returns from quite the cliffhanger: Pope Rodrigo Borgia hovers between life and death, while the danger from the college of cardinals might just pale in comparison to the danger of the wily Caterina Sforza.
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Will Pope Benedict XVI's Resignation Bring More Viewers to The Borgias >>>
Coming into season 3, Showtime's papal drama got a real life boost with some real life papal drama. Pope Benedict XVI resigned the papacy, making him the first pope in 600 years to say, "Thanks but no thanks," to the papal tiara. So suddenly, like Renaissance Italy in the time of the Borgia family, the world was watching a chimney and playing the long odds on the contenders. For a time, the modern world felt a little more Borgia
-like than it had previously.
It's too soon to say whether the recent hubbub over the pope will translate into greater ratings for the Showtime drama. The show has always flown a bit under the radar, which is a shame considering the caliber of drama both on screen and behind the scenes. When you're talking about Oscar winner Neil Jordan's pet project, starring Jeremy Irons, it's kind of hard to imagine why the show doesn't get more buzz.
Season 3 gets off to a strong start in the premiere and sets up the thematic through-line for the season: the fear of those outside the family walls. The Borgia family has always been an insular unit, especially where sexy siblings Cesare and Lucrezia were concerned
, but with outside forces closing in, the Borgias are closing ranks tighter than ever.
As Lucrezia says in the promos airing all over Showtime, "Perhaps only a Borgia can love another Borgia." Whether or not that's true (Cesare did kill brother Juan, after all), it seems likely that the threats from outside are currently much greater than the threats from within. And with Rodrigo paranoid and weakened and Cesare on the ascendant, things are poised to get more dangerous for everyone in Rome.
Was anyone overwhelmingly nervous that Rodrigo Borgia was going to kick the bucket in the premiere? Anyone? Bueller?
First of all, there's the historical facts to consider. The Borgia Pope, according to actual events, will not die for at least few years yet. And although the show likes to play fast and loose with its history (like with the fictional poisoning attempt), the fact remains killing off the Pope at this point in time would be a big departure from established fact.
More important, however, when you have Jeremy Irons as a cast member on your prestigious drama, there is no way on earth you're going to kill him off. I'd think it more likely Neil Jordan tries to dream up some way of bringing back a zombified Rodrigo than killing him off preemptively.
Paging Nurse Lucrezia!
The crisis, however, gives Lucrezia a nice opportunity to step into more of a leadership role in the family. Long used as a pawn in the Borgia games, one of the nice things about the series is how Lucrezia has grown and changed over the course of the show.
Once only a pawn, now Lucrezia seems more in control of her own destiny than some of the more overtly powerful members of her family. One of the things I like best about this show is how it empowers the female characters in era-appropriate ways. Lucrezia might not be a tough knight like Game of Thrones' Brienne of Tarth, but she does use the tools available to her to influence her world.
In this case, she uses her brains to out-medic everyone around her. Her quick decision to use charcoal as an antidote to the poison might not have only saved her father's life, but the rest of her family's as well.
A Nest of Vipers
While Cardinal Della Rovere was ostentatiously behind the poisoning, the attempt on the life of the Borgia family lies squarely at the feet of the intelligent and tough Caterina Sforza. The poor Borgias are attacked from every angle in the premiere.
Turning Caterina into an enemy of the Borgia family is a smart move on the part of the show. Caterina is a tough, intriguing character and one who can stand her own against the Borgia power players.
On a personal note, Caterina Sforza is one of my all-time favorite historical ladies. She's tough, smart and does a lot of hilariously bad-ass things. Not only did she pull the infamous skirt stunt on the battlements (okay, she might not have but I like to believe she did), she also overtook the Castel Sant'Angelo and pointed cannons at the Vatican itself until she got what she wanted. One time, she tricked those working against her into allowing her into a fort and shortly before the drawbridge closed, she gave them the ye olde equivalent of the middle finger. In short, she's the best.
And with an actress as good as Gina McKee in the role, it's easy to see why the show chose Caterina as the season's main Borgia foe. The more Caterina the better, I say.
As an added bonus, using Caterina breaks up the monotony of watching Della Rovere plot against the Borgias. As much as I love Colm Feore, at this point Della Rovere's plots to take over the papacy make him look like a less successful Renaissance-era Wile E Coyote.
Who Can You Trust?
The episode moves forward the season's dual themes: vengeance and a return to the welcoming embrace of family. Last season was all about expanding the powers of the Borgia family, including skirmishes with the intransigent Savonarola and no-nonsense Caterina.
Meanwhile, this season looks to be all about consolidating the Borgia power base. Hearing the cardinals circle around his dying body like vultures, Rodrigo's realized the only ones he can trust are those blood-related. But when it comes to the brother-murdering Borgia clan, is that even true?
What did you think of The Borgias season 3 premiere? Will Rodrigo clear house in the college of cardinals? Will Caterina's plans of alliance against the Borgias pan out? Share your theories in the comments!
(Image courtesy of Showtime)