[Contains soiled chestnuts and SPOILERS!!!]
The third season of Neil Jordan’s The Borgias (2013) saw ‘Caterina Sforza’ (Gina McKee) promoted to main antagonist status… though in many ways she was really the secret heroine of the series. She spent much of this season plotting away in the fortified-city of Forli like a Bond-villain, sneakily assembling a coalition of second sons and noble bastards to help her fight Rome’s first family… but we also got to see her face off against the Pope in person, when she rocked up to Lucrezia’s (second) wedding to kiss the papal ring with a mocking smirk, then taunt/tempt Cesare with her awesomeness, and brazenly toast her co-conspirators across the dance floor as if she didn’t have a fear in the world! (ep #3.3) She really was a straight-up, stone-cold badass… and the episode where she faked a miracle (by pumping “blood” through the eye-holes of a Jesus-shroud) to waylay pilgrims and deprive the Vatican of their penitent donations was genius! (ep #3.8)
Sadly, this season ended with her being out-manoeuvred in battle and brought to heel in Rome*… though I was heartened that Cesare honoured her as a “legend” even in defeat, transporting her back to the capital in a golden cage, and giving her a private suite at the Castel Sant’Angelo. (ep #3.10) I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I impulsively purchased this boxset, but it was worth every penny just to see McKee resurrecting/channelling “The Tiger of Forli”, and acing every scene she was in! She’s pretty adorable in the “bloopers” too…
‘Lucrezia Borgia’ (Holliday Grainger), on the other hand, fell even further in my estimations when she jumped into bed with her brother, Cesare… not because of the incest itself, but because she was such a spoiled brat about it. With all the time-compression and the casting of a twenty-something actress, it’s hard to know exactly how old the character was supposed to be during these episodes… but she’d still have come off as extremely immature here, whatever her chronological age. I also thought it was funny that she seemed to have earned this totally unfounded reputation for poisoning people, despite the fact that she’d personally saved more people from poison than she’d murdered! I guess the other characters had just been listening to malicious gossip? Either way, I definitely think she peaked in season one in terms of sympathy and cheer-worthiness, and it’s been downhill ever since… though Grainger remains exquisitely beautiful, both in and out of period costume. Bless her.
As for the supporting cast: Melia Kreiling returned in ep #3.4 as ‘Bianca Gonzaga’… though her character seemed to have undergone a breakdown since we last saw her, devolving from a sassy sex-pot into a Bible-quoting “bunny-boiler”. Obviously the script tried to attribute this personality transplant to a forced abortion (of the Pope’s illegitimate child), but there’s so little consistency between her character’s three major appearances over the course of the series, I couldn’t help thinking the writers were simply making stuff up on-the-hop as an excuse to keep bringing Kreiling back. I can’t say I blame them, because she’s clearly a very talented (and comely) actress, but watching all her episodes in close succession was pretty damn disorienting. The same episode also featured a cameo by Wendy Nottingham as a grateful ‘Abbess’ who benefits from a defrocked cardinal’s wacky scheme to steal back a bunch of property deeds from the Vatican and return them to their rightful owners.
Linda Marlowe debuted as an anonymous ‘Old Lady’ in ep #3.5, meeting Lucrezia by chance in a Neapolitan forest, and warning her about the poisonous flora that grew there… then returned for a further three episodes as the imprisoned princess’s co-conspirator and go-to witchy-wise-woman. (ep #3.7-9) Meanwhile, Cesar’s diplomatic jaunt to Avignon brought him into contact with Queen ‘Joan of France’ (Sophie Goulet), who seemed blissfully unaware that he was there to dissolve her marriage to the King via a papal annulment. In a previous episode, it had been implied by a French envoy that she was hideously malformed, but she was actually very attractive… though she was written as a haughty harridan, which seems a bit off, considering (in reality) she was later canonised as a saint! On the plus side, she did introduce Cesare to his feisty French bride-to-be ‘Charlotte D’Albret’ (Ana Ularu), who seemed quite happy to be left behind in her home-country, birthing Borgias and bitching about her soon-to-be-ex-Queen. Tch-tch!
And, er, “that’s all he wrote”, as the saying goes. Apparently Jordan had planned out a four-season-long arc, but the series was cancelled by Showtime before he could bring it to a conclusion… though that was only a year-and-a-half ago, so there’s still a chance that someone could revive it while the cast are around the same ages, right? In the meantime, Jordan bashed out a feature-length script titled The Borgia Apocalypse, which supposedly wraps up some of the major story threads (though not very satisfactorily, according to what I’ve read about it on fan-sites). I have downloaded a copy, but I’m not sure when/if I‘ll get around to reading it… without any pretty pictures to look at, it might be a lot harder to swallow all of the silliness…
* I can’t help thinking she would have fared better if she’d allied herself with an “assassin” who actually killed people rather than just skulking around looking creepy… seriously, what was the point of that ‘Rufio’ character? Everyone kept talking up his reputation, but he didn’t kill a single one of his targets over the course of the season… hell, two of them killed themselves before he even got within a mile of them! Tch!