The Borgias season 3 episode 1 review: The Face Of Death

Showtime's The Borgias returns for season three with a packed episode that hits the ground running. Here's Rachael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

3.1 The Face of Death

The Borgias has returned in full, beautiful form. The Pope has been poisoned and the treatment scene, what I consider to be the real first scene of the new season, is a masterpiece of both editing and performance. Everyone in the Borgia circle is in top form. Giulia Farnezi knocks a table clear for Rodrigo to be laid out on, Cardinal Sforza is giving a status report like a loyal second should, Micheletto finds the source, Vannozza is a sea of calm covering the poisoner’s dead body without a blink, and the remaining Borgia children are a united front against fifteenth-century medical ignorance. Lucrezia, brilliant as she is beautiful, comes to the rescue with a solution she read about, you know, in books. It’s charcoal to absorb the poison that she made from scratch while no one was watching. Honestly, that woman’s one of the most kickass characters on TV right now. When the physician accuses her charcoal of being witchcraft, she pulls a knife on him and Cesare backs up her play. Glorious, all of it. To paraphrase Ted Mosbey, architect – I love everyone in this Vatican!

So while The Holy Father languishes near death, the family pulls tightly together. While Cesare and Micheletto go to the monastery to hunt Delle Rovere, the cardinal pops up in the Vatican itself. Rumours of Alexander Sextus’ death were greatly exaggerated. Oops. He then has the stones to gather the other cardinals in the Pope’s room as they wait for him to turn one way or the other. Seriously, gutsy move there, bro. Even worse he encourages the cascade of cardinals (as the late Prince Alfonso of Naples put it) to talk about what they’ll do when the Pope dies, right in the room with the man! Firstly, it’s just rude and secondly, it’s morbidly greedy.

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When Cesare walks in and sees Della Rovere in the room, he tries to strike and Mama Vennozza, ever the voice of reason, stops him. They don’t have that many friends in Rome and if he does die, then what? What happens to the family? She’s right and she is his mother so he listens to her. Cesare breaks out of his blind rage somewhat, not as much as is needed but enough to keep him from being too stupid.

Meanwhile the Pope isn’t dying fast enough for, well, lots of folks actually. Primary among them is the Sforza clan. Caterina Sforza has sent in an assassin named Rufio, who is apparently even better than Micheletto (we’ll see about that – I’m sceptical) who hits up Cardinal Sforza and lays it all on the line. You’re family, you could be Pope, you just have to be quiet and let me and the rest of my crew wipe the Borgias off the planet, and so on. Before Rufio and company can do so, Rodrigo wakes up. As soon as he does so, Della Rovere makes to escape. Ha, yeah, Cesare isn’t having that. He’s going to torture the crap out of him first, only a loyal cardinal lets him escape, much to Cesare’s fury.

With the Pope actually alive, Rufio ups the stakes for Cardinal Sforza by saying hey, here’s a knife. Kill the Pope yourself. Do it for the Sforza family. They are, lest we forget, Caterina who is the Borgias’ main enemy and Giovanni, Lucrezia’s rapist and abusive former husband. Instead, though sorely tempted and nearly following through, Cardinal Sforza chooses the side of Rome and the Borgias, confessing his family’s plan to Cesare and proving himself a truly loyal ally to the Pope.

However, Cesare left his family in good hands. Thwarting the Sforza plot to kill the entire Borgia clan is, of course, Micheletto. Lucrezia’s maid was coerced into being an accomplice to the plot by the Sforza agents using her family. She is naturally found out by Micheletto who catches then kills her. Her death could’ve been avoided if she had a sassy gay assassin friend (for those of you just joining the show – Micheletto is in fact gay, as we found out last season). She should’ve looked at her life and looked at her choices because Micheletto sure did. Cardinal Sforza chose the Borgia papacy and told Cesare the truth so Cesare showed up just in time to help finish off the defence of the family villa.

As Cesare reunites with his family, Lucrezia foists her baby of on Micheletto without a second thought despite the fact that he is literally covered in the blood of men and women he just murdered. It’s the second time in the episode he is given baby Giovanni and considering the guy is a child-killer, I find this really amazing. It shows how much the whole family now trusts him unquestioningly with their safety. Bonus, the face that Micheletto makes looking down at the baby after killing all those people is possibly the greatest moment of the episode, though the flow of Cesare’s L’Oreal “Because I’m Worth It” hair while threatening death and torture is up there too.

We’re left with our three camps ready for the next step. The Borgias, including Cardinal Sforza, are consolidating themselves for the coming war. Caterina Sforza and Rufio are going to gather Borgia enemies to them and see where they stand to  move on the Borgias. Della Rovere sneaks out of Rome in a cart of corpses, striding across the Italian landscape like some strange priestly noir hero with a new and unknown purpose. I know only the vaguest history from the period but as for what’s coming this season, I have no idea and cannot wait to find out.

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Read Rachael’s list of reasons you should watch The Borgias, here.

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