Previously on The Borgias: Lucrezia’s quick thinking saved her father’s life, but it was up to Cesare and Micheletto to save the Borgia family from Caterina Sforza’s assassination plot. She tried to enlist the help of Cardinal Sforza, but at the last minute he threw in his lot with Rome and told Cesare they have a serious new enemy: Caterina’s henchman Ruffio, who’s being sent out to round up disgruntled nobles and rally them to the anti-Borgia cause.
While getting shaved, Alexander asks Cesare who helped Della Rovere escape. Cesare admits he doesn’t know. Alexander growls about how they’re in a snake pit, surrounded by vipers. When the servant nicks Alexander, Cesare takes over the shaving and reassures his father he can trust his own family. Alexander agrees, but says the College of Cardinals needs to be purged.
Two men—brothers, apparently—arrive at a ruin somewhere, having been summoned by a letter to join a plot against the Borgia family. Ok, if Ruffio’s stupid enough to commit something like that to paper, he’s not nearly the formidable foe that Sforza made him out to be. One of the men speculates that this could be a trap orchestrated by the Borgias themselves, though Cesare’s methods haven’t quite reached that level of subtlety. The other guy says that’s too clever for them. Eventually, a third man arrives and is identified as Vitelli. He names the other men as Orsini family members. Next comes a Colonna, and finally Ruffio, who tells them he speaks on Caterina’s behalf. He suggests they all join a confederacy of hatred against the Borgias and take the papacy back from the Spaniards. Everyone agrees. Well, that was easy.
Back at the Vatican, Alexander spins a metaphor (excuse the pun) about how Rome is a spider’s web, with Caterina as Arachne and all the eggs on it wearing a cardinal’s hat. He tells Cesare to regain his love by tracking the traitorous families outside the Vatican while he deals with those within.
Cesare gets right to it, grabbing Micheletto and finding VItelli in the streets that night. He tells Vitelli about the recent attack on his family, and Vitelli, who’s clearly terrified, having just had all his guards killed, nervously says he heard. Cesare reveals he knows the Roman families want the papacy back, getting Vitelli just nervous enough, before he offers to escort him safely home.
Alexander’s trying to get back in the saddle with Giulia, but he finds himself not quite up to the task. She reassures him that it happens to every man, which I really don’t think is something any guy finds comforting. Alexander certainly doesn’t, and suggests she knows this through personal experience. Giulia, like the other women on this show, does not take shit like that, and he quickly backpedals and apologises. Holding her on his lap and telling her how much he wants her, he stresses about his sudden lack of virility, wondering if it’s the poison, or old age. She laughs and calls him the most vigorous man she knows, promising that it will pass.
Cesare’s next stop is a gambling den, where he finds Cardinal Orsini with the two brothers from earlier, his kinsmen. As soon as Cesare comes in, the place goes completely silent. Cesare tells them to get back to it and joins one of the games, asking the Orsini why they’re lingering in Rome and hanging around with the Cardinal. They claim to just like Rome. Cesare brings up the attempt on the Borgias and wonders if their business includes such messy imbroglios. They act all offended and tell him to be careful. Cesare says he is, and he very carefully gutted the men sent by Caterina. One of the Orsini pulls a knife on Cesare, and in a flash Micheletto has a knife to the cardinal’s throat. The cardinal quickly reassures them he’s all team Alexander and tells his hotheaded kinsman to put the knife away. Cesare hasn’t even batted an eyelash. Micheletto releases the cardinal, who stupidly brings up Juan’s murder and asks if the culprit is still at large. Cesare admits he has yet to be found. The Orsini boys jokingly ask if the cardinal’s accusing them, and all the Orsini laugh. Cesare smiles dangerously, collects Micheletto, and leaves. Compare his methods, just for a minute, to Juan’s. If Juan were still around and handling this, these guys and probably a few innocent bystanders would be dead right now, creating a huge mess and not getting anyone any closer to discovering the true intent of the plot. Cesare’s more measured, going around sowing doubt and fear without giving anyone a reason for an actual blood vendetta against his family. I applaud him.
Speaking of Juan, Alexander’s dreaming of running through the woods with a child-Juan, who falls into a sinkhole. Alexander is unable to hold onto him, and wakes himself calling his son’s name. But it’s not Juan he sees when he wakes, but Cesare, who reports that Caterina’s gathering allies amongst all the great Roman families. Alexander judges that it’s time to act and separate those allies from their Arachne and set his revenge plan in motion. He plans to start working on the cardinals, setting them against each other, and pinning the plot against him and his family on them. Cesare suggests they also pin Juan’s murder on them, while they’re at it, and Alexander’s actually impressed by his thinking there.
Alexander sends for Sforza, who insists he’s innocent of any complicity in his family’s plotting and has long since severed all ties with them. Alexander knows that, but he’s still going to make Sforza prove his loyalty by setting him on the cardinals. He tells Sforza to interrogate them, threatening them with torture, if necessary. He suggests Sforza start with Cardinal De Lucca. Sforza’s distaste for this work is clear on his face, but he sets off to do Alexander’s bidding nonetheless.
Alfonso, Lucrezia’s fiancé, cuddles her baby and gets fully caught up on her sexual past. She’s very open about the fact that her child was the result of an affair, and he seems cool with it, but he confesses that he’s a virgin and swore a vow to St Agnes, patron saint of purity, that the first woman he slept with would be his wife. Lucrezia, who’s clearly got a serious case of just-cheated-death horniness, tries to manoeuvre him into bed right then and there, but he cools her down by reminding her they’re not married yet. Not sounding particularly pleased, she says they’ll just have to wait.
Alexander is sitting down with Vannozza and telling her about his recent lack of vigour in the bedroom. It says a lot about their relationship that he’d tell her this. She suggests it’s the poison, still working its way out of his system, but he doubts it. He wonders if it’s all the strain of being surrounded by people who want him dead, and being unable to trust anyone save her. She smiles fondly at him. He wonders if he should just give up the papacy, to keep his family safe. How very timely this is. She knows he’s not serious, but plays along, asking him how he’d spend his days—tending his vineyards? He says they’ll sit together in the garden in the evenings and watch their grandchildren grow. They laugh together at the image. He says he’d rather be a peasant in the fields, if that would keep her and the children safe.
Sforza gets to work on De Lucca, telling him that Alexander heard everyone plotting against him when he was thought to be on his deathbed. De Lucca starts to panic almost immediately and asks what he has to do. Sforza tells him to start off by confessing, but De Lucca doesn’t know what he’s meant to be guilty of, apart from avarice. Sforza says that won’t be enough—Alexander wants to know who murdered Juan. De Lucca has no idea. Sforza presses him to share what he knows about Caterina’s plot. De Lucca tries to turn that back on Sforza himself, but Sforza points out that Alexander never heard him scrambling for the papacy. He tells De Lucca to either confess to being part of the plot, or name those who actually were. He even provides a few suggestions, just to make it easy. Sforza goes on to say that the Vatican has changed, and leads De Lucca into the Castel St’Angelo, where De Lucca is tossed into a cell and threatened with the rack as Sforza calmly turns and walks away, ignoring the man’s pleas for his return.
Alfonso goes to visit Lucrezia, who’s rocking the baby. He whispers (so as not to wake Giovanni) that his uncle, King Ferdinand of Naples, has sent a letter telling Alfonso that Lucrezia’s going to have to leave her baby behind. Naturally, that does not go over well. Alfonso agrees that it’s an outrageous demand and says her family’s going to have to insist that Lucrezia and the baby are a package deal. Lucrezia offers to go talk to Cesare about it, and then kisses Alfonso, who looks like he’s having a really, really hard time keeping that vow. He wanders off to undoubtedly find a cold bathtub to dive into.
De Lucca’s still locked up, sitting with Micheletto, who tells him that instruments of torture are fairly useless, since the accused will say anything to put an end to the pain. Poor De Lucca desperately asks why he’s there and Micheletto says he’s to learn how to lie, to say whatever’s needed.
Lucrezia finds Cesare being fitted for armour and tells him about Ferdinand’s demand. Cesare’s not surprised to hear it. She tells him he’ll have to insist the baby goes with her. Cesare tells her that anyone who gets in the way of her happiness will become his enemy. And then, bizarrely, he kisses her in a very unbrotherly way before promising not to give Naples any peace if they try to take her son from her.
Sforza returns to the Castel and gives his brother cardinal some water. De Lucca starts to sing like a canary, getting ready to name some names.
Cesare goes to see Lucrezia in her room, and finds her laid out on her bed, completely naked. What the hell? Cesare’s completely embarrassed, and trying to look anywhere but at his sister, like any normal person, but Lucrezia’s gone a bit nuts, I guess, and starts to flirt heavily, urging him to admire and feel her foot and her calf, all while just barely covering herself with her wedding gown. Look, I’m not saying this isn’t sort of awkwardly hot, because these two actors do have really good chemistry together, but I don’t really understand why she’s doing this, and I’m really disappointed in the show for going down this road. Cesare finally asks her what the hell she’s up to, and she tells him her fiancé won’t sleep with her, and I guess she needs some sort of validation. She draws Cesare down onto the bed with her and notices that he’s looking at her, but not touching. He finally loses himself and goes to kiss her, but then the dressmaker starts knocking on the door, ready for the fitting. Lucrezia sends him away.
Alexander has all the cardinals assembled so De Lucca can tell him publicly about the conspiracy to murder him and his whole family. He uses the very same, rather poetic language that he used with Sforza earlier, which makes it clear he’s either been fed this speech, or he’s practiced it many, many times in his head, so he can get it just right. De Lucca admits he was part of the conspiracy, and then starts naming names. Those accused start shouting that the accusations are completely false, like they think that will actually make a difference. De Lucca sits back down and Alexander tells the others that the cardinals who have betrayed him will be stripped of all their offices, titles, and properties. Furthermore, they will be censured for the rest of their lives.
Like Alexander, Giulia is seeking Vannozza’s council, which Vannozza rather relishes. Giulia accepts her crowing and asks if she should resign herself to being a discarded mistress. Vannozza asks if there’s someone else but Giulia doubts it. She feels that something has changed between herself and Alexander, though. Vannozza gently asks if he still loves her. Giulia hopes so, and Vannozza tells her that she may find that love sometimes deepens, even between two people not sleeping together. She would certainly know. Man, remember how mad she was when Alexander first took up with Giulia? It’s nice to see her having believably made her peace with that and established herself as an important part in both their lives. She tells Giulia to state her terms and negotiate a graceful exit. Giulia says she wants a palace. Vannozza’s like, think bigger, honey. Giulia adds in a cardinal’s hat for her brother.
Alexander meets with Vannozza at the confiscated palace of one of the disgraced cardinals, which he plans to give to Giulia. Wow, did the dumping of La Bella Farnese really take place entirely offscreen? I hope this doesn’t mean that we won’t be seeing much of her from now on, though I doubt it, since Lotte Verbeek’s still in the opening credits. Vannozza asks how the breakup went, and he says there were a few tears, but it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d anticipated. She warns him that it’ll take more than a palace to keep Giulia happy, and he asks if she spoke with Vannozza. Vannozza admits that Giulia did mention he hadn’t been up to the task lately. He’s surprisingly ok with hearing that his mistresses were gossiping about his prowess, or lack thereof, and says that whole matter might have been a blessing in disguise, since it made the breakup a bit easier. Vannozza laughs that it turns out her life without him was a bit of blessing in disguise as well, since she’s found peace, since they’ve been apart. She heads up the stairs, and he stops her briefly to press her hand to his cheek in a very sweet way.
They go into the master bedroom together, and he goes to her and says he finds himself feeling a bit agitated, if you know what I mean. They get marvellously flirty, and it’s pretty hot, I must say, and he starts to put the moves on her. She reminds him that he lacks the vigour, but it seems that’s no longer an issue. She laughs and notes that it wasn’t the poison after all. He holds her and says he feels safe with her, as if he’s come home.
Cardinal Orsini is resigning his position and properties, surprisingly quietly. All he asks is that Alexander hear his confession. Sforza says this is most irregular, but Orsini begs, so Alexander acquiesces, taking Orsini into his adjoining private room and leaving Sforza in charge of the mass cardinal kickout. Once they’re alone, Orsini kneels before Alexander, says he’s committed many sins, but his greatest sin is a murder yet to be committed. With that, he unsheathes a hidden knife and slashes at Alexander, slicing his vestments but leaving him unharmed. They start to tussle.
In the main room, meanwhile, another cardinal is refusing to go quietly. While Orsini and Alexander fight, he’s stomping on his hat while claiming the Vatican is blood soaked and shamed, etc. Sforza looks bored, and Cesare starts wondering what the hell is taking so long with Alexander and Orsini. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to occur to Alexander to scream for help. With some difficulty, he gets the upper hand with Orsini and slooooowly drives the knife into his throat. Yeesh. Cesare finally comes in to check on his father and finds him standing beside the dead body of a former cardinal, completely covered in blood. Between this scene and the one with Lucrezia, Cesare’s WTF face is certainly getting a workout this episode. Alexander gasps that God must want him to live. I’ll say.