By John Keegan
Mostly an episode devoted to setting up the events to come in the finale, this installment explores the fallout from the debacle at Forli and Lucrezia's attempt to capitalize on her seductive talents. Both plot threads lead to strife between brothers that will hardly come to a good end.
Juan is a total mess. The festering of his leg wound is a palpable metaphor for the rot that is setting into his entire existence. It's unlikely that the syphilis would drive him to madness this quickly, even in the days before reliable medicinal treatment, but the writers are using Juan to explore several of the issues that the Borgia men endured. And it's not a pretty sight.
I'm more convinced than ever that Juan's impending fate, dictated by history, will not simply be a military defeat. It's never been proven, but Juan's death is sometimes attributed to Cesare. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that's where the writers go with all of this, because they've been playing up the rivalry between the brothers since the season premiered. And it would do much to offset the mildly heroic depiction they've given Cesare up to this point.
They have been darkening up Cesare quite a bit of late, particularly in his decision to let Juan get ambushed, but he hasn't completely given up his sense of morality. After all, he follows his father's wishes when it comes to the Sforza boy, even if it means complicating matters in the future. The growing problems in Florence, as well as the feud with Juan, ought to push him into more villainous territory. (And frankly, I like him better when they make him the monster history says he was!)
Lucrezia may have been given a solution to her duty vs. lust problem, but her implementation of the principle demonstrates that she's not quite past her innocence just yet. She gets the notion of marrying one brother for business and taking the other brother for pleasure, but she's far too open and direct about it. This could very well explain why this betrothal doesn't quite add up against historical record; Lucrezia's attempt to get the best of both worlds is likely to explode in everyone's face.
Meanwhile, the plot to assassinate Rodrigo is finally starting to weave into the larger narrative, as his food taster is murdered. The writers have been telegraphing this one to the hilt, given the emphasis on the very specific culinary restrictions of the Lenten season and the prominence of the Pope's taster in those scenes. There's no question where the entire thing has been going, so there's very little tension to it. It's not even a question of whether or not Rodrigo survives, but rather how, and whether or not this will somehow fold into Juan's demise from a narrative perspective.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.