This review contains spoilers.
3. The Moor
For Rodrigo Borgia, being pope isn’t easy. Despite being the most powerful person in Christendom, his family is out of money after buying the papacy, beset on all sides by enemies and, worst of all, the country’s artists are overcharging them for their portraits. Something is going to have to be done to raise funds, if the House of Borgia is going to retain its newfound power.
Luckily, there’s always someone to take advantage of. In this case, it’s those of different faiths, specifically, the Jewish. It seems that Queen Isabella of Spain has driven the chosen people out of her country, so Rodrigo has spied an opportunity. Those escaping the persecution of the Inquisition will do anything to find sanctuary, so why not offer them refuge in Rome, for a hefty fee, obviously.
Of course, not everyone is enamoured with the pope’s liberal ideas or the thought of Rome being besieged by so many heathens. The arrival of a young Moorish prince seems to show that the new pope is embracing all faiths, but, of course, this latest act is simply the means to an end.
It seems that the Ottoman ruler has asked Borgia to ‘babysit’ his young brother, the dashing Prince Djem, for a generous 4,000 ducats per annum. Unfortunately, the sultan doesn’t care much for his sibling and has offered 400,000 additional ducats if his brother was to meet with an ‘accident’.
It is not long before young Djem (Casualty‘s Elyes Gabel) is charming his way around the Borgia family, be it play fighting with Juan, learning about Christianity from Cesare or teaching the differences between wives and concubines to Lucrezia. (Apparently, it’s okay to kill your concubines.) However, if Rodrigo is to strengthen his family’s position, he’s going to have to marry his daughter off, and that means raising a dowry, quite a substantial dowry. Farewell, Djem. It was nice knowing you.
The task of disposing of Djem is given to Juan, who, despite impressive sword skills, is more interested in himself than doing anything correctly. In one of the episode’s more amusing scenes, he demands a servant hold a candle higher so that it “lights his armour until it glitters” for the attending artist. As such, he hires a ‘rookie’ to take care of Djem, leading to a protracted and quite brutal exit for the young prince.
While this is the main story of this episode, the writers of The Borgias have managed to cram a hell of a lot in to the episode’s hour. Elsewhere, the disgraced Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore) has fled Rome and is trying to recruit allies to overthrow the Borgia family. Unfortunately for him, his main potential ally, the king of Naples, is deaf and his creepy son is more interested in recreating The Last Supper with decomposing enemies than aiding Della Rovere’s cause.
Meanwhile, Cesare has dispatched hitman, Micheletto, to take care of the rogue cardinal. Last week, I mentioned how Micheletto had become one of the main characters to watch, but sadly, he lost my confidence this week. Despite an impressive scene where he demonstrated the use of the garrote, he then proceeded to attempt to kill the cardinal in a packed public bath. What kind of assassin is he? He goes to all the trouble of covering himself in mud in order to get close to the man, and then decides to wade through water to get him! He almost deserved to almost get captured.
As I said, a packed episode, and while I thought the constant plotting and scheming may get old, this episode flew by. I was also struck by how amusing many scenes were, including a scene where Rodrigo is forced to meet all the potential suitors for his daughter’s hand. Irons’ exasperated expressions were a delight to behold, but considering how close Lucrezia and her older brother appear to be, perhaps the new pope might soon discover his children would prefer to keep potential marriages ‘within the family’.
Only time will tell if The Borgias will be a worthy contender to the year’s other period dramas (Game Of Thrones, Camelot), but with the amount of murder, sex and propped up corpses it’s already displayed, this show has me hooked for next week.
Read our review of the series premiere, The Poisoned Chalice and Assassin here.
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