The Borgias: The Bastard Army

borgias32Previously on The Borgias: Cesare headed to France, got married, and was given an army; Micheletto talked Lucrezia out of killing Ferdinand of Naples and then took care of the job for her; Caterina kept gathering her new allies.

Ruffio has arrived at a village that’s been hit hard by the plague. Diseased bodies lie strewn on the ground and a cross burns atop a mound of ashy skeletons. He pauses beside one dead man and uses his sword to remove a scrap of cloth. A woman sitting nearby, defeated, manages to give him a WTF face. He leaves her some coins, like she’s got any use for those.

Lucrezia’s baby, Giovanni, arrives in Naples, and Micheletto immediately goes to collect him from his nurse. He carries the child into the palace courtyard, speaking quietly to him, telling him gently he’s suffered his mother’s absence for too long. Micheletto and this baby, you guys. I don’t quite know what it is, but it melts my heart, it really does.

Inside the palace walls, the funeral procession for Ferdinand is gathering. Lucrezia emerges, looking appropriately sober, but once she catches sight of the child she breaks into a grin and runs to him. Micheletto bows and offers her the baby, whom she takes, gently stroking Micheletto’s head in thanks. The procession gets moving, and Lucrezia, still clutching the baby, falls in at her husband’s side.

Alexander arrives in the papal throne room and announces to the cardinals that the following year, 1500, is a jubilee year, and they’re going to throw one hell of a party. He’s so excited he false starts them twice on sitting down, and when he finally gets his ass in the throne there’s a brief moment where they all hesitate to make sure that this time he really means it, which I find kind of funny. Once they’re all seated, Alexander really gets to his point: pilgrims will come pouring into Rome for the jubilee, which’ll be a really good chance to make a lot of money. He wants to start gathering important relics, starting with what sounds like the Shroud of Turin, or something similar. Regrettably, it’s in Constantinople, and likely to remain, unless this crusade of his really gets off the ground. Alexander waves that off and instead tells the Cardinals to start coming up with ideas on how to party like it’s 1499.

At Forli, Caterina writes and seals a letter, then takes it to the stables, where Ruffio is waiting. He warns her not to come in, because of the plague rag, so she drops the letter in the doorway with a sincere ‘god preserve you’ and leaves. Ruffio puts the letter and the rag in a box and seals it shut. Once that’s done, he burns his clothes and then douses himself first in what appears to be ashes, then water. And he does all this in slow motion, for some reason I can’t quite fathom.

Back in Rome, one of the cardinals approaches Alexander with an idea: selling indulgences, essentially. Alexander acts like this is a totally new idea, even though the practice had been used for more than 400 years by this point. Alexander loves the idea, since jubilees tend to draw in an awful lot of repentant sinners. He tells the cardinal he’ll consider it, but I’m pretty sure the answer will be an unqualified ‘yes.’

Cesare meets up with a member of the Vitelli family out in the countryside. He wastes no time asking for his family’s allegiance, as well as that of a couple of other families. Vitelli asks why he’d throw in with Cesare when Alexander won’t even give him command of his army, and Cesare’s smile says, ‘I don’t need the lame papal army, thank you very much!’ He takes Vitelli to see the HUGE French army he has encamped just over a nearby ridge. One look at that and you’d have to be nuts not to break into a chorus of You’ve Got a Friend in Me.

Cardinal Sforza seeks Alexander out in the Holy Apiary, where Alexander’s happily harvesting some honey. Sforza reports that they’re seeing a serious influx of Jews coming into the city from Constantinople, looking for trading rights within the city walls. Alexander hands him some Vatican honey and tells him to taste it. Since Sforza doesn’t get excited about anything, ever, his response is a predictable, ‘yeah, that’s great, Old Macdonald, can we get back to business?’ Alexander asks how the taxes from the merchant guilds of Rome stand and Sforza reports that they’re pretty seriously in arrears. Alexander takes a quick look at the books and tells Sforza to invite the Jews for a meeting.

At Forli, Ruffio dispatches his poisoned message for ‘the Borgia pope.’ I think you can just say ‘the pope’ now Ruffio. It’s not like there are two of them.

In Rome, a soldier runs down the hallway, again, in slow motion for absolutely no reason, while Alexander’s meeting with the Jews. He tells them he’s planning a crusade which will undoubtedly benefit them. He offers them safe haven in Rome as long as they pay him lots of money. The runner arrives in the room and delivers his message to Sforza, who passes it along to Alexander: a French army has landed in Italy.

Wait, what? Cesare never bothered to tell his father what was going on? I don’t find that credible at all. Armies took a looooong time to mobilise, so he’d surely have time to dash off a message about 1) his marriage, and 2) the MASSIVE army he’s going to be marching into Italy, just to avoid this kind of confusion, which could very well have gone badly if the papal armies or, indeed, any of the private armies around Italy had gone on the offensive, thinking they were suddenly being attacked by the French again. A message with a fast rider was all that was needed. This confusion is stupid.

Anyway, Alexander stresses and wonders what the hell Cesare could have done to piss off King Louis so badly he’d invade. He gathers his generals,  all of whom are completely clueless, and while he’s berating them, in comes Cesare, accompanied by the Archbishop of Rouen. Cesare announces that Rouen’s been promised a cardinal’s hat, and that the army’s in Italy under his command. Also, he’s married. Alexander’s just trying to process all of this. He reminds Cesare that he gave him no leave to bring an army back with him, but Cesare reminds him that he said there were to be no limits to his negotiations. So, there we are. Alexander dismisses everyone else so he can get snippy about Cesare appointing new cardinals and bringing a foreign force in. Cesare scoffs at the crappy papal army and illustrates how he plans to take Forli swiftly and eliminate the Sforza threat. Alexander looks like he’s softening, and as Cesare strides out of the room, now very much a man in command, Alexander tells him to ride north and get this party started.

The Jewish contingent has brought Alexander’s terms back to their community leaders, the most vocal of whom is not willing to keep paying through the nose to St Peter’s. One of the other men says they need to find something to give Alexander, something he wants more than money.

That thing they have is, allegedly, the spear that pierced Christ’s side before he was put on the cross. They have it hidden somewhere safe, they say, and they bring word of it to Cardinal Farnese. Good choice, he seems pretty gullible.

In Naples, there’s a party underway. Cesare has arrived to visit his sister, who catches him up on the news (and for the record, it seems there are two heirs in line to the throne of Naples ahead of her husband). Cesare jokes about her having married the wrong man and she gets serious and says that, if she married 1000 times, it would always be to the wrong man. Squick. She asks about his wife and he says she’s beautiful and cultured. She mentions the army and makes it clear that she’s not happy about him marching it into Italy. He gets upset about everyone turning against him and says that one day his father will realise Cesare followed his example, not his advice. Lucrezia comments that politics, strategy, and affection are always linked with him. He responds with a ‘right back at ya.’ She asks him if he loves his wife and he says that he really loves Lucrezia. She says she loves her husband and asks Cesare to come back safely and not to endanger her own marriage.

Caterina’s plague box arrives at the Vatican and is delivered by a cardinal—wait for it—in slow motion. Before he can get to Alexander, though, he’s stopped by Cesare who’s…back in Rome now? Or was Lucrezia in Rome? Was this really poorly edited? This is a problematic episode, the seams are showing like crazy.

Because Caterina’s an idiot, she made no attempt to hide the fact that this parcel came from her. She sent word that this is a peace offering, but because Cesare’s not stupid, he tells the man to burn it immediately, guessing that, at best, it’s a bluff.

The hapless cardinal, who I think is the same one who suggested the indulgences, but I’m not entirely sure (sorry, they all start to look alike at a certain point), keeps the box in his room and tells a manservant to burn it later that night. But as the man goes to throw it on the fire, he tells him to stop and says they should at least preserve the pretty box. He pries it open, pulls out the message, opens it, and reads it.

The guys who were on the fence about joining Caterina a few weeks ago have gathered in some craphole in nowheresville to discuss where things stand. They know about Cesare’s shiny new army, but they figure that their united might could tip the scales one way or another. The meeting’s being led by Vitelli, who says that he’s met with Cesare and realised that Alexander’s not alone. Cesare’s quite the force to contend with, and they have to be ready for that. He doesn’t want to go up against Cesare, who just so happens to come riding up at that very moment, accompanied by a whole bunch of his French soldiers. That helps the other guys make up their minds right quick. As does Cesare’s little speech, in which he reminds them all that they’re second sons, or bastard sons, all rejected by their fathers, but he’s offering them a chance to carve out some choice little fiefdoms. He rides off, and the men drink a toast to the bastards.

Cardinal Stickyfingers reports to another cardinal that Caterina’s box did, indeed, contain a message proposing peace. Stickyfingers thinks it’s suspicious that Cesare’s trying to keep this from his father, which is treasonous, but he rather loves the idea of having something he could dangle over Cesare’s head.

The head of the Jewish contingent has told Alexander about the spear and offers it up if they can gain entry into Rome. Alexander agrees swiftly. Why would he even agree to that without even seeing it first? And why would he so readily believe that this spear is even genuine (of course it’s not, but people believed crazy things back then). Wasn’t there some sort of verification process for relics, or could you just claim that any old spear was the spear? Alexander’s pleased with Farnese for bringing this to his attention, which seems to annoy Stickyfingers.

Armies start converging on the French, sending them into something of a tizzy as they race to get into battle lines, but it looks like it’s just the new allies. Cesare slow-mos out to meet them, and they all cheer. Bienvenue, Bastard Army. Cesare nods, satisfied. And Jesus, but now that army goes on forever and ever.

Sforza finds Stickyfingers and asks him what’s bugging him. He says it’s nothing, but adds they should be cautious, because people have sold bogus relics for centuries. The camera gets super close to his face, like it wants me to count his pores or something, and it’s so distracting I’m having trouble focusing on what he’s saying. I don’t usually notice the directing and editing of an episode so much, but this is so awful it’s hard not to.

He goes on to say that he wants to knock this ‘fake antiquarian’ off his perch.

The spear arrives at the Vatican and is presented by Farnese. The head of the Jewish contingent (please, can he have a name already?) unwraps it and hands it to Alexander, who weighs it in his hands and claims he felt it tremble. Stickyfingers steps forward and presents his own spear, telling Alexander that there are such spears all over the place. Alexander is not happy about this. HotJC claims it’s not real, because it doesn’t tremble. He snaps it over his knee and points out the fresh sap inside, which indicates it’s been made recently. Alexander sneers at Stickyfingers a bit and then sarcastically thanks him for having proved the authenticity of the real spear. How do you figure that, Alexander? Did you snap the other spear to check for sap? Sticky made a very valid point—anything can be passed off as a relic! But, of course, he’s not thinking about that. He’s got his spear and he’s a happy boy.

Caterina Sforza’s son, Benito, sneaks up to the French army and checks it out from a hiding place before heading home.

Cesare and his L’Oreal hair take a slow-mo stroll through the ranks of cheering soldiers, and then tells his new allies that the following day, their fathers will know their place in the ranks of history. They’re ready. When they leave him, though, he looks a tad nervous.

He tours the army, making last-minute adjustments. Micheletto finds him and takes him to Milan, where the gates are wide open and the city appears to be unguarded. So, they do the sensible thing and ride on in, where they find villagers slow-mo running away from them. They ride into the centre of town, where they find a member of the Sforza family, who tells them the duke has fled, along with his army and Leonardo da Vinci. Well, at least he took the important things. Cesare isn’t happy to hear that Ludovico Sforza has slipped the net, especially since he also has a rightful claim to Naples.

Alexander plays with his spear in the company of HotJC. He’s starting to seem slightly more sceptical of this thing, but when he goes to snap it over his leg, HotJC freaks out, and Alexander chuckles, seeing this as further proof of its authenticity. Or, at least, he’s willing to believe that the thing is genuine, and since the church is driven by belief, that’s all he needs. He asks the man what other gifts he has for them. Good to see he’s not completely brainless all of a sudden.

Stickyfingers’ servant is sick, not that that comes as any surprise. He tells Stickyfingers he’s burning with fever and Stickyfingers immediately starts running through the Vatican (you know how he’s running, I don’t have to say it again, do I?) screaming that the plague has come.

Apparently this episode was directed by Kari Skogland, who also directed this episode of Boardwalk Empire, which I seem to recall liking, as well as several other Borgias episodes I had no problem with, so I have no idea what happened here. This was not good. Story-wise it was a bit dull, and there were far too many moments that really didn’t make much sense, and the overuse of slow motion, choppy editing, and strange camera angle choices (extreme close up of someone’s ear? Really?) made this difficult to watch. Poor showing, Borgias. I tend to expect a bit more from you.

Let’s just all go back and watch Micheletto cuddle a baby, shall we?



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