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Review #3478: The Borgias 2.4: “Stray Dogs”

Posted on the 02 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Neil Jordan
Directed by Jon Amiel

I’ve come to the conclusion that Neil Jordan, having looked back on the first season, decided that sticking to historical events wouldn’t be nearly so much fun as simply playing in the Borgia sandbox. And I’m wondering if that’s why the show feels a bit more interesting this season; there’s no telling which events will be rearranged to keep the drama flowing and the audience on its toes.

Review #3478: The Borgias 2.4: “Stray Dogs”

This episode sees Cesare, still cardinal as per his father’s master plan to consolidate power, turning to plots of vengeance, after remaining French assets slaughter his favorite pet nun. He wants the French to pay, and while Rodrigo is initially unhappy with Cesare’s challenge to his preferred status quo, he chooses to instruct his son in the art of revenge. Cesare henceforth struggles with the notion of short vs. long-term planning.

All things being equal, however, Cesare is starting down the road that should, in time, allow him to live up to his reputation. Despite the vaguely anti-heroic depiction, Cesare is openly ruthless, torturing prisoners to get the information he needs to defeat the French. He even gets to employ some underhanded tactics before all is said and done, much to the shock of his more practiced father. Had it not led to direct benefits to “the Church” (aka, Rodrigo), I imagine Cesare’s impatience would have earned him stern reproach.

Of course, Rodrigo was reaping rewards of his own. I loved his shock upon learning that his stray liaison from the season premiere, Bianca, was in fact the Duchess of Mantua. There was little doubt that she had designs on getting him back in her bed before all was said and done, and it says a lot that she used her husband’s time on the battlefield to seek her own pleasures. Cesare’s parting shot to his father, undercutting any possibility of criticism, was well-played.

Now that there is a touch of that fabled madness in Lucrezia’s eye, no matter the circumstance, her role in the show is a bit less disappointing. While it’s a definite narrative cheat to have Lucrezia be in charge while Rodrigo and Cesare are off playing war, since it’s unlikely that even Rodrigo would be brazen enough to suggest she sit on the seat of St. Peter at all, it was fun to watch her twist the cardinals around her little finger!

I suppose we are meant to assume that this is the series’ version of the Battle of Forvono, as the outcome is roughly the same, which took place in July 1495. The whole notion of the “rain wetting the powder” is strongly associated with that battle, as it is often cited as the reason why the French were unable to use their artillery. This episode, of course, posits a somewhat more devious explanation.

It would prove to be the end of the French incursion on Italy, since King Charles VIII would run France into the ground in short order. It would, however, expose the weaknesses of the divided nature of the Italian principalities, which in turn gave Rodrigo a pretext for consolidating power even further. Since it’s hard to know how Jordan will condense and rearrange history, how quickly the story bends towards the conflicts with the Orsini is hard to say. I do predict, however, based on Juan’s increased presence, that the second season will end with the unfortunate events of June 1497.

It also seems that this is a ripe time to bring in one of Rodrigo’s main adversaries of the period: Savonarola. Savonarola would have been preaching against Rome and, for that matter, the efforts against the French, and if Rodrigo will be turning towards consolidating power, the resistance in Florence would be a good place to focus. And anything that might let Lucrezia unleash more of the crazy would be most welcome!

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10

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