Nobody likes it when something with extreme potential to become something better, ends up ending instead. Such was the case with the ‘Borgias’. It may not have been the most brilliant show to come out of Showtime, but it did have it’s moments, and it could have had more… yet fate was not kind to Rodrigo and company. In memory of the show that was, I present to you a brief review of the show in the context of plot, character portrayal and theme.
On The Plot: Brilliant Beginning, Exciting End
The Borgias begins just as Rodrigo buys his way to the papacy: introducing us to the scruples that we will come to know and love in the course of the show. Season three, Episode ten wraps up in the completed siege of Forli and an ending that is particularly symbolic: Cesare claims his sister Lucretia as his, and his alone. Much can be said about the content in between, but I must point these two seminal moments out because they present us with two things, a brilliant beginning and a positive end, an end that we will come to embrace once we have come to love the show (just as I have). We come to root for Cesare and Lucretia, and applaud the prospect of them finally being able to be with one another at the right place, and at the right time.
It makes one come to the conclusion that the Borgias ended at the right time (with no loose ends): Alexander was victorious, Catarina was imprisoned, and Cesare got his girl. On the other hand, one cannot help but wonder about the possible plot points that could have lengthened the show… interesting historical stories that could have made for interesting television.
On Acting: Able, but Not Awards-Worthy
Jeremy Irons did a brilliant job of keeping the show on it’s feet. He delivers a memorable performance as the naughty pope, a feat attributed solely to his shear talent as a thespian. Yet despite such, Irons has done better. Irons’ co-stars are as able as the lead: Francois Arnaud is both romantic and tough as the clever Cesare, Holliday Grainger brings balance to Lucretia, and David Oakes plays a brilliant fool as Juan, mixing shear immaturity with the mischievous attitude of a six year old boy. Stunning actress Lotte Verbeek does not let her seemingly timid tone take her performance down as the smart and sensual Giulia Farnesse, Rodrigo’s mistress. British actress Joanne Whalley holds her own as the mother of the Borgia children, a woman whose maternal instincts make her the glue that holds the family together.
On the Theme: Family, in the Context of the 16th Century
Methods aside, the Borgias is a powerful advocate of the love for family. Yet, it does take such to an extreme (case in point: Cesare’s murder of Juan due to his ‘shaming’ of the Borgia name). But can we blame them? If we were to grasp the story from a historical perspective, perhaps such methodology would make extremely perfect sense. We’re looking at a powerful family, eager to keep the power, and the reputation that comes with such power. To them (or at least to Cesare), Juan was the weak link: an out of control black sheep whose continued existence would prove to be detrimental to the family name. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s about family, family, family, and that’s something you can’t go wrong about– a positive theme presented in a not-so positive manner.
On Acting: ***.5
On Plot: ****
On Production Design: ****.5
On Feel: *****