Previously on The Borgias: Micheletto actually got a little background, Catarina Sforza gave the pope a big ol’ middle finger, and Della Rovere got a thumbs up from Savonarola for his assassination plot.
It’s Ash Wednesday, and Alexander is ashing up a whole line of people in front of St. Peter’s, reminding them that they’ll return to dust one day. Such a cheery day, Ash Wednesday. A very poor old woman approaches the pope, who kneels before her and washes her feet as a sign of humility. Della Rovere and Partner (does this guy actually have a name?) watch the show and dismiss it all as just more theater, not extra humility on Alexander’s part. DR points out the pope’s official taster, who’s holding the water jug.
Florence. A bunch of penitents are whipping themselves before the cathedral as Savonarola preaches and a large crowd watches. Must be a lousy TV night. One wealthy woman kneels before Savonarola and pledges her life to Christ. He marks her with an ashy cross and snips off her long hair while the half-naked men in black Klansmen-style hoods continue to beat themselves. Lovely. The woman, now shorn, sheds her silk gown and puts on a rough robe. Medici, out in the crowd, tries to get out of there, but the crowd notices and starts to harass him and the woman with him. Sforza watches from a nearby doorway and, not being an idiot like Medici, realizes when it’s time to get lost quietly.
DR’s got his young assassin with him and is measuring out little bits of cantarella to help the kid build up an immunity to it. Apparently it works just like iocane powder. The kid drinks the poison and is soon on his bed in convulsions.
Alexander’s in a confessional, wondering aloud who the pope should confess to, in order to be square with God again. The doors suddenly fly open, revealing Cesare, who’s panting, just having returned from Forli. He asks his father to hear his confession and Alexander agrees. Cesare confesses to Giovanni’s murder, which rather annoys Alexander. He also ‘fesses up to his affair with Catarina, which doesn’t seem to surprise his dad all that much. Alex asks how Catarina responded to their proposal and learns that she’s still their enemy. Pissed, he nonetheless absolves Cesare and, once outside the confessional, scolds him for bungling his mission and bringing the northern armies down upon them. Cesare begs to be released from his holy vows so he can lead the papal armies, but Alexander won’t hear of it. Instead, he’s going to marry off Lucrezia again, to ensure yet another alliance.
Later, Cesare’s back in his cardinal’s robes for dinner with dad and the other cardinals. Alexander tells everyone they’re going to be eating lean, all together, throughout Lent, dining on delicious sardines. Before he takes a bite, his taster intervenes, though Alexander scoffs at the notion that anyone would poison such a dish. The sardines pass muster and everyone digs in.
Late at night, Sforza finds Savonarola praying in the cathedral. He introduces himself and asks if he really believes he hears God’s voice. Savonarola does. Sforza invites him to Rome, but Savonarola says he’s got plenty of work in Florence. Sforza dangles the cardinal’s hat in front of him—literally—and Savonarola throws it right back at him. Round one lost.
Da Roma. Cesare goes to see Lucrezia, who’s rocking the baby, and gives her the bloody knife he used to kill Giovanni. She’s a little amazed at herself for being able to accept such a thing without being upset. An innocent no longer. Alexander joins them and, a little bluntly, announces that Lucrezia will be married again. She’s not surprised or happy about it at all, putting her foot down and informing the men in her family that she will not remarry. Alexander sternly tells her that it’s her duty to marry as her father dictates and orders Cesare to remain silent, even though, as he says, he hasn’t said a word on the matter. “No, but we can hear you thinking,” says Alexander pissily before sweeping out. Heh.
Alexander’s next stop is Vannozza’s, where he finds her in her bath. He asks her what she’s said to Lucrezia about marriage and she says she hasn’t said anything. She suggests Lucrezia might not be ready to remarry and Alexander says that it’s not her choice, and he needs Vannozza to help persuade her. He plops down next to the bath and tells her about Cesare killing Giovanni, which doesn’t surprise her. Alexander goes on to say that the Doge of Venice’s nephew is coming in a few days to court Lucrezia, and he wants Vannozza to help out with this. Vannozza mildly agrees and tells him to get lost and let her enjoy her bath. He takes a moment to be slightly lecherous and she reminds him he’s forsworn intimacy for Lent, like giving up intimacy went so well last time. He tells her she has a rare beauty before he goes.
On the streets of Rome, Cesare meets quietly with Machiavelli, who’s there officially to open the Villa Medici, because Piero Medici’s getting rather nervous in Florence. Cesare asks if all the unrest is impacting the Medici bank and Machiavelli admits it’s not in great shape. In fact, all the Vatican funds are in danger of dissipating, and nobody seems to know quite where all the cash went. Not even Machiavelli, who knows almost everything. Cesare asks him to try and find out a bit more.
Vannozza visits Lucrezia in her rooms and tells her she’s really annoyed daddy. Lucrezia tells her mother that the thought of marriage turns her stomach and Vannozza informs her that she’s been asked to vet the suitors. Lucrezia’s not happy about that and reminds her mother that her last marriage didn’t work out so well. Vannozza says it might go ok this time, particularly with her lending a hand.
DR’s tending to his little protégé, who seems to be coming back from the effects of the cantarella. He tells DR he dreamed while he was out, and DR tells him to rest. The kid’s bleeding out of one eye, though, so I think DR might have gotten his measurements a bit off.
Papal dinnertime. Once again, Brother Bernardino tries the sardines, and Alexander asks him how he’d feel if the sardines really were poisoned. Bernardino tells him such a thing would make him happy, because he would have saved the pope’s life. Alexander says he should try to be deserving of such devotion. He and the others dig in.
Sforza’s back and reporting to Alexander that Savonarola’s power in Florence is growing all the time. Alexander correctly guesses he turned down the cardinal’s hat, which is what he intended for him to do, because it’s another strike against Savonarola. After all, nobody turns down a cardinal’s hat. Sforza tells him that Medici is hated by all and Savonarola claims to hear the voice of God—him alone, no one else. Alexander’s rather pleased to hear that, because that could be an excuse to try and burn him: it’s heresy.
A pair of cardinals meet with Lucrezia, Vannozza, and Giulia in what appears to be an old, nearly ruined church. The ladies tell them they hope to turn the place into a home for the poor, but they need funds to do it. The cardinals tell them the coffers of the public works are empty thanks to the ladies’ charitable works and Giulia says they were emptied long before that. Vannozza catches the snap and says that Giulia’s been looking at the books pretty carefully, and she’s ready to start examining the cardinals’ funds as well to find out where the missing money went. The cardinals pale at the thought.
They immediately tattle to Sforza and ask him to get Alexander to tell the ladies to back off, but Sforza knows the pope’s got his hands full at the moment and isn’t likely to do so. He tells them to just pay up.
Alexander tells Cesare of Savonarola’s heresy and tells him to travel to Florence and ban Savonarola from preaching. Cesare says Savonarola will laugh in both their faces. Alexander knows. This is just the first step in giving them the opportunity to have Savonarola burned for heresy.
Machiavelli reports to Cesare that a shipment of Medici gold is being sent out of Florence, proving the coffers aren’t quite empty yet. Proving he knows which side his bread is buttered on, he provides Cesare with a map of the route, along with dates and times, so there’s absolutely no excuse for screwing this up. Cesare thanks him for his help and Machiavelli says this is just a beginning.
Cesare immediately finds Micheletto and fills him in on the shipment. This is all going to be done on the down-low, without Alexander’s knowledge and in the hope that this will finally—finally!—get Cesare out of his cardinal’s robes and at the head of the papal armies, with Micheletto at his side. Micheletto tells him he was born in the shadows and should really remain there. Cesare suggests they cross that bridge when they come to it.
Vannozza, wearing red, reports to Lucrezia, who’s also in red, to chat about the Doge’s nephew. All she really knows is that he’s rich—really, really rich, which tends to sweeten the suit a bit. She asks Lucrezia to just have a look at him—he’s waiting for her downstairs. Lucrezia tells her mother to go talk to him, and she’ll have a look. As the girls go downstairs, Vannozza tells her he brought a dog as a gift. That does not impress her daughter.
The man is presented to Vannozza and has brought a handsome wolfhound with him. Lucrezia looks down from above and is joined by Alexander, who asks what she thinks. She’s ready to take the dog, but not the man. And then she has another look and decides it’s no to both man and dog. She sweeps off and Alexander sadly shakes his head at Vannozza, who politely gives the nephew the heave-ho.
Micheletto and Cesare gather the Band of Badass together for their own little Italian Job. The BoB isn’t all that enthusiastic, mostly because the last job didn’t net them much of anything, but Cesare promises this time, it’ll be different.
Vannozza proudly presents a small chest of gold coins to Lucrezia and Giulia: payoff from those cardinals, so their work can begin in earnest. They all drink to that.
Medici presents himself to the pope, explaining he was basically run out of Florence. Alexander asks if he remembered to pack the Vatican funds and Medici promises they’re in safe hands. Sure they are. Medici begs for the pope’s protection in Rome and his help in fighting Savonarola. Alexander tells him that Cesare’s on his way to Florence to deal with that pest, and once he’s gone, there will once again be a bank in Florence, but it will be a Vatican bank. I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure how historically accurate all this is. There was a Piero de’Medici (called Piero the Unfortunate) around at this time, but he was forced to flee Florence just after the French invasion, because of how badly he bungled it. He wasn’t chased out by Savonarola, as far as I can tell, and I don’t know about him beggaring the family’s bank. I think that happened much later, historically.
Anyway, Piero asks Alexander how much he knows about banking and Alexander says he knows nothing, which is why Medici will teach him.
Firenze. Savonarola’s preaching, of course, when Cesare arrives with a crew of soldiers, loudly announces himself, and orders Savonarola to stop preaching or risk being accused of heresy. Savonarola, as expected, refuses to do so.
DR once again measures out the cantarella, adding just a little more to the wine for his protégé to drink. The boy watches, and drinks when bidden. Once again, he falls back in convulsions.
Cesare and Micheletto, dressed in civvies, find a large crowd booing and pelting a group of men with refuse. Cesare asks what’s going on and someone tells him the men are all sodomites, due to be hanged on the orders of Savonarola. Wow, he can give those orders now? Micheletto closes his eyes just for a second before following Cesare, who’s immediately accosted by some obnoxious kid, who demands the ring off his finger. Cesare offers him a boot up the ass instead, which the kid totally deserves, and the kid retaliates by calling him a sodomite. Cesare and the others get out of there fast.
Off to the woods they ride, to join the BoB in robbing the convoy, which seems to be taken a little too easily. Micheletto realizes the danger and tries to call the BoB back, but he’s too late, because a whole load of concealed guards come out and start killing our loveable badasses and very nearly kill Cesare too. Somehow, the BoB manages to overcome the opposition and Cesare finds the gold.
Lucrezia whinily asks her mom how long they have to keep looking at princes and Vannozza tells her to just choose one, already, so she can get her life back. They’ve been through five already, and now they’re going to see the sixth. The ladies repair to Lucrezia’s usual spying balcony and Vannozza points out the suitor, who’s both young and hot, but not as hot as his brother, if Lucrezia’s the judge. He looks up and smiles at her, and Lucrezia blushes and smiles back, ducking behind a curtain.
Cesare’s back and tells his father Savonarola continues to be defiant. Alexander says they just need to be patient. In the meantime, Cesare has a gift for his dad: the Medici gold, which is being brought to the Vatican as they speak. Cesare excitedly says this is enough to pay for soldiers to take Forli and bring Catarina to Rome. Alexander asks who would help guide him at the Vatican if Cesare were to become a soldier. Once again, it’s a no go. Juan’s on his way home, so he can bungle handle things from here. Disappointed once again, Cesare tells his father he’ll be returning to Florence to attend to their business there.