The Borgias, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp
The Borgias, on Showtime, is nearing the end of its second season. Anybody who has seen any part of The Borgias knows it is a lavish and beautifully photographed series about the Borgia family during the time of the Italian Renaissance. The Borgia family is not billed as “the original crime family” for nothing; it seems there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want or to hold onto their considerable power.
Pope Alexander VI (played by Jeremy Irons), whose name is Rodrigo Borgia before he becomes pope, is the patriarch of the Borgia family. To achieve his ends and to maintain his position on the papal throne, he is aided by his loyal son, Cesare, who becomes a cardinal when his father becomes pope. Like his father, Cesare will stop at nothing to achieve his ends (or his family’s). Also like his father, he seems driven by the belief that he is always right and always justified in his actions, no matter how brutal or ruthless they might seem. More often than not, he is aided in his dirty work by his faithful friend, Micheletto, who was bred on the streets of Rome and who has some secrets of his own.
Pope Alexander’s beautiful daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, started out as a young innocent but was soon disillusioned when she was married off to a boorish nobleman in an alliance that was supposed to help her family (it didn’t). She has a dalliance with a handsome, illiterate stable boy, Paolo, that results in a son. Paolo meets a violent end at the hand of Lucrezia’s brother, Juan.
Juan Borgia, Cesare’s younger brother, is an oversexed hellion who is, more often than not, an embarrassment to his family. He is cruel, arrogant and foolish, frequently caught up short by his rash actions. When he is sent away to Spain for a while to get him out of the way, he returns with a wife and a case of syphilis, for which there is no cure.
Pope Alexander was never married to the mother of his children (played by Joanne Whalley), so, to avoid the appearance of impropriety when he becomes pope, he sends her to live elsewhere. She remains a player in the family, however, even though Pope Alexander has taken up with the beautiful Julia Farnese, whom he quickly installs in the papal palace as his mistress.
Pope Alexander has an arch-enemy, one Cardinal Della Rovere (played by Colm Feore), who seems motivated entirely by his hatred of the Borgia family and by his desire to see Pope Alexander removed from the papal throne. He will rally the pope’s enemies against him if he can, or he will see the pope poisoned (or otherwise murdered) if there is no other way.
Another enemy of the Borgias is the religious zealot Savonarola. He despises Pope Alexander (and what he sees as his excesses and extravagance) as much as Cardinal Della Rovere does. He travels around the country preaching fiery, anti-Borgia sermons to anybody who will listen. He and Pope Alexander are destined to clash in one way or another. Pope Alexander will burn him at the stake as a heretic if he has his way.
There’s no shortage of sex and violence in The Borgias, sometimes in the same scene. (In one telling scene, Lucrezia Borgia tries to murder her brother Juan by letting a chandelier tall on him while he is engaged in a sex act with a prostitute). There is also spurting blood, severed heads and limbs, stuffed cadavers, torture and ceaseless warfare. It’s TV for grown-ups. It’s also fascinating to watch, intelligently acted and written, and beautiful to look at. The sets and costumes are lavishly detailed and amazing to see. The photography, especially in the outdoor scenes, is gorgeously reminiscent of Italian Renaissance painting. The Borgias is a feast for the eyes.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp