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The Borgias – Brothers at each other’s throats

The tension between Juan and Cesare ramps up this week. How long will it be before they openly plot to kill each other? Also, Alexander needs to get in the game, a Sforza returns home, Della Rovere gets closer to vengeance, and Lucrezia gets to have both cakes and eat them too.

- Season 2, Episode 8 - "Truth and Lies"

Sibling rivalry is the order of the day on this week’s The Borgias. Juan and Cesare keep undermining each other in Alexander’s eyes, and he is too ineffectual a managing to stop it. Both brothers, wanting to save face in their father’s eyes, are keeping their enmity in check (barely), but how long before one plots to kill the other for real? “Truth and Lies” is clearly an episode designed to move conflicts in place for the upcoming last two episodes.

Naturally, Juan lies about running from the battle at Forli, claiming that passed out during the battle. He tells a stirring story, though, one  that his father buys at first. Juan, not a complete moron, realizes that Cesare could have warned him of the extra Sforza troops, since he was in Florence where “Machiavelli knows everything.” However, between his leg and syphilis, Juan has a bad prognosis, and needs a newfangled drug called … opium! He is taken to an opium den by one Mohammed. (In this week in Borgias historical accuracy, it seems that opium was in fact most known outside of China by the Islamic world, which is not surprising, given their reputation as physicians.) When Juan threatens his own life, Alexander has no way of knowing how cheap that life has become to him.

Meanwhile, on Cesare’s side of things, Young Benito Sforza comes to Rome and to Cesare’s attention. As a result, Cesare discovers that Juan lied about the battle, just as Juan knows that Cesare didn’t bother sending him a warning. Even though Alexander declines to punish Juan when he thretens his own life, I have no doubt the conflicts set up in this episode will explode soon. For a canny guy,  Alexander has no idea how to manage them. In fact, by forcing Cesare to be in the clergy, he has set up a rivalry between them that can never be healed.

Another source of tension in the family occurs when Alexander  gives Cesare authority to lay the charge of heresy on Savonarola; Cesare is not too happy about going to Florence yet again. He and Micheletto are also not too happy about keeping young Benito alive and sending him to his mother with an olive branch, but Cesare is learning to curb some of his impulses and let things play out — he may have become the savviest Borgia player on the board right now.

Continuing the theme of Alexander being unable to manage his children, he’s getting impatient about Lucrezia’s impending marriage. Now she likes both of them? Sigh. I am not so interested in a love triangle, but if this story is about her learning to be a Borgia woman under Vanozza’s tutelage, it may be okay. It seems too disconnected from the rest, though. She has to do her part for the family, as her brothers do, but the show needs to not maroon her in scenes on her own with newcomers to the cast. Love scenes are not The Borgias‘ forte, unless there is also scheming involved. I will refrain from passing judgment until I see what her season arc has been.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Della Rovere has a scruple about killing Brother Bernardino, the Pope’s taster. Della Rovere tries to finesse it by saying that goodness is not goodness if it serves evil, so poor Bernardino ends up dead anyway. So much for scruples. With Alexander seeming to become more holy and contemplative each episode, there seems to be not much to choose between him and revenge-mad Della Rovere. Alexander doesn’t see this attack coming, even if his newfound holiness is just an act. This and his mismanagement of his family show that he’s off his game this season,  making me wonder what horrible thing needs to happen to make him snap out of it … kind of like Don Draper.

Notes and Quotes:

  • Caterinia’s words “ten more sons” and flashing of the troops are spreading rapidly. Uh, no pun intended. Do you think Benito’s mad that his mother refused to save him?
  • Where is Giulia? Or the cross-dressingn artist? She seemed like she was going  to be a thing this season, and then she disappeared. I guess Giulia is still helping the Roman poor.
  • The Cardinals’ mirth at Charles’ death is funny: “Being short, it is a miracle he found a doorway low enough.” Alexander is surprisingly holy about it … or he just like bosses his underlings around.
  • Don Hernando: “I fight the men, not the boys.”  I like how Cesare takes a lesson from that at the end.
  • The Doctor’s scenes with Juan have become a reliable source of black humor. The Doctor on Juan’s prognosis: “In a word, my lord, in the long term, blindness, madness, death.” Juan: “That is three words.”
  • Hernando: “I would leave now, before you find my body floating in the Tiber.” Foreshadowing? Don H. is a badass, and I wish he could stick around without ending up dead. But even he sees the writing on the Borgia wall, so I suspect he will save himself and hightail it back to Spain.
  • Juan, upon meeting the man who will take him to opium: “Mohammed? Here in the holy city?”

Photo Credit: Showtime

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