"Now we are in the power of a wolf, and if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us."
— Giovanni de' Medici
Having had such a big success with The Tudors
has continued the theme of sexy period drama by turning to another turbulent period of history, and another notorious family. Stage left; enter the Borgias.
The Borgias, or at least this particular branch of the family, have become a byword for corruption and decadence. It doesn't help that the head of the family, Rodrigo, is often believed to have bought, murdered, and blackmailed his way into the papacy. Or that he had a string of mistresses well into his sixties, despite the fact that he was, you know, a cardinal and then Pope. Or that he installed at least one of them in the Vatican itself. Or that he also had at least four acknowledged children, again despite the cardinal and Pope schtick. Or that one of his sons, Cesare, was a Magnificent Bastard
in every sense of the word. Or that his daughter, Lucrezia, has something of a reputation as a poisoner and a femme fatale
. Or that one of her husbands accused her of committing incest with her father and brother. Or that Cesare is rumored to have killed his brother, Giovanni, and either murdered or ordered the murder of his sister's second husband. Or that...
Well, you get the picture. Let's not even start on 'The Banquet of the Chestnuts'
. To be fair, the Borgias had many enemies and some of the stuff written about them was quite possibly exaggerated, expanded upon, or possibly even made up, to demonize them. This does not, however, mean that they were nice people. Even by the standards of the time, they weren't. Considering the world they lived in - let's be honest, Rome in the 15th century had corruption up to the ears - they couldn't afford to be.
In other words, sex, plots, betrayal, hypocrisy, the Catholic Church, exaggeration and fabrication of historical facts—the perfect
recipe for a TV show!
All this is portrayed in the series and then some. Jeremy Irons
has top billing as Pope Alexander VI
, and the series debuted in April 2011. It has garnered some of the highest ratings on Showtime, and was renewed for a second, and then a third season. Shortly before the end of the third season, Showtime announced they were canceling the series.
Not to be confused with a 1980 series, also called The Borgias
, which was produced by The BBC
. That version was one in a series of failures by the BBC to create "the new I, Claudius
Not to be confused either with Borgia
, the European 2011 version produced by Canal+ and created by Tom Fontana from Oz
This series provides examples of:
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- Enfant Terrible: Juan thinks that Giovanni is the result of an incestuous union between Cesare and Lucrezia—and will therefore kill them all.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Rodrigo, in a way. He has no problem with letting innocent Jews banished from Spain emigrate to Rome, something which appalls his fellow Catholics. However, the Jews aren't his mooks, like the trope usually implies. They're just desperate immigrants. In Season 2, he has no problem giving tasks of great importance to women, and again ignores the complaints about it. In Season 3 he enlists the leader of the Jewish community in Rome as one of his minions.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Do not insult Cesare's mother Vannozza by, say, calling her a Spanish whore. It will simply get your throat cut.
- In "The Choice", we meet Micheletto's mother. It's safe to say that she's the one person who can pinch his cheeks and call him a sweet boy.
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: In "Paolo", Cardinal della Rovere gets a monkey to taste his food to make sure it isn't poisoned. The irony of doing exactly what Cesare did in the first episode is not lost on him.
- Eye Open: Savonarola in "The Borgias in Love".
- Eye Scream: Micheletto treats us to some by jamming his thumbs into a guard's eyes, underwater, in Naples ("The Moor").
- One of Cesare's agents, posing as a monk, also gets stabbed in the eye by della Rovere.
- Falling Chandelier of Doom: Lucrezia rigs one to fall on Juan as revenge but the random girl he's having sex with at the time ends up being an unintentional human shield.
- Topless Lotte Verbeek in a lot of episodes.
- Cesare. All the time.
- Almost-naked David Oakes in "Death on a Pale Horse".
- Lucrezia trying to seduce her husband.
- Shirtless Luke Pasqualino. Twice.
- Tons of topless prostitutes throughout.
- The whipping scene between Cesare and Michelotto. Oh Lordy, the whipping scene.
- Fainting: Lucrezia faints during a confrontation in season three where she discovers that all her plotting resulted in the crowning of a king who did not have her or her family's best interests at heart.
- Fatal Flaw: Every single Borgia has one: Rodrigo's blind love for his children; Juan's desperate insecurity; Cesare's ambition/obsessiveness/bloodlust... oh, pick one; Lucrezia's ultimate loyalty to the men who worship her (Cesare).
- Faux Affably Evil: Cesare, more and more each episode.
- Female Gaze: Oh, Cesare. The best example would be his slow-motion shirt-stripping scene in 3x05, done as several women watch giggling. It comes complete with a striptease-esque glance at his wife. It's made pretty clear that he knows his effect on women and the camera pays attention to that.
- Femme Fatale:
- Lucrezia may turn out to be this.
- Caterina Sforza, who has an incredibly easy time seducing Cesare. Twice.
- The French queen sees Charlotte d'Albret as this, but mostly, she's a perfect match for her eventual husband Cesare.
- Five-Bad Band
- Five-Bad Band:(Season 2) Cesare seem to build his own little army.
- Flynning: Between the elder Borgia brothers in "The Borgia Bull".
- Possibly justified, in that while they are getting increasingly hostile, they are not really trying to kill each other.
- Follow in My Footsteps: Cesare wants to be a soldier, but Rodrigo is adamant that his eldest son become a priest like him.
- Forceful Kiss: Cesare gives one to Lucrezia in an attempt to calm her down after she discovers that she'll have to publicly consummate a marriage she regrets.
- Foregone Conclusion: For anyone who knows the real history. Della Rovere becomes Pope Julius II.
- Amusingly, Giulia Farnese's dopey little brother who can't make sense of the Vatican account books becomes Pope Paul III some thirty years after the timeline of the show.
- Juan dies under mysterious circumstances and his body is found floating in the Tiber.
- Savonarola is burned, after being condemned as heretic.
- Of course, given the liberties the show has been known to take with history, historical facts might not necessarily be Foregone Conclusions.
- In "The Poisoned Chalice", Cesare promises Lucrezia the heart of her "husband" who raped and abused her on a dinner plate. By "Day of Ashes", he delivers her a knife with the blood of husband Giovanni Sforza on it. Sans the dinner plate, unfortunately.
- Although he certainly tried to deliver the heart itself too.
- In "Truth and Lies", Vannozza offhandedly remarks to Rodrigo she'd rather plan a funeral than Lucrezia's betrothal. In "The Confession", she and Cesare are planning Juan's, along with Lucrezia's betrothal.
- When Lucrezia astonishes everyone by immediately accepting the proposal of someone who has just publicly made an Adorkable fool of himself (because she'd already spent some time with him and knew that he was sweet and harmless), Rodrigo happily thinks how remarkable it is that his children can still surprise him. He gets some more surprises, rather nastier ones; firstly, Juan was so hated by everyone that Rodrigo is the only one to actually mourn his death, and secondly, Cesare's ruthlessness has gotten to the point where he can murder his own brother in cold blood.
- The Fundamentalist: Savonarola, who not only compares Rome with the Whore of Babylon and accuses Florence of usury, but also condemns wealth, art and comfort.
- General Failure: Juan is bad at army stuff.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Giulia's strategy to maintain Rodrigo's affections. It worked.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Just look the assassin in "Lucrezia's Wedding", goddamn.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: It's set in Italy during the Renaissance; elaborate historical clothes are something of a given. Especially for the Pope and, of course, the women.
- Gory Discretion Shot: This show takes an unholy glee in subverting it. The absolute crowner though, must be the demonstration of the French chained cannonballs in "The Art of War", wherein we see soldiers bisected.
- Grey and Gray Morality: As the show takes place during the power struggles between the rival Italian states and factions of the Renaissance, it fully embraces the moral ambiguity of the period, with few genuine heroes or outright villains. The Borgias don't shy away from using deplorable means to secure their power while continuing to do sympathetic things. Their enemies are not much different, and are defined as villains more for opposing the protagonists of the series than much exceptional vileness compared to the Borgias.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Lucrezia in season one is the full embodiment of the trope, but less so after she endured an abusive marriage and became a mother.
- Head Butt Of Love: Cesare and Lucrezia do this several times.
- Hero Antagonist: Giuliano della Rovere.
- Heroic BSOD: Lucrezia after Paolo's death.
- Hilarious Outtakes: The season 1 blooper reel has already hit the internet, and it's hysterical. Watching Jeremy Irons get his dress stepped on and try valiantly (but fail) to keep from dropping a Cluster F-Bomb in front of a child actor is worth the watch.
- Historical Beauty Update: Apparent, but not to the same degree it was in The Tudors. Except for a few differences in hair color, it's possible to picture that if Renaissance artists painted the actors in costume, they wouldn't look too dissimilar from their real counterparts, with the notable exception of Rodrigo. Even Jeremy Irons thinks he doesn't look a thing like the actual Rodrigo◊ and that they probably should have cast someone like James Gandolfini.
- He was rumored by his contemporaries to be one of the most handsome guys around (at least when he was younger), much like Cesare later on (minus the syphilis marks). Maybe by the time of the portrait he just didn't care anymore, being pope and all.
- Historical-Domain Character: Virtually all of the cast. Rodrigo, Cesare, Lucrezia, Juan, and Gioffre Borgia, Vannozza dei Cattanei, Giulia Farnese, Ascanio Sforza, Giuliano della Rovere, Ludovico "Il Moro" Sforza, Giovanni Sforza, Sancia of Aragon, Prince Alfonso of Naples, Michelotto, Niccolò Machiavelli, King Charles VII of France, Savonarola . . . you get the picture. The only characters that are completely fictional are Ursula Bonadeo (Cesare had many lovers and killed many people) and Theo (Vannozza had four husbands, none were named Theo or were farmers), as well as servants Maria, Francesca, and Paolo (who is based on a historical servant called Perotto).
- Historical In-Joke: When news of the death of Prince Alfonso of Naples spreads to Rome, Rodrigo laments that he would have been a good match for Lucrezia.
- Cardinal della Rovere names his pet monkey "Julius".
- Lucrezia asking Cesare in "World of Wonders" to "tell me about poison" is this, along with foreshadowing.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: In the series Giovanni Sforza is an abusive husband and rapes Lucrezia. In real life Sforza didn't touch Lucrezia for months because she was young and childlike when they married.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Lucrezia arranges for her Domestic Abuser huntsman husband to have a fall from his horse. When they're setting his broken leg, she tells him to "be brave", thoroughly enjoying the pain he's experiencing for once.
- Charles of France, who wants glory and battle and kills without mercy, is crowned King of Naples by Pope Alexander and sent to his new dominion. Shame about that plague.
- Cardinal Orsini in the first episode.
- Rodrigo, who threatens to support Ludovico Sforza's nephew's claim over Milan if Ludovico cooperates with Cardinal della Rovere. While said nephew was prisoner of Ludovico. Cut to Ludovico killing the guy and helping della Rovere to prove the point to Rodrigo.
- Cesare, who murders Giovanni Sforza, ends up potentially starting a war between the Sforzas and the Borgias and forcing Lucrezia to marry again.
- Honey Pot: Pascal is one for Micheletto in Season 3.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Rodrigo suffers a severe case of this post-election.
- Hot for Preacher: Ursula. She ends up entering a nunnery in penance for being accidentally party to said hot preacher's murder of her husband, though.
- Humiliation Conga: Happens (and deservingly so) to Giovanni Sforza in "Nessuno". The process of annulling his marriage to Lucrezia involves either proving his "potency" in public in front of the entire College of Cardinals (and a deeply amused Rodrigo) or admitting he's impotent and lying about the consummation of his marriage. He chooses option B and leaves Rome to much mockery from the public, which includes a masked man holding a fruit as a Gag Penis, which is then chopped off by another man with a sword.
- Hunting Accident: In "The Wolf and the Lamb", Micheletto offs King Ferdinand of Naples on a hunting expedition, by chucking him into a pool full of hungry lampreys.
- The Hyena: Alfonso of Naples.
- Rape as Drama: Teenage Lucrezia is raped repeatedly after she is married to the sadist Giovanni Sforza. The trauma of the experience apparently morphs her into the scheming and lustful character she has entered the History books as.
- Razor Floss: That Micheletto is a dangerous guy.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Apparently the producers could have stuck to a more historically accurate story, but chose not to out of fear that the audience wouldn't believe it actually happened, according to one analysis.
- Really Gets Around: About half the cast.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Rodrigo gives one to Juan in "The French King", after Juan curb-stomps Theo.
- Refuge in Audacity: The only reason Cesare is able to kill Giovanni Sforza is because, even though his enemies knew he was dangerous and ruthless, nobody thought he would be reckless enough to brutally murder a man of that rank on his own turf in broad daylight with no pre-planning.
- Actually, a lot of Borgia successes seem to rely on this. Consequently, a lot of them appear on the series' Crowning Moment of Awesome page.
- Replacement Goldfish: YMMV, but many fans think that Ursula Bonadeo was this for Cesare after Lucrezia was married off. She's blonde, wears hairnets, and suffers from an abusive husband... Hmmm...
- Royal Brat: Juan.
- Royal "We": Rodrigo adopts this after being elevated to Pope. King Charles of France also uses it.
- Sacrificial Lion: Cardinal Orsini in "The Poisoned Chalice", Paolo in "Paolo", Ursula Bonadeo in "Stray Dogs", Giovanni Sforza in "The Choice", and Juan in "World of Wonders".
- Screaming Birth: Lucrezia in "Nessuno", though she's a bit better than most, with lots of standard grunting and heavy breathing too.
- Plus, let's be honest—she's a teen mom living in an era when half the women die during/shortly after childbirth. And there isn't any pain medication. She did pretty well, considering.
- Sexy Priest: Though Cesare wants desperately to stop being the second part. Rodrigo as well.
- Separated by the Wall: The frequent confessional scenes, but particularly Cesare and Ursula.
- Shaggy Dog Story: Both of Della Rovere's season-long plots to remove Rodrigo fail completely at the last moment, not only wasting all the effort he put into them, but actually making things worse, as the French army massacres cities in the first season and Cesare slaughters his allies at the start of the third.
- Ship Tease: Even though Word of God has repeatedly said they're not gonna go "there" with Cesare/Lucrezia, the promo material and the occasional ambiguous scene or line throw a bone to the (quite sizable) part of the fandom that wouldn't mind. As of season 3 episode 3, they have now "gone there" very explicitly.
- Sibling Rivalry: Cesare and Juan, despise one another. The cunning, intelligent Cesare bitterly resents the fact that his father forced him to become a Cardinal while his incompetent, Spoiled Brat little brother becomes heir to the family estate and gets the command of the papal military forces, a position Cesare himself always wanted. And Juan, fully aware that Cesare would have preferred a secular career, persistently teases his brother, telling him a cleric can't or shouldn't fight.
- Sinister Minister: All of them.
- Sociopathic Hero: He may not completely be there yet, but Cesare is willing to get his hands bloody for love and family—and if history's any indication, he's probably shaping up to be the less honorable sociopath as well.
- Space Compression: In the first season, Cesare and Micheletto travel by cart from Pesaro to Rome (a distance of nearly 200 miles) in less than a day.
- Spiritual Successor: To The Tudors, though Neil Jordan had been attempting to get the project made as a film long before The Tudors existed on television. It's an odd case of a preexisting concept being turned into a kind of Dolled-Up Installment when it comes to spiritual succession.
- Stalking Is Love: Cesare with Ursula, to some degree.
- Cesare is a big fan of this, as he does it in season 3 with Lucrezia. Though not without reason, it doesn't go over well with her.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: As of season 3, Cesare and Lucrezia are this in the worst possible way.
- Start of Darkness: Season one is arguably this for Cesare and Lucrezia, though it isn't solidified until season two. Being raped and Paolo's death were arguably the most defined moments for her. He is noticeably different after killing Giovanni Sforza.
- Storming the Castle: The French armies sack Lucca, throwing fear into the rest of Italy.
- Suicide Mission: Young Franciscan Antonello agrees to go on one for Cardinal della Rovere in order to remove “the Borgia Pope” from power. In “The Confession,” he seems to succeed.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Vittoria the artisan's apprentice in S2
- Sympathetic Adulterer: Lucrezia, and to a lesser extent Giulia and Ursula, are type 1. Lucrezia manages to get a divorce out of type 4. She later graduates to type 5 when she begins an affair with the younger brother of a man she still has yet to marry (though this is short-lived, as said affair ends up being what quashes the engagement).
- Take-That Kiss: Rodrigo gives two hilarious ones to Cardinal Orsini and Cardinal della Rovere, two of the cardinals who oppose him.
- Classic example of Throw It In; Irons just thought it'd be funny to see the looks on their faces and went for it.
- He also gave one to the Spanish Ambassador in "The Art of War", saying "Judas Iscariot kissed our Savior thus".
- Tears of Blood: In the season 2 finale.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Cesare firmly believes in this, especially in regards to his murder of Giovanni Sforza. It's not enough for him to kill him, but he has to stab him repeatedly and then attempt to cut his heart out of his body. Too bad he gets interrupted before he can find it.
- This Is My Name on Foreign: Very mild example—Rodrigo gives his papal name a Latin number when spoken aloud ("Alexander Sextus" instead of "Alexander the Sixth"). Justified by the fact that at this point in history (and indeed until the 1960s), Church business was conducted in Latin.
- Title Drop: Various episode titles, including Cesare in "Nessuno" (which is Italian for "nobody"). Also a Chekhov's Gun.
- To the Pain: The doctor of Juan while explaining the treatment for his affliction.
- Cesare and Micheletto employ this; first to the French soldiers in "Stray Dogs", and then to Savonarola in "The Confession".
- Token Good Teammate: Possibly Gioffre Borgia, who historically lacked the ambitions of his siblings and just wanted to settle down in the country with a family.
- Too Dumb to Live: In "Nessuno"—Really, French soldiers? You're going to hold Micheletto and Cesare hostage and then ask them about their silently efficient killing methods and then ASK THEM TO SHOW YOU? And you don't think they're going to demonstrate on you? Good grief.
- Traumatic Haircut / Important Haircut: When Ursula enters a convent after her husband's death, her hair is cut off. Notable, though, in that this is by choice, and the trauma in question is what lead to her making this decision rather than the haircut itself.
- Unwanted Spouse: Ursula's husband and Giovanni Sforza. Gioffre and Sancia may become this for each other.
- Historically, Gioffre loved Sancia, but Sancia clearly slept around on Gioffre.
- Villain Protagonist: The Borgia family may be sympathetic, but straightforwardly heroic they are not.
- Villainous Incest: Or villainous Incest Subtext. Ironically, where that would normally make Cesare and Lucrezia look more villainous, it instead makes them more sympathetic and tragic.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When Rodrigo finally awakens in "The Face of Death", it's to throw up the charcoal mixture Lucrezia gave him. All over a nearby cardinal's robes.
- Vorpal Pillow: "The Moor"
- War Is Hell: The French troops march into Lucca and kill any man, woman, or child in their way. Charles attempts to justify it to a shocked Giuliano della Rovere by saying "'Tis war, Cardinal, plain and simple".
- Which is more than mildly surprising, given Cardinal della Rovere's historical actions after the time-frame of the series. Perhaps the series intends to show that for him, it will eventually get easier.
- Historically, he was at times something akin to a condottiere even BEFORE the time-frame of the series.
- We Can Rule Together: Cesare tries a variation of this with Giuliano della Rovere. Although it's more of a "Dude, help me rein in my dad" kind of deal.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Prince Djem really didn't know where he was getting into. Neither, for that matter, did della Rovere when he sought help from the French army or Paolo when he fell in love with Lucrezia.
- With Us or Against Us: Rodrigo actually delivers this line to the Cardinals when demanding Florence to resist against the French army and decides that Savonarola must burn
- Woman Scorned: Vannozza, especially in "The Assassin", when she discovers Rodrigo is sleeping with Giulia Farnese.
- Women Are Wiser: Lucrezia, Vannozza, and Giulia delight in outsmarting the powerful men around them in order to help the poor. Though that doesn't stop them from having a bit of fun, either.
- Worthy Opponent: By the end of season 1, Cesare seems to think this about della Rovere.
- In season 2, Rodrigo's reaction to the news of the French King's death shows that he considered him this. It doesn't quite get into Antagonist in Mourning territory, but he's not in the least bit amused by the ignominity of his end, and is not happy that the cardinals find it so funny.
- In season two, Giulia and Vannozza fall into this, with a side of Fire-Forged Friends.
- Would Hurt a Child:
- The French soldiers.
- Micheletto drowns an altar boy.
- Worst Aid: The doctor recommends to Juan two things to help him with his syphilis: freaking mercury to heal his madness (Hint: It has the precise opposite effect, mercury causes the brain to decay into batshit insanity at ridiculous speed) and then...opium to deal with his pain. He actually made Juan worse. Truth in Television all the way.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Rodrigo spends all of season two trying to bring his family closer together—and has spent all of the first two seasons sewing the seeds for Juan's military career and Cesare's papal destiny—only to end up hearing, rather callously, that Cesare has murdered Juan and still cares most about abandoning the cardinalate. Oh, and Lucrezia is very, very happy to hear about Juan's death—her shrinking violet act is gone. He can have all the power in the world, but he can't change his kids' natures.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Accomplices or stooges who take part in a Borgia assassination, if there is no further need of their services. Micheletto takes them out of the picture.