The Borgias, Season Three
Showtime, 2013, 10 episodes
Created by Neil Jordan and featuring Jeremy Irons, Francois Arnaud, and Holliday Grainger
I just finished watching the third and final season of “The Borgias” via Netflix. The series dramatized the exploits of the infamous Borgia family – father Rodrigo (pope Alexander VI, 1492-1503), and his notorious offspring, Cesare and Lucrezia.
In this season, pope Alexander (Irons) recovers from an assassination attempt and immediately purges the disloyal members of the college of cardinals. The new appointees are forced to participate in the legendary “Banquet of Chestnuts,” which Alexander uses to extort their loyalty. In the meantime, his arch-rival, Caterina Sforza, schemes to create an alliance against him. The king of Naples forbids the newly-married Lucrezia (Grainger) from bringing her “bastard” child to Naples so she turns to her brother, Cesare (Arnaud), for help and comfort. Alexander plans a crusade against the troublesome Turkish pirates while a discontented Cesare considers an alliance with France. In Naples, Cesare’s henchman, Micheletto, “removes” all objections to Lucrezia’s baby. Cesare returns to Italy with the French army in tow, which Alexander perceives as a threat. Palace intrigue forces Lucrezia to flee Naples for Rome. Jewish merchants assist Alexander in eliminating the Turkish threat and also help him corner the sulphur supply, necessary for the manufacture of gunpowder. Finally reconciled with his father, Cesare lays siege to Caterina’s fortified city, Forli, and returns to Rome triumphant with his vanquished prisoner in a gilded cage.
No doubt the writers employed some dramatic license in this series but the reign of the Borgias in Rome was an undeniable indicator of the absolute corruption of the institutionalized church at the time. Pope Alexander VI’s only goals were the acquisition of greater earthly power and wealth. The Gospel of the early church of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone had devolved into formalism, legalism, and sacramentalism presided over by an authoritarian and spiritually toxic hierarchy. Only fourteen years after the death of Rodrigo Borgia, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg.
I enjoyed this series although there are some unnecessary “rough edges” used by the writers and directors meant to bolster viewership. The acting is generally good throughout but Holliday Grainger is excellent in the role of the conniving Lucrezia. Francois Arnaud definitely grew into his role and is quite convincing in his last season as the diabolical “Prince.” Irresolute Jeremy Irons once again demonstrates why he was the wrong choice for the steel-willed Borgia patriarch. The costumes, sets, and special effects are outstanding. Showtime cancelled The Borgias following the third season but series creator, Neil Jordan, published the script for a two-hour, never-produced finale via ebook available from Amazon.com. See here.
For an informative examination of papal corruption, see “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy” by Peter De Rosa. My review can be found here.