a lot of ground with his character. I found him fascinatingly off-putting before, but now I feel really bad for him.

Cesare bursts into his father’s room, where Alexander’s praying. They talk about the disaster at Lucca, and Cesare tells him Ferrante’s dead too. Alexander’s not surprised. Cesare goes on to say that the French are approaching Florence. Alexander says they’ll have to muster the armies of the Papal States, as well as the Sforzas and any other allies they might have. Cesare knows that won’t be enough, but Alexander sharply tells him that these troops are all they have to work with. To make matters worse, these outnumbered troops will be in the entirely inexperienced hands of Juan. Even Alexander seems to know that this is a terrible situation, but neither of them can come up with an alternative. Cesare asks his father to give him control of the troops, but of course Alexander won’t, because Cesare has no battlefield experience. Cesare points out that Juan doesn’t either, and Alexander excuses that he’ll have advisors to help him out. Not enough!

Alexander gathers the other cardinals and tells them he’ll excommunicate Florence if the French are admitted to the city. Damn, that’s pretty harsh. Excommunication basically meant that you couldn’t do anything even vaguely related to religion in the city, which meant no marriages, baptisms, last rites, or burials. No proper burials, at least. Which meant you were consigning a lot of people to hell for no reason. A lot of the cardinals aren’t happy to hear this. Alexander goes on to say that he plans to burn Savonarola too, because he wants no more opposition. A cardinal tells Alexander he’ll have to excommunicate half of Christendom, then, because opposition to the papacy goes well beyond Florence. Alexander silences them all with an angry tirade, then calms down and tells them things are pretty black and white just now: you’re either with me or against me. He finishes up by asking for their support in the excommunication of della Rovere and asks for a show of hands from supporters. Only Sforza raises his hand, and that’s only to ask to speak himself. Damn, not even Cesare supported the excommunication. Alexander yields the floor and Sforza tells him it’s pointless to excommunicate Florence or della Rovere, because the invasion will proceed with or without it.

At dinner with his wife, Sforza tells Lucrezia that the French are on their way and have already passed through Milan, which means her father’s days may be numbered. Lucrezia reminds him he and his cousin, Caterina Sforza, had pledged their armies to support the pope. Looks like Sforza’s going to renege on that one, and his cousin already has. Lucrezia asks if he’d be so dishonorable, but he says there’s no dishonor in removing a Borgia pope. He starts insulting her family, and she tries not to throw up. He informs her that if Florence falls, his armies might join the French side. Lucrezia gets up, all shaky, and excuses herself. Francesca helps her to her room. Pregnant, right?

At a far less confrontational dinner table, Alexander wonders aloud to Giulia whom he can trust in the city. Family, Alexander. Only people you can ever trust, and even then it’s not certain. Giulia tells him he can trust her. He tells her the Milan Sforzas have abandoned him, but he’s not sure about the others. He asks Giulia to travel to Pesaro to ask Lucrezia which way the wind blows.

Della Rovere sets out Charles’s terms to Medici and Machiavelli. Machiavelli blanches at the amount of money Charles is demanding, but Medici agrees to everything, because he’s not interested in seeing his city trashed. Machiavelli comments that there’s genius at work here, and he asks if della Rovere’s responsible. Della Rovere just asks him if he’s ever witness carnage? Machiavelli pours the wine and offers a toast to the great god, Carnage. Della Rovere looks sad as he starts to drink.

Machiavelli and della Rovere wait alongside Medici as the French army approaches the city. Machiavelli tells della Rovere he’s heard whispers of his excommunication, and della Rovere counters that by saying he’s heard the whole damn city could be excommunicated if they surrender. “I suppose that depends on one’s definition of ‘surrender,’” says Machiavelli before riding forth to speak with Charles.

Machaivelli welcomes them to Florence and suggests Charles stash his lance, because riding through the city with it pointed is a sign of conquest, and the city hasn’t been conquered. Charles acquiesces, but discovers that the lance, at rest (pointing directly upward) is too tall for him to ride through the gates. So Machiavelli smilingly suggests he ride with it pointed behind him. Charles does so, and enters the city with his troops.

Giulia arrives at Pesaro after what appears to have been an arduous journey and hands her horse off to Paulo before going inside. She’s ushered into Sforza’s presence while he’s meeting with Caterina, the same woman who brokered his marriage. Giulia compliments them both and asks to see Lucrezia. Sforza tells her Lucrezia’s indisposed. She’ll have to meet with them first. Caterina asks if Alexander will resist the French invasion and bring bloodshed upon them all. Giulia says Caterina’s no stranger to bloodshed and Caterina shoots back that she saves her armies for battles she can win. Giulia says that Alexander will never accept his deposition as pope, and he’ll resist with the armies of the papal states, and the armies of the lords of the Romagna, which includes the Sforzas. Caterina tells her that the Sforza armies will remain where they belong, in the Romagna. Giulia asks if Lucrezia knows they’re abandoning her father and Sforza says she’s too young to understand such things. Giulia slowly gets up and leaves.

In Rome, Alexander meets with Brother Raphael, his confessor from the old days, when he first took holy orders. He embraces the man warmly and asks to be able to unburden his soul. Raphael agrees. In the confessional, Alexander confesses he’s been diverted from his calling by the luxuries of the world.  He now faces a great trial, and wonders if it’s God’s will he be deposed and live his life simply. Raphael says Alexander was given his office for a reason, and he has a duty to fulfill. He’s sinned, yes, because he’s human, but he can’t just cast off the office God has put him in. He urges Alexander to open his heart to God and allow him to guide him through these trials.

Giulia attends to Lucrezia, who admits she dreams about Djem still. Giulia comforts her, and then asks her to describe her symptoms. Nausea, vomiting, sweating, mostly in the mornings. Yeah, pregnant, definitely. Giulia says it’s strange Lucrezia should feel this way, since Sforza hasn’t slept with her in a while. She definitely knows the deal, though. She quietly tells Lucrezia they have to leave Pesaro at first light and stash her somewhere. She asks Lucrezia if there are any servants she can trust and Lucrezia names Francesca and Paulo. Giulia clearly guesses the real relationship between Lucrezia and Paulo. Lucrezia asks why her illness seems strange and Giulia tells her she’s pregnant.