Since you, dear readers, responded so well to our list of Popes that make Rodrigo Borgia look fairly decent in comparison, it was decided that we'd start bringing you weekly coverage of the show. We pick up the series with the Pope having secured complete control of the Vatican, and turning his sights to subduing the entire empire.
There is no doubt that the tumultuous last year has affected the writers. A great deal of the episode deals with the Pope coming to grips with the difference between what he believes the common folk of Rome are like and their meager reality. At first, he is dedicated to a massive restoration of great Roman monuments and arts, but after falling a little in love with a crossdressing mason and artist, he seeks out what life for the peasantry really entails.
It clearly comes as a great shock to the Holy Father that the nighttime streets are peppered with the homeless and the starving. Though he, his mistress and the mason are disguised, their nice shoes give them away as rich, and beggars swarm everywhere for alms. One woman clutches a dead baby begging for coin to bury it.[jump]
From that encounter the Pope decides that he will investigate the offices of the Vatican that are supposed to be dedicated to charity for the poor. The interrogation of the Cardinal that is the head of that office has a pretty clear echo of the Occupy movement. Over the two decades the Cardinal has managed the office the poor have fared no better, yet he has built himself three palaces.
"Do you see the irony in this?" asks the Pope before installing his mistress as an auditor of accounts.
Meanwhile, King Charles of France captures the plague-ridden city of Naples, which may or may not have been a trap by the Pope and Naples' Prince Alfonso II. The king contracts the plague but survives to hunt down Alfonso. He then orders Alfonso to give him a tour of the castle's torture chamber.
First we get to see a Judas Cradle. This, friends and enemies, was the height of a bar stool and instead of it being topped with a seat or cushion, it was graced with a solid pyramid. Victims would be lowered onto the point -- anus or vagina first -- and eventually have their entire weight resting there, resulting in considerable pain and tearing.
Next Alfonso tearfully explains the purpose of the Pear of Anguish. The device is thought to have originated with Dutch highwaymen. Basically the ear-shaped device was inserted into either the mouth or anus, then a mechanism turned with a key would slowly open it, breaking jaws and ripping rectums.
It's not long after that we hear the dying screams of Alfonso.
Oh, there's a whole plotline about the Pope's daughter Lucrezia being briefly reunited with the horse groom that fathered her son. The episode is even named after him, but honestly, there wasn't any doubt about what eventually was going to happen to him. More or less, it was a chance to escalate the bitterness between Cesare Borgia and his brother Juan, and also to see Holliday Grainger naked. Not that we're complaining.
Of all the characters in the Borgias, we love Michelotto the best. Cesare's righthand man is like a combination of Baldrick from Black Adder and Leon from The Professional. He's given a fair amount of screen time this season so far, helping Lucrezia's groom, killing Juan's spy, and even coming between Cesare and Juan in the middle of a friendly duel turned bloody.
The Borgias looks at a time when powerful interests were their own law, whether in the name of an elite class or at the behest of God. Watching these people, who show nothing but human failing, waltz around as giants remains a source of illuminating entertainment. We look forward to bringing you more of it.