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While not stunning in its excellence, the season finale of Showtime's The Borgias was entertaining. With a little sex, a little violence, and plenty of political intrigue and manipulation, the first season's final episode epitomized everything the series has been about so far. Though by no means the best episode, “Nessuno (Nobody)” was still a fitting close to the first chapter of this provocative period piece.
King Charles arrives to find Rome deserted, it's made clear that
Lucrezia's efforts to affect peace have succeeded; though there being
no one left for the French army to kill might have helped. Seeing
the young Borgia win Charles over from Della Rovere's influence
reaffirmed how far she's come since her first days as a doe-eyed,
naïve girl. Lucrezia's powers of persuasion are still pale in
comparison to the Borgia patriarch however. Pope Alexander's meeting
with King Charles was a thing to behold, and not only for how
gorgeous the surroundings looked (which they did); Irons' performance
was one of his best in the series so far. Rodrigo was very lucky in
how devout Charles turned out to be, but it was his ability to read to the
French king and feign piety that truly turned the tide in his favor.
Appearing in his simple friar's robes, Rodrigo's cunning deception
put a sinister second meaning on his line, “Display has
its purpose, but simplicity must rule our hearts.”
By treating the Papal crown as if it were a burden, Rodrigo managed
to convince Charles that he was the right man to wear it while
endearing himself to the King by offering God's forgiveness and
guidance, which Charles was desperate for. In an arrangement only a
Borgia could maneuver, Rodrigo secures his papacy for the price of
Naples, expelling any worry over his immediate deposition.
With King Charles pacified, Rome's populace can return, including the College of Cardinals. Though they had been waiting to see Rodrigo stripped of his power, the cardinals are now forced to return in shame for abandoning the Vatican in its most desperate hour of need. This leads into another amazing scene with Pope Alexander and another brilliant performance by Irons. The disgraced cardinals must attend their meeting with the Pope clothed in sackcloth and ashes; Rodrigo once again dons his holy vestments to further remind them of their place. Making Sforza be the first to kneel was the kind of vindictiveness that Irons excels at portraying, not that the vice-chancellor shouldn't be placed first amongst those who have betrayed the Pope after promising support. The contrast between the cardinals buying their way back into Pope Alexander's good graces and him having to buy them off in the first episode was handled beautifully. It was gratifying to know that they were perhaps even giving back some of the estates Rodrigo had turned over to them when he originally purchased their allegiance.
Unfortunately not everything worth mentioning about “Nessuno” is positive and one storyline in particular brought it down quite a bit. The amount of time spent on Lucrezia's wedding annulment seemed to serve more as filler than real plot advancement. It was completely necessary for the story, but the plot took up far too much of the episode and wasn't generating the drama one would expect from a season finale, instead focusing on comic relief. From the start it seemed to be headed downhill, including Cesare and Micheletto's unrealistically easy escape from the French army, which Cesare had been condemned to travel with on their journey to Naples as a papal legate in name, and hostage in everything but. After the duo abducts Giovanni from Pesaro (quite roughly) and returns with him to Rome, the long process of convincing him to agree to the annulment begins. Giovanni must choose between the embarrassment of fornicating in front of the Pope and Cardinals or the humiliation of agreeing with Lucrezia's false testimony on his impotence. These scenes felt notably melodramatic, especially once the two courtesans arrived to test Giovanni's “potency.” Watching Giovanni suffer – not only for his treatment of Lucrezia, but for not fulfilling his promise of arms to aid Pope Alexander – should have been a moment to relish, but turned out to be the low point of the episode. It wasn't enough to ruin “Nessuno,” but the plot did knock it down from great to good.
The final moments see the Borgia's gathering for the birth of Lucrezia's child. The heartwarming scenes of their family surrounding the new addition played well against the harshness of the scenes in Naples. King Charles arrives there to find a pestilence of death, with corpses piled high in two rooms of the palace. Inevitably the French King will hold Pope Alexander responsible, if only for knowing of the plague when he turned over Naples. What effect this will have for the Borgia's, the papacy, and Rome itself, particularly now that Pope Alexander is more powerful than he's ever been, will have to wait for the second season. We know whatever happens, though, it will be taking place in masterfully crafted sets, with well-written dialogue, and performed by a capable cast.