Showtime’s The Borgias returns with more decadence, betrayal and sibling rivalry in the season 2 premiere ‘The Borgia Bull’ (2.01). While The Borgias doesn’t officially return until April 8, Showtime has released a censored version of the full episode early.
‘The Borgia Bull’ opens with a botched murder attempt on Cardinal Della Rovere. The cardinal is given poison in a communion goblet, but it isn’t the full dose. The altar boy who was commissioned by Cesare Borgia (François Arnaud) to murder the cardinal quickly is given his reward. The boy is drowned in a well outside the church.
Bitter sibling rivalry erupts between Cesare and his brother, Juan (David Oakes). Cesare resents being in the Church while Juan commands the papal army. The brothers get into sword fight and later compete in a horse race. Juan only wins by cheating; he throws a handful of sharp spikes on the ground to cripple Cesare’s horse.
Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) as Pope Alexander IV also is living a far from a chaste life as the Holy Father. He already is growing tired of his mistress Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek) and is starting to have affairs with other women. His latest interest is toward an art apprentice who is a woman disguised as a man. Giulia discovers this and naturally is jealous of the apprentice.
After Rodrigo discovers a cave filled with sexual Roman murals, Rodrigo has the murals dismantled and taken to the Vatican. Rodrigo is inspired by the decadent Roman artwork and declares Rome should have a festival. Rodrigo’s intention is more pagan than religious in nature. Rodrigo has a costume ball with each of the guests dressing up as a Roman god or goddess.
Rodrigo has a two-faced mask while he dresses in the attire of a Caesar. The Borgias is not much for subtlety. The end of the festivities includes the lighting of a massive bull, symbolic of the Borgia family. Guilia decides she will share Rodrigo’s affections with the apprentice as long as Rodrigo stays interested in her also.
Back in Naples, King Charles VIII of France (Michel Muller) has caught the plague that has spread throughout the city. While Rodrigo Borgia has vowed vengeance on the cardinals and his enemies who betrayed his family during the invasion of Rome, King Charles blames Rodrigo for crowning him King of Naples while knowing the city had the plague.
Charles vows to make Rodrigo pay, but his first priority is to hunt down the Prince of Naples who piled corpses of plague victims into the palace pool and the city square. Charles intends for the prince to be seated at a gruesome banquet table where the mummified remains of the King of Naples’ enemies forever sit in a grotesque mockery of Jesus’s Last Supper.
The prince quickly is captured and is led in chains before King Charles, who is slowly recovering from the plague. Perhaps the most horrific scene in the episode is when the prince is forced to tour his father’s torture chamber and name the purpose of each instrument. One torture device is the Judas Cradle and another the Pear of Anguish, which were real torture devices in the Middle Ages. The episode concludes with King Charles listening to his court musicians while the prince’s agonized screams shriek “in harmony” to the music.
‘The Borgia Bull’ will not disappoint The Borgias fans who are looking for a strong season 2 opening. The premiere doesn’t waste any time. There’s a poisoning, murder attempt and drowning within the first 10 minutes of the show. Fans that enjoy the sensual nature of the series also will see plenty of nudity.
It goes without saying The Borgias is not a “family friendly” show. The torture chamber scene alone is very disturbing, not because of what is shown but what is implied. The fact these torture instruments actually existed historically makes it even worse. King Charles and Rodrigo certainly will become bitter rivals in their quest for vengeance. The one advantage Rodrigo has is he has his conniving family behind him.