This review contains spoilers.
6. The French King
Power and lust are still the order of the day for the Borgia family this week, as it seems every member of the family is achieving their political and personal goals between the sheets, on top of tables or in the open air.
Pope Alexander VI is still spending time with his mistress (utilising her leg in one scene as an example of power in Italy) while dealing with the daily running of the Vatican. But in order to secure political (as well as financial) support, he agrees to a marriage between his youngest son, Joffre, and the illegitimate daughter of the king of Naples.
When it’s revealed that the King’s daughter is quite a stunner, Juan selflessly volunteers to travel to Naples to secure the betrothal and, um, sample the goods. Considering the potential bride is Entourage‘s Emmanuelle Chriqui, his lust is understandable, but his desire to have sex with the young lady on a table surrounded by stuffed corpses is less so. Still, the two of them aren’t from the most normal of families.
In previous episodes, Juan (David Oakes) has merely served as a polar opposite to the dutiful Cesare. Whereas his older brother is devoted and smart, Juan is reckless and headstrong, and spends more time in brothels than protecting his family. However, this episode sees Juan moved to the fore, by not only starting an affair with his younger brother’s wife, but by focusing on his fears that he may not actually be a Borgia.
With his mother’s former husband, Theo, in Rome, rumours abound and resurface that one of the Pope’s sons may not actually be of his blood, leading the young Juan to confront Theo and beat him in front of his mother. While it’s initially thought that he doesn’t want to see his mother with a man who’s not his father, it turns out his fears go much deeper.
It’s during his later chastising by his father that we learn his fears might not be as unfounded as we think. While Rodrigo is quick to dispel the notion that Juan is not his son, there’s something in Iron’s performance that hints that he’s not so sure himself. A red herring by Irons and the writers? Who knows. But it’s a great scene and one where we finally see the Rodrigo Borgia from the pilot episode, a man driven to protect his family at all costs and not willing to stand for any insolence from his children.
Irons is best when he’s unleashed, and for too long he’s been underplaying the role and being almost a buffoon. But this week finally sees him cut loose with Juan, ending his dressing down with a sharp backhand to the face. It’s a great little scene and was the highlight of the episode.
Cesare is continuing his relationship with Ursula Bonadeo, after killing her husband in last week’s episode. Out of all the characters in the show, Ursula is arguably the hardest to understand. She seems content to have a three week affair with a cardinal, seemingly getting off on the taboo nature of it all, yet when she discovers Cesare killed her husband in a duel, she goes hysterical and joins a nunnery. Talk about hypocrisy. Cesare, meanwhile ,seems determined to find her, that is until his sister returns home for Joffre’s wedding.
Lucrezia may be playing the doting wife to the injured Sforza, but despite his back-handed attempt at an apology (“I forgive you for the accident of your family name.”), she’s expertly seducing Paolo, the stable boy. That’s right, viewers. It’s not just the horses that are getting ridden. Ba-dum-tish.
Despite one scene where it seems the two young lovers may be caught, it seems this affair is set for the long haul, especially as it’s made Lucrezia more daring and less of the naïve child she was at the beginning of the series.
Elsewhere, Cardinal della Rovere is negotiating with the episode’s titular character, the French king. While King Charles VIII of France may be fond of developing devastating artillery pieces, it seems he’s wary of war after decade-long conflicts with the English. However, della Rovere’s persuasion is finally rewarded, but with a caveat that he could come to rue. He’ll have his war, but it will be fought the French way.
It’s a good thing that Rome has allied itself with Naples, because it appears things are about to get bloody…
Read our review of episode 5, The Borgias In Love, here.