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TV Review: The Borgias – “Nessuno (Nobody)”

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After a mere nine episodes, Showtime’s The Borgias completes its first season. In it, the French army arrives in Rome. Pope Alexander VI, a.k.a. Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), greets King Charles (Michael Muller) in a simple robe, earning surprise and respect. Alexander affirms Charles’s right to rule Naples, and Charles shows no hostility towards Rome, much to Cardinal Della Rovere’s (Colm Feore) disappointment. Alexander allows the college of cardinals to come back, in humiliating fashion. Charles takes Cesare (François Arnaud) to Naples, but Cesare escapes, and with Micheletto’s (Sean Harris) help, kidnaps Giovanni Sforza (Ronan Vibert). Alexander forces an annulment between his daughter, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), and Giovanni. All of the Borgia family gathers as Lucrezia gives birth to a son.

Rodrigo shows real cunning in this episode, playing Charles perfectly to protect his position and the city by giving in on the Naples issue. Charles is no slouch either, demanding that Cesare accompany him to Naples. Thus, both have leverage over the other. It is an uneasy relationship, but a sustainable one, even after Cesare runs off. One would expect grisly battle as the season finale brings everything to a head, but in the world of The Borgias, a contest of the minds and wits can be just as exciting. Their power struggle may be better than any army clashing that could have been cooked up.

Charles arrives in Naples, to find the place a mess. Bodies are strewn in every room, and the king is nowhere in sight. While Charles’s claim on Naples will not be contested in such a condition, what is the use of ruling this land? How might this affect the balance of power between Charles and Rodrigo? If Charles no longer wants Naples, Rodrigo loses his hold over him. Charles may be angry, too, about Cesare’s abandonment of the trip. Will Charles seek revenge as season two begins? Or will he take Rodrigo at face value, and go home without bothering Rome?

Cardinal Della Rovere’s play for control of the papacy ends anticlimactically. After months, possibly years (the timeline is vague), of scheming and making deals with various rulers, Della Rovere’s plan comes to nothing, as Charles separately negotiates with Borgia. What sway can a mere Cardinal hold for such strong leaders such as Charles? It is easy to see what is in it for Della Rovere if Rodrigo is overthrown, but his struggle is to find someone with the might to help him, and has the motivation to do so. Thus far, his efforts prove fruitless.

That is not say that the threat Della Rovere poses is over. Not by a long shot. Cesare attempts to recruit him back into the fold, but Della Rovere refuses. He has strong moral convictions, and is offended by Rodrigo’s reign. Such an enemy is extremely dangerous because he is certain in his beliefs, and will settle for no compromise. Rodrigo surely has grounds by now to strip Della Rovere of his title, and yet does not do so, even as Rodrigo humiliates all of the other cardinals. Is he subscribing to the apt, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” If so, what advantage does that provide in this situation? None is obvious.

Rodrigo is not the only intelligent Borgia. Without Lucrezia’s quick thinking, no agreement between Rodrigo and Charles would be possible. She single-handedly stops two armies from combat. She ushers Charles into the city, and cuts Della Rovere out of the meeting. While Lucrezia is still relatively young, as the season finale approaches she shows just how much she learns, and with her new-found skills, she is a formidable presence in the Borgia family.

Lucrezia has help in her growth. Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek) is instrumental in teaching Lucrezia how women can influence powerful men with their wiles. Lucrezia takes those lessons to heart, and applies them against Charles. Lucrezia has taken quite quickly to his father’s new mistress. Just how greatly will that upset her mother, Vanozza (Joanna Whalley), when she finds out?

Lucrezia also demonstrates she has absorbed scheming from her brother and father when she orchestrates an annulment with her abusive husband. While how much of the planning is Lucrezia’s is not clear, she is at least complicit, and likely has a lot to do with the humiliation of Giovanni. She also makes no effort to tell her baby’s father, Paulo (Luke Pasqualino), of the child. Is this more scheming? Lucrezia appears to care for Paulo, and yet, she is keeping the baby known only to the Borgia family at this time. There is no telling what her motivations are for this, or if she will ever even return to Paulo.

Juan Borgia’s (David Oakes) run may be near an end. Failing militarily and falling from favor, he shows no appreciable skills to benefit the family. He is no longer necessary, as Lucrezia and Cesare do just fine protecting their father without him. His foolishness and arrogance puts him in danger, and it will not be surprising if he is killed before long. Possibly next season’s finale?

What are the chances of a Cesare / Ursula (Ruta Gedmintas) reconnection? She is a nun now, but admits to still being tempted by Cesare. She assists Lucrezia in giving birth, drawing her further into the family. Ursula likely will leave the habit behind. It is hard to resist someone as influential as Cesare, and while Ursula has shown little regard for social standing, she has shown mighty lust for the man.

The Borgias has been renewed for a second season, though eager viewers are in for a long wait, as it will not return to Showtime until 2012.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com