The Borgias: New Beginnings

Previously on The Borgias: King Charles of France slaughtered his way across Italy, and nobody, particularly not Juan, was able to stop him. Except Lucrezia, who brokered a deal on the fly that would allow Charles to make a bloodless entry into Rome. I’m expecting her to become fully awesome in season 2.

The French pack up and get on the road to Rome. Della Rovere immediately tells Charles he should demand a convocation of the College of Cardinals as soon as they arrive, so they can get on with deposing Alexander. He says this right in front of Giulia and Lucrezia too, which seems unwise, since he’s just witnessed how good these ladies are at wheeling and dealing. Giulia coolly points out that there probably won’t be too many cardinals hanging around in Rome when they get there.

In fact, there aren’t too many Romans in Rome either. As they ride into the city, Charles poutily asks della Rovere where the cheering crowds are. Oh, come on, Charles. Did you really expect people to come out and cheer for you as you wandered into their city (and forced the townspeople to house your 25,000 soldiers)? You’ve just invaded their country, trashed some of their loveliest cities, and needlessly slaughtered innocent men, women, and children. If they’re not totally pissed, they’re definitely terrified, so why would you think they’d come out and welcome you like you’re their savior? You’re smarter than this, Charles. Della Rovere guesses the populace has fled, after hearing about Charles’s amazing military prowess. Charles calls della Rovere a clown and turns to Lucrezia, asking her to set up a meeting with her dad. She agrees, dismounts, and awesomely hands the reigns of her horse to della Rovere to hold, like he’s some common stableboy. She then shows Charles to the basilica, where she tells him her father’s usually at prayer at that hour.

Charles enters the massive, empty basilica and finds only a humble monk there, prostrate before the altar, praying. The monk finishes and Charles apologizes for interrupting his prayers. The monk turns and reveals himself to be Alexander, and Charles sinks to his knees, awed, as if he’s looking at God himself, which in a sense, he is, considering the Pope is God on earth. Charles kisses Alexander’s hand and marvels at his simple appearance. Alexander says that elaborate display has its place, but they should really strive to live simply. Charles glances down at his rich clothes and seems a little embarrassed.

Lucrezia, meanwhile, makes her way down a hall and soon runs into Cesare, who hugs her tightly, relieved she’s all right. She tells him she brought Charles to meet their dad, and Cesare smiles that she achieved what their army couldn’t. Poor Juan’s going to feel really emasculated now.

Alexander and Charles talk about how nice it would be to be free of their leadership burdens, which gives Alexander an opening to ask Charles if he knows someone who wants to take over the papacy? Charles tells him that the thought disgusts and appalls him, because God has called Alexander to the papacy just as he called Charles to his throne.

Charles gets a little melancholy, thinking of how he’s exalted in battle and killed many and acted as a sort of God on earth. Alexander suggests he renew his vows of kingship, and start anew, right there in Rome. And as a bonus, he’ll also name Charles King of Naples during the ceremony. Two for the price of one! The two men exchange wonderful, wily smiles. They’re both men of the world, despite the way they frequently toss God around in their conversations. They both know this is more politics than religion, and they’re fine with that.

Cesare takes Lucrezia out to the gardens and presses her for details. She remains mum on some of them, but she does tell her brother that her husband betrayed their father. Cesare cares less about that then about how Sforza treated Lucrezia. She says nothing, but starts to faint, so she’s forced to admit that she’s pregnant, and the baby isn’t her husband’s. His concern for her is really adorable. He asks her if anyone else knows, and she says only Giulia, and she’d like to keep it that way.

Charles emerges from his meeting and informs the troops that they’ll be billeted on the people of Rome, and the College of Cardinals will be convened. But not for the reason della Rovere thinks, as we soon learn when Cesare comes upon his dad getting changed back into his rich papal vestments. Alexander tells him Charles was a religious man who wanted spiritual guidance. And Naples, of course, which he’s getting, so he’s got no problem with Alexander now. The cardinals are all being recalled so Alexander can basically spank them en masse for abandoning the Vatican in its hour of need.

Burchard returns quickly, with all the books he spirited away. Alexander finds him in the library and conversationally tells him how shameful it was for all the cardinals to flee. He hints that he might be mad at Burchard too, but then lets him off the hook by choosing to believe Burchard was only leaving to save the books, not himself. Alexander asks him to study them carefully to find a precedent for him to refer to when ordering the College of Cardinals to return to Rome in sackcloth and ashes. Burchard promises to do what he can.

Cesare takes Lucrezia to the convent Ursula retreated to (I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but he’s the benefactor of the convent, so it’s basically under his control—something Ursula wasn’t aware of until it was too late). He leaves her there to wait out her pregnancy while he attends to the annulment of her marriage. Lucrezia’s surprised to hear such a thing is possible, considering the only grounds for annulment is non-consummation of the marriage. Cesare tells her not to worry, they’ll take care of it. And in the meantime, she’ll be in the hands of Ursula, who now comes in to take her charge. She and Cesare greet each other politely, and Cesare presents his sister, who remembers Ursula. Cesare promises to visit very, very often, and Ursula says he should. Now he’s got two reasons to keep coming back to this place. Cesare gently kisses his sister on the forehead to comfort her.

Alexander is entertaining Charles and his captains at dinner at the Vatican. Things are going nicely, until Charles asks/demands Alexander send Cesare to Naples with the French army as “papal legate.” And papal legate clearly just means “hostage.” Alexander’s not keen—and Cesare isn’t either—but they have no choice but to give in to the demand.

After dinner, Cesare vents to his dad, who reassures him that Charles won’t be staying in Naples long—trust him on that one. He tells Cesare to bring Micheletto along for company, and to affect an escape before they get to Naples, which is apparently plague-ridden at the moment.

This calms Cesare down, and he and Alexander join the cardinals for their convocation. Cesare, having been loyal, is dressed in his rich, red robes, while the rest of the cardinals are in rough monks’ habits like the one Alexander was wearing earlier in the episode, with ash crosses on their foreheads. Alexander takes his seat on the throne and starts calling the cardinals forward one by one to publicly apologize and appease him with rich gifts, starting with Sforza and working his way down. Jeremy Irons has this awesome moment where he just lounges down in his throne and silkily invites one of the cardinals to “unburden [his] soul.” It has to be seen—it’s great.

In a much fancier ceremony, Alexander invests Charles with the crowns of France and Naples as Charles kneels before him. As Charles takes a seat on the throne that’s been set up for him, Cesare sidles up to della Rovere, who looks shocked to see him in his presence. I guess everyone’s just agreed to forget about the whole dead servant girl thing that made della Rovere flee Rome in the first place. Cesare compliments della Rovere on his single-mindedness and steadfastness, which made him a fairly worthy adversary. He’s so impressed, in fact, that he wants della Rovere to come back to Rome and work with the Borgias. Cesare’s smart enough to realize Alexander needs someone with “steel in their soul” like della Rovere has. Della Rovere thinks Cesare fits that bill just fine, but Cesare’s forced to admit he won’t be in town much longer, and he won’t be a cardinal forever. Della Rovere turns down the offer, telling Cesare his opposition to the Borgia papacy will continue unabated.

The French, plus Micheletto and Cesare, are on the road to Naples. Cesare and Micheletto discuss his current status and wonder what would happen if Cesare decided to just ride off—after all, if he’s a papal legate and not a hostage, he should be able to do that, right? He gives it a try, and predictably, the nearby soldiers head him off and herd him back to the rest of the army. Yep, he’s a hostage.

That night, Cesare and Micheletto are relaxing around a fire with a pair of French soldiers, casually discussing the many ways there are to kill someone, with Micheletto’s preferred method being the garrote, as we know. Oddly, they’ve never heard of such a weapon, although I’m fairly sure it wasn’t new at the time. One of the French soldiers (I’m guessing he’s drunk) stupidly asks Micheletto to show him how such a weapon works, and he obliges, killing the man quickly and silently while Cesare takes out the other one with a piece of firewood. They grab the soldiers’ helmets and cloaks and make their escape, hitting the road to Pesaro, so Cesare can pay a visit to Sforza. Oh, this should be good.

The French ambassador brings word of Cesare’s escape to Alexander, who pretends to be shocked and claims to have no knowledge of his son’s whereabouts, which might actually be true. He generously offers any of the other cardinals as a replacement, and even nominates Cardinal Sforza.  Cardinal Sforza’s really getting his ass kicked this episode, isn’t he?

Sforza arrives home from one of his hunting trips and sails right past Cesare, who’s posing as a tradesman unloading bags in the courtyard. As Sforza bends down to pet his dogs in the stable, he’s set upon by Micheletto, who lays him out with a quick blow to the head and stuffs him into a large sack, which he tosses over his shoulder and takes out to the courtyard. Strangely, not a single one of the servants reacts at all to the large, man-shaped sack being carried around and flung onto a cart that’s then driven away by two strangers. Either these are the dumbest servants ever, or Sforza’s mean to everybody and they’re hoping he never comes back.

Sforza’s delivered to Rome and treated none too gently as he’s unloaded from the cart and de-sacked. He’s taken to Alexander in a rage, complaining of being kidnapped and bound. Alexander shrugs and says it’s no big deal before moving into a discussion of the annulment, which is news to Sforza. Alexander calls on Burchard to elaborate and Burchard says there’s only one reason to annul a marriage—non-consummation (not true, actually. Marriages could be annulled due to consanguinity—that is, the bride and groom being too closely related—as well. That was how Eleanor of Aquitaine’s first marriage was annulled after she had two children with that husband.) Sforza sniffs that they’d never be able to prove that.

The cardinals are gathered to hear the case, and Lucrezia’s there too, sitting mostly hidden behind a screen, which is fortunate, because she’s got a big belly on her now. This actually did happen—she gave testimony that her marriage was never consummated while she was several months pregnant. Apparently she was dressed in such a way to conceal the condition. Sforza’s there too, standing with his arms crossed, defiant. Burchard asks Lucrezia to tell them what happened on her wedding night. She has trouble saying it, because the memory’s clearly still raw and painful, but she finally manages to choke out that Sforza was impotent. The cardinals chuckle, and Sforza gets mad and starts to say that on the wedding night he did indeed have sex with his wife, but for some reason he stops himself. I can only guess that he’s afraid Cesare will have him killed otherwise. He just claims that Lucrezia’s lying, so Burchard tells Alexander they have a couple of options here: Sforza could publicly have sex with Lucrezia, or he could publicly have sex with some other woman, like a prostitute brought in for just that purpose. Alexander turns down the first idea, but he’s fine with the second. The cardinals are loving this—it’s like Renaissance Pay-Per-View, and it’s certainly more entertaining than most of the cases they probably have to rule on.

A nasty, dirty mattress is brought in and the cardinals gather around for the show. Two courtesans—not the prettiest ones, either—enter as well and ask if the cardinals want to see Sforza with one, or both of them? Burchard says one’s just fine, so one of the girls plops herself on the bed and spreads her legs. Sexy! Sforza stares at her distastefully but approaches the bed. He takes a look around the room, exchanges a look with Alexander, and gives up, admitting to being impotent. He’s made to fully spell it out for the record, completing his humiliation. Alexander declares the marriage invalid. Afterwards, as Sforza rides home, he’s pelted with produce and mocked in the streets. Ok, now his humiliation’s complete.

The French arrive in Naples and find the place empty, desolate, and reeking of death.

Lucrezia, meanwhile, is in labor at the convent, attended by Ursula and a midwife. She’s sure she’s a goner and begs Ursula not to let the child die. As she labors, Cesare paces nervously in the chapel, wincing as he hears her cries. He’s finally joined by Vanozza, who sits to wait with him.

Remember that day spa in Naples that Alfonso took della Rovere to? It’s a catacomb now. The hot bath has been drained and is now piled with bodies. Charles looks down at them in horror and realizes the city’s been plagued. He hurries out of the room and wonders aloud if Alexander knew about this. Oh, man, he’s going to be pissed at Alexander now. Not smart, Alex.

Cesare and Vannozza are joined by Jofre, Sancia, Juan, and finally, Giulia and Alexander, so the family circle’s complete now. Vannozza smiles when she sees Alexander and remembers how he loves each new arrival. The two of them reminisce about Juan’s arrival, which was a difficult one, but made them both very happy. It’s sweet, this moment between these two. I’ve said it before, but I think it’s worth repeating: the chemistry between them is just right. It’s what you’d expect between two people who have been together a long time and are very comfortable and fond of one another, if not passionate.

The moment’s interrupted by the cry of a baby, and everyone races into Lucrezia’s room, where Ursula’s holding the newborn. It’s a boy. Vannozza attends to her daughter, and Cesare pats her on the foot before going to see his little nephew. Ursula hands him over, and there’s this really nice moment that passes between them, like they take a second to reflect on what could have been, if things had gone differently with them. I know I complained about the show dragging things out with her last week, but that was rather well done.

Cesare hands the baby to Alexander, who marvels at his first grandchild before laying him in Lucrezia’s arms and urging them all to thank God for all the blessings he’s visited on their family. Everyone gathers around Lucrezia in the bed, smiling and happy, and there season one ends.

Too short! Now I can’t wait for season two to start (and yes, there is going to be a season two). I was both pleasantly surprised and impressed by season one—I was honestly expecting this to kind of suck, but it was good. Really good. I looked forward to it ever single week (which, to be honest, is more than I can say about Game of Thrones these days). I can’t wait to see what’ll happen in the next season, but I think we’ll be seeing the rise of Lucrezia and the fall of Juan. Should make for some pretty good watching! See you in 2012!

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