The Borgias: The Illusionist

Previously on The Borgias: Lucrezia’s sometime lover and babydaddy Paolo came to town and got to see her and the baby before Juan got pissed and killed him, disguising the death as a suicide.

Poor Paolo is still hanging in the square, attracting some attention, including that of Cesare, who tries to hustle his sister out of there. She notices the crowd, however, and then sees its cause and completely falls to pieces in her grief. So I guess we know what the gossip in the square’s going to be for the next week or so. Cesare finds a suicide note that Juan planted on the body, because he’s both a moron and an asshole. Moron because most people of Paolo’s class at the time (including Paolo, as we know) were illiterate and asshole because suicide was (and still is) taken very seriously by the Catholic church and meant you couldn’t have a Christian burial. It basically meant you were consigned to hell for all eternity. Juan, you are such a douche. None of us are going to be sorry to see you die in the season finale (sorry, historical spoiler!). Now, Lucrezia knows Paolo couldn’t read or write, so the note clues her in to the fact that something is seriously amiss here. She gets up and starts to move away from the body, but then faints. Cesare picks her up and carries her home, telling one of their guards to take care of the body.

Cesare brings his sister inside, calling for water. She weakly tells her brother she wants to die and he desperately tells her she’ll do no such thing, because she has a baby to care for. The baby begins to wail, so Cesare goes to tend to him. The nurse says the baby’s hungry, but he’s only been fed by Lucrezia. Cesare tells her to figure something out. Yes, there’s actually a very simple solution here: tap into the thriving trade in wet nurses going on at the time. All the upper class ladies had one, surely they weren’t that hard to find.

Poor people put their pennies into a collection plate at a church somewhere as Della Rovere joins the congregation, disguised as a simple monk. As he makes his way through the crowd (a bit aggressively), we realize he must be in St. Peter’s, because Alexander’s there, telling everyone he’s offering indulgences. Woo hoo, get-out-of-hell free card!

DR finally reaches another monk, who he seems to know, and who knows him. And these two are fully prepared to form the Anti-Alexander Alliance.

After the mass, Cesare meets with his father and tells him about Paolo’s death and, more importantly, Lucrezia’s grief over the death. She won’t let the baby near her, a fact which really gets Alexander’s attention. He hurries to her bedside and tries to be stern for a second, but then moves on to kind daddy pretty quickly, and then tells her that the act of suicide should really put Paolo beyond her pity. Not helping, Alex. He points out that the baby is crying for her. None of this gets any response from his daughter; nor does she stir when Alexander tries to physically lift her out of the bed. He asks what he can do to make things right and she tells him to ask Juan. Oh, yeah, our girl’s too smart for this nonsense.

Alexander pulls Cesare aside for a serious talk about what’s to be done, and Cesare tells him Lucrezia blames herself for all this. He also admits he arranged a little get-together for Lucrezia and Paolo before the young man’s untimely death. Alexander’s pissed, but Cesare is unapologetic, so everyone moves on and Alexander asks his son if Juan had a hand in this. Cesare’s silence is sufficient answer.

DR and his monkey are with their new partner at Partner’s monastery. They talk about Savonarola and the Dominican order, both of which hate Alexander.

Alexander takes himself to Vannozza’s to scold his ex and confront his younger son. Juan’s blasé about this whole matter, even though it’s pretty clear his dad means business. Juan lies about having a hand in Paolo’s death, and Alexander gets so angry he launches himself across the table to attack his tosser of a kid. Juan urges him to just bury Paolo and be done with it, before the scandal gets out and ruins any chances of marrying Lucrezia off again. I think the story’s probably pretty much out at this point, Juan. Lucrezia made sure of that when she had a very public meltdown earlier. Vannozza pulls Alexander off their son and, before leaving, Alexander warns Juan to tread carefully, lest he find himself shod in peasant shoes himself. Or floating dead in the Tiber.

Over at the monastery, DR has apparently suggested they have Alexander killed somehow, a notion which kind of horrifies his new partner. He doesn’t yet have a plan for getting this done, but he thinks he’ll figure one out, and in the meantime, he’ll get Savonarola’s sign off on it. If he gets Savonarola’s permission, Partner promises to help him out.

Alexander sits at Lucrezia’s bedside, practically begging her not to die. She rouses herself enough to ask him to give Paolo a Christian burial. Alexander tells her that’s not possible, but she says his suicide note’s a fake, which means the whole suicide probably is too. Alexander asks where the murderer is. “Too close for comfort,” is all Lucrezia will say. He tells her the baby needs to eat and goes to see him. The baby’s in such a bad way the nurse is falling to pieces. Alexander agrees to give Paolo a Christian burial and asks Cesare to perform the rite. Cesare is only too happy to agree. Alexander picks up the baby and brings it to Lucrezia, promising to bury Paolo properly if she feeds the kid. She happily agrees, embracing her father and feeding the child.

Later, Alexander sits alone and is joined by Juan, who says he’s sorry for his sister’s loss. Alexander manages not to punch him in the face and tells him he’s going to go to Spain to choose a bride and turn into the Borgia Alexander always hoped he would be. That ship has sailed, Alexander. Juan’s kind of a lost cause.

Cesare buries Paolo, as Lucrezia and the baby watch, she draped in black.

Naples. Micheletto, having evidently taken a bit of a road trip, is meeting with King Ferrante’s former taxidermist—the man responsible for the Dining Room of Death. He tells the man he admires his work and the guy asks if Micheletto has need of his skills. Not the taxidermy skills—the man’s informant skills. As he stitches up Alfonso’s body, the man tells Micheletto King Charles is ill, and he gets a lot of visitors from the Sforza family. Specifically, Giovanni and Catarina.

Those Sforzas (recall that Giovanni is Lucrezia’s ex-husband and Catarina is the woman who brokered the marriage) are in Naples at this very moment, cutting a deal with the French to allow the army through the Romagna in return for payment in the form of cannon. Charles is wheeled into the room, looking seriously wrecked, and is introduced to the Sforzas. Charles references Giovanni’s supposed impotence and correctly realizes the Sforzas are doing this to get revenge on the Borgias. Catarina takes over, because she is (and was, in real life) about eighteen times the man any actual man in her family was.

In a room that must be right below Lucrezia’s, Juan screws some girl, while his sister stoically rocks her baby’s cradle and listens to their grunts and wails. She pauses, takes a candle, and goes up the stairs to Juan’s room to politely ask Juan to keep it down, because the kid’s trying to sleep. Juan toolishly apologizes and asks the girls for help choosing a wife from the assorted portraits scattered around the room. Lucrezia approves one of them, observing that the girl is clearly not a peasant. Juan asks for his sister’s blessing on the match and Lucrezia tells him he needs her forgiveness for “being himself” first. She bids him good night and goes back downstairs, but not before setting her candle right underneath a rope that holds a giant chandelier aloft over Juan’s bed. Damn, girl. Unfortunately, when the rope finally burns through, the chandelier impales Juan’s flavor of the night. Juan yells and Cesare comes running, pulling the girl off of him and calling for doctors. Lucrezia, meanwhile, finishes rocking the baby and goes to bed. Juan finds the burned rope and seems to put two and two together, which is more thinking than I would have thought him capable of. He looks (rightly) freaked out.

The following day, Charles is observing the placement of Alfonso in the Judas chair in the Dining Room of Death. He tells everyone it’s time to leave Naples.

The taxidermist reports the evacuation to Micheletto, who prepares to get back on the road to warn the Borgias

The Borgias, meanwhile, are having a farewell dinner for Juan and talking about Spain, which Vannozza remembers fondly, despite the fact that, in reality, she was Italian and had never been there. Lucrezia offers to serve her brother and asks him if he has any regrets. “No burning ones, no,” he responds. Heh. “Good. Then perhaps I shall drop in on you sometime,” she flings back. Hee! Vannozza asks what the deal is with the kids and Juan asks to make a speech. Vannozza gives him leave to do so, so he begins by reminding them of how much the Romans hated them when they arrived, but they triumphed nonetheless, thanks to their close and loving family. Cesare and Lucrezia exchange a look that says, “can you believe this asshole?” but they join in the toast to their mother anyway.

Juan gets a grand sendoff that looks like the 15th century equivalent of a ticker tape parade. Lucrezia observes that it’s a sad day to lose a brother and Cesare agrees, saying he can’t believe the sun dares to shine. He spots Micheletto riding back and runs down to meet him, realizing he’s got bad news.

Cesare takes the news to Alexander, adding that Charles apparently intends to trash Rome completely before he leaves Italy. But Alexander has a plan: he summons Victor/Vittoria and tells her to build a whole slew of cannon and mount them on the city walls within the week. She appears to be a bit confused, because she’s an artist, not a foundry worker, but she says nothing. Alexander tells Cesare he’ll need his help convincing the other cardinals not to flee this time.

The cardinals are enraged to hear that Charles is coming back with a vengeance. Alexander half listens to their insults until Cesare arrives, arrayed in his cardinal red for the first time in a while, if I’m not mistaken. He’s been favoring tight black pants and leather doublet this season. He gets the other cardinals’ attention by firing a gun over their heads and Alexander proudly announces the building of many, many cannon to fight the French.

Ahh, but there’s a problem. According to Victor/Vittoria, it’ll take a month per cannon to create these things, though she does already have a mold made. Well, that’s something, I guess. The problem is a serious bronze shortage: it was all sold to pay for Alexander’s big season-opener party. Cesare pulls his hair a bit and then notices a plaster cannon sitting nearby. Plaster, unlike bronze, is plentiful, cheap, and quick to set. Methinks there’s a fakeout coming.

Partner brings news of Charles’s approach to DR and hopes Charles will kill Alexander for them. DR doubts Charles will be successful, because he knows how clever these Borgias are.

Cesare returns to the foundry, where there’s now a whole line of plaster cannon. He checks out a finished one and compliments the work. It is really impressive—the thing totally looks real. Oh, and Victor/Vittoria kind of gives herself away and Cesare realizes she’s not a boy at all. “Is nothing in this damned city what it seems?” he wonders, then figures this is all fine, because at least he’s sure she can keep a secret.

In the grayish pre-dawn light, Alexander paces and considers what he should say to the French envoy, who’s claiming Charles just wants safe passage through Rome. Yeah, right. Alexander figures that’s bullshit, and furthermore, they’ve got Sforzas bearing down on them. He asks if they have their cannon and Cesare shows him the giant guns being wheeled and placed around the city walls. He urges Alexander to trust him and Alexander tells him to tell the envoy to, basically, go screw himself. Cesare smiles bravely and tries not to crap himself.

French camp. A messenger tells Charles he’s been denied entry into Rome. Caterina thinks that’s crazy, but Charles isn’t surprised. He’s ready to go and kick some Borgia ass, as are the Sforza’s.

In Rome, some of the soldiers placing the cannon realize they’re not all that heavy, and when they get sloppy they chip one of them. Their captain, being an idiot who doesn’t realize his very survival depends on this particular illusion, laughs at the toy cannon and promptly gets a knife to the gut, courtesy of Micheletto, who warns the others that they’re going to pretend these are real cannon, got it? Message received.

Victor/Vittoria runs around, fixing the chipped cannon as Charles rides towards Rome and asks about the walls, which are 10 feet thick and will take many hours to bust through. Caterina’s excited by the prospect of battle, which seems to excite Charles.

The cardinals are all gathered in the Vatican in a big, red, frightened flock, asking how much Cesare knows about guns and armaments. Cesare reassures them he knows enough. He can’t do any worse than Juan did. They look out and see the French approaching and Alexander blesses his son before sending him off.

Cesare, mounted and accompanied by a couple of guards, rides out to meet Charles and the Sforzas. Catarina tells him he’s about to get his ass kicked and Cesare tells her Rome may prove stronger than she thinks. Charles informs him he intends to enter Rome one way or another. Cesare says Charles is welcome to bypass Rome, but he’s not getting in. Charles gets mad and swears to raze the city to the ground, using his cannon. Cesare offers his up first, signaling to Micheletto, who cuts down a bunch of banners, revealing a wall decorated with convincing plaster cannon, all manned with soldiers holding burning torches, as if they’re ready to light. Charles’s lieutenant blanches and tells Charles they’re not really prepared for this. Way to say that right in front of your opponent, moron. Cesare suggests they put off this battle and, in fact, get on the road back to France and forget about Italy altogether. Charles thinks, the Sforzas exchange a glance, the lieutenant sneers, and finally the French back down, agreeing to ride past Rome. Several soldiers on Rome’s walls run to change their shorts, as do a few of those nervous cardinals, I’m guessing.

Much celebrating. Cardinals praise God, the people cheer, and Cesare looks totally hot on his horse. Sorry, that last bit was just a random observation. Lucrezia and Giulia go to congratulate Alexander and Cesare joins them, suggesting Alexander melt down the pealing churchbells to make real cannon. He shatters a piece of one of the fake ones at his feet and the girls laugh and congratulate him for his cleverness.

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