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TV Open Thread: The Borgias – “The Borgias in Love”

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Beautiful blonde damsels in distress seemed to be the theme on cable series’ last night. Game of Thrones’ Daenerys was stuck in a boring routine with her husband and had to seek some marital advice. Luckily for her, it seems to have worked and a whole new marriage vista has opened for bride and groom. In the land of the Borgias, the ladies were not having it quite as easy.

When we last saw Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), her husband Giovanni Sforza (Ronan Vibert) was using her body to punish his political adversaries — mainly his frustrations with her father the Pope (Jeremy Irons) and feeling that he had been forced into a marriage beneath him. So why not force himself on his bride, his chattel? His meanness extended to the morning after, “Do you hunt? No? Good, then we’ll hardly see each other — until marital duties call and I’ll keep them brief and business-like.” Lucrezia may be relieved of his presence during the daytime, but her nights are full of the relentless poundings of her unloved husband.

We see her, bruised but not beaten, in the bath. Still so innocent, she asks her maid what she knows about marriage. “I know my lady it should not be thus.” Lucrezia’s only entertainment and relief seems to come by flirting with a hot stable boy. But ever the Borgia, even seemingly naive Lucrezia knows that he might be useful in some way. As she schemes, we see that the abuse goes on, as her husband’s approaching footsteps towards their bedchamber each night are like a scene from a horror movie.

Lucrezia has finally had enough and convinces the groom to loosen Sforza’s saddle, which will cause him to fall off his horse on one of his hunting expeditions. A dangerous prank — because her childishness still sees it mostly as a prank. Sforza isn’t killed by his fall from his horse but he is sidelined, freeing up a delighted Lucrezia from her marital duties, at least for a while.

Cesare (François Arnaud) is faced with a similar blonde with similar problems. The lady, Ursula Bonadeo (Ruta Gedmintas), whom he met at Lucrezia’s wedding is most definitely in distress and he romances her through the confessional screen. Ever the momma’s boy, he later seeks her advice — should he avenge her honor? At this point he is less likely referring to his mother’s honor than his lady love-to-be. “You could leave the chuch, if you dare,” is his mother’s answer. Her motives may be less encouraging her son’s romantic life than hoping to anger the Pope, as she’s still smarting from his recent unceremonious dumping. “I fear nothing, Mother,” is Cesare’s response.

Cesare tries to put his words into action by travelling to Florence, where he meets Nicolo Machiavelli, the Medici ambassador, at one of Friar Savanarola’s public speeches. They banter while trying to size each other up and Cesare offers to burn Savanarola instead of Machiavelli’s beloved Florence. Italian city state war is coming in some form or another.

After some training from his ever-faithful right-hand man and assassin, Michelotto (Sean Harris) , Cesare fights and kills Ursula’s husband in a nice duel scene set in pouring rain. He says a little prayer after his victory, but will it be his last act as Cardinal? Is he now ready to leave the Church?

There were plenty of other goings-on — political machinations between the Pope and Sforza’s brother, a Cardinal. Borgia enemy Delle Rovere (Colm Feore) was in Milan trying to enlist another Sforza, a horrible individual called Il Moro to go against the Pope. It is interesting that the Pope’s preferred method to consolidate his power base is to first try to marry off his children, as he dangles a very unattractive (evidenced by a portrait) prospect in front of eldest son Juan. Cesare seems to employ a more modern method of making a political offer based on violence, either promised or withheld. It remains to be seen which methods will be the most successful.

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