The Borgias: Poison in Every Cup and an Assassin on Every Corner

Those of you who read my Tudors recaps knows how I feel about the work Michael Hirst chooses to produce, so when I heard he was taking on the Borgia family, I was a bit wary, and the bodice ripping early previews didn’t help. Still, I tried to be optimistic. After all, The Borgias stars much-lauded actor Jeremy Irons. Now, Irons has made some pretty poor choices in the past when it came to his roles (he did, after all, voluntarily do both Eragorn and Dungeons and Dragons), but he’s still a fine actor, and as much as I’m sure I’ll get outraged comments about this, I think he’s a much better and stronger actor than Jonathan Rhys Myers, who in my opinion didn’t have what it took to carry The Tudors. The supporting cast looked good too—Derek Jacobi, Joanne Whalley, Colm Feore. So, like I said, I tried to be optimistic. And judging by the first episode, I was kind of right to be. If the show continues the way it started, it’s going to be a fun ride. Let’s get started, shall we?

Rome, 1492. We’re rather unnecessarily told that this is the center of Christianity and the seat of the papacy, as the camera pans over an impressive overhead shot of the city in the early Renaissance period. It already looks like someone’s done the research, because they don’t just use overhead shots of the Vatican the way it appears today, as The Tudors did. St. Peter’s and its square look quite different in 1492—the square as we know it today wasn’t designed until the mid-17th century, by Bernini (working under yet another Pope Alexander). St. Peter’s Basilica was designed and created by a succession of architects and artists throughout the 16th century, most famously Michelangelo. What we’re seeing now is the old basilica—it’s much less baroque and more in line with typical Italian architecture.

Anyway, we’re told that the church is mired in corruption, and the pope, Innocent VIII, is dying. Naturally, this is setting off a little succession crisis behind the Vatican walls.

The dying pope lies in bed, where he’s given final communion by an attending priest. Roderigo Borgia, our main man, pokes his head in and is weakly called over by the pople. Roderigo’s followed by a slew of other cardinals, including Derek Jacobi, playing Orsino Orsini, and Colm Feore, playing Giuliano della Rovere. The pope calls these two, plus Borgia, the most likely successors to the papal throne and realizes they’ll fight like dogs over it. Della Rovere piously crosses himself as the pope mourns the state of the papacy, with its corruption, and wonders who among them will cleanse the Holy See. Della Rovere looks like he’s about to speak up, but Borgia gets there first, promising it’ll be cleansed. Orsini looks surprised to hear this and hisses some insults at Borgia, which he ignores so he can kneel by the pope’s bed. Della Rovere finally gets his time to brownnose and kisses the pope’s hand, promising to restore the greatness of the papacy in his lifetime. He and Borgia exchange glares over the pope’s body. No love lost there.

From there, we move to a bedroom, where a young blonde girl peeks through a window at two lovers getting it on. First boob sighting–drink! The girl is Lucrezia, and she’s spying on her brother Cesare, who wastes no time directing his flavor of the day to a back door she can leave through, once he’s finished. He’s a bishop, after all, and he can’t just have loose women wandering in and out of the front door, now, can he? He hears a noise by the window and immediately realizes it’s Lucrezia. He runs out into the nearby courtyard and playfully chases her around, telling her there’s a punishment for spying. They run around, laughing like children, and he finally tackles her to the ground. She urges him not to be sad that he’s a man of the cloth, which clearly isn’t his choice, because maybe their father will become pope, and then Cesare will be able to do what he wants. I think he’ll be even less able to do what he wants in that case, Lu. They talk a bit about the current pope’s impending death and about their father’s chances of ascending the papal throne.

Now properly dressed in bishop purple, Cesare arrives at the Vatican, where a guard (not a Swiss guard, in those absurd uniforms they’re made to wear—the Papal Swiss Guards were founded in 1506, and the uniforms officially designed in 1914. Well done, show researchers!) tells him that the pope’s breathing his last.

Or, rather, he has breathed his last. He’s laid out in his pontifical vestments, his hand being kissed by the cardinals. Once he’s dispatched that duty, Borgia draws Cesare aside and goes over a plan they’ve clearly had in place for a while: Cesare will leave the Vatican before it’s sealed for the conclave, and Borgia will send him messages via white dove regarding whom they need to buy off to secure the election. Cesare reminds his father that the church has a word for that—simony, and it’s seriously frowned upon, but Borgia says God will forgive them. Keep telling yourself that, Borgia. He firmly tells Cesare he won’t accept failure from either Cesare or his brother. Cesare promises they won’t fail him, and Borgia kisses him before sending him on his way.

On the streets of Rome, Cesare’s younger brother, Juan, gets into an altercation with a man who insults his family’s Spanish roots (get used to those insults, they fly fast and thick). Juan’s a hothead, and the insults soon become swordplay. It’s all very Montague vs. Capulet. Cesare soon arrives on the scene and intervenes, impressively, breaking up the fight and apologizing on his brother’s behalf before hustling Juan back to the house and scolding him for being such a pain in the ass.

At the Borgia palace, Lucrezia, the children’s mother, Vannozza, and their youngest brother, a preteen named Jofre, are all playing cards in the courtyard. Cesare tells them the pope has died, and Juan pipes up to say that Rome will be pretty chaotic until the election’s over. Why? Was the pope totally in charge of the city? It seems odd that there would be nobody in place to at least keep the peace until a successor was named—after all, these conclaves took days, or even weeks to conclude, normally. Why not have some system in place to ensure order until it was all over?

Juan and Lucrezia both wonder if their father might win, and Vannozza wonders if their father will be able to care for them as well as he has in the past, if he does win. After all, popes, like kings, belong to their people, not their families. But, she says, the whole thing’s in the hands of God. Cesare knowingly says it’s in the hands of the College of Cardinals, which isn’t the same thing at all. Then he cutely tells his younger brother which card to play. I’m kind of starting to love Cesare.

At the Vatican, Borgia’s called aside by della Rovere, who tells Borgia that, if he were a different man, della Rovere would vote for him. Borgia’s been a good vice chancellor, and the skills that made him good at that would serve the papacy well, but Borgia’s also lacking in honesty and other qualities della Rovere thinks are necessary in a pope, so he plans to fight Borgia to the end. Borgia calmly says he tends to win any battles he fights, but after all, this is in God’s hands.

First vote’s in. Borgia has four votes, della Rovere has seven, and Orsini has six, so nobody has the required 2/3 majority.

The cardinals retire for lunch, which looks pretty bleak—some kind of porridge. The elderly cardinal sitting beside Borgia tells him one election took more than a month, which sucked mostly because the food was bad. He looks down at his porridge and complains there’s gristle in it. Borgia oh so kindly switches their plates and also shares some excellent wine from his own Spanish vineyards that he’s managed to smuggle in. Looks like he’s got a new ally.

After lunch, Borgia goes to a black-clad cleric who, I guess, is in charge of food detail for the conclave. By pretending to be concerned about the needs of his fellow cardinals, he manages to find out what some of them are being served for dinner.

Borgia sends off a message, via dove (I can’t help but wonder where he’s getting the dove from), to Cesare, ordering him to scare up some cash from the Borgia monestaries to pay off a few of the cardinals. The details of the payoffs are then hidden in the cardinals’ special dinners. Clever, Borgias. The cardinals all seem pleased with their unexpected little gifts. Still, Borgia fails to secure the majority at the next vote. He sends yet another message to Cesare, who sends Juan to their monasteries to get even more money.

While Cesare’s prepping a dove to send back to his father, Lucrezia wanders over and asks him what the deal is with the doves. Cesare says the dove’s a symbol of the uncorrupted soul, and ironically, it’s being made to carry messages of corruption. Lucrezia realizes the doves are carrying news of how many votes they need to buy. “You’re criminally well informed, sis,” Cesare says. Do I detect a note of pride in big brother’s voice? I do believe so.

The treasures from the monasteries are sent to the necessary cardinals’ houses, but Borgia still doesn’t have his majority. So, he meets with Cardinal Sforza, one of the other contenders, and promises to make him vice chancellor, a very powerful position, if he votes for Borgia. And, with that, Borgia becomes the new pope. When the votes are read out, he sinks to his knees in relief, and della Rovere immediately accuses him of having bought the election. He’s backed by Orsini, who doesn’t believe Borgia’s worthy of the appointment. In return, Borgia decides to mess with these two men by saying he’ll have to appoint a new Vice Chancellor, and they’re really the two obvious choices, but of course he couldn’t imagine appointing anyone who questioned his right to be pope. Orsini and della Rovere fall all over themselves backpedaling, and Borgia kisses them both full on the lips before asking if they can proceed. Judging by the look on his face, Orsini can’t wait to dip his whole head in bleach.

Proceeding apparently means examining the pope’s family jewels. I kid you not. Do they still do this? Why did they think this was necessary? I guess they were still smarting over that whole female pope thing.

Borgia passes the test and is proven to be, in fact, a man, which means he can be formally named pope. White smoke issues from the Vatican, and the crowd outside cheers. Borgia, now known as Pope Alexander, so we’ll go with that, is dressed in papal vestments of white embroidered with gold before being presented to the waiting crowd packed into the square. He gives the papal wave and blesses them.

Juan does his celebrating in what appears to be a high-class brothel. One of the women makes the mistake of referring to him as “the pope’s bastard” and he roughly ducks her head under the water of the tub she’s sitting in and corrects that to “his favorite son.” Why does this actor always play sadistic losers with serious women issues?

Cesare meets with his father in a confessional, where he confesses to having engaged in simony. Alexander says God will repay them for their sin tenfold. Cesare wonders if a family like theirs—Spanish, and therefore hated in Rome—can survive this appointment and Alexander says God will protect the pope and those closest to him. Cesare wants something a bit more concrete than that and asks, probably not for the first time, to be allowed to leave the church and become a soldier, so he can take command of the papal armies and protect his family. He never wanted to join the church in the first place—Alexander just decided that one son should be a soldier (Juan) and the eldest would be a prince of the church. Alexander says that his battles will be fought inside the Vatican’s walls, and that’s where he needs Cesare. With that, the discussion ends.

Cesare sadly makes his way through the halls of…somewhere, it’s not clear where, and comes across Juan trying on some new armour and talking about how he wants to dress it up with a big yellow Borgia bull on the breastplate. Subtle.

Alexander takes a time-out to visit Vannozza and Lucrezia, who greet him happily in the courtyard of their home. Both women congratulate him, but when Vannozza goes to kiss him, Alexander waves her off and tells her that a pope must be seen to be chaste, so he can’t carry on sleeping with her, even though all of Rome knows about their relationship and the four children. Vannozza asks if he can still have a relationship with the kids and he says he certainly can, as he affectionatelycaresses Lucrezia’s cheek. Vannozza sighs that she always knew this would happen someday. She makes him promise there won’t be anyone else and asks if they’ll have to take vows of poverty to go along with their vows of chastity. Most certainly not.

Indeed, the preparations for the coronation are very elaborate and include a spectacular carriage for Vannozza and the kids, which is much more period accurate than the carriages that ran all over The Tudors. I’m starting to wonder if Hirst was too busy mucking up Camelot to screw this show up, or if everyone else involved with this cared more, or if he isn’t really the problem at all and I’m just being unfair. Whatever it is, I’m glad this show’s coming along nicely.

The coronation procession makes its way through the streets of Rome to the Basilica as people cheer and kneel and pray and kiss the ground the pope’s walked on. Inside the Basilica, Alexander is crowned with the papal triple tiara, an awed and humbled look on his face. Oddly, Cesare watches the coronation from the audience, with his family, dressed in what appears to be civilian garb. He’s a bishop, shouldn’t he be participating in some way, or at least sitting with the other princes of the church? Seems strange. As Alexander’s new titles are announced, Lucrezia asks if, now their father’s the holy father, she’ll be called the holy daughter. Cesare says she’ll only change her name when she marries, and she’ll never marry, if he has anything to say about it. Ok, that’s a slightly creepy thing to say to one’s sister, but let’s just get something out of the way here. I don’t know if the show’s going to go in this direction, but all the historical rumors of Lucrezia sleeping with her brother were just that—rumors spread by the family’s many, many enemies who put the story around pretty much because it was the worst thing they could come up with. The vast majority of modern-day historians discredit the story, and even people at that time mostly thought it was nonsense, so I really, really hope the show doesn’t go there, because it’s so cheap and tawdry and unnecessary and mucks up the image of a woman who was, actually, a really interesting, intelligent, worthwhile individual. She and Cesare did have an extremely close, mutually worshipful relationship, but it was most likely nothing more than that.

After the coronation, Alexander, with a distant look in his eye, muses that he’s no longer Rodrigo Borgia, but Pope Alexander VI. He’s no longer an “I” but a “We”. Ok, sounds like someone’s been breathing in a little too much incense today. Cesare, who’s with his father as his heavy vestments are removed in an antechamber, tries not to look exasperated and expresses some surprise at how his father’s reacting to his elevation. Alexander continues, saying he’s very alone now, with only the silence of God keeping him company. He asks Cesare to help him interpret this great silence, as his knees buckle. Cesare grabs his father before he hits the ground, but Alexander recovers and allows his son to help him out of the room, still asking Cesare to help him.

In the Basilica, della Rovere asks the French ambassador how the French king feels about the papacy being in the hands of an ape. The ambassador says the king hopes the grace of God can help transform the worst of men, and if it doesn’t, he’ll happily observe the fireworks from afar.

Now duly crowned, Alexander gets down to business, handing out various offices to the cardinals, leaving vice chancellor for last. He grants it to Sforza, as promised, which pisses off Orsini, who clearly thought he was entitled to the job. He leaps to his feet and loudly accuses the pope of simony again. Cesare steps in and tells Orsini to relax. Orsini lowers his voice but tells Alexander that the post had been promised to him. Alexander silkily asks if Orsini paid for it, and Orsini says he did, with his acceptance of Alexander’s election. Alexander says God has chosen him to sweep the church clean, which is why he chose a man with no expectation of advancement for the vice chancellorship. Sforza steps forward and kneels at Alexander’s feet, saying he hopes to be worthy of the honor. Della Rovere, of course, steps up to brownnose next and fully approves Sforza’s appointment before kissing Alexander’s ring. As he turns away, he hisses “kiss the ring, you fool,” at Orsini. Heh. And seriously, how did Orsini get so far with such crappy political skills? Orsini does so, apologizes for his outburst, and invites everyone, including the pope, to a banquet at his palace in two days.

Party time! Cesare and Alexander arrive at Palazzo Orsini; Cesare toting a little monkey. Inside, everyone takes their seats at the table, and when servants start to pour the wine, Cesare cleverly gives it to the monkey first, to test it for poison. Smart man. Everyone jokes a bit about the animal’s palate and appetite, and then the monkey pisses on the table, passing excellent judgment on the company. Cesare takes it aside to do its business elsewhere, but he notices the servant who just poured the wine hurrying away and follows the man to one of the kitchens, where he sets the monkey down on a table and comes across the man mixing something in a mortar. Cesare sneaks up on him and puts a knife to his neck, but the man’s fast and twists away and pulls his own knife and soon enough the men are in a good old fashioned standoff. Cesare compliments him on his speed, and the servant compliments him right back. Cesare asks him who’s paying him and the man confesses readily that it’s Orsini. Cesare promises to double whatever Orsini’s paying him, because he could use someone as speedy as this guy. The servant lays his knife down, but Cesare’s ready to kill the guy anyhow. The servant talks fast, guessing Cesare needs him, so killing him would be kind of stupid. Plus, there’s that whole “thou shalt not kill” commandment. Cesare’s not too worried about commandments, since the Pope’s his confessor, so he can get out of just about everything. The servant says Cesare will never meet another assassin like him, and when Cesare backs off for a second, the guy proves it, arming himself with two knives and holding them to Cesare’s throat in the blink of an eye.

The servant backs away and says he’s cool working for Cesare, and he’ll do absolutely anything he’s told to do, right down to smothering infants in their beds. Cesare asks what the powder going into the wine was, and the servant points to the monkey, which is now dead, having apparently helped itself to a sample. Cesare mixes the powder into the wine and tells the servant to give it to Orsini. Cold, man. Although the guy did just try to kill both Cesare and his father.

Cesare returns to the party, just as the servant’s finishing filling Orsini’s wineglass. Della Rovere notices Cesare’s got a nick on his neck (from the servant’s knife) and Cesare lies that the monkey bit him. Orsini proposes a toast and everyone drinks up. This prompts della Rovere to propose a toast himself, as Orsini starts to look fairly uncomfortable. Cesare watches him closely and proposes his own toast, to monkeys, which lick your hand one minute and bite it the next. “And we all know what you do with the monkey that bites you,” he says, as Orsini starts to turn red and choke slightly. “And what do you do with the monkey that bites you?” asks della Rovere. “You wring its neck,” Cesare says quietly, as Orsini rises and manages to choke “poison!” as he vomits all over the table. Alexander looks horrified as Cesare hustles him away. The other cardinals gather around Orsini, looking alarmed.

Cesare tells his father the poison was meant for them, which Alexander can’t believe. He’s outraged at the very idea, as Cesare sends him on his way, then meets up with the still unnamed badass servant. Cesare tells him he’s done well, but the servant says the fun’s not over yet. The plan was to take out the whole damn Borgia family that night. He and Cesare race to Vannozza’s palace, where Vannozza’s putting Lucrezia to bed. Badass Servant finds his accomplices skulking outside and immediately dispatches them, aided by Cesare. Papal guards led by Juan, meanwhile, arrive at Orsini’s palace, where Juan sends the praying cardinals home and orders everyone in the household arrested.

As Badass moves the bodies into the shadows, Cesare asks him who was behind this whole affair. Badass says it was just Orsini, that della Rovere knew nothing of it. He had one master, and now he’s like a stray dog, masterless, unless Cesare’s kind offer of employment still stands. Cesare comments that Badass could have let things run their course and betrayed him, because his kind usually does that. Badass hunkers down, looking at his blood-covered hands, and murmurs that he doesn’t have a kind. This guy’s sort of fascinating, I really hope he sticks around for a while. I think there’s some real potential here. Cesare asks the man for his name and Badass says it’s Micheletto. Cesare tells him he’ll have to prove himself worthy of his trust and asks him to get rid of the bodies and meet him by the gates of the Vatican in two hours.

Inside the palace, Cesare startles his mother, who naturally didn’t expect him. She asks him what he’s doing there and he says he’s imagining terrible things, like poison and murder. He asks after Lucrezia and says that if anything happened to her, he’d die.

Cesare goes to the Vatican, where he finds his father with della Rovere, who’s there to express shock at the goings on that evening (and, I’m guessing, to try and put off any suspicion of his involvement). Della Rovere says that Orsini’s dead, of poison. Wait, they killed off Derek Jacobi in the first hour of the show? Damn, I didn’t see that coming. He’s a name actor, and he’s in the opening credits! They’re not messing around.

Della Rovere says they have no idea who did the poisoning, so the question is, who stands to profit most from Orsini’s death? Cesare asks what he’s implying and della Rovere says he’s not implying anything, he just wants to offer any help he can to Alexander, because their church can ill afford such a huge scandal.

Juan comes in, leading Micheletto, who’s in handcuffs. He tells them that he found the man skulking outside the gates and asks if the others recognize him. Alexander does—he recalls the man pouring the wine at dinner. That’s some serious attention to the people who were usually supposed to be all but invisible. Cesare asks della Rovere if he knows the man and della Rovere says he doesn’t. Juan grabs Micheletto and says he’ll take him to the prison to loosen his tongue. Alexander gives him leave to do so.

Juan isn’t at all shy about beating Micheletto up quite a bit as he kicks him down the prison corridors, wondering if he should flay him that night or wait until dawn. Cesare interrupts the abuse and says he’ll take it from there. Juan doesn’t think he’s up for it, so Cesare punches Micheletto in the face, just to prove he’s tough. Once Juan’s gone, Cesare helps Micheletto to his feet and removes the handcuffs. He asks Micheletto if he still wants to earn his trust. Michetto says he does, so Cesare says he’ll send up word Micheletto couldn’t be broken. Then, he wants Micheletto to get close to della Rovere and report back to Cesare on all della Rovere’s doings. Micheletto calmly tells Cesare he’ll have to work him over, because della Rovere’s got a thing for the male torso, so Micheletto’s got to show signs of being tortured somehow. Damn, that’s some serious dedication to your job. Even Cesare seems a bit taken aback by this. Micheletto removes his coat and shirt, hands Cesare a whip, and bends over to get his beating. Cesare obliges, but Micheletto says he’s not doing it hard enough, so Cesare redoubles his efforts and flays the hell out of the guy, promising to kill him on the rack if he ever betrays Cesare. Micheletto gasps that it wouldn’t be in his interest to betray him.

Later, Cesare returns to his father’s rooms, where Alexander asks if there’s anything Cesare wants to tell him about that night’s events. Cesare says only that he’ll do everything in his power to protect his father and their family. I’ll say he will. Alexander sighs that everyone buys and sells their positions, it’s just that the Borgias proved themselves better at the game, which pissed the others off. They draw the line at murder, though. Well, maybe you do, Alexander. Cesare tells his father Orsini drew no such line, and now they’re one less cardinal that morning. Alexander toys with a cardinal’s hat and muses that he was Cesare’s age when he was made a cardinal (by his uncle, who was also a pope). Cesare realizes what his father’s getting at and tries to avoid the subject, but Alexander’s determined. He’s ready to make his son a cardinal, at the ripe old age of 18. Cesare once again begs to leave the church but Alexander won’t hear it. And as if he’s determined to make this the worst day of Cesare’s life, he adds that Lucrezia must be married off. She’s already 14, you know; time’s a ticking.

Micheletto stumbles to della Rovere’s palace, where the cardinal asks for torture details. Micheletto says they tortured him for 24 hours straight, but he revealed nothing. Just as he predicted, della Rovere removes Micheletto’s shirt and takes in the wounds, murmuring that they beat Jesus the same way. He asks Micheletto if it’s true that Orsini accidentally poisoned himself. Micheletto asks who would have profited from his death. “Certainly not Cardinal Orsini,” says della Rovere. Heh. Actually, it turns out that Alexander would profit the most from Orsini’s demise, since Orsini’s properties would go to him, as pope. Della Rovere says he’s not into the poisoning method. Micheletto says he’s not fond of it either, that his talents are in discretion, and silence. He says he hates Borgia, and then out of nowhere, della Rovere squeezes lemon juice over Micheletto’s bloodied back. Man, what a dick! “I can trust these wounds of yours,” della Douchebag murmurs. With supreme effort, Micheletto manages not to start screaming in pain. Apparently this wins della D over and he tells Micheletto that he wants to assemble cardinals who feel the same way about Borgia as Micheletto does, and it needs to be done in absolute secrecy.

At the Basilica, Alexander’s hearing the confession of a beautiful young noblewoman, Giulia Farnese. She admits she’s sinned terribly, and she knows there are some sins that only a pope may forgive. He urges her to share her story and she admits her husband grosses her out, but despite that, she hasn’t been withholding sex. What a trooper. When she found herself pregnant, however, she couldn’t bring herself to bear the child. So, she induced a miscarriage. I’m not sure even a pope could forgive something like that, knowing how the Catholic Church feels about such things. He tries to be stern with her, but even through the carved grille of the confessional he can see that she’s beautiful, and he looks away, his resolve crumbling. He asks her if her husband knows about this. Do you think she’d be there in one piece if he did? Naturally, he does not, and he’s gone to one of his castles in the countryside and left her in Rome all alone. How convenient! Alexander confirms that she’s not seeing anyone at the moment, then counsels her to join her husband or join a nunnery. She’s not keen on either one of those plans and tells him she’s still young and she’s sure her body could find and give much happiness, if only her soul was at peace. Alexander tells her to fast and flagellate her naked body twice a night with silk cord, so she doesn’t hurt herself too much but gives him a sexy image to jerk off to every day, I guess. I can’t imagine why else someone would tell a woman to do such a thing. He blesses her, and as she goes to leave, he says that it’s not right for someone of her lineage to be living rough, so he’ll try to find her somewhere to stay.

The cardinals arrive at della Rovere’s, trying to be incognito in black cloaks, but their red robes are clearly visible underneath, so they kind of failed there. As della Rovere calls the meeting to order, Alexander takes Giulia to Orsini’s former palace, where she’ll be staying. It may be worth noting that the real Giulia was married to a member of the Orsini family, although they don’t mention it here.

Della Rovere talks plans to strip Alexander of his papacy, as Micheletto listens outside the door.

At Palazzo Orsini, Alexander shows Giulia a series of tunnels that lead directly to the Vatican. He tells her that, if she ever needs a friend, she’s to come right over and see him. She takes a minute to absorb that, then tells him he should feel free to do the same, if he wants to. I think they understand each other.

Della Rovere’s sent for a priest, the same man who was in charge of all the food arrangements during the conclave. The priest asks Micheletto why he’s being summoned in the dead of night and Micheletto provides no answer as he ushers the priest in to the cardinal’s study. Della Rovere tells the priest he needs advice on a delicate matter: the deposition of a pope. The priest comments that’s a pretty dangerous thing.

Alexander prostrates himself before an altar before stumbling over to Giulia’s, dressed in his nightshirt and robe. He lets himself into her bedroom, observed by a servant girl, and finds her kneeling naked on her bed, lightly whipping herself. He tells her to stop, since she’s done enough penance. She asks him if God will forgive them for the sin they’re about to commit, and Alexander reassures her God will, so she lays down and they start making out. The nosey servant listens outside the door.

At della Rovere’s, the priest finds a method of deposing a pope: proving he’s publicly keeping a concubine. Scandalizing the church is, apparently, heresy. But they need firm evidence of this lechery.

At Giulia’s, the lady of the house and Alexander recline in bed and she asks about Orsini. Alexander says the man was a fool, because he couldn’t understand that God’s work can be done by even the most unlikely servants. She crawls over to him and he admires her beauty and decides to have a portrait painted of her.

He gets right on that, apparently, because in the very next scene she’s sitting for the painter, holding a goat in her lap. It looks like she’s posing for this portrait, which was done by Raphael. Lucrezia wanders in and comments that Giulia’s beautiful, much more beautiful than the artist has made her. Guilia introduces herself to Lucrezia, and Lucrezia starts peppering her with questions, asking why she’s being painted and whether Lucrezia will be painted too. Giula promises to see that Lucrezia gets a portrait of her own. Getting in good with the daughter—clever move, Giulia. Lucrezia asks about the goat and the painter tells her it’ll become a unicorn. Lucrezia decides she wants a seahorse in her own painting. Giulia points to the necklace she’s wearing, which has a seahorse pendant, and she gives it to Lucrezia as a gift. And with that, they’re BFFs.

That night, as her mother’s putting her to bed, Lucrezia plays with her new necklace and talks idly about Giulia getting her portrait painted. Vannozza’s face totally freezes as she realizes the implications of that. Lucrezia tells Vannozza that Giulia’s beautiful, but a different sort of beauty from Vannozza’s—more Italian than Spanish, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, because Vannozza wasn’t Spanish, she, too was from a noble Italian family, like Giulia was.

Vannozza takes the night to get good and mad, then bursts into Alexander’s rooms the following day to yell at him for taking a mistress when he’d told her he had to be seen to be chaste. Alexander hustles her away from the cardinals he was meeting with and tells her she’ll always have a special place in his heart, as the mother of his children. She tearfully asks why it had to be Giulia and Alexander fiercely says the girl was in need, just as Vannozza herself was, once. Like Nucky Thompson, a damsel in distress is his Achilles Heel. He finally manages to talk her down, and they settle down side by side, spent. She tells him they need a new understanding. She’ll keep her peace, but she won’t be made a fool of. And she wants a portrait by the same artist who’s painting Giulia. She orders Alexander to make sure the guy does her justice, as she was once beautiful. “You still are,” he says huskily, reaching right into her crotch. She removes his hand and reminds him he promised not to lie to her. He’s not, honey. We should all age as well as you have.

While he gets a foot massage from a servant boy, della Rovere gossips about Giulia being installed in Orsini’s old palace. The more you think about it, the dumber it becomes. How could Alexander have not realized people were going to notice that and realize why he’d done it? Della Rovere tells Micheletto to question the staff at the palace and try to get proof of lechery.

Micheletto goes right to the Vatican, where he meets with Cesare and tells him what’s been going on. Cesare asks if della Rovere has evidence of this lechery, and Micheletto tells him della Rovere means to find it. Cesare suggests they find it first.

Cesare takes the news to his father that the priest, Burchard, has been asked to give his opinion on Alexander’s deposition, and that the College of Cardinals is split down the middle. Alexander merely says they’re going to need some more cardinals.

Micheletto quizzes the nosey servant girl, who asks to be paid for her info, because it’s pretty juicy. This idiot girl is so dead.

Alexander finds Burchard at work somewhere in the Vatican and asks him about the advice he was recently asked for. Burchard says that, as an expert in canon law, when he’s asked for a judgment he must provide it. Alexander sits beside him and asks for his opinion on the expansion of the College of Cardinals. Burchard says the pope can appoint as many as he likes. Alexander asks how many he’d need to appoint to make his papacy safe. Burchard reluctantly tells him it would take about 13. What a fortuitous number. Burchard says that such a large number would require a precedent. Alexander orders him to find one.

Della Rovere gathers the cardinals at his house again and presents them with his evidence of public lechery: the servant girl, who’s brought in by Micheletto. Wait, I thought he was supposed to get rid of her for Cesare? Della Rovere dismisses Micheletto and tells the girl to tell them what she knows. She spills everything. So, damage done, then?

Lucrezia’s sitting for her portrait in the courtyard of her home, accompanied by Giulia, who’s toying with Lucrezia’s beautiful blonde hair. As they chat, Lucrezia tells Giulia that Vannozza hates her. Giulia says that, as women, they have very little control over their lives, and as a result, they start to resent other women. Lucrezia wonders who they should hate, then, the men? Guilia says no, because they’re programmed to love men, but they should take care to protect themselves from them, and from their fickle feelings. Lucrezia asks what weapons she has to protect herself. Guilia tells her she has beauty, wit, and intelligence in abundance, and she should cultivate these before she’s married, because she’ll need them.

Vatican. Cesare asks Micheletto if the servant girl’s pretty. Micheletto says she has her charms. Cesare tells him he’ll have to find a way to silence her, and hope God forgives them.

Alexander, sounding a bit bored, takes care of business with the College of Cardinals, concluding with the appointment of the new cardinals. Meanwhile, Micheletto sends all of della Rovere’s servants away for the day, telling them the cardinal wants the house empty and quiet. Once they’re gone, he’s joined in the kitchen by the servant girl, who starts to get flirty with him.

The College of Cardinals is shocked by the number of cardinals who are to be appointed, and della Rovere joins the uproar and accuses Alexander of committing an offense against cannon law. Alexander calls in Burchard, who quotes cannon law regarding the pope’s ability to appoint as many cardinals as he likes. As Burchard starts to read off the names of the bishops who are to be elevated, the scene is intercut with scenes of Micheletto having sex with the servant girl in della Rovere’s bed. At the College of Cardinals, the cardinals react with shock when Cesare’s name is read out from the list of bishops to be elevated, and della Rovere decides he’s had enough. He tells Alexander he has evidence of the pope’s lechery, and he’ll produce it. But, he kind of already did, didn’t he? That girl told her story to a whole room full of other cardinals, so couldn’t they all provide the evidence? It seems a little late to be getting rid of the girl now. Alexander challenges della Rovere to produce his evidence and della Rovere says he will before spitting on the floor in Alexander’s direction and swirling out.

He arrives home and calls for the servants, but of course there’s nobody there. He goes into his bedroom and kneels beside the bed to pray, but before he can get far, he sees the servant girl stretched out, naked, and very, very dead. He totally freaks out and runs out of the room, screaming for help.

Micheletto fetches Cesare and tells him quite a tale that casts della Rovere as the girl’s lover and murderer. Della Rovere’s fled now, which just makes him look really guilty. Cesare recommends discretion in this matter, since the church can’t afford another scandal. He wonders aloud who one can trust in this crazy world. Micheletto says he believes trust needs to be earned. Cesare says meaningfully that it has been. Looks like Micheletto’s got himself a new master after all.

This is gonna be awesome.



9 thoughts on “The Borgias: Poison in Every Cup and an Assassin on Every Corner

  1. I just started reading your review but I am already posting to say your analysis so far is awesome. I like the real historical facts you are bringing to your critique.

    Good stuff. Now let me go finish reading.

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