By John Keegan
One of the greatest difficulties in setting up a season arc is avoiding the sense of predictability. It's one thing when a plot element is the result of a logical, organic progression of events; this renders the anticipated conclusion more palatable as a result. When the plot thread seemed forced or too convenient, however, it can detract from the whole.
For the most part, this finale managed to sum up everything that was great about this season of "The Borgias". The adjustments to the historical sequence of events made for a thematically strong set of parallels. Even as the Borgias themselves descend into more and more questionable activities, the threat of the "heretical" Savonarola is cruelly squelched.
The burning of Savonarola is moved up significantly to coincide with the death of Juan Borgia, and the enmity between the Pope and his rival was unremitting. As mentioned in the review for the previous episode, history presents a more complex set of circumstances. Savonarola was dead set against the Borgia rule over the church, but displayed sympathy for Juan's tragic passing.
Lucrezia's betrothal to Alfonso is in keeping with the historical record, but it is moved to this particular moment to demonstrate that she is no less calculating at this time of her brother's death than Cesare. Lucrezia has grown tremendously as a character this season, now that the writers have finally given her an edge, and it's all the better for its subtle nature. Lucrezia is never over the top; she uses her impression of youth as a mask to her true desires.
Considering how well the writers managed to depict the fractures within the family in the wake of Juan's death, I was a bit disappointed by Cesare's confession. It's hard to tell if he is remotely sincere in his desire for his father's forgiveness; it seems more likely that he wants his father to embrace what Cesare has wanted for so long. It felt a bit too abrupt, as if the writers didn't want that to linger into the third season. Of course, they didn't know if there would be a third season, so perhaps it was in the interests of giving the matter a conclusion, should renewal be thwarted. But historically, Cesare was only suspected of a role in Juan's death, so I was expecting (even hoping) that the matter would always be kept to the shadows.
Jeremy Irons stole the show, however, with his poignant display of utter loss over the death of his favored son. It would have been enough to have him carry Juan out and bury him; having him carry a young boy, the representation of how he always saw his son in his heart, was gut-wrenching. The writers do everything possible to make Rodrigo sympathetic, or at least comprehensible in his contradictions, and this is never more apparent than in this moment.
And this is a good thing, because if Cesare's abrupt confession threatens to undermine the episode, the overly telegraphed assassination attempt at the very end desperately requires something to offset it. Nothing could have been more predictable. And since it's highly unlikely that the writers would deviate from history so far as to have Rodrigo die years before his time, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It only serves to bring ambiguity to the whole "forgiveness" question, which is hardly a compelling cliffhanger.
It's too bad that the "shocking ending" was so blatantly obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention, because it robs a surprisingly strong and more consistent season of a truly worthy ending. Especially so, given how most of the episode up to that point was the perfect capstone on the season as a whole. Despite the fumbled ending, I still think this season finally allowed the series to find its footing and meet its potential, and the third season is more eagerly awaited as a result.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.