The Borgias: War is Hell

Previously on The Borgias: The French rolled in and totally trashed Lucca, which made the rest of Italy basically wet itself. Giulia paid a visit to Lucrezia and found out dear Lu is pregnant, and the kid’s not Sforza’s.

In the middle of the night, Giulia steals out to the stables, where she gently wakes Paolo. She asks if he’s “the one” and he readily admits to it. She tells him he’s not to say the same to anyone else, or she’ll see him hanged. He understands. Giulia orders him to prepare two horses for the ladies, so they can leave at dawn.

Alexander’s getting dressed and telling Cesare that he had a nightmare that everyone had abandoned them, and he found himself dressed as a peasant as the French army swarmed through Rome. He tells Cesare to summon the Spanish ambassador, because he and Alexander need to have a talk.

In Pesaro, the girls are mounted up and ready to leave. Lucrezia urges Paolo to come with them, because she’s afraid her husband will kill him. Paolo reassures her he’ll only be whipped, and she needs to be on her way. She sadly draws up the hood of her cloak and rides away.

Alexander’s reminding the Spanish ambassador of all the nice things he’s done for Ferdinand and Isabella, and now he wants a favor in return. He wants them to help him against the French. The ambassador tells him that’s impossible, so Alexander draws him aside to talk in private. The ambassador wastes no time pointing out that getting involved in this skirmish will essentially be a declaration of war against France by Spain, which nobody wants at the moment. Alexander threatens to rescind all the favors he’s done for Spain but this still isn’t going to happen. Alexander sighs and goes to the window, where he can already see people fleeing the city in droves. He returns to the ambassador, kisses him, and tells him to remind Ferdinand and Isabella that Jesus was once kissed thus by Judas.

Alexander goes to his rooms and tells Cesare to go find Juan so they can discuss the city’s defense. Cesare goes to what I guess is Juan’s usual haunt, and it’s a fairly trashy looking place for someone as wealthy and well placed as Juan. He’s there all right, fast asleep in a whore’s bed. Cesare drags him out of bed and dunks his head in a nearby barrel of water to wake him. Juan’s not pleased at being so rudely awakened (and he seems pretty hung over as well) but Cesare’s in no mood to screw around with Juan and put up with his nonsense right now.

Lucrezia and Giulia ride through the woods, and I have to say, it’s absolutely absurd that they’d be traveling alone. No way would these two wealthy women be tramping about anywhere without a guard to accompany them, not to mention servants. Giulia asks Lucrezia to engage in a little girl talk about Paolo.

Paolo, meanwhile, is being whipped by Sforza, just as he predicted. He keeps telling Sforza that the horses were gone when he woke, and he has no idea where the girls went. Sforza doesn’t believe him, so Paolo clearly just thinks: “Eh, screw it,” and tells Sforza his wife can’t bear the sight of him, and she’s going as far away as she can get. You’d think Sforza would immediately assume Lucrezia would head to Rome—where else would she go?

Juan, Alexander, Cesare, and a soldier of some kind head into the city’s armory, where the soldier reels off all the equipment they have. Unfortunately, they don’t have the soldiers available to use it. Cesare asks how they’re fixed up for cannon, and the soldier sneers that nobody who’s a real aficionado in the art of war uses cannon. That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a while, and that’s saying something. Does this guy really think war’s about being a gentleman? Cesare clearly thinks this is absurd as well, and he tells the man the French have cannons and they’re not afraid to use them. Juan claims to have a plan that’ll take the cannon out of play, but he needs a bit of time to discuss it with the other commanders. Alexander reminds his son that Rome’s been sacked twice, and he’d like to avoid a third strike.

Charles is taking a break on the road south to relieve himself, and for some reason, della Rovere thinks this would be a great time to tell him there’s precedent for deposing a pople—specifically, the Council of Constance, which decided which of three popes would be the official Holy Father. Charles remembers that—it hadn’t been that long ago, and one of those popes had set up shop in Avignon.

Back at the Vatican, Cesare sneers at Juan’s possible plan, so Alexander scolds him and asks him to stop being such a downer about his brother’s abilities. It’s not good for morale, you know. Alexander reveals that he’s summoned the College of Cardinals, and he needs his son on his side, because he knows how fast they’ll flee once they get wind of what’s happening.

The cardinals already know they’re in a bad spot. They’re gathered, gossiping and waiting for Alexander to show. When he does, a cardinal hurries over and asks if it’s true the Colonnas are switching sides. Alexander asks Cardinal Colonna if that’s the case, and Colonna says his family’s not alone—the Sforzas are abandoning the pope as well. Alexander calls on Cardinal Sforza, who urges him to leave Rome before the French arrive. Cesare steps in and firmly tells the men there’s to be no talk of abandonment. He reminds them that they’ve taken vows to spill their blood in the defense of the church, and he’s spoken to his brother and has every confidence in his ability to defend Rome. Cesare’s a good actor—he’s convincing here. The cardinals quiet down and take their seats, waiting for the pope to speak. He tells them they’ve all been chosen by God to represent his church, and this should be viewed as a trial and a test of faith. Alexander says that he will stay, in the Vatican, and he’s sure the College of Cardinals will sit tight as well.

As they ride to Rome, Giulia and Lucrezia run right into a group of French soldiers. Believe it or not, there’s some truth to this—Giulia (I believe) was captured by the French, along with either a friend or a female relative, but I don’t think Lucrezia was captured with her. The French soldiers surround them and take them back to camp.

Meanwhile, Juan and his condottieri are making their presentation to Alexander, outlining how Juan plans to take out the French cannons. He plans to render them useless as siege weapons by not allowing a siege at all, but by instead meeting the French on open ground. That would be all well and good, except for those devastating chained cannonballs we saw, which they used at Lucca. You’d think someone would have talked about them since that siege. I guess not, because nobody here seems to know anything about them, and Alexander thinks this plan is totally brilliant. Cesare clearly doesn’t agree, but he holds his tongue, like a good son. Juan finishes with a grandiose flourish, comparing himself to Marc Antony and Cesar. Riiiight.

"Seriously, this can't possibly fail!"

Juan and the soldiers ride out of the city, past cheering, petal throwing crowds. Cesare and Micheletto (I missed him last week!) watch moodily from a balcony. Cesare asks Micheletto if the Lord will see the justice in their cause, but Micheletto says God doesn’t really get involved in matters of warfare. These men both clearly know this plan is doomed to fail, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.

Lucrezia, Giulia, and their new escorts arrive at the vast French encampment. Lucrezia marvels at the size and unwisely comments that this is what her brother faces. Giulia gives her a sharp look and the captain tells her that her brother’s to be pitied, if he’s a Roman soldier. Giulia distracts him by asking to be introduced to Charles. When he asks, she reveals who the two ladies are. Amazingly, little cartoon dollar signs do not appear in the captain’s eyes once he realizes what a rich pair of prizes he’s stumbled across in the woods.

Charles is down in the camp, washing up when his right-hand man approaches and tells him they’ve got a pretty pair of captives, and one of them’s a Borgia. Charles is very interested to hear this, and also shocked to hear that the other prisoner is the pope’s mistress. He also seems surprised that the pope has a mistress at all, but come on, man, you’re French! And it’s not like it was an unusual thing back then! They all had mistresses!

Giulia and Lucrezia are cooling their heels in a tent and trying to decide what to do next. Lucrezia’s clearly come a long way from her days as a somewhat naïve girl and takes charge, saying they should use the weapons they have—their beauty and wit—to do what they can to gather intel for her father. Their chat is interrupted by the sudden arrival of della Rovere. He claims the girls aren’t hostages, but are being detained for their protection. Suuuure. Lucrezia decides to start practicing her wiles on della Rovere and silkily says she wouldn’t like to be in prison, because it would so displease her father, the pope. She also comments that her father wouldn’t like to see della Rovere with the French, getting blood on his hands. Della Rovere covers up his discomfort by telling them they’ve been invited to dine with the king that evening. Giulia accepts on their behalf. Lucrezia presses on, asking what della Rovere’s doing there, and he tells her he’s there to see her father deposed for simony and public lechery with Giulia. The admission throws Lucrezia for a loop, but she recovers her good humor and asks to be taken in to dinner. Oh, man, between these two ladies, these men aren’t going to know what hit them.

At dinner, Charles is flanked by the ladies, who take it in turns to flatter him. Giulia strokes his shoulder and says how great it is that he’s a king and all, and Lucrezia reads his fortune in the dregs of his wine. She claims to see two great armies meeting, but she can’t identify the victor, because there isn’t one, and no loser either. She’s all flirty and cute with him, and asks him about his battles. He offers to show her how the French do battle the next day.

The following morning. Juan’s got his army lined up, and it’s pathetically tiny compared with the vast, incredible French army, which oddly has its cannons right up front, although I’m pretty sure artillery tends to go towards the back. Whatever. Juan rides up and down, taking in the sight. One of the captains reminds him that their strategy included a feint to the left, but there doesn’t appear to be any left to this army.

On the French side, Charles, the ladies, and della Rovere ride into position so they can watch the battle. Lucrezia notes the curved blades on the spears, which are apparently for ripping people open. Lovely. Charles says they may not even need to use them, because first they’ll go crazy with the cannons. He tells her about the chained cannonballs, which they plan to unleash on the unsuspecting Papal Army. Oh, God, this is going to be horrific, isn’t it? Remember how it went when they first tested these things against the dummies? I already feel sick. Lucrezia looks alarmed as the cannoneers start to load the balls, and she looks even more freaked out when she sees Juan still riding back and forth in front of his army.

The cannons fire, and sure enough, the carnage is truly horrific. Big chunks of human meat start raining down all over the place, and the camera spends a little too much time lingering on half severed torsos with intestines and things hanging out for all to see. I guess if you’re going to put all the effort into a truly realistic, gory battle scene you may as well make the most of it, but God, between this and the episode of Game of Thrones I watched earlier I’ve seen more blood and guts than I think I’ve absorbed in the entire run of Grey’s Anatomy, and they’re not too shy about the blood and guts on that show, believe me. Juan manages to escape in one piece, but his captain isn’t so lucky.

The cannoneers get ready to reload, and Lucrezia hysterically asks Charles to halt the cannon for just a minute, because they’re terribly loud. She then rides off toward the Papal Army, which I find really, really implausible. The French would just let her ride off like that? She’s a hugely valuable hostage! A French captain asks for the go order, but Charles tells him to wait, because he doesn’t want Lucrezia harmed. Juan spots Lucrezia approaching and rides out to meet her. She tells him to get the hell back to Rome, because he’s going to get himself and his whole army slaughtered. Juan’s not willing to accept defeat, but even Lucrezia’s smarter and a better strategist than he is, and she thinks on her feet her and tells him to say he came to terms with the French and agreed to leave the field and allow Charles to enter Rome without a fight. Juan tells her Charles will pillage the city and depose their father, but she tells him to let her handle it. She gallops back to the French side and informs Charles that she just wanted to say hi to her brother, who was only there because he thought Charles and his army was going to sack Rome, like a bunch of barbarians, but she explained that Charles was a gentleman and would never do such a thing, because he just wants Naples, right? Now having been neatly stepped around by a 15-year-old who’s totally charmed him, Charles agrees that he just wants Naples. Lucrezia smiles sweetly and tells him that he can go ahead and march right through Rome without any resistance, then. Nicely played, my dear. Meanwhile, the Papal Army turns as one and starts to head back to Rome.

In Rome, the cardinals are fleeing to Ostia like rats from a sinking ship. Even Sforza’s going. They’ve heard about the defeat of the Papal Army and they don’t want to stick around and see if the French plan to stick to this whole “bloodless entry” plan. One of them graciously allows Alexander to come along with them, but he’s steadfast in his plan to remain. He next stops by the study/library, where Burchard is packing up the books. Alexander calls him out on leaving, but Burchard says he just wants to make sure the books are safe. Alexander harshly tells him to take care he preserves the book on the Council of Constance, because he may need it for Alexander’s deposition proceedings. And if such proceedings do, indeed go forward, he knows Burchard will do his sworn duty and find evidence when needed, just as he did for both Alexander and della Rovere back in episode one. Burchard refuses to take sides, and tells Alexander he just wants to preserve his books.

The remaining people of Rome have gathered to watch the remains of the army limp into the city. Cesare and Micheletto watch too, moodily, realizing the army’s been defeated. Life is not so good right now.

Cesare finds his father in his bedroom, looking sad and tired. Alexander urges him not to blame Juan, because he couldn’t have seen those chained cannonballs coming. Cesare’s more concerned with the fact that his precious Lucrezia’s being held hostage. Alexander knows.

Juan strides into the Vatican and starts scolding the fleeing priests and cardinals.

Back with Cesare and Alexander, Alexander takes the blame for Juan’s defeat on his own shoulders, saying he put too much responsibility on Juan, and he couldn’t handle it. Plus, Juan just wasn’t at all suited to military leadership. That was Cesare’s special talent. Alexander realizes he’s facing his darkest hour all alone, and Cesare reassures him he won’t be going anywhere. Juan comes busting in and tells his father they had no choice but to retreat. He says it’s time for Alexander to leave and go to Ostia, but he’s still determined to stay in Rome. Juan suggests at least going to Castel St. Angelo (where, I believe, the pope actually did take refuge at this time), but Alexander’s determined to remain in the Vatican. He orders Juan to take his mother to safety, at least. Juan’s reluctant to leave, and only does so when his father yells at him to go, already.

Alexander goes into the basilica, where he finds his old confessor, Brother Raphael, hanging around and reading. Alexander’s pleased to see him, knowing that it’s a good time to have loyal friends around. Alexander’s afraid that he might be failing this trial from God, but Raphael doesn’t think he is at all. His words seem to give Alexander strength and comfort, and after he does a bit of free association with the word “attest,” Alexander notes Raphael’s plain monk’s robes and sandals and decides he wants to greet the French dressed as a humble friar, instead of robed in gold and brocade as he usually is. He wants to go back to his roots.

Cesare, meanwhile, goes to the convent where Ursula’s stashed herself to urge her to leave. She won’t, naturally, because she took vows and all. I get that it wouldn’t be realistic for him to just get over her in a week, but to be honest, I’m kind of ready for this woman to be off my screen. I just feel like every scene with these two is the same now: I want you, you can’t have me, I love Jesus now, leave me alone… It’s getting a bit boring. So, she won’t leave with him, but she can’t stop him from placing guards around the abbey.

In a reverse of one of the episode’s earlier scenes, Alexander removes his elaborate papal robes (unaided by servants for the first time we’ve ever seen) and dresses in the plain monk’s habit and Birkenstocks. He looks at himself in the mirror and his face hardens. He’s ready to face whatever comes his way.



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