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TV Review: The Borgias – “The Moor”

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“Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.” — Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici (later Pope Leo X) on Rodrigo Borgia being elected Pope.

Top: Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia

Bottom: Holliday Grainger as Lucrezia Borgia

The Borgias continued Sunday night with its third episode, “The Moor.”

The House of Borgia was all about money, with Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) trying to raise it any way he can.

“Poor Pinturicchio is going to run out of paint.” Over supper, the Pope and sons Cesare (François Arnaud), and Juan (David Oakes) discussed whether they should get their portraits painted (an expensive proposition), let Jews escaping persecution from the Inquisition seek refuge in Rome (for a fee, naturally), and other money-related topics of the day. Another possibility to raise some quick cash would be a big dowry for the hand of his daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger).

Getting your portrait painted is apparently as dangerous as any other Borgia activity, or so a hapless employee of the family discovers when Juan holds a sword to his throat. What did the servant do to incur his master’s wrath? His hand faltered while holding a candle to provide lighting for a portrait painter (probably the aforementioned Pinturicchio, who painted the Borgia Apartments frescoes). Juan is apparently not too worried about the cost of paintings, as he has commissioned a full-length portrait of himself, in full armor, on a horse. But, as he threatens the young attendant, the highlights must “light his armor until it glitters.”

Borgia enemy Giuliano della Rovere (Colm Feore) has fled Rome and is trying to enlist help from the King of Naples and his son, but the King is deaf to all entreaties — literally. His creepy son may or may not be interested in helping della Rovere. He is interested in showing off all of his family’s skeletons in the closet — again, literally skeletons. And corpses that are not quite skeletons. I said he was creepy.

Back in Rome, after getting instruction on the proper way to garotte someone, Cesare tasks assassin Michelotto (Sean Harris) with Della Rovere’s elimination. In an exciting and elaborate scene set in a public bath in Naples, Michelotto tries to carry out the job, but is quickly recognized. Cesare is not too pleased that the attempt was a failure, but he’s got too full an agenda to give his flunky a real slap down — he is getting ready for the ceremony where he is to be promoted to cardinal, and he is fairly uncomfortable in his new robes and role. Whether he has lost confidence in his go-to assassin only time will tell.

As money is still not pouring in, the Pope agrees to marry off his daughter and quickly becomes very busy entertaining suitors —  and there are many. Childlike Lucrezia seems thrilled at the idea of being married — I guess even 15th-century girls were all about princess power. Lucrezia kills time waiting to hear who her father will select for her hubby-to-be by flirting with a handsome visiting Moor, Prince Djem (Elyes Gabel), as well as her brother Cesare. “I shall never love a husband as I love you, Cesare.” At least for now, her love for her brother seems pure. Cesare clearly has more than just regular brotherly love for his sister.

Jeremy Irons continues to deepen his portrayal of the Pope. He may have originally only been interested in seizing power, and he is still determined to hold onto his power and expand his empire, but he now also seems to gradually be discovering an inner core of spirituality. Maybe the robes do make the man.

The Borgias, like Irons, keeps getting better. Next week Lucrezia’s wedding will introduce another powerful family, the Milanese Sforza’s. The plots can only get more intricate and more interesting.

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