The Borgias: Check

Previously on The Borgias: Caterina Sforza mailed plague to Rome, catching one of the cardinals stupid enough to ignore Cesare’s orders to burn her letter; Lucrezia got rid of the King of Naples, but found there are two others in line before her husband; Cesare and the French army marched into Milan, only to find Ludovico Sforza gone and the place empty.

The guy who greeted Cesare and co last week—I believe his name is Pascal—leads Micheletto into the ducal palace and up to Leonardo da Vinci’s old studio, explaining he knows the place well because he knew a boy whom Leonardo painted. Micheletto pokes around and asks about the boy, who was known as il saliano—the little devil. Apparently he was rather a pain in the ass, but he had a really nice ass himself, as is evidenced by a clay study of a male nude in the middle of the studio. Micheletto notes Pascal cupping the statue’s bum and takes that as an open invitation. He grabs the man’s hand, intertwines their fingers, kisses the back of his hand, and then gets the tiniest bit rough, which Pascal seems pretty into.

Outside, the King of France shows up to meet Cesare and confirms that Ludovico is still alive and has his army. Cesare promises to hunt him down. The king tells him to get on that, and in the meantime, he’ll hold Milan in the pope’s name.

Upstairs, sexy time is over, and it must have been a quickie indeed, because the guys are already dressed again, and it can’t be easy to get back into those leather pants in a hurry. Micheletto sees a prototype for one of Leonardo’s hang gliders and asks what it is and what it’s for. Pascal says it has no purpose, really, it’s just a really cool toy. He turns the conversation to their relationship and asks where this leaves them. Micheletto prefers the Samantha Jones approach to sex and says this leaves them nowhere. Personal attachments are for the weak. He wanders over to a nearby arquebus and asks about it. Pascal explains that Leonardo designed a new sight for it. Micheletto tries it out and declares it good work.

Vanozza and Alexander are having dinner together, and things seem a bit tense, at least on Alexander’s side. She’s way too cool to let his mood bother her. He finally starts the conversation by saying ‘your son,’ and you know that no story that starts that way is going to go well. He’s still sore about Cesare taking Milan with a French army, but she’s unruffled, countering his first sentence by asking mildly if Cesare isn’t Alexander’s son as well. ‘Sometimes we wonder,’ Alexander growls, though he clearly doesn’t mean it. She’s unfazed and says she doesn’t wonder, and she should know. She mentions that Giulia has a new suitor and wants to introduce him to Alexander and get her former lover’s approval. That’s a little strange, I have to say. And wasn’t Giulia married? Whatever happened to that husband? Alexander asks the man’s name and, when he hears it’s Vincenzo, sniffs that that’s a terrible name. Vanozza giggles.

In Naples, Lucrezia and Alfonso are getting ready for bed. She wonders if they can be happy now his hateful kinsman is dead and thanks her husband for being kind and patient with her. He chucks her under the chin and says that kindness never won over a Borgia. Wow, has he got her number or what? Lucrezia says she’s only ever wanted to be loved by a prince like him and goes on to say conversationally that he could be king someday. He says that’ll never happen, and she goes full Lady Macbeth and tells him that’s the only way they could be really safe. He firmly informs her that he’s third in line and has no interest in becoming king. Lucrezia won’t take no for an answer, kisses him, and says she’ll just have to go after it for him.

Cesare and Micheletto arrive in Rome just in time to be urgently fetched by one of Cardinal Stickyfingers’ servants, who bids them come to his palace immediately. They obey, and even though the manservant won’t enter the place and bids them cover their faces with wet kerchiefs, they still go in quite willingly, which seems really stupid. Inside, they find Stickyfingers laid on a staircase, in a very bad way. He tosses Caterina’s box, the one he thought was so pretty, down to them and tells Cesare that he has to burn the palace with him inside it as punishment. Jesus, man, I think that’s a bit extreme. Cesare says there are quicker deaths than burning, and the cardinal urges him to toss up a blade, but still burn the place. They oblige him. Well, that was kind of a squib of a subplot.

Alexander comes galloping up just as Cesare, Micheletto, and the servant are tossing the last torches into the already blazing palace. Cesare explains what happened and confirms that Caterina was behind this. Alexander gets all caught up on the Milan situation and then catches Cesare up on the fact that Ludovico is hiding out with Caterina’s son, Benito, and has offered to hand the kid over in return for his own safe passage. When did word of that reach the Vatican?  Apparently it was sent via Machiavelli, who’s waiting to tell Cesare where to find Ludovico. Alexander tells him to bring Benito and Ludovico back to Rome in chains.

Alexander’s having his portrait painted and chatting with his new friend, Head of the Jewish Contingent (whose name, apparently, is Mattai), about Constantinople. He’s starting to worry about sending troops off to Constantinople on crusade when they may be needed closer to home. Furthermore, Rome needs arms that Constantinople might provide. Mattai tells Alexander that the real problem with the Turks is the threat to shipping, so if they get rid of the Turkish navy, the problem would resolve itself. As it happens, there are a lot of Jews in the ports all over the Turkish empire, and they might be able to help Alexander out, if he’s willing to give the Jews in Rome some more concessions. Hmm, looks like Alexander has a rather interesting new ally.

In Naples, Lucrezia’s pretending not to know how to play chess so Nepalese Heir #1, Raphael, can teach her. But Raphael quickly makes it clear that he’s not the type to be taken in by her beauty or her fake dumb blonde routine. He tells her he intends to inherit the throne and when he does, Lucrezia’s kid will be just as out of favour as he was when his uncle was alive. Wow, that was a stupid thing to say. Lucrezia reminds him that the pope’s blessing is needed in order to be crowned, and hey, Raphael just insulted that guy’s grandson! What a poor chessmaster he is.

Back in Rome, Micheletto’s doing a bit of shopping, picking out a chicken, when he sees Pascal skulking around the area. Micheletto follows him for a while and catches him down a side street, pinning him to the wall and accusing him of following Micheletto to Rome. Pascal claims he had a friend who paid for his trip. Micheletto growls that he’s not gentle, and Pascal mildly says he remembers. Micheletto releases him and orders him to follow.

They go back to Micheletto’s fabulous vaulted loft for some much gentler and more naked sex. Pay cable, folks. The next day, Micheletto washes up at a bucket in the corner while Pascal lies on the mattress and watches him sexily. Micheletto gets up, turns, gives us a nice long full-frontal shot, which is startling because it’s unusual to see on any channel. Usually it’s girls who have to do the full monty. I feel I need to tip a hat to the show for being so equal opportunity here. Micheletto tells Pascal he’s to tell nobody about this place, and furthermore, he’s not to ask Micheletto what he’s up to or where he’s going or where he’s been after he’s been gone for weeks at a time. Wow, looks like someone caught that episode of Mad Men that aired a couple of weeks back.

Cesare visits his mom, who tells him that Lucrezia feels like her every move is watched. Cesare, who’s in quite a mood this episode, suggests she try a veil to hide her true feelings. Vanozza reminds him that Lucrezia chose this husband, and Cesare snorts that she chose poorly, because this guy’s kind of a wimp. She goes on to say that Lucrezia hopes to wield some influence in Naples over the next heir to the throne by holding the crown hostage to daddy. Cesare calls her a clever girl. We’ll just have to see.

Lucrezia’s now meeting with heir #2, Frederigo, who quickly makes it clear he’s very different from his frosty brother. For one thing, he has a cute little doggie, Sebastian, whom he loves, he’s got nice manners, seems warm and friendly towards Lucrezia, and readily admits that Naples has scared the bejeesus out of him his entire life. His brother scares him too, because he’s sure the man wants to poison him. He gently tells her that he knows her plight and pleaded on her son’s behalf with his uncle. He worries about what’ll happen to the child once his brother takes the throne. Lucrezia brings up the fact the pope must invest the new king, and if there’s any scandal or rumour of public ignominy against his brother, the pope couldn’t hand him the crown. Frederigo says his brother is too cold a fish to have any scandals, but Lucrezia knowingly says they all have their secrets.

Micheletto, dressed again, is getting ready to leave and shortly tells Pascal he may be gone for days or even weeks. Pascal, already put in the position of the pouty housewife, asks where he’s going, and Micheletto reminds him harshly that he specifically told him not to ask that. Pascal asks what he’s supposed to do and Micheletto points him towards a sack of money and tells him to go out and have a nice time. Perhaps realising he’s being a bit of a dick, Micheletto briefly softens and says that, if Pascal is there when he gets back, he’d be pleased. Aww. See, he’s not a total jerk, he’s just not good with relationships.

Machiavelli shows Cesare a quarry on a map and says the exchange has already been arranged. Ludovico will deliver the boy. Cesare gives him a head’s up to absent himself from this meeting, and Machiavelli immediately asks if there are ‘complications’ in the air. Cesare reassures him the outcome of this is assured, but Niccolo might want to keep his hands clean. Waaaay too late for that, Cesare.

Ludovico leads Benito into the quarry, promising that their allies will arrive soon to escort the boy home to Caterina.

In Naples, Lucrezia comes into the hallway and finds Frederigo’s dog, Sebastian, lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood. She rushes into the nearby dining room and finds Frederigo choking on his own blood, gasping about poison and saying the dog ate from his plate. Lucrezia guesses this is cantarella again and yells for the guards.

At the quarry, Cesare and Micheletto admire their new Leonardo arquebusiers and then take their positions as Ludovico and Benito ride in. Cesare lines up his shot and fires right at Benito’s horse’s hooves. The animal rears up, throwing its rider, and Micheletto launches a crossbow into the boy’s chest. Ludovico yells at them for failing to keep up their end of the bargain, instead of, oh, I don’t know, fleeing for his life like any sensible person would try to do. Cesare tosses down the man’s payment, and then blows his brains out. Damn, the sight on that thing was really good.

Meanwhile, in Naples, Lucrezia tries to administer her charcoal cure, but then a doctor shows up and tells her this isn’t canterella, it’s gallerina, a poisonous mushroom that makes the throat swell up. He has to use a special tool to hold the throat open until the swelling goes down. Lucrezia turns from him and comes face-to-face with Raphael and immediately accuses him of having poisoned his own brother. He claims he did no such thing, but he doesn’t sound all that convincing.

Pascal sits down to write a letter in Micheletto’s loft, only to be interrupted by Ruffio, who’s come to check up on Caterina’s newest investment. Oh, dear. Poor Micheletto. Maybe he’d be better off just not trusting anyone. Mattei tells Ruffio he should leave, lest Micheletto return, but Ruffio’s better informed than his own spy and knows Micheletto’s in the north. Pascal explains that he has to tread carefully with this man, lest he arouse suspicion. Ruffio wonders if he’s fallen for Micheletto and Pascal tells him he’s in the devil’s bed and asks if Ruffio’s ever known the devil. Ruffio’s there to do just that, or, at least, to start to get to know the man he acknowledges as his own double in Rome. He advises Pascal to stick to him and get as much information as he can, adding that no detail is too small. He also tells him to remember the book: Catullus’s Carmina, which I believe was referenced by King Ferdinand right before Micheletto killed him. Hmmm.

Now that it looks like Frederigo’s going to make it, Lucrezia seeks out Raphael to rub his nose in his failure. She tells him it’s foolish to attempt murder and fail, and he agrees it’s better to succeed. He then tells her his brother’s always been rather easily upset and always thought Raphael had it in for him. She warns him there will be consequences for attempted murder, and he reminds her that she lacks evidence of the crime. Lucrezia promises to find it. He reaches out and wraps his hand around her neck, warning her that she’s on dangerous ground. Lucrezia, unafraid, says she can see that. He removes his hand and she leaves.

That night, she heads into the woods and finds that old woman she met while she was out hunting a while back. She accuses the woman of having provided poison to someone, which the woman denies, so Lucrezia ups the stakes by threatening to have the woman burned as a witch. The woman, who’s nothing if not ballsy, demands to be paid before she gives up a name, and after Lucrezia hands over some coins, she said Raphael was the purchaser.

Lucrezia meets him at the chess table and makes two offers: he either tries to claim the throne and is publicly accused of attempted murder and very publicly has the crown denied him, or he sneaks off to some hunting lodge and lives out the rest of his days in obscurity. He insists he didn’t try to kill his brother and says someone primed the old woman to speak against him. He really stupidly says there’s a third choice: he could just poison everyone—Lucrezia, her husband, and his brother. She mockingly asks if he’d actually succeed this time. This guy apparently has no fight in him at all and just takes door number 2, but he warns Lucrezia that she’s picking a poor strategy and will lose horribly, in the end. But for some reason he doesn’t really give any defence, which seems bizarre to me.

Giulia has brought her new fiancé to meet Alexander, who doesn’t seem all that impressed, but Giulia appears to be quite in love. Alexander bids her bring the man over, and Vincenzo appropriately bows and kisses the pope’s ring. Alexander examines the man’s hands and notes they’re soft and have never worked the land. Vincenzo responds that he toils with a feathered quill, and in the background Vanozza starts to crack up. Giulia clarifies that he’s a poet and might one day be another Petrarch. Alexander asks him if he can make Giulia laugh, and the idiot’s response is a decided …??? Cesare then shows up, so Alexander hastily gives his blessing and goes to speak with him.

He draws Cesare aside and asks what’s up with Ludovico and Benito. Cesare bluntly announces that they’re both dead, which pisses off Alexander, because that was not the deal. Cesare’s almost dead eyed as his father spits angrily; clearly he’s just going off book and doing his own thing from here on out, and that’s what you get for constantly working against him and trying to mould him into what you wanted, Alexander. Cesare says the French king demanded their deaths. Alexander wonders who he can trust and rely on, and Cesare says he can trust him, because Alexander has no alternative. And with that, he leaves, as Alexander’s face says, ‘oh, shit, you’re right.’

Frederigo has been crowned in Naples and is now accepting the adoration of the crowds from his perch in a chair being carried by six men. From a balcony above, Lucrezia and her husband watch the procession, and Alfonso asks if they’re safe now. Isn’t Frederigo his cousin? Doesn’t he know? Man, he really is a wuss, isn’t he? He hasn’t lifted a finger to ensure the safety of himself, his wife, or her child. Lucrezia reassures him they are, as long as the new king lives.

Pascal uses Carmina to write a coded message, explaining that he’s Caterina’s eyes and ears, but he begs the recipient not to get in touch until his exit is secured. The message is received by Frederigo, who coldly orders a servant to bring him his copy of Carmina, presumably so he can translate the message. Ohhh, Lucrezia, you just got played.

A better episode than last week, but I can’t say I find it entirely credible that both Lucrezia and Micheletto would be so easily taken in by these two people. Micheletto especially. This is a man who purposely keeps himself divorced of emotions so as not to put himself in the position of accidentally housing a traitor. He explicitly stated that that’s what he does. So, why does he trust this man enough to bring him back to his secret lair? It could be that he’s pretty desperate for some sort of closeness and human companionship—especially considering his sexuality would have made any kind of personal relationship dangerous and difficult. He’s a man who lives in the shadows both personally and professionally, and unless one is a complete psychopath, you’re going to want some genuine human interaction from time to time. But I don’t fully buy that. I don’t believe he’d trust this guy so quickly and so easily.

And Lucrezia—oh, yes, she’s young, but we’ve seen that she’s not stupid and she’s pretty good at reading people, so I’m not sure I quite buy it that she’d take both these brothers totally at face value. Then again, they did both push her biggest button—her child—in different ways, which undoubtedly made her lean one way far more easily than she might otherwise have done. Still, though, why didn’t Raphael tell her straight out that his brother was so two-faced? Why did he stupidly piss her off by threatening to send her kid away? All that did was ensure she always saw him as the enemy. And why didn’t Alphonso seem to know anything about his own two cousins? Very, very strange. Maybe the next few episodes will clear some things up. We can hope.

Having said all that, though, I am enjoying the building tension between Cesare and Alexander. This is a really good slow-burn payoff to more than two seasons of Alexander dismissing Cesare, ignoring his natural gifts, and trying to force him into a life and a role to which he wasn’t at all suited. And he’s still holding out on him, despite the fact that Cesare’s proven himself again and again. This show works best when it’s dealing with family tensions and the Borgia kids really starting to find their way in the world and apply their father’s lifelong teachings to their own lives. It’ll be rather intriguing to see how that goes.

Until next week!