When an episode has a title like “The Borgias in Love”, you know it’s going to be an uncomfortable experience. History tells us such a concept is rife with issues. And sure enough, this is hardly an episode filled with romance, flowers, and happy little puppies. Instead, it sets the stage for some much-needed character development. Sadly, that doesn’t mean that the other issues with the show are being addressed quite yet.
Essentially, everything that could go wrong with relationships is going wrong for the Borgias right now. Let’s start with the most interesting one: Lucrezia. Beyond her flirtations with Cesare in the series premiere, this is the first time we’ve seen the slightest hint that she can display a seductive side. I was beginning to wonder if the actress would be able to pull it off, but she manages to flick that switch more than adequately with her manipulations of Paulo.
It’s proving to be a reasonable means of explaining how she might transition from the slightly-mad “innocent” to the femme fatale of legendary history. Her rough treatment in her husband’s bed is little more than rape via marriage contract, and it’s teaching her that sex is a weapon to be wielded and used to one’s selfish pleasure. All of which plays into her eventual transformation into the cunning seductress, something we see beginning to emerge here. (Though, as a comparison, I found the transformation of Daenerys on “Game of Thrones”, in a similar situation, more compelling.)
But the rest is a muddled mess. Cesare’s affair, leading to the confrontation in the pouring rain at the end of the episode, just doesn’t quite connect yet. Ostensibly, it’s meant to be a trigger for Cesare’s ambitions, a counter to his sense of duty to his father. And anything that can drive the character towards a more active role would be welcome. Yet unlike the progression of Lucrezia’s character arc, this doesn’t feel as organic or purposeful. (Though, admittedly, I’m far more interested in Lucrezia than Cesare as a matter of personal taste!)
We also get to see a bit more of Juan, the other Borgia sibling, and it’s played as a comedic counterpoint. While Lucrezia deals with an abusive marriage and Cesare entangles himself with a married woman, Juan is vying with Rodrigo over his own impending political marriage. Herein lies another ongoing problem: Rodrigo, logically the most conniving of the Borgias, is often given the most broad comedic material, and it clashes with the darker side of his portrayal. One could almost imagine that the writers are trying to make a case that Rodrigo invented the facepalm, given how often he displays the trope.
With the first season of “The Borgias” just about at the midpoint, I still don’t think the show has found its rhythm. It hasn’t kicked up to the next level, despite the potential that is right there in the source material and the DNA of the production house. Is it the writing style of Neil Jordan? Or is it just first season shakeout issues?
Whatever the case, there is good news: the series has been renewed for a second season. That means the producers will have the time to optimize the series and, hopefully, address some of the fundamentals. The main thing is consistency and pacing. They have improved episode by episode, but there is still ample room for improvement.
Final Rating: 7/10