I'm sure you will all remember my review of Borgia: Faith & Fear's first season and that I was rather impressed with it. I found it much more riveting, and much more accurate than the equivalent Showtime series "The Borgias". And so when I had the second season of Borgia arrive through my door back in April, I couldn't help my excitement. I probably should have reviewed them all sooner, but I'm getting a bit lax with updating this blog. So, given that I have two weeks off work, I thought I would rewatch Season 2 of Borgia and do a daily (except tomorrow because it's my birthday) review of the episodes.
The first episode, named "The Time of Sweet Desires" is set in 1494. Right at the very beginning we see an event that actually happened in history (although at the moment I am unable to find an actual date, I will work on that). We see Rome in the middle of a huge storm, and a bolt of lightning strikes the statue of Michael the Archangel and it explodes into pieces. It was seen as a bad omen, pointing towards the overthrow of the Papacy of Pope Alexander VI (John Doman in this series). As the storm rages we see Pope Alexander VI praying before the alter in St Peter's basilica. As he does so he is approached by two individuals. As he turns he sees that the men are his sons Juan and Pedro-Luis. They accuse him of besmirching the name of Borgia, that he is bringing the papacy to its knees. Rodrigo ends up stabbing his sons, only to be stopped by his friend and manservant Gacet. As Rodrigo comes to his senses he sees that the two men were in fact travelling monks, and he leaves the basilica with a scream. Later on we see that he has been affected by "melancholia" or depression, which has been making him hallucinate, and he ends up being given a concoction by the name of "vitriola" which will apparently cure him. The importance of this is seen much later in the series.
This episode is set 8 months after the end of the last season, and Cesare is in the Kingdom of Naples trying to avoid being sent to Valencia and to win the heart of Carlotta D'Aragona. This is another part of Cesare's story which is true to the history. Cesare became obsessed with Carlotta and believed himself to be truly in love with her. Yet she spurned him. Even in the first episode we can see the obsession that Cesare has built up over this woman, and the jealousy that he faces over the man she is in love with Guy de Leval. Our first sight of Cesare is in a room with a lady by the name of Maria Diaz Garlon (known here as Contessa). Three guesses what they were up to...
Just when things are about to get incredibly steamy, Cesare's eyes fall upon a map of the Romagna. He picks the map up, saying that he is a poor imitation of his dead brother Juan (don't make me laugh, Cesare!) and that he wants to be King of Italy, that he doesn't simply want to be Cesare Borgia now...he wants to be Caesar! This is a nice throw forward to the motto that Cesare will eventually take for himself: "Aut Caesar, Aut Nihil" - "Either Caesar, Or Nothing". As he is studying his maps, he is burst in on by the Prince of Naples and told he is wanted at mass.
The Mass scene has to be one of my favourites in the entire episode. This is one of the first times we see Cesare's full out atheism come to the fore. The Mass is to celebrate the feast of St Valentinus, and as Cardinal Caraffa is telling the congregation the story Cesare begins to make snarky comments about how we don't even know if this Saint existed, and how the Christian church actually stole the Saints day from the Pagans, that it was originally a Pagan fertility festival and an "excuse for fucking". He then leaves the service in a huff, leaving a shocked silence behind him. In history, Cesare was the biggest atheist you could ever meet, despite growing up within the Catholic Church. And as he grows throughout the series we will see him come to believe more in the Goddess Fortuna, rather than any Christian God.
Not a screencap from Episode 1, I just felt like putting it in...
In the meantime, Lucrezia Borgia is holed up in Rome. She is heavily pregnant with the child of Perotto (the guy who was stabbed by Cesare at the end of Season One), grieving for Perotto and dealing with the guilt of killing her own brother. She refuses to let anyone in her room, even her own mother. When Vanozza de Cattanei can't even get Lucrezia to open the door she seeks out the help of the famous poet and musician Pietro Bembo (after randomly meeting him when she goes to see her grandson)
Well, Bembo does the trick. After being a creeper and playing his lute outside of her window, she invites him over and they begin a very strange friendship. Lucrezia seems to fall head over heels in love with him from the start, and asks him for a kiss. He refuses, saying they are better off with a platonic sort of love. Yet before he leaves, they spend their time playing music together and she grows to trust him; even going so far as to show him the daggers that were used to kill Juan. This bit of the story is way off the historical record however. Lucrezia didn't meet Bembo until she was Duchess of Ferrara many years later. It seems as if Fontana may have been struggling with ideas for Lucrezia's storyline and so pushed Bembo's part in the story forward. However, as with everything Fontana does, it really works.
Bembo & Lucrezia
Another rather excellent story arc I found within the first episode was how the consistory was trying to make use of Pope Alexander's weakness. They all seemed to have an ultimate agenda so that they would be the power behind the papal chair, and Alexander would be a puppet Pope. Ultimately it is Giuliano della Roverre and Cardinal Riario Sansoni who are the ones heading the plot to try and find the dirty secrets behind Gacet. They end up convincing young Alessandro Farnese to help them, but in the end Farnese's loyalty to the Borgia wins him over particularly after he is given a sword lesson from General De Cordova and told that in the end, loyalty should win above all. One of the main aims of both the conspiring Cardinals AND Pope Alexander is to get De Cordova and his Spanish troops out of Rome. The Pope comes up with a very interesting approach to this, saying that he had a dream in which a lion was eaten by a green camel, yet de Cordova slew the camel and saved the lion. Farnese interprets the dream as the Turks attacking Venice (which is precisely what the Turks are planning to do) and de Cordova immediately leaves Rome with his troops. Mission accomplished for both sides. Yet the cardinals are irritated that Farnese took part in the "fine piece of theatre".
Of course the majority of this episode circulates around Cesare in Naples. I particularly enjoyed the jealousy and hatred between him and Guy de Leval over Carlotta. Indeed it gets so bad that Cesare pulls Leval into a very clever trap, talking him into a bullfight. Of course, as a native Spaniard, Cesare was brilliant at bullfighting and never lost a fight. Leval willingly walks into it, ending up with Carlotta trying desperately to call the whole thing up, saying that if Cesare really loved her then he would back out even if it meant embarrassment for him.
Cesare & Carlotta
One of the final scenes in this episode is Cesare practising for said bullfight. After successfully stabbing the fake bull in the side, Leval appears and begins to taunt Cesare. He has heard that Cesare has withdrawn from the fight. Cesare mentions that yes, he has withdrawn for personal reasons. And Leval begins to taunt him even more, calling him a coward and half a man. Cesare warns; "careful monsieur, I have killed men for saying less". Yet Leval keeps on and we see our very first glimpse of the man who will become the famous Valentino. He proceeds to beat Leval to a bloody pulp before tearing the head from the fake bull and stabbing Leval with one of the horns. The icing on the cake is when Cesare takes hold of Leval's arm and twisting it so hard you hear the bone snap.
I have to say I was highly impressed with the first episode of Season 2. They have really stepped up their game after Season 1, and you can tell that the cast have really grown into their roles. Stand out performances from Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia and Diarmuid Noyes as Alessandro Farnese, although of course the entire cast did a marvellous job! Here's to episode 2!