From the very beginning of The Borgias, the show has centered around the politics of the Vatican and the reach of the church. The sixth episode this season continues to further the plots both for and against the pope. However, rather than focusing on the ways those plots were furthered here in the middle of the series, I thought I'd take a look at the performances of the great schemers who are really advancing the action.
Of course François Arnaud's Cesare Borgia has from day one dominated the show by basically being Nick Fury. He is a master spy, a perfect soldier, and it is his abilities that more often than not save the day.
That being said, his desire for vengeance and to prove himself to his father in hopes of leaving the office of cardinal and taking a position of leadership in the Vatican army has come to make him make tiny mistakes. Well, not tiny. He did murder a member of the prominent Sforza family and start a war all because he couldn't take a dig at his sister. Nonetheless, even though he continues to win the day through a telling combination of brutality and guile, it's clear that Cesare's emotions are starting to cause more problems than he solves.
Then there's the disgraced cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who plots the poison of the pope. During the first season Colm Feore was not much for bringing any balls to the role. Della Rovere was certainly a schemer, and a pretty inept one at that, and calling his machinations bumbling wouldn't be that amiss.
On the other hand, history tells us that della Rovere later becomes Pope Julius II, and the show is finally starting to take notice of that fact. In addition to the cardinal being revealed as a complete badass when it comes to killing highwaymen with wooden stakes, he has begun a quiet game of intrigue that involves poisoning a boy over and over again in order to build up his immunity against the weapon he ultimately plans to utilize to depose the pope.
Feore continues to underplay the role, but now there is an almost unbearable air of unforgiving competency. It's sort of like if Obi-Wan Kenobi had become a Sith instead of Anakin Skywalker. His sincerity is matched only by a smoldering rage against what he considers the debasement of the church, and it's making him more of a match for the Borgias than ever before.
Lastly, this episode gave us a long overdue return of Niccolò Machiavelli, operating on behalf of the Medici family. Julian Bleach, who I finally recognized as freakin' Davros from Doctor Who, absolutely eats every inch of the role, matching words and intrigues with Cesare in a manner that absolutely no one else on the show has even been able to come close to. Bleach dominates the few scenes he is in, making me wonder if a spin-off series about the life of Machiavelli might not be the best thing ever should Bleach helm it.