The Borgias Recap: Family

Previously on The Borgias: Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander, caused some scandals, elevated his children, had some people killed, saw off a threat from France and from Cardinal della Rovere, and collected one awesome sidekick (or, rather, Cesare did).

We open on an altar boy surreptitiously adding something to the communion wine before mass. The priest—best known to us as Cardinal della Rovere—calls him out so they can get the mass started, and when they reach the communion part, he raises the chalice with the tainted wine in it and drinks. The kid watches apprehensively, but nothing happens. Not right away, anyway. He gets about halfway through communion before he starts to collapse. He forces himself along, but then the next man up to receive communion is Cesare. DR hits the floor.

DR’s in bed, being tended by nuns. Cesare comes in and shoos the ladies away. He reassures DR he’s not going to die, but his tongue’s going to be pretty swollen for a few days. It seems DR’s been hiding out at this little congregation, and Cesare wants him to know that they can find him anywhere. Message received, I think. He engages in some brief water torture and urges DR to work with them, not against them.

Out by the well, the altar boy’s hanging out with Micheletto and asking if he’s still going to be paid. Micheletto says he will, and then grabs the kid and shoves him into the well, drowning him. That can’t be good for the water supply. It also seems unnecessarily cruel—just pay the kid off. Cesare comes out and collects him and they hit the road to Rome, leaving the boy’s body floating in the well. I hope for everyone’s sake they find it quickly.

Da Roma. Alexander’s bathing a young lady and telling her the mistress position’s already taken, but he appreciates the night of sex, thanks! Seems this lady’s just filler while Giulia’s out of town. But now she’s back, which makes this moment slightly awkward. Alexander freaks and tries to get rid of the woman, who’s in no rush to leave. He finally manages to get rid of her, just before Giulia sweeps in, none the wiser.

Later, Giulia watches him get dressed while Lucrezia’s baby wails. Alexander tells her this is bliss as he leaves (and he means it, too), and then Giulia finds a sash or stocking or something stashed underneath the pillow on the bed. Ruh ro.

Alexander heads to Lucrezia’s room, where she’s trying to feed the baby. He urges her to employ a wet nurse, but she wants to feed him herself. Alexander adorably plays with the baby and Lucrezia tells him all is well at the moment, but they might need to think of advantageous marriages again soon. Alexander takes the baby and carries him into an audience with the French ambassador. Aww, papal grandbaby!

Still cuddling the munchkin and telling the ambassador to keep the volume down, Alexander asks what’s up. The ambassador tells him that Alfonso of Naples is still MIA, and they think he purposely spread the plague there before he blew town. They’re giving Alfonso waaaay too much credit. Alexander tells him that Naples tends to seriously resent conquerors, and he gave the French king Naples as he promised, so his work here is done. Plagues are not his problem.

Cesare and Juan join their father later, and there’s a bit of tension between the three that there didn’t seem to be at the end of last season. He confirms that DR is still alive, which doesn’t really please him. Alexander is, however, rather happy to hear that King Charles of France has come down with whatever’s plaguing Naples these days. Alexander’s ready to set out to get revenge on all the families who hate them. Juan’s totally on board, though Cesare’s not exactly doing cartwheels. Alexander’s especially got his eye on the Sforzas and wants to see them seriously punished. Cesare finally loses his temper and tells him Juan’s definitely not the guy to do it (though in less polite terms), which starts the brothers fighting. Their father breaks it up and fiercely tells them they need to show a united front here.

He moves on to their second task: restoring Rome to its former glory. But to do that they all need to be getting along, like a good family. He takes his sons’ hands, joins them, and they all agree to be family again.

And they actually keep their word, too. For about ten minutes. Cesare finds Juan in a weapons workshop, where Juan shows off some fine new swords. He also needles Cesare about being a cleric, not a soldier, and he tries to provoke him to fight. But Cesare won’t rise to the bait. Not right away. They start brawling, and it’s clear that Cesare’s better. He’s calm and collected while Juan’s all passion and craziness. Soldiers start to pour in to watch the fight and cheer (and, let’s face it, probably place a few bets). Cesare finally manages to disarm his brother, but then Micheletto intervenes and reminds the boys that they’re brothers before calming them down and bundling Cesare out of there.

Alexander, meanwhile, is stalking a deer through the woods, accompanied by Giulia. They look around the cavern they’re in and suddenly realize it’s an old Roman ruin, with intact pornographic paintings on the wall and everything. They examine the works with an almost academic eye, which I find rather funny. Alexander says they must preserve these for posterity. Of course he would say that.

Cesare arrives at Lucrezia’s rooms and asks to hold the baby, but he’s sleeping. He asks, not for the first time, who the baby’s father is and Lucrezia tells him—also presumably not for the first time—about Paolo. She notices Cesare’s sad and cheers him a bit.

Naples. Charles isn’t looking so good, and no wonder, judging from the awful cures his doctors are inflicting on him. Oh, early Renaissance medicine, what nightmare fuel you provide us all with. He talks plague with one of the docs, who says that pestilences come and go—it’s just their way. Charles asks if that means he shouldn’t blame Alfonso after all, then. Doc says that, as king, Charles can blame whomever he wants. Apparently, this doctor used to work for Alfonso’s insane father, and part of his job was keeping prisoners alive down in the torture chambers. Eeek! What a hell of a thing to put on your resume. Charles mentions the Dining Room of Death and the doctor admits he had to prepare the bodies for the taxidermist, when his best efforts had failed them. Charles grabs the guy’s hand and tells him, in no uncertain terms, not to fail him.

Alexander brings workmen back to the ruin and tells them they have to remove all the frescoes intact and re-install them in the Vatican, in a set of rooms dedicated to pleasure (Giulia’s suggestion—seems Alexander’s still struggling to keep things classy, but it’s a losing battle).

In Rome, at night, Giulia passes by some of the workmen and finds Alexander admiring a small statue of a bull, which he tells her could very well be the Borgia bull. He talks about ancient beliefs and wonders if there’s a way they could worship the way they did back in the day—with parties instead of constant praying. This is my kinda pope. Giulia wryly asks if he’ll go back to the Panem et Circenses way of doing things and Alexander chuckles that no, he wasn’t going to go quite that far, but he’d give them what is lacking in their lives: joy. Giulia lifts up her skirt, revealing the red stocking she found and asks if Alexander’s the one lacking a bit of joy in his life. He tells her that’s not true at all, but he totally fails to notice the stocking she’s so obviously displaying.

Later, the two are in bed together, she asleep and he not. He gets up and returns to the rooms he’s redoing, where he finds a young man still up, sketching away. Alexander observes him for a few moments, then asks if the kid normally works so late. The kid freaks out, but Alexander tells him to relax and come closer so he can see what he’s doing. As he approaches, the boy says he has to practice his art in secret, because he’s just a lowly apprentice. Alexander observes that the kid’s young and, furthermore, not a boy at all but a pretty girl. He gets a little creepy as he removes her hat and wig, revealing long, blonde hair that makes her look a bit like Lucrezia, to be honest. As Alexander paws her, she starts to seem into it, which makes me seriously uncomfortable, and she tells him her name’s Vittoria. She’s posing as a boy because apprentices need to be male. Alexander puts his arm around her, tells her they’ll have to keep this secret, and that he may have a commission for her. Sure, a “commission.” As they walk away, Giulia, unnoticed, watches them go.

Alexander’s gathered the cardinals to propose holding a celebration on June 25, which is some saint’s feast day and also the day the ancient Romans used to celebrate the bull. He wants to get the whole city involved. The cardinals wonder if they can reconcile a Pagan festival with a Christian one and Alexander points out that Easter’s basically a Pagan festival that the church co-opted. So’s Christmas, come to that. He’s got a whole plan—horse races, feasts, a masked ball, and a giant bull made of wood that they’ll light up. The model for the latter is carried in by Vittoria and one of the papal servants. Cardinal Sforza asks how much this’ll cost, and Alexander clearly doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

Giulia later comes across Vittoria practicing drawing that bull statue. She tells Vittoria that her drawing’s more cow than bull—apparently she left off the statue’s fairly prominent penis. Or maybe she just made it look like teats—this is really just an excuse for Giulia to tell Vittoria she knows she’s a girl. But Giulia’s not mad; in fact, she takes the opportunity to unlace Vittoria’s shirt and grope her. Umm, ok. Giulia sort of shrugs that at least the pope’s not being tempted to go after boys. I’m gonna leave that one alone.

Ahh, the Dining Room of Death. Why haven’t they cleared this place out yet? What’re they waiting for, an invitation? More plague? Charles, who I guess is feeling better, is wheeled through on a throne/wheelchair, confirming that Alexander claims to have known nothing about this room (which I think is true, but I may be wrong about that). He notes the empty Judas seat and thinks it should be occupied by Alfonso for infecting his own city. One of the other men says there’s been a sighting and Charles orders the man to bring him home so he can set him up in the Judas seat. Great, now Charles is going crazy. Naples seems to do that to people.

In Rome, Sforza and one of the other cardinals watch as the massive bull is built and talk about the enormous cost of all this. They’re not happy about it at all. Meanwhile, Cesare and Juan are racing horses bareback around the bull. Cesare hops off and asks Micheletto who he’d wager on for the race the next day. Micheletto says his money’s on Cesare, if Juan doesn’t cheat. But we know he’ll cheat, right? Because he’s Juan, and therefore douchy.

The next day, the race begins, with Juan and Cesare neck and neck as they wind through the streets of Rome.

Out in the countryside, French troops wave some of Alfonso’s clothes at some dogs and urge them to go find the prince. A raggedy young man—not Alfonso, surely?—watches from behind a rock, looking desperate.

Back in Rome, Juan, of course, cheats, scattering some sharp shards of metal underneath Cesare’s horse’s hooves. The horse goes down, screaming in pain, the poor thing, and Juan goes on to ride to victory. Douche.

Huh, maybe that is Alfonso scurrying around the countryside. Like someone raised in a palace his whole life would know how to survive out in the wild like that. The soldiers have him cornered and he begs them to show him mercy, as he tries to hold the dogs at bay.

Party, party, party in Rome. Panem et Circenses indeed. Inside the Vatican the costume party’s underway. Giulia shows up as the owl Minerva, goddess of wisdom and magic. Also a virgin goddess, but we’ll overlook that part, shall we? Giulia and Alexander sweep past Vittoria, who smirks as she watches them go.

Cesare takes a seat beside Lucrezia (who’s apparently dressed as Echo, not that you would ever guess that on your own) and asks for a dance, unwisely invoking the Echo and Narcissus pairing (which didn’t turn out very well for either of them). Narcissus, as Cesare knows, was Lucrezia’s nickname for Paolo, and the mention makes her sad. She recalls that her Narcissus couldn’t dance, but he could make her laugh. Can Cesare do that? He offers to try, and then he tosses some of those cowtrops that Juan scattered during the race onto the dance floor. Juan treads on them and screams in pain, which Lucrezia thinks is hilarious, because she obviously hates that particular brother.

Alfonso is carried back to Naples and thrown in front of Charles, who seems to be all better now. Alfonso reminds Charles that the laws of chivalry say he can’t be bound (he’s in handcuffs). Charles agrees that a prince can’t eat in handcuffs and orders them removed. Alfonso seems both surprised and (rightly) apprehensive at this. The cuffs are removed and Charles pushes a plate of food towards the prince, who eats hungrily. Charles tells him about the plague while he eats and Alfonso, like an idiot, starts to get comfortable, laughing, saying it’s too bad about the plague and all, but he’ll be happy to show Charles the delights of their city once he’s well and truly recovered.

Party, Party, Party in the streets of Rome. The Vatican party has spilled out into the square and we learn that Juan, never one for subtlety, is Mars, God of War, and Alexander is Saint James, guardian of the keys of Rome. The three make their way to the bull and light it on fire.

Back in Naples, Alfonso’s cackling and saying that Naples will recover well enough. He offers to give Charles a tour, again, and Charles asks instead for a tour of the torture chambers. Alfonso sobers immediately, proving he’s not a complete moron.

More partying! The bull goes up in flames. Inside the Vatican, a stately dance is underway. Giulia correctly identifies Vannozza as Juno and Vannozza jokes that Giulia used to be a Venus. She guesses, in the course of their conversation, that Giulia has doubts about Alexander’s faithfulness, which is something she knows quite a bit about. Giulia asks for her advice in this matter and Vannozza tells her to let him have his little flings, if he must, but make sure she keeps herself firmly within his gaze.

Alfonso’s dragged, completely terrified, down to the dungeons, where he reluctantly and tearfully tells Charles some of the names for the horrible instruments down there.

Back at the dance, Giulia’s now chatting with Vittoria, who’s dressed as Vulcan, god of molten metal. Also fire. Giulia observes that Vulcan had a rather humble profession (blacksmith) and Vittoria would do well to follow in those footsteps. Ouch, Giulia! Nonetheless, she leads Vittoria away from the party as Alexander watches.

Now blubbering and completely breaking down, Alfonso describes one bloody, claw-like instrument as being used in both the mouth and…other areas.

Back in Rome, Giulia removes Vittoria’s wig and kisses her as Alexander joins them. I think we can see where this is going.

Charles returns to the dining room, sans Alfonso, who’s down in the dungeon, screaming horribly. In the dining room there’s a lute player, plucking his instrument, and Charles observes that it almost harmonizes with the awful, awful cries from below.

So, that’s the start of season 2. Pretty typical season opener, I think. Like Game of Thrones, it caught us up with our main players, and though it didn’t really move the plot along much, it laid a few hints of things to come. Hopefully things will start to pick up a bit next week. See you then!