This show leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I want to enjoy it, since I’m a sucker for historical dramas like this, and all of the promotional materials point to a very interesting and lively show. But therein lies the problem. The outward face of the series (right down to the blood-and-lust opening credits) does not equal the actual content. Don’t get me wrong; the actual story being told has its appeal, despite some criticisms I have in the execution and casting. But why not promote the series in a way that matches the tone and content more accurately?
I still feel that Jeremy Irons, as Rodrigo, is the best thing about this series. Cesare just isn’t compelling enough yet to be the central character that he is. I understand that historically it took some time for him to become the legendary figure of ruthlessness that we all remember from history class, but he’s the heavy of the Borgia clan, even as a cardinal, and I still don’t get the gravitas from him that I would expect.
And I still get the feeling that the writers (well, still Neil Jordan, for the most part) want to have it both ways with Cesare. In one moment, he displays a bloodthirsty willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve the family design. Moments later, he balks at something that he effectively did just an episode earlier. I freely admit I may be missing a bit of the historical context here, but it likely contributes to the impression that the character is still not pinned down yet.
I also wonder at the circumstances of Lucretia’s marriage. Would any consideration beyond Rodrigo’s desires have been taken into account? I would have expected him to arrange a politically expedient marriage without the slightest concern for whether or not Lucretia, her mother, or anyone else approved. Lucretia’s attitude was not necessarily out of character, given her later tendencies, but it just seemed off in some way.
The matter of Djem was interesting, if only because it was filled with plenty of irony. Djem spends a great deal of time discussing the virtues of peaceful Christiandom and so forth. Yet at the end of the day, he becomes the victim of a plot by the putative leader of the Christian world! It may have been too subtle or uneven a progression for its own good, but it was still a sly point.
And perhaps that is the issue with this episode. I get the distinct feeling that it was attempting a level of sly and subversive humor, and it just didn’t come across as intended. If the intent was to inject certain modern sensibilities into the mix, I’m not sure it went far enough to make that clear. For example, a lot of what Djem was saying sounded like modern anti-Islam opinions seen on the airwaves today, then undercut by the indisputably non-Christian poisoning that followed. As I said, perhaps too subtle for its own good, and a sign that the show is still finding its footing. Thankfully, the reception so far has been positive, so the show should get a chance to find its voice.
Final Rating: 7/10