Previously on The Borgias: Lucrezia chose a new king for Naples and Micheletto chose a new boyfriend. Both made terrible, terrible choices.
Alexander’s getting robed up, gloved, and crowned for a grand ceremony which involves him being carried through the streets of Rome on a throne held high above the cheering crowds of cross-bearing pilgrims. Looks like the Jubilee par-tay has kicked off. He blesses as he goes, and people reach out to him, one of them even holding up a baby for a blessing. He arrives at St Peter’s, gets off his throne at the steps, blesses the crowd, and processes to the door, where Cardinal Sforza hands him what looks like a ceremonial gold hammer. He moves on to the door, which is bricked up, and knocks three times with the hammer while he and the attending clergy chant scripture in a very musical way. On cue, the fake brick wall is pulled away, and the pilgrims rush forward, already dazzled by the spectacle. At last, the Spear of Longinus is carried forward by a clutch of Cardinals. Pilgrims start flooding in, paying handsomely to be forgiven their sins. The clergy are even nice enough to put exact figures on those sins, which is helpful, though at least one guy objects to the steep prices.
In Forli, presumably, Caterina weeps over the body of a man. Not her son, surely? No, apparently it is, which is a bit confusing to me, because it seems like a fair bit of time should have passed between last episode and this. Over the past few episodes, the Jubilee celebrations were just in the planning stages, which suggests something of a time jump between then and this episode, which is explicitly stated as taking place in 1500. And yet, it looks like Benito’s just been delivered to Forli, and is in pretty good shape, so he can’t have died all that long ago. Ok. She asks someone nearby whom she addresses as ‘cardinal’ if they can both taste revenge. He steps forward, tells her he’s just a common prelate, and adds that revenge would be sweet. She tells them that the pilgrims will be flocking to Rome to fill the papal coffers with cash that’ll be used to destroy her, but fortunately (for her) the pilgrim road passes through Marina, which is Sforza territory. She suggests they display a really great relic in the catacombs there, to divert all the pilgrims from St Peter’s.
The Cardinal, de Luca, shows her just such a relic: the shroud of Constantinople. A fake, of course, and an expensive one. Her plan is now to display the shroud and tell the pilgrims they can either pay a hefty fee for passage to Rome, or they can view her relic for no fee at all. De Luca wonders if the shroud is going to be enough and suggests they add a miracle, like some bloody tears to it, just to be on the safe side. The Faithful can be so fickle, you know.
At the Vatican, the day’s haul is being counted out, and it’s considerable. Alexander examines one ring and guesses that was payment for adultery. He then pulls Farnese aside and tells him to put all the funds into a side account in the treasury known as the Constantinople Endeavour. The account books for it will be for Farnese’s eyes only. Yes, taking all that money and stashing it in some secret account. That won’t be suspicious at all, Alexander.
Mattai meets with Alexander and tells him the whole Turkish navy could be burned to the waves with oil. He proposes stuffing some ships with oil for Ramadan and sending them over there just in time to berth for the holy month. Once they’re there, Mattai’s connections will set them alight. That’s if Alexander issues a papal bull that eases up on the taxes on the Jews in Rome. Alexander moans that he asks for a great deal, but Mattai refuses to back down, and even gives Alexander a bit of lip. Looks like someone’s feeling his oats (and fully appreciating how important he is). He says he needs money to buy all this oil, and Alexander says that he’ll issue the bull if Mattai can ensure the success of this scheme.
Pilgrims now flow into the catacombs of Marina to view the holy shroud, before which Caterina is kneeling. Bloody tears start dripping from the eyes on the shroud, and everyone exclaims over the miracle. Caterina whips up the crowd further. I don’t think these people are going to Rome now.
In Rome, Alexander’s having breakfast in bed. Cesare comes in and asks if he’s heard about the shroud, and Alexander has, but, as usual, is not terribly concerned. Cesare is amused by this relic face-off and wonders where it’ll end. Alexander dismisses the shroud as fakery, and Cesare’s like, pot, have you met kettle, there? But Alexander insists his spear is genuine, as he’s had it on the best authority. Cesare sniffs that his authority is a ‘wandering Jew’, but Alexander counters that Mattai has been more help than all the cardinals put together. I don’t feel like that’s saying a whole lot. Alexander goes on to tell Cesare to ride north, kick Caterina out of Marina, and bring the shroud back to Rome for authentication. Cesare’s reluctant to take the French army to do a job that’s more appropriate for the papal army, but Alexander still won’t give him command of the army, for some unfathomable reason. Does he want to completely alienate his son? What’s his problem? Maybe he’s afraid of giving Cesare too much power to wield, since he’s shown a willingness to go against his father’s direct orders, but pushing him further into the arms of the French seems a poor way to deal with this.
Pascal writes another coded message, reporting Cesare’s move to Marina. Did Micheletto seriously tell him that? I kind of doubt it, considering how closely to the vest he tends to play things.
The message reaches Caterina via Ruffio, who mentions that, if there are pilgrims around when Cesare shows up, there’ll be lots and lots of deaths. She doesn’t care.
Cesare arrives in the area and hears about the alleged miracle from one of the pilgrims. He and Micheletto go into the catacomb where the shroud’s being displayed, which is curiously unguarded, and Micheletto goes to check out the mechanism that makes the shroud weep. He reports that the alleged tears are no more than red paint. While they’re in there, someone lights gunpowder at the entrance that burns towards the men. Oh, come on, these two are smarter than this. You mean to tell me they wandered into enemy territory and didn’t bring a few extra guys to watch their backs? That’s ridiculous.
Micheletto spots the burning gunpowder and shouts a warning to Cesare. They run for cover just as several barrels ignite right under the shroud, bringing down stone all over the place. But since these two are basically immortal, they make it out of the catacombs just in time. ‘Jesus must love you, Cesare Borgia,’ says Micheletto. Seriously. And he seems to love Micheletto too. They get to their feet and Cesare throws his arms wide, shouting, ‘Jesus loves me!’ Caterina, watching from a distance, pouts a bit.
Cesare reports the bloody tears to Alexander and they talk about Ruffio, Caterina’s ‘dark shadow.’ Alexander tells him they need lots of friends, so he’s making another one by investing King Frederigo of Naples.
Frederigo, in all his kingly glory, processes through the Vatican while Cesare asks Alfonso if Frederigo can be trusted with his family’s safety. Alfonso wimpily says he has no option but to hope so and adds that Lucrezia, who’s standing right beside him, was the one who put this guy on the throne.
Frederigo bows before the pope and is given the ring to kiss. He does so.
Micheletto writes his name in chalk on the floor of his loft and asks Pascal what it is. Pascal, cannily, realises Micheletto can’t read. Micheletto confirms it, saying he was never much bothered with learnin’, so all he can do is copy, using his very helpful photogenic memory. He saw his own name on the floor on the other side of the loft and asks why it was written there. Pascal says he likes to write Micheletto’s name when he’s gone, because it’s the language of love. Riiiight. ‘So, if I cannot read, I cannot love? How can I learn?’ Micheletto asks. Pascal offers to read to him and gets the go-ahead. He starts to read Catullus, of course. Specifically, ‘I hate and I love. Why, you may ask? I don’t know, but it’s happening, and I burn.’ Micheletto, feeling understood for perhaps the first time ever, says he’s known that feeling his whole life.
Party Chez Borgia. Frederigo approaches the enthroned pope and asks a favour: he’s nervous about the French army that’s cooling its heels on Italian soil and wants a special ambassador between the Holy See and Naples to be appointed. Alexander reminds him they already have one, but Frederigo wants a more powerful one. He proposes Lucrezia, and she expresses some surprise but is happy to accept. Cesare confirms that this means she’d live in Naples with her husband and child and Frederigo says that’s the case. In fact, she’ll travel back as his most honoured guest. Guest, hostage, what’s the difference, really, with these people?
Ruffio, who apparently has no interest in keeping his own spy alive, looks down at the sleeping forms of Micheletto and Pascal. What if Micheletto woke up? How’d he get in there? Had locks not been invented yet? I’d think Micheletto would have some kind of security, considering his line of work. Pascal wakes and watches as Ruffio quietly pries up a loose floorboard, tucks a note underneath it, and disappears.
Lucrezia wakes Cesare by rather sexily stroking his naked chest. They snuggle and Cesare asks her if she trusts Frederigo. She says she does, not that it really matters, since she has her child and her husband, which is all she ever wanted. Well, clearly not all, Lucrezia, considering the sex eyes you’re giving your brother just now. She urges Cesare to come and visit soon, and then gets up and leaves.
While Micheletto sleeps in, Pascal dresses and gets ready to leave. Micheletto wakes up and asks what he’s up to. Pascal says they’re out of food, so Micheletto tosses him some cash and tells him to go to the market. Once Pascal goes, Micheletto notes the loose floorboard, opens it up, and finds Ruffio’s message, which of course he can’t read.
He immediately goes to Cesare and copies out the message from memory. Cesare asks what this is and Micheletto says he has no idea what it means. Cesare realises they need a mirror to try and read it properly and fetches one. They know what they’re looking at now, at least, but it’s a code and they have no idea how to break it. Cesare asks where Micheletto found this, but Micheletto refuses to give Pascal over. He does admit that it’s a friend of his, and Cesare tells him to make sure the man remains his friend. He adds that the man will have a book that’s the key to this.
The Nepalese party is heading home, met by cheering, adoring crowds. Frederigo gives the royal wave from his carriage, which he’s sharing with Lucrezia and Alfonso. She asks him what her duties will be and he says she just needs to keep him informed of her brother’s and father’s designs. A little darkly, he reminds her that her home is Naples, and her allegiance must be solely to Naples now. Lucrezia notes that his tone has changed and he coldly tells her that he’s king, so what did she expect? The carriage pulls up at the palace and he invites Lucrezia to disembark first.
Micheletto arrives home and finds Pascal with his book. He gets right up next to him and tells him to read to him. Pascal obliges, and Micheletto strokes his face, tears springing to his eyes. He kisses him fiercely.
Back to Cesare he goes, with the letter and the book. Cesare shows him how the code works and starts to break it. They work for hours to translate a pretty short message: ‘They must not suspect. We will lock the cage. We must know when they will move on Forli.’ They’re not entirely sure what that means, so finally, reluctantly, Micheletto says he could beat the information they need out of Pascal. Cesare asks who he is, and Micheletto admits Pascal’s his lover, which really shows how much he trusts Cesare, because that sort of thing was an executable offense in those days. To his credit, Cesare shows no judgement of Micheletto’s sexual preference, but he’s not pleased his right-hand badass took a spy for a lover. Which is a bit rich considering Cesare once slept with Caterina Sforza herself. Micheletto offers his knife and practically begs Cesare to kill him, but Cesare gently says he will do no such thing. But Micheletto has to remain in his relationship with Pascal, so they can continue getting this very valuable information.
Lucrezia kisses her son good night, but as she leaves his room, she notes two rather ominous guards start following her back to her room. She’s completely creeped out, and when she bursts into her room she asks Alfonso if they need extra protection, because if not, what’s with all the extra surveillance? She asks the guards if Naples was always like this, with eyes in every corner and wonders if they’ll stick around even when they make love. Well, there is now some precedent for that, so don’t give anybody any ideas, Lucrezia. Alfonso closes the door on them.
In the middle of the night, Micheletto retrieves what appears to be another message, memorises it, and later transcribes it for Cesare. Thank god for that photogenic memory, right?
This message: They suspect nothing. She thinks the King of Naples is a friend. That’s actually a pretty stupid and unnecessary message to send. Horrified, Cesare, realises Frederigo is in league with Caterina and Lucrezia will be held hostage the moment they attack Forli. He angrily tells Micheletto to kill the boy.
Lucrezia is once again trailed back to her bedroom, looking more and more nervous as she goes. She finally diverts to Frederigo’s room and demands to know what the deal is with all the guards. He flat-out tells her she’s a prisoner because she chose the wrong brother. We flash back to him adding the poison to his own food, so the dog dies, but all he did was fill his mouth with (presumably) animal blood so it looked like he was coughing it up.
‘As a Borgia, you should have known better,’ he tells her. He goes on to say that she’s in a very gilded cage now. Lucrezia responds to this by fainting, which disappoints me a bit. I thought she was stronger than that. ‘Borgia bitch,’ he growls.
Lucrezia is carried back to her room, where a physician checks her out and asks Alfonso if she could possibly be pregnant. ‘I truly doubt that possibility,’ he responds drily. So, I guess they haven’t been having sex, then? I thought that after the first icebreaker things might have evened out. Guess not. Lucrezia calls Alfonso over and tells him there’s a woman in the forest who knows all sorts of cures, and she wants her to come.
Micheletto returns to his loft, where he finds Pascal apparently getting ready to leave. Removing his sword, Micheletto repeats the Catullus lines Pascal read to him earlier. Pascal tries to rush past him, but Micheletto catches him and asks him why he became his lover. Pascal admits he kind of got off on the danger. Micheletto lets him go and drops to his knees on the floor, broken. This poor man. He really can’t win in any way shape or form, can he? Weeping, he asks Pascal how he thinks he’s going to die. Pascal, too, slides to the floor and says he’ll die in Micheletto’s arms. They both cry. This may be one of the best scenes of this entire series. Bravo, show.
The old woman examines Lucrezia’s hand and somehow deduces she loves someone else. Someone very close to her. Too close. She also knows that Lucrezia’s a prisoner there and tells her she knew Frederigo wanted to be king, but she didn’t know he planned to keep Lucrezia as a hostage. She adds that Lucrezia has a future away from there. Lucrezia asks how it can be done, and the woman hands over a powerful sleeping potion.
Alexander meets with Mattai, Cardinal Sforza, and a few others. Mattai tells him the ships loaded with oil are already docked and the conflagration may have already happened.
In Constantinople, oil leaking out over the water is set alight, swiftly engulfing the anchored ships.
Back in Rome, Alexander sits and signs the papal bull, while in Constantinople, the ships explode and sailors flee for their lives. In a fantastic long shot, we see the entire fleet from a distance, burning away.
Ok, can I just take a moment to give Sean Harris a standing ovation? I think I’ve said it before, but I really appreciate the fact that he and the writers are actually giving Micheletto some nuance. He could have just been a thuggish sidekick, but he’s not. This betrayal played out so heartbreakingly, and I think he really deserves some serious kudos for that. Well done, sir. Well done.