Have I mentioned how awesome I think the opening credits are? With the Renaissance-era paintings being painted in with what looks suspiciously like blood? I love them (and I love the inclusion of a painting of the legendary Roman Lucretia, whom Lucrezia Borgia was named for. Nice touch for the quick of eye.)
Della Rovere arrives in Naples and is ushered into the presence of King Ferrante and his son, Alfonso. An interesting choice, for della Rovere to go to Naples. I wonder if that’s because, historically, Ferrante would have had good reason to dislike the Borgia family: just after he inherited Naples, Pope Alexander’s uncle, Pope Calixtus III, declared Naples a fief of the church and tried to take it away from Ferrante. Calixtus died before he could actually annex Naples to the Papal States, and his successor recognized Ferrante’s claim, but I’m sure that’s the sort of thing that would have smarted. They don’t actually mention that in the episode, but there you go.
At any rate, della Rovere bows to Ferrante, who’s starting to look more like the crypt keeper than a human being, which is apt, considering what happens later this episode. Ferrante doesn’t respond to della Rovere’s greeting, which Alfonso thinks is hilarious. Alfonso tells their guest that his father’s stone deaf. He turns to his father and shouts in his ear that della Rovere’s there to discuss the deposition of the pope, who’s appointed a veritable cascade of cardinals, including his own son, Cesare. No response at all from Ferrante. Della Rovere looks a bit at a loss, and also a little horrified at Alfonso’s treatment of his father.
In Rome, Cesare and Alexander are having lunch together. There’s a lot of eating in this episode. And a lot of red, too. That color’s practically becoming a motif in this show. Almost every character wears it constantly, or some variation of it (like pink), except for Lucrezia. Interesting. Is it because she’s (at this point, relatively) too young and sweet and innocent to wear the color of passion and blood? We’ll see. Cesare and Alexander discuss the places della Rovere might flee to, and Naples is on the list. They chuckle over the thought of him going there, and talk obliquely about Ferrante’s notorious hospitality and dining room. Alexander comments that della Rovere thinks he’s truly holier than thou, but what the church needs at the moment is someone a bit more ruthless, who can ensure its survival by whatever means necessary. He’s totally right—the church was just coming back to semi-stable ground after the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism, which had only ended in 1417. Alexander thinks it’s time to get rid of della Rovere, and he asks Cesare to send Micheletto to take care of him, without actually asking, because of course a pope can’t just go ordering the murder of a cardinal.
Back in Naples, Alfonso’s taken control of the meeting (need I mention he’s muching on nuts or something the whole time?). Sounding bored and annoyed, Alfonso says everyone wants something, and both France and Spain want Naples. Della Rovere starts to bargain, saying, essentially, that if he’s pope, he’ll recognize Naples’s claims to independence, which Spain is disputing. Alfonso turns to his deaf father and suggests showing della Rovere how Ferrante used to deal with adversaries like Spain, when he was in his magnificent prime. Poor addled Ferrante seems to want to say something, but he can’t even seem to form words anymore. Alfonso rises and waves for della Rovere to follow him.
Back in Rome, Juan’s joined his father and brother and starts talking about portraits. Alexander’s more interested in discussing cashflow, because theirs is low and all these damn portraits are costing an awful lot. He’s got a few ideas though: first off, he’s going to allow recently expelled Spanish Jews to set up housekeeping in Rome, for a price. Cesare points out that there will be objections to that, but Alexander’s not stressed about that, because he says he wants his papacy to be all open and welcoming. And anyway, Jesus himself was a Jew, wasn’t he?
Naples. Alfonso shows della Rovere into a darkened room and starts opening shutters, explaining that his father had many enemies, and after he had them killed, he had them stuffed. As light flows into the room, we’re treated with one of the most horrifying images to cross my TV in…possibly forever, since I never watch horror flicks. A bunch of putrefying, stuffed corpses are set up in the most macabre tableau of The Last Supper you could possibly imagine. I’m sorry, I’m getting over a stomach bug I’ve had for the last week, so I’m going to need a minute.
If della Rovere looked horrified before, it’s nothing like how he looks now. Alfonso laughs and says his father liked to dine with those who displeased him. Arrrgghhh! I can’t imagine the stench in that room—there are even flies all over the place. Oh, and he’s yet to find a Judas. Della Rovere says he wasn’t thinking of going this extreme, which Alfonso thinks is lame, since, as he claims, the Borgias have no scruples and they’re just Spanish Jews anyway. To his credit, della Rovere corrects this bizarre and creepy kid (Alfonso is maybe in his late teens, which isn’t historically accurate, but whatever) and says the Borgias may have no scruples, but they have even less Jewish blood. Alfonso agrees to discuss della Rovere’s proposals with his father’s advisors, and in the meantime he invites della Rovere to take advantage of their hospitality and enjoy the sulphur baths Naples is so famous for. I guess I missed those when I was there last fall. And right now, I’m really glad I gave this palace a pass too, if it’s even still there.
Back in Rome, Cesare shows up at della Rovere’s former home, where servants are carrying away dR’s former possessions, to go right to the pope (except for some candlesticks Cesare nicely sends to his mom. Aww.) Micheletto’s there as well, and he tells Cesare that dR has arrived in Naples. Cesare wants Micheletto to head down there and get rid of dR. Micheletto points out that, if della Rovere sees him, he’ll recognize him and flee. Why, though? Why should he connect Micheletto with the dead girl in the bed? Other people knew about that servant girl, someone else could have gotten word to the Borgias, or had her done away with themselves. Why should Micheletto naturally be the only suspect?
I guess we’ll never know. Cesare tells him to stick to the shadows, then, where he’s more comfortable anyway. Then, he sort of creepily asks Micheletto to show him how a garrote works. Micheletto takes him to the kitchen, where he pulls a cheesecutter out of a drawer and neatly slices a whole watermelon in half with it. Ick. Cesare says one almost feels pity for the victim, as he digs a thumb into the watermelon and licks the juice off.
Juan, in full armor, on a horse, inside and surrounded by servants holding candles aloft, is getting his portrait painted. He talks about da Vinci with the painter, who says da Vinci rarely finishes. “He would have finished for me,” Juan says brattily before threatening a servant with a sword and telling him to hold his candle higher, so the armor glitters. I’m starting to look forward to him being gone.
Micheletto rides to Naples, where della Rovere is somehow peacefully asleep in the palace of horrors. How anyone could get a wink of sleep in that place is a mystery to me. Micheletto makes his way to the Dining Room of Death, where he sits contemplatively with the corpses for a while, then gets up and heads for della Rovere’s room. Unfortunately, there appear to be two guards stationed outside the room, playing cards, so Micheletto quietly withdraws, back into the shadows, and della Rovere lives to sleep another night.
Cesare’s being fitted for his new, bright red cardinal’s robes for the investiture the following day. Alexander comes in and comments proudly that Cesare looks good in crimson. Cesare stiffly thanks him, and Alexander recalls that Cesare’s not too delighted with this new appointment. He tries to talk him up and embraces his son, going back to the “you’re my eldest son, and I want you to follow in my churchy footsteps” well, which isn’t working any better now than it did the last two episodes. Still, Cesare agrees to become a cardinal, because that’s all he can do, at this point.
Della Rovere and Alfonso are in what appears to be a spa, where all the men are dressed in early Speedos and several of them are bathing in the hot waters of an inground, chest-deep pool. Alfonso, who’s also wearing a mud mask, is getting a couple’s massage with della Rovere and saying that the beauty and delights of Naples have attracted invaders for centuries. You know, I’ve been to Naples, and I didn’t see a whole lot of beauty there. I think the place got seriously bombed in the war, so maybe it was totally different during the Renaissance period, but from what I saw, I didn’t find much reason to return, other than seeing the areas around the city, like the islands and Pompeii again. According to Alfonso, the strain’s made his father feeble. So things are clearly in Alfonso’s hands now, and he’s taken della Rovere’s proposals to Ferrante’s advisors, who are cool with backing him. Alfonso sends the masseurs away and urges della Rovere to take a little dip in the water, to renew his spirit.
Elsewhere, a spa attendant’s slathering Micheletto with mud from head to toe, including his heavily scarred back. Nice disguise, Mich. As long as you don’t have to get into the water. Then you’re kinda screwed, right?
In Rome, the cascade of cardinals stretches all the way down the aisle of the basilica. One by one, they approach the pope, who’s wearing his tiara, on the throne, and they kiss his foot and ring. Cesare takes a second to look up at his father, who gives him a tiny, proud smile in return.
Sure enough, della Rovere’s getting into the water, which means Micheletto has to as well.
The cardinals in Rome are all lying facedown on the floor as the pope blesses them.
Micheletto foolishly bends down and starts swimming around a bit, no doubt to fit in with the other men and not look suspicious, but all it does is wash the mud off his back, revealing his telltale scars. Della Rovere spots them and starts calling for the guards, who come running. The other spagoers take off, but a guard leaps into the water and pins Micheletto to the bottom of the pool. Micheletto goes for the guy’s eyes, gouging at them until the guard lets go of him. Then, Micheletto gets behind him and starts knocking his head against the bottom of the pool. Now the guy’s addled, Micheletto finds his garrote and finishes the man off, as a plume of blood blooms artistically in the water. Meanwhile, in Rome, Alexander bids the new cardinals—in their blood-red robes—to rise.
It’s a bit chaotic in Naples. Still in his Speedo, Micheletto stalks the corridors, now looking for a way out. He kills a guard with his bare hands without breaking a sweat, takes the guard’s sword, and stabs another one before fleeing. Damn. It takes a lot to be badass in a Speedo.
Alfonso’s throwing a total wobbler at della Rovere, screaming that he’s just brought carnage with him, and he’s to leave immediately, unless he wants to take a place at his father’s dinner table. As Judas? I would think, considering his aspirations, the St. Peter spot would be more appropriate.
Micheletto returns to Rome and reports his failure to Cesare. Cesare’s pissed, but Micheletto explains it was a pretty public spot, so there’s only so much he could do. To be honest, it was really dumb of Cesare to send Micheletto, whom he knew della Rovere knew well, to kill the man. How did he think this was going to go down? Micheletto says della Rovere seems immune to corruption, so Cesare suggests they have the man followed by someone he doesn’t know this time. He adds that Micheletto’s not to go after della Rovere, for the time being, since they don’t need more scandals at the moment.
Giulia and Alexander are all cute and cuddly in the papal apartments, looking at Juan’s new portrait. Cesare comes in for a meeting, and Giulia goes to leave, but Alexander asks her to stay and give him advice on an important matter. Giulia seems surprised—as well she might, considering how women were thought of at the time, as brainless and incapable of providing decent advice to men, but Alexander was different from most other men of his time. His dilemma is thus: the Sultan of Constantinople has asked the pope to house his half-brother, Djem, in Rome, to keep him out of the way and remove him as a threat to the Ottoman succession. In return, the sultan would pay the pope the, well, princely sum of 40,000 ducats a year, which is a pretty good deal. Giulia correctly guesses that the man is a Muslim (a “heathen,” in her words). She’s surprised by the idea of the pope inviting heathens to Rome, and Cesare tells her about Alexander’s plan to invite the Jews as well. Alexander says that they’re all human, in the end, and she says there are many who would disagree with that. Even today, sadly.
However it was decided, Djem arrives and is presented to Alexander as a sort of ambassador to the papal court. Djem, needless to say, is rather young and good looking.
Alexander, his boys, and Djem return from a hunt to a paviolion set up in the countryside, where Lucrezia comes out to greet them (dressed in pink, for those who are curious—the beginning of her corruption, perhaps?). She goes right to Djem, who starts to enthrall her with stories of hunting tigers and killing one with his bare hands. She asks him if he’s ever seen a unicorn and he claims to have spoken to one, which charms her.
Later, Juan shows Djem around the city, where Djem marvels at the diversity of the people in the street. Juan explains that most of them are the exiled Jews from Spain. Djem is rather sweet and seems to be getting along well with his Borgia hosts.
At Vannozza’s palazzo, Alexander watches from a distance while Lucrezia has a dancing lesson. Vannozza observes that the girl is growing fast, which is no doubt why Alexander’s there. He sighs that Lucrezia must be married soon, because the vultures are circling their family and they need to protect themselves. Vannozza asks only that Lucrezia be permitted to meet her future husband before she’s hustled to the altar. I really like the scenes between these two—the chemistry’s just right. A very companionable warmth that you’d expect from two people who’ve been together for about 20 years or so. Nicely done, everyone.
Later, Lucrezia and Djem are playing croquet. Wow, is croquet really that old? She tells him she’s to be married, and he tells her he’s been married four times. There follows some discussion about the difference between wives and concubines (for the record—you can beat a wife, but not kill her. Apparently you can go ahead and kill a concubine. Good to know!) Lucrezia looks a little freaked out by talk of abuse and says seriously that she won’t be beaten. Djem gets serious too and tells her that, if her husband ever tries to beat her, he’ll strangle the man with his bare hands. Awww. Protective, homicidal love! The Borgias’ favorite type!
At the Vatican, Alexander reports to Cesare that they’re awash with potential suitors for Lucrezia, but he’s narrowed the list down to four, all Italian, since that makes strategic sense: Colonna, Sforza, Medici, Deste. Cesare asks about Alfonso of Naples. Oh, Jesus, Cesare, don’t send poor Lucrezia there! Alexander says Alfonso would be great, but both France and Spain are fighting over Naples right now, and he doesn’t want to go pissing them off.
At Vannozza’s, Djem and Juan swordfight in the courtyard, watched by Cesare and, soon, Alexander, who laughs delightedly at the show and comments that Juan seems to have found a brother. Cesare sulkily says Juan already has a brother, but Alexander cluelessly says Djem’s more of a brother in arms. Way to rub more salt in that particular wound, Alexander. Djem wins the fight and the boys laugh and embrace. Alexander calls for more, so Djem pokes Juan playfully in the back, and Juan stupidly spins around and waves his sword, very nearly slicing Djem’s throat. Both laugh, unconcerned, but this gives Alexander an opportunity to tell Cesare that Djem’s worth more dead than alive: the sultan’s promised 400,000 ducats if they return him a corpse. Niiiice. Cesare’s horrified by the idea and asks Alexander if he’s considering it. Alexander says he’s not. For now.
Alexander meets first with the Sforza representative, who’s played by Gina McKee (and yes, she’s wearing red, just like all the other women in this episode aside from pink-clad Lucrezia). She’s cool with Lucrezia marrying into the family, as long as she comes with a hefty dowry.
The next representative is dull as dried bones. Alexander, on his throne, actually starts to doze off as the guy drones on and on about his extended family tree. Lucrezia, listing in from an adjoining room, goofs around with Djem about it. The representative after that is a cardinal, presenting his nephew, who’s staring so obviously at a guard stationed next to Alexander’s throne that Alexander actually looks around to see what the big deal is. Somehow, the way Jeremy Irons did that little bit made me totally crack up. Alexander shakes his head. Rep number four says there’s no problem with his guy’s succession to his title, since his elder brother is confined to a madhouse. Oh, yeah, that’s a great selling point. And then, of course, the suitor starts twitching in a way that telegraphs: Crazy person! So Alexander waves them off too. The rep after that is from Venice, who gives Alexander the hard sell. Alexander points out that the suitor is a bit young, and everyone turns to look at Lucrezia, still in the adjoining room, play dancing with a kid who looks to be about 10. Of course, Lucrezia herself is only 14 (and, in real life, she was 12), but still, point taken.
In the next room, Lucrezia’s still dancing with the kid, and she gigglingly tells Djem she thinks the kid’s deaf. Djem invites her to dance with him instead, and she does, and it’s all sweet and kind of sexy and you can see she’s starting to get a crush on this guy. Alexander observes from his throne, and he doesn’t look pleased.
Later, Lucrezia watches some of the representatives and suitors as they’re escorted out of the papal apartments. She turns to Cesare and asks him if she has to get married. He tells her she could join a nunnery instead, and the two of them could live in sanctity and prayer, like Abelard and Heloise. Uh, that’s not the story you want to invoke to illustrate a potential relationship with your sister, Cesare. Go for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, or something. Lucrezia says she’ll go ahead and become a nun, because she could never love a husband as much as she loves Cesare. Ceasre sadly tells her Alexander’s not so focused on her being in love, which saddens her. He looks distressed to have upset her. She asks him what would happen if her husband “proves ungallant” and he promises to cut the man’s heart out with a dinner knife and serve it to her. So many creepy meals this hour! Also, it looks like she’ll have no shortage of champions.
Cesare goes to see is father, who announces Sforza’s the winner, because with della Rovere heading north, they need to ally with a northern power—in this case, Milan, which is currently held by one of Giovanni Sforza’s kinsmen. Cesare asks how Lucrezia feels about this, but all Alexander will say is that Sforza’s personable, and her mother approves. Cesare asks again how his sister feels, and Alexander sharply tells him to let it go. Cesare goes to leave, and Alexander catches his arm and says that Djem’s outstaying his welcome, and flirting with the potential bride. Cesare says to just send the guy home, then, but Alexander says it’s not so simple: they need to scare up a big dowry, after all.
Cesare leaves the papal apartments and is intercepted by Juan, who asks to borrow Micheletto for a while. Cesare’s still trying to avoid having their guest killed, because he’s not a complete monster, and asks if they can’t borrow the money from Florence. “400,000 ducats is hard to come by,” says Juan. Especially if you were trying to borrow from the Medici Bank—it wasn’t doing so well at the time, and the family’s token cardinal opposed Alexander’s election in the 1492 conclave (and later became a pope himself). Cesare’s not willing to lend out his pet assassin, in part because he doesn’t want to upset Lucrezia, who would miss him at her wedding. Juan spits that there are other assassins he could use, so Cesare tells him to find one, if he can. Oh, God, how bad is Juan going to screw this up?
The fresh-faced young assassin Juan’s managed to scare up reports that only Djem’s personal cook is allowed to touch his food, and he doesn’t drink wine, only mint tea with sugar, which is a bit of a problem, because catarella (an arsenic-based poison closely associated with the Borgia family) doesn’t really mix well with sugar. Juan doesn’t care.
Cesare lets himself into the confessional in the basilica, where Djem’s waiting for him, having requested a private confession. Djem tells Cesare he wants to convert to Christianity, after having observed how nice all the Christians in Rome are. Woah, Djem, you need to get out more. He’s been reading the gospels and admires how the Christians love one another, and he wants to embrace a religion of such charity. You poor bastard. Cesare sighs that Christians aren’t always so kind. I’ll say.
Lucrezia is delightedly trying on a new dress in the company of Giulia, who sighs that white is such a dull color. Lucrezia thinks wedding dresses should be white (uh, no, dear, the tradition of a white wedding dress started with Queen Victoria in the 1840’s. Sorry, show, that’s a history fail). Giulia says they’re not talking about her wedding dress, but about her betrothal gown, and with a dowry as huge as Lucrezia’s, the dress should really be made of pure gold. How nice they actually had something called “cloth of gold” back then!
At Vannozza’s, Djem’s transformed the courtyard into a lovely little seraglio, minus all the concubines and wives. There are tents set up with embroidered cushions, musicians, and even a few herons wandering around, for atmosphere, I guess. He’s done it as a cute surprise for Lucrezia, who’s delighted, and Cesare and Juan are there too, so all the kids can get a hint of Djem’s homeland and he can thank them for being so nice. Everyone settles down on the cushions and Djem’s cook offers them some food. Another servant comes over and offers glasses of wine. Behind Djem’s back, Juan’s assassin mixes something into Djem’s glass of mint tea. While that’s going on, Djem tells a charming story about how his brother’s predecessor had all his male relatives’ eyes plucked out and brought to him on a silver platter. Yum! He did this because a blind man could never take the sultan’s place. Juan thinks that’s clever, of course. Djem’s just glad to still have two intact eyes and to be housed with such lovely people. His mint tea is handed to him, and he raises a glass to the Borgias and to Lucrezia’s future happiness. He drinks the tea.
After lunch, he and Cesare are playing what appears to be bocce, when suddenly Djem collapses against Cesare and spits up some blood on his cardinal’s robes. Cesare helps him, as poor Djem apologizes for ruining Cesare’s clothes. Aww, man, this guy’s too nice! And might I say, good looking middle easterners are not having a lucky time of it on the costume dramas these days, are they? First Pamouk, Mary’s one night stand in Downton Abbey, and now this guy? They’re like witches on The Vampire Diaries—pretty much guaranteed to die.
That night, Djem’s groaning and writhing in pain, occasionally wailing for Cesare, who’s out in the hall, yelling at Juan for hiring an amateur. Juan reminds him he withheld the pro, so he went with what he could get. He still sucks, though. Cesare goes in to see Djem, who gasps that he’s been poisoned and guesses this is his brother’s doing, and he must have used Djem’s cook, the only one who touches Djem’s food. Juan calls for guards to haul the man away. Cesare takes Juan and they gather Micheletto and go to the kitchens to talk to Juan’s hatchetman.
Hatchetman admits he mixed cantarella with sugar, and Micheletto immediately realizes this means Djem will be in agony for weeks. Weeks?! Jesus! Cesare confirms the hatchetman didn’t tell anyone else about this, and then sends the kid away with Micheletto. Then he goes to Juan and tells him he has to finish what he’s started. Juan looks like he’s going to be sick.
Poor Djem’s cries are so loud he can be heard all over the house. Cesare sends the guards stationed outside Djem’s room away, then tells Juan he has to finish Djem off. Juan takes a deep breath and goes into the room, looking terrified.
Micheletto’s showing hatchetman out. Hatchet asks Micheletto if cantarella’s no good, and Micheletto says he wouldn’t recommend its use with sugar. Then he starts to hang back just a little, and hatchetman’s too dumb to realize this means he’s about to become very, very dead. Sure enough, Micheletto pulls him into a shadowy area and breaks the guy’s neck. That’s Borgia for: you’re fired.
Juan goes slowly into Djem’s room, and Djem heartbreakingly asks Juan to console him, and help cool him down. Juan picks up a pillow and hugs it to his chest for a moment, but then claps it over Djem’s face and holds it until he stops struggling. Djem puts up a pretty good fight for someone in such pain. Cesare listens to the sounds of the struggle from the hall, looking tortured. Juan emerges from the bedroom, and Cesare hollowly says their sister’s dowry is now done. Poor Lucrezia—having her first crush murdered by her brothers to secure the dowry that enables her to enter a loveless marriage to a guy she doesn’t even know. That sucks. Also—the Sforzas asked for the full 400,000 ducats? That’s greedy (and also more than 10 times what the real Sforzas got for taking on Lucrezia—she came with a dowry of 30,000 ducats).
Djem’s body is loaded into a coffin and carried out by guards as Burchard, in voiceover, records the sultan’s promised reward: 400,000 ducats, plus another 100,000 for Djem’s medical care, and another 40,000 for funeral expenses. Cesare sadly watches as the coffin is loaded onto a cart, presumably to be taken back to Constantinople.
In his rooms, Alexander prays for God to look over Lucrezia and to grant him guidance and wisdom. He closes his eyes, seemingly in mental anguish, wondering if he’s made the right decision for her. Too late now.