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Series / Borgia

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"Do not have faith in them."

I praise Borgia: Faith and Fear for what I call its "historicity" rather than its "accuracy." It takes its fair share of liberties, as well it should if it wants a modern person to sit through it. But it also succeeds in making the characters feel un-modern in a way many period pieces don't try to do. It is a bit alienating but much more powerful.

Borgia, also known as Borgia: Faith and Fear, is a 2011 StudioCanal and EOS Entertainment production based on the rise and fall of the Borgia family in renaissance Italy. The series had three seasons and aired in Italy, France, Austria, Germany and Belgium as well as US and UK Netflix.

In 1492 Italy is divided into warring states and at the centre lies Rome where the ageing Pope Innocent VIII rules. As Vice Chancellor of the College of Cardinals Rodrigo Borgia plans to use all his influence in order to become the next Pope and create a great dynasty. Following the death of his eldest son he summons his other children; Juan, Cesare and Lucrezia, back to Rome. Soon all three are embroiled in the plotting of the noble families and the church and the series follows their development from pawns to skilled players of the game.

The series is notable for having at least two consecutive episodes directed by one director who then hands the series over to a new director, as well as for the variety of accents within the cast, a result of international casting.

See also the rival 2011 Showtime series The Borgias (note the article and plural).

Borgia contains examples of:

  • And This Is for...: Cesare's opening scene.
    Cesare: This is for calling my uncle a Jew. [punch] This is for calling my uncle a Moor. [punch] This is because I feel like beating the shit out of you.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Juan is killed well before his actual death in 1497.
    • Cesare and Alessandro were never sent to Florence to deal with Savonorola.
    • The Laocoön and His Sons sculpture being discovered earlier than it really was so it can provide a metaphor of a father and his sons being dragged down by snakes. This doubles as Secret History as Rodrigo is so perturbed by the implication that he orders it reburied, presumably to be later rediscovered (and put on public display) by Julius II (aka Della Rovere).
    • Giuila threatens Pantisilea with expulsion to Tierra del Fuego, which would only be first explored by Europeans 27 years later.
    • Cesare Borgia presumably didn't fake his death and escape to the New World.
    • Della Rovere wasn't homosexual - he had an illegitimate daughter (so not born out of "duty", nonetheless that he was a cardinal at the time so he wasn't even supposed to have a child of any kind), and it was common during history to frame someone of being gay, either as an insult or character assassination.
    • Orsino Orsini, the husband of Giulia, died much later than in the series (1500, to be exact). Until this time Giulia and Orsino were married, which also means that they were married the whole time Giulia was the lover of Rodrigo, as the Real Life Rodrigo ditched Giulia in 1499/1500.
      • Extending this, Giulia couldn't have been present at Rodrigo's death in 1503.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Gacet, the pope's secretary; without him things quickly fall apart for Rodrigo.
  • Bedmate Reveal: In 3.01, after an orgy, Cesare wakes up with… Giulia. He starts laughing hysterically.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Or at least the nicer ones; Lucrezia stabs Juan nine times, and when he refuses to die, has her lover cut his throat.
  • Brother–Sister Incest:
    • Subverted (Zigzagged?) in a very interesting way. Cesare and Lucrezia never actually have sex—the definition of incest—but get very close to it multiple times. They have a romantic dynamic, and never have sex more due to circumstances rather than lack of interest. The more-likely historical truth (that people made up rumors they were incestuous to hurt the Borgias) is also present in the story, and discussed. These rumors are an Accidental Truth, and predate their first kiss.
    • Juan briefly tries to rape Lucrezia, until she blackmails him into stopping. In a later episode, Juan also claims that Lucrezia is "the only one" he loves. Lucrezia responds by (repeatedly) stabbing him.
  • Cain and Abel:
    • Juan and Cesare. Subverted, because—just as it's really starting to look like Cesare was the one who killed Juan—it's revealed that he didn't. And then Double Subverted, because Juan's other sibling—his unsuspected, seemingly innocent little sister Lucrezia—did.
    • Juan hired some assassins to kill Pedro Luis.
  • Casual Kink: Cesare appears to enjoy being tied to chairs.
  • Child Supplants Parent: The main person Cesare feels in the shadow of is his elder brother Juan. Once Juan dies, though, and Cesare is free from that, he increasingly wants to overshadow his father.
    Cesare: A son exists to glorify the life of his father — as meaningless and worthless and that life might be. But if a boy is to become a man, he must glorify himself, and make a name even greater than his father's. A name that will shout throughout history. [Dramatic Pause] I am Cesare Borgia!
  • Corrupt Church: Almost all the cardinals seen have mistresses and most are very happy to accept bribes. Truth in Television.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Though most of the torture scenes may come off as barbaric and sometimes convoluted, they were true to the norms of the time.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Invoked Trope in the first season, where Rodrigo uses this tatic this with both Giula and Lucrezia.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Lucrezia's baby Giovanni is named after her brother Juan/Giovanni.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In her essay "The Borgias" vs. "Borgia: Faith and Fear", author and historian Ada Palmer contrasts Borgia with the show The Borgias while she talks about what she calls "historicity" (what TV Tropes might call Deliberate Values Dissonance) vs "historical accuracy" (what TV Tropes might call Artistic License – History). Historical accuracy pertains to the details, while historicity is about sensibilities. While Borgia has about as much historical accuracy as you'd expect for a show of this sort, it has far more historicity than is usually expected.
    Ada Palmer: A bar brawl doesn't go from insult to heated words to slamming chairs to eventually drawing steel, it goes straight from insult to hacking off a body part. Rodrigo and Cesare don't feel guilty about killing people, they feel guilty the first time they kill someone dishonorably. Rodrigo is not being seduced by Julia Farnese and trying to hide his shocking affair; Rodrigo and Julia live in the papal palace like a married couple, and she's the head of his household and the partner of his political labors, and if the audience is squigged out that she's 18 and he's 61 then that's a fact [...] 14-year-old Lucrezia is constantly demanding marriage and convinced she's going to be an old maid if she doesn't marry soon, but is simultaneously obviously totally not ready for adult decisions and utterly ignorant of what marriage will really mean for her. It communicates what was terrible about the Renaissance but doesn't have anyone on-camera objecting to it [...] I praise Borgia: Faith and Fear for what I call its "historicity" rather than its "accuracy". It takes its fair share of liberties, as well it should if it wants a modern person to sit through it. But it also succeeds in making the characters feel un-modern in a way many period pieces don't try to do. It is a bit alienating but much more powerful.
  • Domestic Abuse: Juan commits this against his wife, even going as far as having her murdered.
  • Engineered Heroics: Cesare wins the favour of the Roman people by convincing them he killed the monster with an ass's head, which they believed was roaming the flooded streets
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: At least half the cast has reason to want Juan dead, and the episode about that is framed very much like a murder mystery.
  • Exact Words: Lucrezia asks Cesare to not make her children orphans. Cesare, with Alfonso D'Este, organize Alfonso di Calabria's murder and takes all the blame, so Lucrezia would marry D'Este: with a stepfather the children aren't—technically—orphans.
  • Fan Disservice: When someone gets naked on Borgia, there's a 50/50 chance they're going to be horribly tortured to death.
  • Fanservice: When someone gets naked on Borgia, there's a 50/50 chance they're going to have sex.
  • The Fundamentalist: Savonarola, whose preaching against greed and corruption angers the established church.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: An in-universe example. After Rodrigo's election as Pope, Della Rovere, his archrival, as Dean of the Sacred College, is responsible for asking him the ritual acceptance questionsquote . His heavy emphasis on certain syllables when asking the question is no accidentnamely... .
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Try and count the characters that haven't plotted/committed at least one murder—you probably won't run out of fingers.
  • Gossip Evolution: The events leading to Cesare's death in the final episode become this. As each new person tells the story, the number of enemy soldiers he killed before dying and how long he held it reach ridiculous levels. It is also meant to represent that the entire incident may not have even happened.
  • Hair Memento: In an episode, Lucrezia's new friend Pietro, sent to cheer her spirits up after her pregnancy, has to go to Venice to visit a sick family member. As a parting gift, Lucrezia offers him a lock of her hair.
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul:
    • Although rumours circulated about all kinds of incest among the The Borgias in Real Life, none of these have any credibility, and are mostly made up by a former husband of Lucrezia Borgia. However, in this series, Lucrezia and her brother, Cesare, are quite close to incest several times. One time, after Lucrezia admits to killing Juan with her lover, Perotto, Cesare wants to "make the rumours true" about them (of incest), and proceeds to kiss Lucrezia, who agrees, and they almost have sex, but Lucrezia's lover Perotto discovers them. Lucrezia's other brother, Juan, attempts to rape her once, and claims that he "loves her the most". And then, we have Lucrezia's father (Pope Alexander VI, AKA Rodrigo Borgia), who has lustful thoughts about his daughter, once going as far as masturbating to a description of her by her lover. Fortunately, he realizes his sinful thoughts and admits them to Lucrezia who quickly forgives him.
    • Della Rovere has several gay lovers in the series (and no female ones), particularly Fransesco. He wasn't gay in real life.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Cesare declares several times that he does not believe in God and the hereafter. He is also hedonist and selfish. At some point, he puts his trust in astrology. He is anti-social and has no empathy for others. He thinks that he is above good and evil and is convinced of his own superiority.
  • Hypocrite: Giuliano della Rovere. One of his schemes is to weaken Pope Alexander by bringing the reliable and talented papal secretary up on false charges of rape and sodomy, which would force Alexander to condemn him to torture and death. The man della Rovere enlists to make the false accusation? His own devoted male lover, whom della Rovere abandons to suffer life imprisonment when the plot threatens to backfire.
  • Identical Grandson: Francisco Borgia in Rodrigo's Dying Dream looks identical to his grandfather, Juan (They are played by the same actor).
  • Jacob and Esau: Rodrigo favors Juan to Cesare, while Vannozza favors Cesare to Juan. Juan laments that his mother let him be sent away to Spain when he was only 12. Both sons angst over their status as Unfavorite, while not particularly appreciating their status as Favorite.
    Vannozza: Thank God I have another son. Thank God I have Cesare.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Truth in Television for Lucrezia and Alfonso D'Este: after delivering two healthy sons before their marriage, Lucrezia has a long series of miscarriages and babies who died in infancy. Considering her value as Alfonso's wife is in her ability to bear an heir, the whole thing is not only devastating but dangerous to her position.
  • May–December Romance: Rodrigo and Giulia, though her age is never explicitly stated she does not appear to be much older than Lucrezia.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Cesare has no problem to walk around shirtless or naked.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Cesare after leaving his son to die on a hilltop. He gets over it.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Lucrezia's political value lies in her marriageability, which would be severely damaged by an illegitimate son, so Rodrigo has her confined in her apartment and then gives the child away. In the end Cesare declares the baby his son and leaves him with his sister saying his duties precluded his caring for him.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Giovanni de' Medici: a young, naive cardinal who really doesn't know how much the corruption runs deep in the Church.
  • Nepotism: At times Rodrigo seems to think the name Borgia is the only qualification needed for a job. He insists on trying to give Cesare jobs that he doesn't even want
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Nearly every major character speaks in their own native accent regardless of what character they're playing. More understandable when the show was meant to be dubbed for multiple European countries.
  • Open Secret: The fact that Cesare and and his siblings are Rodrigo's children rather than his nephews and niece.
  • The Plague: Syphilis or "the French disease" becomes very pronounced in the series - especially after Charles VIII's invasion of Italy in the first season.
  • Rape as Drama: Marcantonio Colonna rapes Cesare in "Prelude to an Apocalypse".
  • Rape by Proxy: On Lucrezia and Alfonso de Calabria's wedding night, they are forced to consummate their marriage before two witnesses… and Sforza makes them get graphicer and graphicer.
  • Reforged Blade: Cesare's Cool Sword—the one with Lucrezia's image on the base of the blade—is dramatically broken and then reforged. It's not a Lady's Favour exactly, but Cesare treats it as such, and after she gets it reforged for him that's even more true.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cesare stabs Perotto to death with the Holy Lance on the floor of the Vatican, in front of all the cardinals, while he's clinging to the Pope's robes. And he gets away with it.
  • Romancing the Widow: Lucrezia is surprisingly distraught after the death of her husband, Alfonso de Calabria. Lucky, her longtime lover (the other Alfonso) is still around to marry.
  • The Runt at the End: Goffredo is younger and less badass than his siblings.
  • Seduction as One-Upmanship: Discussed by Rodrigo, in a lecture to his sons:
    Rodrigo: Sleeping with another man's wife must be based on the husband's lack of character, not the woman's lust.
  • Shameful Strip: Giuliano della Rovere orders to strip Vannozza to humiliate her.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Between Juan and Cesare. Purposely encouraged by Rodrigo, who thinks it will push both his sons to be the best they can be.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: It seems it falls far on the cynicism side, but scratch the surface and you see that Rodrigo for all his grand personal ambitions genuinely does care about setting Italy free from the influence of foreign powers and takes his responsibilities as Pope seriously (although for the most part as long as they don't interfere with his relationship with his mistress); various characters have an awareness that the Church can function with less corruption than it currently has; and even the violent, sadistic, and borderline megalomaniacal Cesare has his selfless and sincere moments. The series does enjoy delving into the casual brutality of the Renaissance era of Europe, however.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: In "The Serpent Rises" Cesare gets so drunk that he blacks out and does not know if he was the one who killed Juan.
Cesare: You? You stabbed him nine times?
  • Who's Your Daddy?: In a world where Everybody Has Lots of Sex and there's no paternity testing, this is no surprise.
    • Rodrigo isn't sure Goffredo is his son.
    • Rodrigo d'Aragona (Lucrezia's second child) could be fathered by Alfonso D'Este (her lover) or by Alfonso di Calabria (her husband)
    • Vannozza invokes this for Cesare, in a desperate attempt to save him from Della Rovere after Rodrigo's death.
    • Likewise, after Rodrigo's death, Giulia claims her daughter Laura was actually her husband's, not Rodrigo's.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Cesare and Alessandro were friends when they were classmates in Pisa.
  • You Remind Me of X: Cesare's wife Charlotte reminds him of Lucrezia.
    Cesare: You remind me of my sister.
    Charlotte: And you remind me of no one else.