The Borgias: The Most Dangerous Game

Previously on The Borgias: At Alexander’s behest, Cesare and Cardinal Sforza started purging the Vatican. One of the disgraced cardinals decided to take things into his own hands and attacked Alexander while confessing, only to get his own knife in his throat.

A little disconcertingly, we don’t pick up with the fallout from Alexander being found covered with the blood of a cardinal—we start off with him enthroned, back to stripping disgraced churchmen of their offices and titles. One of them asks how much longer this is going to go on, and accuses him of doing this for personal gain (all the property being taken back goes directly to the church). Afterwards, Cesare warns his father that he’s running out of cardinals. Alexander doesn’t care, as long as the place is cleansed of enemies and he can use the money to do God’s work. I hope that means Giulia’s, Lucrezia’s, and Vannozza’s charitable endeavour from last season gets more funding. It’d be a way to keep Giulia around, at least.

The most recently dumped cardinal makes his way to one of the rooms at the Vatican, where he begins stuffing scrolls into a sack. Geez, they didn’t have guards escort these people out? That seems stupid.

Cesare presents his father with a summary of the Papal Armies he’s put together, and it’s not good. They’re at really, really low strength. Thanks, Juan!

The cardinal sets a candle down near one of the scrolls, and as it lights up, he leaves.

Alexander seems rather unconcerned about the fact that his army’s nearly decimated, when they’re surrounded by enemies. Cesare tells him they need to take care of this now and begs his father to give him command of the Papal Armies. Alexander says he will, later. In the meantime, he’s sending Cesare to Naples to negotiate Lucrezia’s dowry, and while he’s there, he wants him to gauge their support in the south. Cesare’s distracted by the smell of smoke, and it turns out that the room that’s currently burning is the treasury. Great. Sforza appears and tells them that Cardinal Vesucci was the last person in the room, but nobody knows where he is now.

He’s on the road, dressed in simple monk’s robes.

In Florence, crowds are cheering on two young noblemen circling each other, preparing for a contest. At someone’s signal, they each draw their swords, and that’s it. One says he won, the other says it was him, so the first guy sweetens the pot by placing a bet on drawing first blood. They begin to fight in earnest, as Ruffio looks on. The fight is brief, but second guy, Barlioni, I believe, wins. He’s the one Ruffio is drawn to, naturally, and he knows who Ruffio is.

Cesare’s getting dressed when in comes Lucrezia to ask if Alfonso can accompany him to Naples. Cesare doesn’t care, though he wonders why the guy can’t ask him himself. She laughs that he’s a bit scared of Cesare. There’s some talk about how long they’ll be gone and about the baby, and he promises to make sure she gets to keep the kid around. She asks him to come back quickly, because she doesn’t feel safe without him there. Nor should she.

Ruffio fills Barlioni in on the families he’s already recruited. Barlioni plays it cool and remains non-committal. Ruffio says that Barlioni did a good job putting down the rebellion in Florence, but his contract’s up, so he’s kind of flapping in the breeze just now.

On the road to Naples, Alfonso tries small-talking Cesare, who tells him to stop chattering about Naples and start thinking about how much he loves Lucrezia. They gallop into some castle, where they find a lot of very miserable, starving, ragged people. Cesare shakes his head. ‘Our allies,’ he says. Alfonso leads him into the inner courtyard, where Alfonso’s cousin, the lord (king?) of Naples, welcomes them. Cesare wastes no time intimating how disappointed he is with the city. King chooses to overlook that and invites Cesare to dinner that night.

The Duke of Aquitaine, the new ambassador from France, is being presented to Alexander and delivers the welcome news that France has no interest in further wars in Italy. Alexander asks what the new king, Louis XII, is like, and Duke says he’s great, but his wife leaves a great deal to be desired. It’s clear he’s sniffing around for some sort of annulment here, and Alexander seems willing to discuss it further.

King shows Cesare Nepalese soldiers. Cesare asks how many they have and hears it’s 10,000, which he clearly doubts. Micheletto goes sniffing around the armoury and finds very few weapons, and those there are are ancient. A guard comes in and accuses him of thieving, but Micheletto doubts anyone would want to steal this crap.

Time to negotiate the marriage contract. King’s sitting down with both Cesare and Alfonso, discussing such details as Lucrezia’s future title (Duchess of Bisceglie). Cesare brings up Giovanni and things quickly get heated. Cesare isn’t asking for much—just that the kid get to come with his mom. King stands on his dignity and pompously declares that his family has never encompassed the offspring of stableboys. Well, once Lucrezia marries Alfonso, your family will encompass the kid whether you want to or not. That’s kind of how blood-kinship works. Cesare asks if he’d really risk an open breach with the pope, which King calls an empty threat. Cesare urges him to think this over, and to have an answer at the wedding. Well, I hope he’d have an answer by then. King leaves, and Cesare immediately jumps on Alfonso for not saying anything. This is his future family they’re talking about, after all. Alfonso looks terrified. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well.

Ruffio meets someone in an inn and learns that Alexander’s commissioned a report of his army. Ruffio hands over a bag of money and asks to see that report.

Cesare and Alfonso return to Rome, where they’re immediately greeted by Lucrezia, who laughingly kisses Alfonso before Cesare draws her aside. She’s mighty pissed off to hear that King refused to allow her child to come with her and that threats need to be made over this. She tells Cesare that Rome is the peak of the world, and they are at its apex, but she still can’t seem to get her happiness. He promises to get it for her.

Alexander, with Cesare in attendance, pumps Aquitaine for details about just how hideous the French queen is. Very. Like, nightmare fuel ugly. Barren too, apparently, because when nature deals a shitty hand, it likes to be thorough. Alexander sends him away and he and Cesare discuss just where this puts them: if they grant the annulment, France will be in their debt, and since France is pretty much the biggest power in Europe at the time, that’d put them in a pretty sweet spot. Which is good, because Naples is going to be no help at all. Alexander suggests a further alliance with France: a marriage for Cesare. He decides to send Cesare up to France with the annulment after Lucrezia’s wedding.

Ruffio’s got all sorts of disenchanted and dispossessed noblemen around a table so he can mass-persuade them to join Caterina’s cause. One of them points out that all these assassination attempts have so far failed, and that sucky track record isn’t encouraging. Especially since it looks like Caterina and Ruffio want to up the ante to all-out warfare. If you can’t even manage a single assassination, how’s a war going to go? Ruffio tells them going to war is less risky than they think, and produces the report on the Papal Armies. One of them asks if this is accurate and Ruffio says it is. I don’t know why they’re taking his word for it, to be honest.

At the Vatican, Lucrezia and Vannozza are dealing with a seating chart for the wedding, but Lucrezia’s more stressed about the fact that Cesare’s being sent to court Naples’ greatest enemy, France, immediately after she ends up ‘shackled’ (her word) to Naples. Yeah, I can see how that wouldn’t make for a very harmonious honeymoon. Vannozza reminds her that she was the one who saved her father’s life, and she’s pretty sure Lucrezia can manage just about anything. Naples should be a piece of cake, by comparison.

Looks like somebody dropped the ball re: wedding invitations, because apparently most of the Lords of the Romagna (the ones currently trying to have Alexander killed) and Caterina Sforza made their way onto the guest list. Seriously, how could that happen? Oh, apparently King Ferdinand of Naples invited them. What an asshole. Cesare suggests they just pull the invitations, but his father thinks that’ll just send a signal that they’re weak, so Caterina and her sidekicks get to come.

Cesare finds Lucrezia still dealing with the seating chart, and in no mood to be playful. She shows him that she’s placed him next to her and asks if he is, truly, on her side. He swears he is, and then Frenches her. And then looks horrified, at least, and asks her to forgive him. She starts to cry, so he leaves.

King Ferdinand rides into Rome with a great deal of pomp and ceremony and genuflects twice before kissing the ring of the enthroned Alexander, who greets him coolly. Ferdinand next greets Lucrezia and Alfonso, who looks downright panicked when he sees Caterina ride up to the Vatican steps. Clearly Ferdinand didn’t mention this little plan. She dismounts, climbs the steps, does not genuflect, but does, after some hesitation, kiss Alexander’s ring. He says he’d lost hope of seeing her kneel before him, and she sasses that she bends her knee to no man, unless she chooses to. I have to say, this particular actress seems to be one of those rare people who actually looks far better in middle age than she did when she was younger. It’s like her face filled out a little bit or something, and she looks quite lovely, compared to how she looked in The Forsyte Saga, when I found myself scratching my head every time someone raved about what a beauty she was. Sorry, random tangent.

Cesare murmurs to his father that they should have prepared Caterina apartments in the Castel St’Angelo. Never too late, Cesare! He goes on to say that he knew she was clever, but never realised how clever until today. Would you care to elaborate on that, Cesare?

Later, Alfonso goes to take Ferdinand to task for inviting Caterina. Nice to see him finally showing some spirit. Ferdinand calmly tells the boy that this invitation and the marriage are both moves in the game. It’s not a game to Alfonso, though, and he insists he loves Lucrezia. Ferdinand doesn’t care, just as long as the marriage goes through. He also wanted to remind Alexander that Naples has friends aside from Rome. He tells Alfonso that he’s a kid who’s new at this game, and he needs to go and let the grownups get on with it.

Cesare checks out the seating chart, noting where Caterina sits, and then completely trashes it. Oh, Cesare, if Lucrezia wasn’t pissed off at you before, she sure will be now. He begins to rearrange the names, putting Alfonso right in the middle, with a question mark next to his name.

Lucrezia and Paolo get married and everyone applauds. As they pass, Caterina joins Cesare and offers congratulations on the marriage. Cesare promises to pass it along and advises her to offer his father and family congratulations on their escapes from death. He tells her that she’s risking everything, and she calmly says she knows—Cesare has a blade, and nobody would stop him, if he wanted to use it. ‘You could sink your steel into me,’ she says. ‘To the hilt, if you wished.’ He shoves her against a wall, but then lets her go.

In the ballroom, the dancing begins, led by the newlyweds, who dance with each other briefly before drawing in new partners. Lucrezia approaches Cesare, who gives her a ‘not now’ look, so she grabs someone else. Ferdinand oozes up to him instead and suggests they go get a drink. He observes that marriage is a beautiful thing, and Cesare says it can be. Ferdinand brings up Cesare’s potential French bride and Cesare wonders what France would say to that. Ferdinand is fairly non-committal.

Caterina escapes the party to go chat with Ruffio in another room and find out what her wolf pack’s price is. The usual: land, money, etc. She promises it and says it’s time to launch phase two of this plan: start confounding the pope.

Cesare spots several men heading off together and follows them. It’s all the Romagna folk. One of them—an Orsini, I believe—starts insulting Cesare by observing he’s nothing—not a cardinal, not a soldier, not even a legitimate son. Cesare keeps his cool and invites him to partake of some more of Cesare’s wine, and to cool off in Cesare’s garden, and flirt with some of the Roman noblewomen. Orsini sneers that he cares not for the pretty young noblewomen. ‘Then I will introduce you to some pretty young noblemen instead,’ Cesare offers with a smile. Heh. You walked right into that one, Orsini. Orsini hands off his glass of wine and tries scrapping with Cesare, but the others hold him back and Cesare walks away.

Lucrezia and Alfonso are finally alone and ready to get it on, at last. They start having sex on the table where the seating arrangements board is sitting, and Alfonso notes that this can’t be the seating arrangement, because it shows her family all on one side, and his arrayed on the other, instead of properly intermingled. Lucrezia guesses Cesare did that, and then Alfonso sees his own name in no-man’s land and gets serious, asking if this is what he is to her brother. Oh, Alfonso, don’t ruin this. Lucrezia is not her brother, so who cares what Cesare thinks? He’s all wounded, figuring the Borgias just see him as a question mark, which just makes him seem stupid. I don’t think they see you as a question mark, I think Cesare wonders exactly where your loyalties lie. Which is a fair enough question, in this particular climate, especially considering the fact that he hasn’t seen you standing up for the bride you claim to love so much. He shouts and stomps out to pout. No wonder this guy’s still a virgin. And if this was the seating chart for the wedding, how did nobody notice it was messed around with until this moment?

Lucrezia quietly heads upstairs, while her husband sulks in bed. She enters the room quietly, climbs into bed, and wakes…Cesare. Oh, ick, show. Cesare’s got the WTF face back on, as she asks him if she’s so hard to love, and takes his hand and guides it to her breast. She reminds him that she’s a Borgia (no excuse for incest!) and asks Cesare why they should deny themselves the pleasure for which they’re already accused. Because it’s WRONG! It’s so, so wrong! Just because you’ve been accused of something doesn’t give you carte blanche to go out and do it! Oh, I am so deeply, deeply disappointed in the show for going this route.

Cesare recalls that Lucrezia’s married and she says he doesn’t want her. Apparently that’s enough for Cesare. We now get a fairly prolonged, slow motion brother-sister sex scene. Ok, I’m going to go take a scalding hot shower now. Going down the incest road is bad enough, but acting like it’s all sexy and great, photographing it like it’s a hot love scene? About a billion times more wrong. So, so wrong. Ugh.