In the latest episode of The Borgias, “Death on a Pale Horse,” the Borgias discovered how precarious is their standing as first family in Rome. The Pope (Jeremy Irons) might put on a good front with his cardinals, but he didn’t hide his fears from middle son Cesare (François Arnaud) when he told him that French troops were on their way and Cesare’s response was, “Oh my God.” “Exactly.” The Pope even felt so out of the loop that he was willing to send his mistress, Giulia Farnese, (Lotte Verbeek) to do intel work for him in Milan, the land of supposed allies the Sforzas, and the new home of daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger).
Cesare found it hard to focus on his family’s crumbling political empire. He didn’t like seeing that “the light had gone out” in Lucrezia’s face. He got a further shock when he tracked down Ursula (Ruta Gedmintas) in a convent, now Sister Martha. She kept him at a distance and credited their affair with leading her to her new life in the church. “You have a destiny that even you don’t recognize … you can use that strength for good or for ill.” Cesare is still unsure what he wants. True love? To be the family avenger? But he is getting close to a breaking point and will likely make some momentous decision next week. Whether it will please the Pope or not remains to be seen.
Lucrezia wasn’t worried about her brother’s fears or anything else. Her husband Giovanni Sforza (Ronan Vibert) is still sidelined as a result of a sabotaged saddle, and she is having too much fun in her love affair with the stable boy. She seemed to know on some level that her romance couldn’t possibly last much longer, as she teased him, “Where is your imagination? Have you not read your Boccaccio? Your Petrarch? … If you did you’d know that young love is always doomed.” But when her husband declared that he was ready to resume his marital duties, Lucrezia could only arrange another accident. She spilled water on the floor, hoping that her husband would slip and fall. She’s such a child in how she addresses her problems, but a child with tremendous luck — her little scheme worked.
The French began their march towards Rome, Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) riding with them. A wonderful, violent, horrifying scene ensued, as the troops marched through and pillaged the walled city of Lucca. Women and children were slaughtered along with soldiers in the narrow streets as the soldiers plowed through the city. Della Rovere was horrified. “What can justify such carnage?” “It’s war, Cardinal.” Della Rovere, as Savanarola (Steven Berkoff) warned him, may truly be a Cardinal garbed in blood red.
Next stop for the French was Florence, where Niccolò Machiavelli (Julian Bleach) bargained with Della Rovere, echoing his previous conversational promises to Cesare. Determined that Florence would be spared and the French and their destruction pass, he managed to appear cooperative but impartial. Who are the devils here? Surely not just the Borgias.
Giulia arrived in Milan and spoke with Lucrezia’s husband and Sforza cousin Catherine (Gina Mckee) on behalf of the Pope and the Borgia family. She was told in no uncertain terms that the Sforzas will do what the rest of Italy is doing to help them — “Nothing.” During a subsequent short visit with Lucrezia, Giulia quickly ascertained that the naive girl’s tummy ache wasn’t “marsh fever” but pregnancy. Giovanni will certainly be able to work out this little math problem and it won’t add up in his favor.
The only Borgia who seemed immune from the intrigue swirling around the family in this episode was eldest son Juan (David Oakes), who is still getting it on with his young brother Gioffre’s (Aidan Alexander) bride. Those naughty Borgias. But the French are getting closer and he will have stop fooling around and slap on the armor soon. Will Cesare be at his side? There are only two episodes left to go in the season, and the Borgias are clearly going to the mattresses.