The Borgias – Season 3, Episode 1: The Face of Death

Caterina Sforza – Gina McKee
I’m going to be honest here and say then when I heard what the plans were for The Borgias, Season 3; I was a little loathe to even start watching it. And I’m still loathe to carry on watching the series. However, I have watched both the first and second seasons and, if I must admit it, enjoyed them immensely despite their ah…not so historically accurate storylines. Now then, the creator of the show, Neil Jordan, has said throughout that he wouldn’t go down the incest route. But then the promotional videos game out showing the whole “Only a Borgia can love a Borgia” and “It’s a game of want, and wanting” thing; and the Cesare/Lucrezia shippers went nuts and it seems that Jordan had decided to cater to the rumours that have been fed down to us throughout the centuries. I have to say, I was a little disappointed in this, and it really put me off the idea of watching the new season. But then I thought, “hang on a minute, why don’t I review them so I can do a little mythbusting?” And so here we are, the first episode has aired, and here I am to share with you all a little review. I’m going to try my best to be as balanced as possible, and I’ll try my best not to get ranty. If I get ranty, I apologise.
The first episode, aptly named “The Face of Death”, picks up where season 2 left off. I’m going to try my best not to spoil the episode for everyone, but obviously given how one must review the content of the episode…that might be a little difficult. At the end of Season 2, Giuliano della Rovere had organised for Pope Alexander VI to be poisoned and the tasting boy (and agent of Rovere’s) managed to succeed in getting cantarella in the Pope’s wine. Of course, being the taster the boy drank from the wine himself and died a horrifically painful death while the Pope started spitting blood and passed out. Now thinking that the Pope is on his deathbed, the entire consistory gathers around his deathbed. They begin to scheme over who will replace him, Della Rovere being the usual sneaky piece of work. Alas, when Cesare realises that it was Dela Rovere who engineered the plot; poor Della Roverre realises that actually he’d be better off siding with the Borgia family. Now enemies begin to surround the Borgia family and Cesare must do his best to protect his family from those, like Caterina Sforza and her assassin Rufio, who want both the papacy and the lives of them all.
The cardinals gather, just incase the Pope decides to pop his clogs.
Cesare tries to attack Dela Roverre
Regarding the historical accuracy of this episode – there was absolutely no accuracy to this at all. Whilst the Borgias had many enemies and doubtless would have dealt with many plots, Dela Roverre never conspired to poison the Pope and indeed the Pope was never poisoned with cantarella. Caterina Sforza also never sent  her assassins into the house of Vanozza Cattanei; the only assassination attempt she made towards the Pope was actually by sending letters that had been left to fester next to the body of a plague victim! Regarding Dela Roverre, he was always plotting for one way or another to get his hands on St Peter’s chair but more often than not he’d run away from Rome at the first sign of trouble. He certainly wasn’t taken into custody in such a way, nor did he escape in such a way only to run into Cesare’s blade. I honestly wonder where the scriptwriters got half of these ideas because so many of them are just so unlikely it’s laughable. Of course as the series goes on, I’m sure there will be many more points I can make about the accuracy of such plot points. And I’m sure you’ll all be treated to a bit of a rant when the incest storyline gains a foothold. But we shall cross that bride when we come to it.
In any case, there are a few good points to the episode as well. As always, and as has been proven in previous series’, the acting is top notch from the cast. Stand outs for me so far are Francois Arnaud, Holliday Grainger and Colm Feore. With Arnaud’s Cesare you can really get a sense of how Cesare has grown – in the previous scene we see him as a cleric determined to be rid of his robes, and giving into the darkness of his soul. In this first episode we can really see how dark he is beginning to become, how important family is and how much he loathes the idea of religion. Grainger seems to have also really grown into her role as Lucrezia although I am sure we will be able to gain further ideas of this as the series goes on. And with Feore, you can really see how Cardinal Dela Rovere will grow to become the infamous Papa Terrible. Yet again the costumes and set designs are amazing, and the cinematography is second to none. Whilst I may dislike the lack of accuracy in the scriptwriting, I can’t deny that the rest of the production is always stunning to look at.
Arnaud is rather good at making Cesare look broody

Cesare and Pope “Irons” Alexander

Cesare and Dela Roverre face off outside St. Peter’s.
So what do I think so far? Not massively impressed but that may have something to do with the fact that I really have something against how a drama can be called “historical” if the only historical element is the name of a famous Renaissance family and the rest of the plot is so loosely connected to said family that it can’t really be called historical at all. We’ll see how the rest of the series goes but if I’m honest I’m not holding out much hope, especially when one of the main storylines is being said to be the incestuous relationship between Cesare and Lucrezia. As I said, we’ll see how it goes. I can only hope that the other storylines get less ridiculous as the series goes on and that the acting and cinematography retains it’s already excellent reputation. All in all, not as bad as I thought but still enough to make me disappointed enough not to watch the rest of the series.

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