The Borgias: Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot

Previously on The Borgias: Alexander’s new friend, Mattai, helped him destroy the Turkish navy, saving him the hassle of a crusade; both Micheletto and Lucrezia realised they’d been betrayed, which hits Micheletto particularly hard.

We pick up almost immediately where we left off. Micheletto hands Pascal a bit of chalk and Pascal writes something on the floor. When he’s done, Micheletto takes his arm and gently slits straight down, so he’ll bleed out. Pascal, terrified of what’s to come, asks Micheletto to hold him, but Micheletto only quietly asks for his other arm. He slashes that one too. Pascal tearfully says he sees flashes of colour, and Micheletto tells him people believe that’s the soul leaving the body. Pascal wraps his freely bleeding arms around his lover briefly, and then holds them over Micheletto’s head, dripping blood onto his face, so now he looks like he’s crying tears of blood. Micheletto asks for forgiveness and seems to be crying for real now. Pascal cups his face in his hands and observes that Micheletto’s killed many. So, why the need for forgiveness now? ‘None like you, boy,’ Micheletto tells him. Pascal falls into his arms, and now Micheletto’s really crying.

Cut, rather startlingly, from that sad and oddly tender scene, to a riotous party in Naples. They’re having a feast for Bacchus, organised by Lucrezia, and it’s appropriately depraved looking. If the Borgias know how to do anything, it’s a theme party. When nobody’s looking, one of the women present tips the wild woman’s sleeping powder into a barrel of wine. Frederigo is loving his party, and Lucrezia’s playing the part of a willing prisoner. She asks to serve the guards a little wine to ‘thank them for their service,’ and because he’s an idiot, Frederigo lets her. Seriously, this guy doesn’t think she might try to escape from this situation somehow? She’s a Borgia, she’s not going to take this lying down! And last time we saw these two together, he was sneering at her. Now he acts like they’re buddies? He deserves to get screwed over. Lucrezia gets some wine from her lady helper and serves the guards.

Later, everyone’s completely passed out as Lucrezia, Alfonso, and a nurse with the baby make good their escape. Well, not everyone’s passed out, it seems. The Wild Woman, Lucrezia’s helper, and a few other confederates are robbing the unconscious guests blind. Heh. Outside, Lucrezia and the baby get into a waiting carriage and Alfonso follows close behind on horseback.

In Rome, Micheletto’s absence has been noticed by Cesare, who’s a bit concerned. Vitelli, his new right-hand man, says there’s no sign of him. Cesare immediately goes to Micheletto’s loft, accompanied by Vitelli and a few other members of the Band of Bastards (if anyone has a better name, I’m open to suggestions). They first find the word ‘goodbye’ scrawled on the floor in blood, traced over chalk, and then Pascal’s body. It’s not 100% clear if Micheletto’s dead in there as well—it looks like there might be another body in the bed, but it’s hard to tell with the lighting. At any rate, Micheletto’s definitely MIA, one way or another.

Cesare murmurs that Micheletto’s only code was loyalty, as he picks up the blade and looks down at the body, clearly feeling at least a bit guilty for having pushed his most loyal assistant right over the edge. He turns to the others. ‘Can any one of you replace him?’ he wonders, then adds: ‘don’t even try to answer that.’ Seriously.

Vannozza finds Alexander moodily staring at a mock-up of his own tomb, and she asks if he expects to die soon. Foreshadowing? He says he wants his family to rest together, when the time comes, and she playfully asks if there’s room in there for her. ‘A nook, perhaps,’ he responds, also a tad playfully before turning to more serious matters and asking if she’s spoken with Cesare lately. She says their son comes and goes like a ghost and he doesn’t share his plans with her. Alexander stresses a bit about the rift between them and Vannozza suggests he try talking to and forgiving his son for whatever he’s done. She goes on to say that Alexander and Cesare are too alike, which is why they’re clashing so much now. Alexander admits that he misses his son.

Cesare and the other men are heading to Naples, when whom should they pass on the road but Lucrezia and her party. She joyfully calls out to her brother and hops out of the carriage. He embraces her tightly and not all that appropriately as her husband looks on with a mixture of dawning realisation, horror, and sadness.

Mattai reports to Alexander with news that the Turkish navy is no more, which means the Venetian ships can ply the Adriatic and he can go ahead and start taxing them, instead of the Jews. Alexander lets him in on a new plan: he wants to control the supply of sulphur, which is needed to make gunpowder. Apparently there’s only one mine that supplies it, so Alexander is going to use the money he saved by not launching a crusade to buy up the whole year’s supply from the mine, thus depriving his enemies of the gunpowder they now rely on. Alexander asks Mattai to be his agent in this matter, which will mean presenting himself as a Christian. He doesn’t have to convert, just cut his hair and dress the part. Mattai’s face says ‘are you effing kidding me?’ but Alexander promises big repayment down the road, so he does it. One of his friends gives him crap for it, but Mattai says he works for a Christian pope so the other man can remain a Jew. Well, so he can remain a Jew and not have to pay heavily for the privilege.

Cesare and Lucrezia’s party arrive in Rome and Cesare immediately charges one of his sidekicks, Baglioni, with his sister’s protection. He’s to choose all her staff and report to Cesare on her whereabouts all the time. Creepy, Cesare. And why are you so quick to trust this man with Lucrezia’s safety? This seems like something Cesare himself would take on, just to be sure there was no betrayal.

Inside, Lucrezia says the place doesn’t quite feel like home. Cesare observes that the baby’s going to need a bigger bed, as will Lucrezia’s husband, before leaving the little family together. Once they’re alone, Alfonso stiffly asks how Cesare made Lucrezia smile and she says that Alfonso made her smile, because he’s the joy of her life. He shortly says that she knows he knows that’s not true. Lucrezia’s face falls, and it falls further when he asks how long they can go on like this. ‘How long does marriage last?’ she asks darkly. Normally, a while, but in this family, Lucrezia? I wouldn’t worry so much.

Mattai, now in his Christian drag, arrives at the mine and buys up all the sulphur, as directed.

Cesare gives Lucrezia a palace of her own and tells her she’ll be safe there. She brings up her husband and wonders what Cesare would do if he decided he wanted to go back to Naples. Cesare tells her he simply wouldn’t allow it. She tells him Alfonso could cause a public scandal if he were to spread rumours of impropriety between the Borgia siblings. ‘We are family, we are Spanish, we embrace. Where is this scandal?’ Cesare wonders. Oh, come on, Cesare. You’re smarter than this! You knew that what you and Lucrezia did was not only wrong, but a spectacularly bad idea, and you clearly felt very guilty about it. And suddenly you’re playing dumb? And Lucrezia, who was waking her brother up by snuggling up in bed with him and stroking his bare chest, is now worried about a scandal? Character consistency, people!

Mattai finds Alexander and tells him there’s a warehouse now filling with sulphur for him. Alexander is pleased. He confirms that nobody knows the warehouse’s location and then comments that all his enemies will blame each other for the lack of powder. Mattai, unsurprised, realises that Alexander was aiming to sow confusion and dissention as much as he wanted to deprive everyone of weapons.

Wagons loaded with sulphur are driven through the gates of Rome, after Mattai pays off one of the guards not to ask any questions. The guard notes that one of the wagons is leaking a nice, bright-yellow, easy-to-follow trail of sulphur. Nice going, guys. He starts to wonder what this stuff is that burns so easily.

Cesare finds his father reading in bed and tells him Caterina’s reinforcing Forli with cannon, so they need to end this thing with her before she becomes impregnable. He can’t understand why Alexander’s not more concerned, though he does know that he’s been re-equipping the papal armies. He asks for permission to at least survey them and Alexander has no problem with that. Furthermore, he’s pretty sure Caterina won’t be a problem for long.

Speaking of, Caterina gallops into Forli and is immediately met by Ruffio. She tells him Florence doesn’t plan to either help or hinder them. Ruffio tells her they’re almost out of powder, because the supply of sulphur has dried up. She immediately assumes Cesare’s behind this, though Ruffio wonders if he’s really clever enough for that.

Lucrezia is now discovering that she has a whole new household staff that she knows nothing about. She doesn’t seem pleased.

And the two men behind it, Cesare and Baglioni, are playing with a new gun. Cesare loves it, but then gets the bad news that they won’t be able to keep firing it for long, because sulphur supplies are running low. Cesare thinks this is Caterina’s doing, but one of the other men thinks this is too clever even for her. I don’t feel like this is such an incredibly clever plan, it’s just a really expensive one. The reason nobody else did it is because they simply couldn’t have called up the cash, whereas Alexander made a killing during the Jubilee. Cesare sends Colonna out to sniff out the sulphur.

Colonna goes to Rome and it takes him no time at all to find the trail of sulphur one of the wagons left right through the city, probably because it’s bright yellow and really, really obvious. How did Mattai not notice that?

Lucrezia’s out and about, being trailed by maids and followed by creepy guards, just like in Naples. She buys herself a bird in a cage, wryly noting that it’s appropriate.

Colonna finds where the sulphur trail starts near the city gates and starts talking to one of the guards.

Cesare’s checking out the papal armies’ storehouse/training ground. The guy showing him around says they’re fully armed, and Cesare asks him what they’re armed for. ‘Whatever the pope requires,’ the guy shrugs. Cesare then finds Alfonso practicing his fencing in one of the rooms and Alfonso calls him over and invites him to spar. Alfonso tries to take a bit of a cheap shot, but Cesare easily fobs him off and warns him not to provoke him. Alfonso says he was just playing, and then they start to spar for real. Cesare says he wouldn’t harm what his sister loves, which is just the opening Alfonso needs to ask if she really does love him, as she loves her brother. He continues that the Vatican is a hotbed of rumours and innuendos that have set his imagination running wild. Cesare warns him not to heed rumours and Alfonso lunges and shouts that Cesare is the source of them, and they’re saying there are three in this Borgia marriage. Four, if you count Cesare’s wife. What’s going on with her, anyway? It seemed like she and Cesare had a good thing going, but he hasn’t mentioned her once. Cesare disarms him, holds the sword to Alfonso’s throat just long enough for him to get the ‘stop talking now’ message, then says that Lucrezia and her husband are both so dear to his heart, before handing Alfonso his sword back and walking away.

Another sulphur shipment arrives, and the guard on the gate tell Colonna just to follow the wagons.  Colonna hands him some coins. He had to pay for that? Couldn’t he have figured that out himself? Colonna arrives at the warehouse and sneaks a peek at men inside hammering out the sulphur while someone takes notes. Mattai comes out and mildly observes that Colonna seems curious. He lies that he just collects gravel and shale to sell. Colonna calls him a Hebrew, and when Mattai claims to be a Christian, Colonna tells him to bless himself, if that’s true. Mattai just turns and goes back inside, as Colonna shouts questions about who he’s working for.

Colonna reports his findings not to Cesare, but Baglioni. He tells the man they should take the stores themselves and hold them ransom, basically. Baglioni, wisely, is not all that interested in pissing off Cesare Borgia, but Colonna presses, and the guy folds.

Lucrezia goes to her mother and complains about being held prisoner in Rome as much as she was in Naples. She wonders if there’s any place she can go to be free of her brother and father. Vannozza reminds her that she loves them both, but Lucrezia says that love can be another chain in this Borgia family. She opens the door and finds the maids sitting there with the bird, so clearly there was a bit of a continuity mix-up here, unless she’s just wandering around with that bird all the time. She slams the doors in annoyance and tells Vannozza that there’s a great reckoning coming that will leave none of them the same, and she kind of wants to get out of Rome with her child and her mother. Vannozza asks if her husband figures into this at all and Lucrezia says she doubts he would come along. Vannozza tells her she broods too much.

Colonna and his new sidekick follow the sulphur trail to the warehouse, unaware that they’re being trailed by a whole other crew of men. They arrive, and Baglioni says that yellow is the colour of betrayal. Colonna looks behind them and sees Cesare and the rest of the Band of Bastards bearing down on them. He tries to run, but they catch him in the courtyard and quickly disarm him. Colonna tries to wriggle out of this by telling Cesare he found the powder. Cesare coldly thanks him and asks him to show them around. They go inside the curiously unguarded and unlocked warehouse, and once again Colonna tries to run. They corner him in one of the storage rooms, and Cesare throws him into a mound of powder. He shovels a bunch on top of him, and then the guys drag him back outside. Colonna asks Baglioni why he did this and Baglioni tells him that this is what they do. No honour amongst thieves, right? Cesare demands to know who owns all the sulphur. Colonna claims it was Caterina, but Cesare knows that’s not true, because why would she store it in Rome?

Mattai, apparently realising the jig is up, comes out and says he brought it here, on behalf of another. Cesare, annoyed, tells the others to take Colonna outside and burn him. Woah. The others react pretty much the same way I just did, with Baglioni flat-out telling Cesare he can’t do it. Cesare bundles Colonna out and tells the others to go home, if they can’t witness this. Baglioni leaves. While two others hold Colonna, Cesare grabs a torch and sets him alight. Screaming in agony and wrapped in flames, Colonna runs off. Welcome to the moral event horizon, Cesare. Cesare tells the others that this is a lesson to anyone else who would betray him. I think the message has been received.

Mattai, who’s been watching this whole thing, calmly sits down and observes that Romans are rather cruel. How does this guy stay so chill all the time? Cesare asks him again who he’s working for, but Mattai won’t say. He’ll only tell Cesare that the man he bought it for is afraid of war. Cesare asks for a meeting with this peacemaker and Mattai says that’s easily arranged, because the buyer is Cesare’s father. Why keep refusing to tell him, and then just tell him Alexander was behind the buy with absolutely no encouragement (torture or otherwise)? How bizarre. Cesare pounds a nearby door in frustration at being played and asks Mattai why Alexander would do this. Mattai says that Alexander fears his son. Cesare says that he and his father share the same aims, and he wants the powder. Mattai refuses to give it without Alexander’s permission, though I don’t see how he’d stop Cesare if Cesare really wanted it. Cesare asks if he’ll have to beg for this, and Mattai offers to act as a sort of intermediary.

The two men go to see Alexander, with Cesare staying out of sight) and Mattai tells Alexander that he now owns all the sulphur. He asks to be permitted to go back to being a Jew, but Alexander says he still needs him. Mattai reminds him that he has all sorts of advisors who can help him, but Alexander trusts none of them. Mattai says he knows of someone who can take his place, a man who has ‘talent to burn.’ A rather cruel joke, but all the same, HA! He goes on to say that the man’s talents are being underused, as he’s a great leader of men, and a Christian to boot! And he’s just in the next room! Alexander follows him into the room and finds Cesare there. Cesare immediately lights into his dad for hiding the powder. They begin screaming at each other, and finally Mattai shouts at them both to shut up, because they’re family and that’s supposed to be a sacred bond. He asks Alexander to embrace his son and offer his support and love. Alexander spits that Cesare just wants his army, but Cesare quietly says he’ll really just take the love right now, thanks. Mattai adds that Cesare is made in Alexander’s image, and Alexander snaps that he knows that—Cesare is him all over again, the fury and the drive and pitiless ambition. He looks at his son and sees himself, and how can he love that? Woah. Cesare gently asks if his father doesn’t love himself, and Alexander, suddenly looking rather old and small and bowed, goes into the bedroom and tiredly sits down. Cesare asks if they’ll have to hate each other and then begs his father to confide in him. Alexander wonders what he’s really wrought for this family. All his power and ambition, and he’s built a temple on rotten foundations. And now Cesare wants to continue down that road. Cesare kneels opposite his father and tells him there’s no other option, because if they weaken now, they’ll be destroyed. He asks Alexander to trust him, promising to carve him out an empire. Alexander brushes his son’s cheek, and then tells him he has his heart and his trust. Cesare also asks for forgiveness for his sins. Alexander makes the sign of the cross on Cesare’s forehead and Cesare falls into his arms, at last.