We are three episodes into season 3 of Showtime’s The Borgias. This season seems to center on the rise and fall of power of Pope Alexander VI/Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) and his eldest son Cesare Borgias (Francois Arnaud). One of the main arcs this season will be the rise of Cesare as a dominant political and military force. We finally get to see the ruthless Cesare that history has come to know. The series is still rooted in the pope as the central force. This season he tries to hold on to his power base while trying to stop the insurgency around him. We see a more paranoid and weaken pope both physically and emotionally. Cesare is coming out from under his father’s shadow. He is taking the reigns and being more than merely a sounding board or errand boy for his father.
In episode one “The Face of Death”, the pope survives his poisoning after quick thinking by his daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Granger). He comes out of the event questioning his faith and untrusting of everyone around him. Cesare hunts down the perpetrators that carried out the attempt on the pope’s life and thwarts an attempt to kill his family. Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) is discovered to be the mastermind behind the plot against the pope. He is imprisoned but escapes with the help of Cardinal Orsini. In the pope’s weaken state, the vultures circle waiting for their chance to succeed as the new pope. The Borgias’ enemies are plotting against the family with Caterina Sforza (Gina McKee) emerging as the main threat.
By episode 2 “The Purge”, the pope appoints Cardinal Sforza to conduct an inquisition to determine the loyalty of the College of Cardinals and who else may be plotting against him. The pope uses this opportunity to strip the Cardinals deemed disloyal of their position and confiscate their property. Cardinal Orsini attempts to kill the pope by asking for a private confession after he is stripped of his position. The pope survives by killing Cardinal Orsini. The pope is back to his narcissistic self when he believes that God must have wanted him to live after all. Be careful of a scorned woman. Caterina Sforza has her assassin-for-hire, Rufio (Thor Lindhardt) convince the other Romagna families to form an alliance against the Borgias.
Promoted as the moment we were waiting for – Lucrezia and Cesare inch closer to consummating their lustful love. Lucrezia is angered by her fiancé Alfonso of Aragon (Sabastian De Souza) after he tells her the King of Naples will not welcome her illegitimate son Giovanni into the court of Naples. Lucrezia runs to Cesare to ask him to plead her son’s case when he goes to negotiate the terms for her marriage to Alfonso with King of Naples. Cesare as always vows to do what ever it takes to make her happy even if it means to wage war against Naples.
Alfonso, the feeble lightweight also informs Lucrezia he is a virgin and won’t bed her until after they are married. He does not give in even after much coaxing by Lucrezia. Alfonso doesn’t intend to break his vow of chastity to Saint Agnes and that takes precedence over his fiancée’s needs. Feeling spurned and un-loved, Lucrezia invites Cesare to her room where he finds her lying naked on her wedding gown. Cesare is uncomfortable at first and wants to leave but is urged by Lucrezia to come closer. He is entranced by her but knows this is one of her games. She tells him this is “a game of want and wanting.” Lucrezia confesses Alfonso is a virgin and won’t touch her. Cesare tells her he is sure she has the means to change that history. Lucrezia ask if her body has the necessary charms and pulls him on to her bed. She tempts him by saying he looks but does not touch. They are interrupted mid-kiss by a knock at the door. Lucrezia toying with Alfonso and then Cesare was like a cat toying with mice before it devours them. Alfonso spurned her while Cesare did everything she asked.
In episode 3 “Siblings”, Lucrezia goes to Cesare to ask him if Alfonso could accompany him to Naples. She reminds him of the importance of this meeting. Cesare asks why Alfonso didn’t ask him directly and Lucrezia shares that Alfonso is frightened of him. Lucrezia tells him to hurry back because she does not feel safe if he is not near her.
Cesare enters a Naples stripped of armor and weapons after the French occupation. Only beggars and ruins surround the palace. The meeting with King Ferdinand (Matias Varela) doesn’t turn out as intended. He refuses to allow Lucrezia’s child at court even after Cesare points out it is only a small matter. Cesare threatens King Ferdinand by stating Rome could seek alliances with other states if the king refuses this one request. King Ferdinand calls Cesare’s bluff citing Rome needs Naples. Cesare turns his anger against Alfonso when he stays silent and does nothing to plead Lucrezia’s case. Cesare regrettably informs Lucrezia of the king’s refusal and she wonders why she can’t be happy. Cesare promises her he will make her happy.
The ambassador from France comes to the pope seeking an annulment for the King of France. The pope sees this as a chance to seek an alliance with France and task Cesare with going to France after the wedding. He also request Cesare find a bride when he is there. Lucrezia finds out Cesare will leave for France after her wedding. She knows her father’s ambitions will take Cesare away from her. Cesare finds Lucrezia looking at the seating board for the wedding. Lucrezia shows Cesare she has him sitting next to her and ask if he is still at her side. Cesare promises, “Of course I am at your side. What ever happens… France, Naples, Spain – it could all crumble to dust for all I care as long as you…” He pulls Lucrezia in for a passionate kiss that leaves them both a little taken a back.
Later that night when Lucrezia tries to de-flower Alfonso, he discovers his name on the seating board with a question mark on it. He is upset that her family thinks this little of him and abandons Lucrezia on their wedding night. Lucrezia creeps upstairs, disrobe and crawls into bed with a naked Cesare. A shocked Cesare turns to her as she asks if she is so hard to love. Cesare tells her, “Lucrezia, we can not.” Lucrezia responds by shoving Cesare’s hands on her ample bosoms and says, “But I must. Only a Borgia it seems can truly love a Borgia. They already whisper it of us throughout the whole of Italy. Why deny us the pleasure of which we are already accused of?” Cesare brings up her husband and Lucrezia tells him, “You are my husband, tonight.” That’s all the convincing Cesare needs. Cue 70s porn music and they are off. The whole scene is cut with scenes of Alfonso crying himself to sleep. Can they make this poor guy any more of a pussy?
Is incest the new frontier? We have been seeing it more as a plot device in such shows as HBO A Game of Thrones between twin siblings Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister-Baratheon (Lena Headey); Sundance Top of the Lake with newly discovered maybe-half-siblings/lovers Johnno Mitcham (Thomas M. Wright) and Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss); and then in last year’s That’s My Boy between siblings Jaime (Leighton Meester) and Chad (Milo Ventimiglia).
In the case of The Borgias, they always portrayed Cesare and Lucrezia more as star- crossed lovers even in the beginning when creator Neil Jordan denied they would explore their relationship any further. Maybe that helped to soften the ick factor and get us to root for what one person lovingly deemed Borgias-cest. The story of Cesare and Lucrezia were prevalent in the video gameAssassin’s Creed and other films so much so that their dynamic almost seems normal and maybe thus acceptable.
I felt sad for Cesare and Lucrezia while watching the love scene. They finally allowed themselves to express feelings they have denied for so long. What’s tragic is the fact that their love life continues to be used by their father as a means to further his political stronghold. I think Lucrezia felt Cesare slipping from her and she did what she did as a way to hold on to him one last time. For all the violent and ruthless acts Cesare carries out, his love for Lucrezia almost redeems him. He loves someone so much that he will do anything for her regardless of the consequences. His love for his sister is both his weakness and his strength. He killed Giovanni Sforza for his treatment of Lucrezia thus eliciting the wrath of Caterina Sforza further. His threats to the king of Naples on behalf of Lucrezia and her son causes the king to invite all the Borgias’ enemies to the wedding as a way to show the pope that he has other options besides Rome. Cesare finally decides to kill his brother after Juan dangles Giovanni from the balcony. Last season, drug addled Juan (David Oakes) suspected his brother had “congressed” with his “angelic sister” but who could take Juan seriously since he was seen earlier trying to carry on a conversation with his penis.
History has Cesare married off to Charlotte of Albret, a French noble woman. Cesare’s military prowess and rise to power was used as a cautionary tale in Machiavelli’s novel, The Prince. For now on The Borgias, it will be interesting to see how far Cesare’s ambitions will take him from his heart’s desire.
Watch current episodes of The Borgias before it airs on Showtime Anytime. The Borgias airs Sunday 10/9c on Showtime.