"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, Showtime 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, 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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Acquired Poison Immunity: In "Day of Ashes" Giuliano della Rovere gives his chosen assassin doses of cantarella poison to give him a limited immunity - the idea being that the assassin will live just long enough to taste the poison and give it to Rodrigo. While it is possible to acquire some sort of immunity against cantarella (an arsenic compound), it would not lead to death as quickly as shown in the series (see Perfect Poison). Most poisons had to be given in high doses to be deadly and would reveal themselves through bitter taste, which the taster was supposed to detect and report.
This impression is only furthered by the fact that he's one of the least all-around evil people in the show! It's hard to not feel a little sympathetic toward a character who clearly loves his children this much and who allows the persecuted Spanish Jews safe haven.
In the second season, he is shown to be genuinely horrified by the poverty in Rome, and is openly furious with the Cardinal responsible for charity for having three palaces while the citizens starve. Generally speaking, Rodrigo is nice to anyone he doesn't need to be nasty to, and is sincere when he says that he plans to make Rome great again and make sure its common people share the glory. Which doesn't stop him from ruthlessly torturing, murdering, or poisoning people who oppose him. He lives somewhere between Affably Evil, Anti-Hero, and Anti-Villain.
Amicably Divorced: Vannozza and Theo are the 15th century version of this; he's retired to a farm paid for by Rodrigo in exchange for allowing Vannozza to do as she pleases. Vannozza and Rodrigo also have this sort of relationship once he becomes Pope.
Anachronism Stew: In "The Beautiful Deception" Rodrigo is worried because Lucrezia's refusal to nurse imperils her baby's health. In real life, there were wet nurses available.
Also, there's no way the Borgias would have publicly acknowledged any illegitimate child of Lucrezia's. Her main value to the family, politically, was in her marriageability, which would have been seriously damaged by the scandal of a son out of wedlock. Nor would she have had the freedom to choose her second husband as she does in the show; the main object of such marriages was to secure alliances, money and/or other political advantages, with the feelings of the bride ranking very low on the list of priorities.
And There Was Much Rejoicing: Subverted when Rodrigo finds out about the death of King Charles. Cardinals Sforza and Piccolomini are in high spirits, but Rodrigo quickly rebukes them and orders them each to recite three dozen rosaries for the soul of the deceased.
Played with by the death of Juan - while Rodrigo is beside himself with grief, none of his other children are particularly saddened, and even Vannozza says that while she didn't wish for Juan's death, she has wished many times that he had never been born.
Annoying Younger Sibling: Juan is this to Cesare. As François Arnaud put it in a recent interview, "Cesare profoundly believes that his brother is an idiot." A belief which is frequently borne out.
Anti-Hero: Rodrigo isn't overly malevolent; he rarely gives the order for an assassination, and seems to love his family, placing him somewhere around type IV. Cesare is soundly type IV, but quickly heading toward type V and hitting it officially in "The Confession".
Arranged Marriage: All of the Borgia children, save Cesare, but poor Lucrezia really gets the worst of it.
Arson, Murder, and Admiration: Cesare is deeply impressed by how well Giuliano della Rovere has managed to evade the Borgia assassins, kill one of them himself, and nearly had his father deposed. He offers to team up, because della Rovere is the one man who can stand up to Rodrigo and keep him in line. della Rovere, unfortunately, declines.
Artistic License - History: All over the place. It's to be expected, since the show is produced by the same company that made The Tudors, which was known for not inviting realism over for tea.
For one, the Siege of Lucca never happened (Rule of Drama, of course, but with the city whose walls still exist and are one of the greatest example of urban fortification?).
The presence of Machiavelli is an example too; the time frame isn't very clear after the 1492 title in the pilot episode, but most of the events depicted took place between 1492 and 1496 in real life. Machiavelli was elected head of the Second Chancery in 1498 and didn't hold any political position in Florence before that. Then again, the show seems to be under the impression that he worked for the Medici, so the year alone isn't the only bit of artistic license (in reality they were his arch enemies who had him imprisoned and tortured-many think he wrote his infamous book The Prince in part as veiled criticism of them).
Juan Borgia never laid siege to Forli. Cesare did, successfully, and that siege is shown in series finale "The Prince".
It's safe to say that The Borgias' setting is more like an alternative universe than a historical one.
The page quote, allegedly attributed to Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici and also paraphrased, is in fact a common and incorrect misquotation. What he actually said was;
"Flee, we are in the clutches of the world"
Also notable is the manner in which Cesare and Micheletto first meet. In fact, the two were friends from childhood and had attended university together in Pisa. Far from the lowly origins his fictional character is portrayed as having, the historical Miquel de Corella was the bastard son of a nobleman from Valencia.
As You Know: In "The Beautiful Deception", Rodrigo tells Juan that Juan must go back to "our ancestral homeland, Spain". Presumably Juan knows where his family comes from.
Especially considering how much verbal abuse the entire family has suffered for being Spaniards in Rome.
Ask a Stupid Question...: After Lucrezia and Giulia Farnese's flight, Giovanni Sforza whips Paolo asking him where they're heading. Well, genius, one is the Pope's daughter and the other the Pope's mistress. Maybe, just maybe, they're going to Rome?
At the start of the series' final episode, "The Prince," Lucrezia tells Cesare that she is tired of being pushed away by him. By the end of the episode, he has murdered her husband against her wishes, and claimed her as his exclusive property.
Don't lie to Vannozza, or tell her that the Pope has to be chaste and then turn around and start sleeping with another woman.
Lucrezia's continuing circus of suitors in season two seems to raise Rodrigo's blood pressure.
Beware the Nice Ones: Lucrezia, Paolo the stable boy, and Francesca the maid have all suffered at Giovanni Sforza's hands, so they team up to make sure he himself suffers (in this case, a fall that immobilizes him).
Lucrezia nearly killing Juan after he murdered Paolo definitely counts as this, especially considering it only failed due to dumb luck.
BFG: King Charles of France and his cannons. Caterina Sforza inherits them from him later.
The Big Damn Kiss: Cesare gives one to Lucrezia in "Siblings". Though they'd already played with the relationship in previous scenes, the kiss changes everything permanently and leaves both of them very visibly shaken.
Big Screwed-Up Family: The Borgias would count more if there were more than six of them. The Sforzas definitely do.
Birth/Death Juxtaposition: In "Nessuno", scenes of the Black Plague-ravaged corpses of Naples are intercut with Lucrezia giving birth to her son and the entire extended Borgia family - Giulia and Ursula as well - gathered together.
Bittersweet Ending: For the series as a whole: The Borgias outgambit all their foes (including Cardinal Della Rovere and The Sforza Family) and stand in the height of the power, rulling Italy unmatched. However, by this point, Cesare has lost all traces of humanity he ever had and became a power-hungry madman, Lucrezia has been completely ravaged by misery and lost her innocence, Rodrigo's ambition caused both Cesare and Lucrezia to become stranded from him and Vanozza. The family won politically, but emotionally, they have hit rock bottom permanently. Might count as a Downer Ending, depending on the viewer.* It gets worse if you know history: Rodrigo's dream of building a papal dynasty was never accomplished, and three years after the events of the third season, Rodrigo dies poisoned, Cesare is outgambitted by Della Rovere, The Borgia family is stripped of all lands, titles and political power it could ever have by Pope Julius II/Cardinal Della Rovere, Cesare and Micheletto are both murdered in skirmishes, and Lucrezia dies at childbirth not too long thereafter.
Blood from the Mouth: "The Moor." Again in Season 2's finale “The Confession” with Antonello and Rodrigo.
Blood Knight: King Charles, though subverted in that while he enjoys battles and war, he doesn't get involved in the actual fighting and killing. He also does have some feelings of remorse, if not for making war, but for reveling in it.
Caterina Sforza has shades of this, considering her offer to join Charles in "bathing in the blood of the Borgia Pope".
Bonus points for the fact that she seemed dead serious, so much so that Charles doesn't look sure if he's repulsed or turned on.
Bond One-Liner: Giuliano della Rovere takes out two highwaymen who threaten him and the nun he is traveling with and says "Forgive me sister, sometimes goodness needs the help of a little badness."
Book Ends: Season 2 begins and ends with poisonings.
Lucrezia's marriage to Giovanni Sforza begins and ends with him being humiliated - although the first is only in his head, while the last is a deliberate set-up to vilify and embarrass him as much as possible.
Season 3 begins and ends with Lucrezia using her knowledge of poisons to help a loved one.
Francois Arnaud confirmed in an interview that on an emotional level, Cesare and Lucrezia have been romantically in love with one another from the first episode, even if the relationship is not yet physical.
By the end of the second season, it's become one of the show's trademarks. in 1x06, Cesare says that he was born with the Mark of Cain. In 2x09, he asks if he's to be his brother's keeper... right before killing said brother.
Captain's Log: During season one, Johannes Burchard narrates many of the happenings on the show through a voice over of his record keeping. He returns in season three to make a record of the Banquet of the Chestnuts.
Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Probably the most spectacularly grisly aversion in recent memory. The French characters in this show are defined by how pitiless and terrifying they are as opponents in warfare.
Chekhov's Gunman: The naked young lady in Rodrigo's bath in "The Borgia Bull"? We find out three episodes later in "Stray Dogs" she is Duchessa Bianca de Gonzaga of Milan, and allied with the Sforza family.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Gioffre is nowhere to be seen and isn't even mentioned in season 2 (except for one oblique reference when Lucrezia talks to Cesare about their "brothers"); in season 3, Rodrigo refers to Cesare as "my only son." Unsurprisingly, the same is true of Gioffre's wife Sancia.
City State Era: The show takes place during this period of Italian history.
The Clan: 15th-century Italy abounds with them; the city-states are all constantly dealing with Feuding Families, and it's this atmosphere into which the Borgias (who are too small a family to count themselves) enter as outsiders. The most prominent family is the Sforzas, of whom we have already met four members (Caterina, Ascanio, Ludovico and Giovanni).
Cliffhanger: Averted in the first season. The second season featured a classic Cliffhanger.
Composite Character: Theo is an amalgam of two of Vanozza's four Real Life husbands (none of which were named Theo) while Alfonso seems to combine the historical King Alfonso II of Naples and his two surviving sons one of whom eventually married Lucrezia.
Confessional: Apparently a place to meet up with your girlfriend, plot with your partners in crime, and occasionally murder someone.
The Consigliere: Machiavelli to the Medici. Vannozza to the rest of her family, as well as Giulia.
Constantly Curious: Gioffre's curiosity provides his doting father Rodrigo with an opportunity for an Infodump in which Rodrigo explains to him (and the viewers) what all the petty kingdoms on the Italian peninsula are, and how they're fitting into the power struggle.
Corrupt Church: However bad Rodrigo may be, imagine how messed up the religious system that allowed him to come to power is.
Considering the time period and the sort of environment that would lead to the Reformation, this is (for some, sadly) Truth in Television.
Indulgences, the practice that more than any other brought on the Reformation, are instituted by Rodrigo in the third season. If you want absolution you have to pay.
Corrupt the Cutie: Lucrezia is gradually becoming a case of this, after her marriage to Giovanni Sforza. It's not her fault, but with a Big Screwed-Up Family like hers, corruption's kind of unavoidable.
Prince Alfonso of Naples after King Charles has him unshackled in "The Borgia Bull". Things do not go well for him afterwards.
Caterina Sforza after Cesare uncuffs her in series finale "The Prince".
Curb-Stomp Battle: Theo is on the losing end of one from Juan, who is pissed off that people are gossiping that he's Theo's son instead of Rodrigo's. Vannozza is not pleased and throws him out of her house, and Rodrigo gives him a blistering Reason You Suck Speech before slapping him and ordering him to beg forgiveness from his mother.
The city state of Lucca receives one from the French armies, who tore down the city fortifications with their cannon and slaughtered the population of the city. After they surrendered.
The French take out the first line of the Roman Army (who they already outnumber massively) with a single cannon salvo, and the only thing that stops them from completely wiping it out is Lucrezia's intervention.
Cut Short: The show, when a variety of factors—low ratings, high budget, Neil Jordan's flagging interest—caused it to end after Season 3. The fourth season presumably would have dealt with Rodrigo's death, followed by Della Rovere becoming Pope and destroying Cesare.
Dance of Romance: In "The Moor," Lucrezia and Djem share a dance that starts out fun and playful, then becomes more and more intense. Also, Lucrezia's dance with Cesare seems to be this as well during the season two finale, which their mother and her fiance seem to notice.
Did You Just Have Sex??: A rather creepy version in which Rodrigo incorrectly judges from Lucrezia's smile and blush that her wedding night was all she had hoped it would be. She did have great sex; just with her brother rather than her husband.
Dirty Coward: Juan runs away from "The Siege of Forlì" after the Sforza army defeats his.
The Dutiful Son: Cesare turns reluctantly being this into an art. Not so much anymore.
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.
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.
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 whoworshipher (Cesare).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Idiot Ball: Placing Juan, a military commander with no battle experience, at the head of an army cobbled together to face the French (one of the most dominant and ruthless in the world)?! BAD PLAN, RODRIGO. The look on Cesare's face is pretty priceless, as well.
Inadequate Inheritor: Basically everyone except Rodrigo considers Juan to be this. Although Rodrigo does mention it after Juan curb-stomps poor Theo, voicing the popular opinion that Cesare would be better suited to the position and subtly threatening to disinherit Juan if he doesn't apologise and promise to restrain himself in the future.
In Season 2 finale "The Confession" Lucrezia asks Cesare a question about marrying her new suitor. Cesare playfully misinterprets it as asking about marrying him, and spins a scenario about moving to some little town and changing their names. Lucrezia corrects him.
Infant Immortality: Subverted with the French invasion of Lucca in "Death on a Pale Horse", where a young girl is skewered by one of the French soldiers.
And again in "The Choice", when several choirboys are hit by falling masonry after the ceiling of the Lateran basilica caves in.
Informed Ability: In "The Poisoned Chalice", both Giulia and Lucrezia have their portraits painted by "a new genius" called Pinturicchio. It's blink and you'll miss it, but in "The Moor" we see the portraits he's done on a wall, and they're about as good as the average third grader's.
Instant Seduction: Gender-flipped—Lucrezia being Lucrezia. She manages to get Cesare to go from shocked hesitance to French kissing in about two seconds. If only the dressmakers hadn't walked in!
In the Blood: Much is made of "Borgia blood", particularly by Giovanni Sforza "forgiving" Lucrezia the sin of her blood and informing her that when France invades Rome, her father, the source of the bad blood, will be deposed and killed.
After Paolo's murder, Lucrezia mentions that he loved her despite her "Borgia blood", and her feelings of guilt suggest that she is starting to believe that her blood might be tainted.
Ironic Echo: Savonarola's prophecy in "The Borgias in Love" is echoed in "Death on a Pale Horse", when it finally hits Giuliano della Rovere that Savonarola foresaw the French invasion Giuliano della Rovere himself brought about.
The reason Giovanni Sforza is such a [[Jerkass]] to Lucrezia is because he regards the events of the wedding party to be "A public HUMILIATION!" His divorce ended up teaching the Italian snob the true meaning of "public humiliation".
Irony: Juan is one giant walking example. Just to recapitulate: He refuses to marry Sancia because he considers that an illegitimate wife is beneath him, despite being illegitimate himself. He is, in fact, terrified of the possibility of not being actually Rodrigo's son but of his mother's actual husband and thus legitimate. Confused yet? Then you should know that he has an affair with the same illegitimate woman he refused to marry (who is basically his soul mate), both before and after she is married to his brother.
It's Always Spring: While remaining deliberately vague about the passing of time and moving some events up and down the time table for story-telling purposes, the first season seems to cover the years 1492-1495, but no sign of changing seasons is ever seen.
Although the climate in Italy is generally divided into two seasons, with mostly persistent weather throughout each of them.
Kick the Dog: Poor Theo gets his ass kicked by Juan basically for being a commoner and his mother's actual husband. He believes the local gossip that Theo is his real father, and not Rodrigo.
Juan has a habit of doing bad things for this reason; his murder of Paolo for daring to have a relationship with Lucrezia is at least a case of this trope, if not a full-blown Moral Event Horizon.
Knight Templar Big Brother: Given the intense dynamic already established between the two, it's hard not to think Cesare's being entirely serious when he teIn season two, he follows through on that promise.]]
Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, even more than Rodrigo. He has absolutely No Indoor Voice.
Laughably Evil: Prince Alfonso. Young, spoiled, ruling in his father's stead in Naples, and very funny. Unfortunately, the French king does not seem to find him amusing enough to forgive him for letting the plague into "his" city.
And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death and Hell followed with him.
The Loins Sleep Tonight: Played straight with Rodrigo and Giulia in "The Purge"; Rodrigo apparently doesn't have the same problem with Vannozza.
Loose Lips: A worker discovers that the new cannons are actually made from plaster and has the bright idea to announce that he is going to tell all his buddies about it. However, Cesare and Micheletto are standing nearby and the worker has an 'accident' before he can tell anyone what he discovered.
Love Triangle: Lucrezia is in the middle of a very interesting one with Alfonso, the husband she claims to love, and Cesare, the brother she claims to love more.
The Mafia: Showtime's promo team seems fixated on pointing out the Godfather parallels. It's certainly not unwarranted - Mario Puzo was, after all, partly inspired by the Borgias when writing the story - but it's not quite as neat as they would have you believe.
Micheletto and his lover Augustino do it in a graveyard.
Juan and one of his conquests also find themselves in this position—they're in regular bed, but they're also under a very pointy chandelier, and Lucrezia, having learned that Juan murdered Paolo, has set a candle right under the rope holding it aloft. It falls and kills Juan's bedmate while they're in the middle of sex.
Juan and Sancia on the table in the banquet room where the king of Naples keeps dead guests.
Male Frontal Nudity: Cardinal della Rovere in Naples. Micheletto while lounging around with his lover in "Tears of Blood".
Vanozza says that she would have helped Cesare murder Giovanni Sforza if she'd been there.
Lucrezia all but begs Cesare to kill Juan when his instability puts her child in danger, and when her new husband's family refuse to let her baby live with her, she plans to kill him herself until Micheletto offers to do it.
Man in the Iron Mask: Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, keeps the rightful holder of his dukedom in a tiny, filthy cell set into the floor of his dining room.
Master Poisoner: Micheletto. Lucrezia Borgia may become this in the future, depending on how many of the rumors about her the show runs with.
Averted with the anonymous kitchen hand who botches the poisoning of Djem the Moor.
May-December Romance: Rodrigo and Giulia Farnese. In real life Rodrigo was somewhere around his sixties and Giulia sixteen when they first hooked up. In the series, she is clearly much younger than him, but not that young, since she's old enough to have had a child and act as a mentor to the 14 year old Lucrezia.
The Medic: Lucrezia. In season 3, she begins to utilize her newly developed knowledge in poisons in order to save her father and assist her husband into a painless death.
Mercy Kill: Alfonso asks Lucrezia to end his life after he's slowly dying from being fatally stabbed by Cesare. She reluctantly complies and is found by Cesare numbly lying on top of Alfonso's body.
Misplaced Wildlife: The first episode features a pet Capuchin Monkey from South America in a prominent way. Notice that the scene takes place within days of Rodrigo's election in August 1492, when Columbus still had to complete his first voyage.
The Missus and the Ex: The final scene of "Nessuno" has aspects of this, with Vannozza and Giulia coming face to face for the first time. However, none of the jealousy-related bits of the trope ever come to pass; in fact, Vannozza and Giulia team up in season two.
Modesty Bedsheet: Of the L-shaped variety for Cesare and Ursula in "The French King". Giulia wears one in this◊ promotional poster.
Moe Greene Special: Cardinal della Rovere dispatches a spy with a dagger in "Lucrezia's Wedding".
Gender-flipped with pretty much every male cleric we see except Savonarola. Ursula, after joining the convent, is trying really hard to not become one, despite Cesare making this very difficult for her.
Played straight in "The Banquet of Chestnuts" when the "nuns" turn out to be hookers.
Cardinal della Rovere struggles with whether or not he can bring himself to be what he sees as this, even asking aloud during confession if one act of evil can be excused if it prevents many greater ones.
Rodrigo, with his many Affably EvilPet the Dog moments, and his sincerely held belief that the common people should be able to benefit from his plans to restore Rome, is trying to be this.
Ascanio Sforza hits this one in S3.
Neck Snap: Micheletto the assassin does this in "The Moor", twice.
He does this again in "Paolo" to a prostitute who was acting as a spy, though he seemed to strangle her for a bit first.
Nepotism: Rodrigo's appointments and politicking in the name of all of his children is seen as this, but the elevation of Cesare to Cardinal is perceived as the most appalling.
Never Trust a Trailer: In one of the promos for the first season, a completely nudeGiulia Farnese advises Lucrezia to use her female beauty for gain, reassuring that "it can be deadly"; the two are apparently modeling for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. This scene does not appear in the actual series, even though Giulia says the exact same words to Lucrezia at some point. Also, if all you knew about the series came from the promo material, you might think Cesare and Lucrezia's relationship is a lot more incestuous than it actually is.
Nowadays, Cesare and Lucrezia's relationship is exactly as incestuous as the trailers imply.
Only Sane Man: Cardinal della Rovere and Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, and even they have to get their hands dirty to survive.
Opium Den: In the second season Juan starts to frequent an opium den in Rome on the advice of his physician to cope with a leg wound and an STD. The drugs only seem to heighten his paranoia and mental breakdown.
Parental Favoritism: While Rodrigo is ambitious for all of his children and is doing his best to boost all of them up in the world, he's blinded to Juan's more unsavoury character traits and refuses to allow the far-more capable Cesare to replace him in his career. Lucrezia, however, is clearly his favorite.
A Party Also Known as an Orgy: Giulia organizes this for the cardinals in "The Banquet of Chestnuts". The idea is to give Rodrigo blackmail ammo to keep the cardinals loyal.
Pass Fail: Rodrigo's enemies believe him and his family to be marranos- that is, Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism sometime ago. Giuliano della Rovere, who has no liking for the Borgia family, nevertheless finds this to be an unfair accusation and a grave insult, which still carries some pretty deep Unfortunate Implications.
Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Machiavelli engages in this with Charles. Piero de Medici has just basically surrendered Florence to the French, against Machiavelli's wishes. When he meets Charles at the gates he politely asks him to not point his lance forward, as this is not how you enter the city of a friend. Charles complies and points it upwards, but then it would not fit beneath the gate, forcing him to point it backwards.
Cesare—along with the creepy king of Naples—is forced to watch Lucrezia have sex with her husband in a public consummation. It's a lot less innocent this time around.
Perfect Poison: Sometimes played straight, as when Cardinal Orsini is offed or the dose of cantarella in the second-season cliffhanger. Also averted on a couple of occasions when poisonings are botched.
Pet the Dog: Even Jerk Ass Alfonso, who mocks his aged and deaf father, is still distraught when the old man dies.
Lucrezia's husband has one moment where he half-admits that he "perhaps was not kind" to Lucrezia, and "forgives [her] the accident of her birth" (ie. being lower-born than him and a Borgia.) While this is a combination of a massive understatement and truly staggering arrogance (in addition to insulting her beloved family), it is an attempt to be nice to her.
Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Cardinal Orsini tries to poison the Pope during a dinner, but Cesare bribes the assassin to switch their cups.
The Pope: One of the most controversial in History.
Pre-Mortem One-Liner: In "World of Wonders", Cesare delivers an excellent one to Juan, before stabbing him and dumping his body in the Tiber.
Only God forgives. We are Borgias, and we do not forgive.
The Prince: Niccolo Machiavelli's hugely important political text was written, in part, in reaction to his encounters with Cesare when he was serving as Florentine diplomat. He shows up in "Lucrezia's Wedding" and tends to serve as Cesare's consigliere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.