THE BORGIAS 1.03 ‘The Moor’

Michelletto stalks Della Rovere in another kingdom. And back in Rome, the Pope attempts to marry off his daughter.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Titles: "The Moor"

Writer: Neil Jordan
 
Director: Simon Cellan-Jones
 
Previously on "The Borgias":

Through a combination of bribery and guile, Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) was named the new Pope of the Catholic Church despite having sons, a daughter and a mistress. His Cardinals were equally corrupt and at least one, Orsini (Derek Jacobi) attempted to poison Borgia. But before he could, Borgia's eldest son Cesare (Francois Arnaud) intercepted the assassin, Michelletto (Sean Harris) and convinced him to kill Orsini instead. To prove his newfound loyalty to the Borgias, Michelletto invited Cesare to whip his back so he could gain the trust of Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore), Borgia's chief adversary.

Despite at times seeming to be humbled by his new position, Borgia quickly began an affair with his new mistress, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), who soon became close with his young daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger). Della Rovere learned of the affair and tried to use it as a way to force Borgia out of the Papacy. To secure his position, Borgia announced plans to add several new Cardinals to the Vatican, including Cesare. Meanwhile, Michelletto murdered the servant who could prove Borgia's affair and left her body at Della Rovere's estate, incriminating him for the deed. 

Story:
 
Della Rovere flees to Naples and attempts to recruit the King to his cause. However, the King is deaf and barely cognizant of his presence. Instead, it is the Prince who listens to Della Rovere's plans to oppose and unseat Borgia. And the Prince also seems to be very demented, as he shows Della Rovere the pride and joy of his father's "art" collection… an assemblage of stuffed human bodies made to look like the painting of "The Last Supper." Back in Rome, Borgia oversees the ceremony for Cesare and the other new Cardinals. Later, the Borgias discuss their current money troubles over dinner.

To raise some quick cash, Borgia accepts bribes in order to allow Spanish Jews sanctuary within their country while also taking a sizable fee to bring Prince Djem (Elyes Gabel) into his home as a "guest." In part because his brother desires his death, Djem is taken aback by the generosity and kindness shown to him by the Borgia family. He even takes to calling Borgia's other son, Juan (David Oakes) his "Christian brother" and he wins the affections of Lucrezia as well. Meanwhile, Della Rovere's presence in Naples is discovered by Cesare, who dispatches Michelletto to deal with him.

Michelletto breaks into the foreign castle so easily that you'd swear it was magic. But he finds that Della Rovere is too heavily guarded at night. The next day, when Della Rovere is enjoying a bath with many other men, Michelletto has his body covered with mud to disguise his identity. But Della Rovere recognizes him by the scars on his back and alerts the guards. Michelletto kills several guards to make his escape and faces Cesare's disapproval for returning home in failure. At the same time, Borgia seems to be extremely dismayed by the suitors for his daughter's hand. But he becomes murderous when he sees Djem dancing with Lucrezia.

To Cesare's surprise, Borgia tells him that Djem's family will pay four times the fee to see the prince killed. But not only is Djem unaware of the danger to himself, he actually desires to convert to Christianity in thanks for the love he has been shown. Eager for the money that will come with his death, Juan attempts to borrow Michelletto for the task. When Cesare refuses, Juan uses an amateur who botches Djem's poisoning and leaves the young man in agony. After consulting with Michelletto, Cesare forces Juan to finish off Djem himself.

As promised, Djem's brother richly rewards the Borgias for the death of his brother, allowing the arranged marriage of Lucrezia to move forward.
 
Breakdown:

One of the main complaints I heard about the first two episodes of "The Borgias" was that the series is boring. While I don't fully agree with that statement, the show is definitely lacking a sense of drama.

There just doesn't seem to be enough real problems for the Borgias to face that pose any sort of real threat to them. As glad as I am that Colm Feore is sticking around as Della Rovere, he's not an effective foil when he's completely removed from the Vatican power structure. And out of all of the main characters, it's the assassin Michelletto who remains the most interesting person on the show.

But even that has it's limits. Michelletto's break in at the court of Naples seemed far too easy even for him. That said, the sequence in which Michelletto attempted to kill Della Rovere and his subsequent escape were the highlights of the episode. Although it did seem like Michelletto's sudden turn to expose his scarred back was uncharacteristically sloppy of him.

Elyes Gabel was very entertaining as the foreign prince, Djem. His instant love for the Borgia family was refreshing and Gabel brought a real zest to the role. It's unfortunate that he was dispatched so quickly. The closeness he established with the two Borgia brothers seemed genuine, as did his friendship with Lucrezia. Despite Borgia's attempt to seem enlightened towards people with other religious beliefs, it was very telling that he marked Djem for death after seeing him dance with his daughter. Djem's murder also demonstrated just how ruthless the entire family is, as Cesare made his brother finish his handy work.

I'm still intrigued by the relationship between Cesare and Michlletto, which defies easy categorization. Cesare seems to have an odd fascination for the tools of Michelletto's trade, judging from his kitchen demonstration. I still can't identify why Michelletto is so loyal to him. I would have guessed that he loves Cesare, but Michelletto seems asexual aside from his brief tryst with the female servant last week.

The pacing on this show is also kind of getting on my nerves, as it moves very slowly at times. Part of the reason is that there is very little tension. Thus far, the Borgias haven't had any worthy adversaries and things are going far too well for them. Without something to struggle against, the Borgia family just doesn't have enough personality to hold our interest.

Even Jeremy Irons seems to be distracted or even bored at times. It just feels like he's sleepwalking through what should be another breakout role for him. If the rest of the season is going to play out like this, then "The Borgias" is going to be quickly forgotten.

Crave Online Rating: 5.5 out of 10.