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Review: The Borgias. Season 1, or Why Catholicism is Still the Most Badass Religion in the World


Most Catholics are just born into their religions. One of, or both, their parents were Catholics, usually. But they don't really know how badass their religion is. Every form of Christianity branched out from the Catholic line. Catholics have the most extravagant buildings, and have the most expensive, gold-laden artifacts ever. They have lots and lots of real estate, and in most predominantly-Catholic countries, are exempt from paying taxes.

But if you're a Catholic and think that your religion has been goody-goody since the time Christians were thrown into lion's dens, think again. Showtime (the same people who brought you Dexter) now brings you Catholic drama that will make you cringe with shame. Ladies and gentlemen, one of the most reviled persons not just in Christian history, but in the history of the world, I give you Rodrigo Borgia, a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI, portrayed by Jeremy Irons, who also voiced the equally despicable Uncle Scar from The Lion King.

1. "The Poisoned Chalice"

Cardinal Borgia in pre-orgasm.

When Jesus Christ offered his blood in a cup, he didn't realize that hundreds of years later, his successors would be spilling blood by offering poison in a chalice. This is crime on a higher scale, a heavenly scale even. Which is why even the Pope is humbled by the sheer weight of his office. But only for a few seconds. The Renaissance Popes were never humble.

2. "The Assassin"

She deserves her nickname "La Bella".

The first time I saw the scene where Pope Alexander VI creeps into Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek)'s bedroom, I felt sick to my stomach. Sick to the point of throwing up. I was so ashamed of my Catholic faith. But it's not the type of shame that would want me to deny my Roman Catholic roots. It's the type of shame that would make me want to tell people, "Please forgive the transgressions of my ancestors. They knew not what they were doing."

3. "The Moor"

Moors are handsome sons of bitches.

Oh look! It's that Dothraki guy from Game of Thrones! And look! He also gets snuffed with a pillow! Just like Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones! Awesome!

4. "Lucrezia's Wedding"

Girl-on-girl. Praise God.

Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger)'s hand has now been given to an Italian─a Sforza, to be exact. And as the Papal family throws one extravagant wedding, one person is noticeably missing─the bride's mother, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley). She was excluded because she wasn't of noble birth. Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) meanwhile meets up with a famous historical figure: Niccolo Machiavelli (Julian Bleach), ambassador of the Florentine House Medici. And Della Rovere escapes assassination. By assassinating. Kill or be killed, right?

5. "The Borgias in Love"

Pope Alexander and his bling.

A married Sforza life doesn't seem to suit Lucrezia. She prefers stable boys to noblemen. Can't blame her there. Cardinal Cesare (François Arnaud), meanwhile, finds some new tail to chase. A married tail, sadly, but tail nonetheless. Are there no actual celibate clerics during this time?

6. "The French King"

For a Pope's daughter, she's quite the slut.

With every series, I usually have my favorite character by the third or fourth episode. This is already the sixth, and still I have no favorite character. Cardinal Sforza (Peter Sullivan), maybe, but he doesn't have that much screen time. Or maybe Cardinal Cesare Borgia, only because his dilemma is the most intersting in the entire show. But still, a show in which I have no favorite character bodes very ill.

7. "Death, On a Pale Horse"

The Borgia cardinal has the most bling.

Italians don't have a word for "cannon"? Really? Well now they do, as France lays waste to the walls of Lucca (♪I live on the second floor♫). Sancia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), meanwhile, continues to fornicate with her brother-in-law behind her child husband's back. The slut. Cesare, on the other hand, never gives up, still trying to force Ursula (Ruta Gedmintas) into one more night. The slut. And Lucrezia has taken things with the stable lad too far. The slut.

8. "The Art of War"

Like Age of Empires.

Ande now, it's wartime. Or is it? Wait, why is the papal army in retreat? Is it because of those cannons? Or those chained cannonballs? Woah, what the hell? Okay, too gruesome. War is gruesome. So gruesome that everyone's fled Rome. But not the Pope. Nope. He's even dressed for the occassion─in rags. No, just kidding. In Jedi robes. Which is a lot like rags.

9. "Nessuno (Nobody)"

One big happy papacy.

King Charles (Michel Muller) finds the Pope himself in Jedi Robes. Sweet. Pope Alexander is one cunning devil. Lucrezia's pregnancy now hits the fan, and of course the Borgia family will stand behind her, even if the father is a mere stable lad. King Charles thinks he can outsmart the papacy by nominating Cesare as papal legate to Naples. But the joke's on him, once they discover that Naples has been plagued. No one messes with the only person powerful enough to force a divorce out of Giovanni Sforza's mouth, or to get the entire College of Cardinals in sackcloth and ashes.

The series boasts of great writing by Neil Jordan, and great costume design. It's almost as good as an HBO series. Almost. There isn't that much sex, though.

What's remarkable as well is how Americans can pull off a show that throws the oldest line of Christianity in a bad light. As if history hasn't thrown enough bad light on it already. Imagine doing something like that in the Philippines. You'd never even get a green light to get past the synopsis stage and write a full-length script. Ah, Catholics. What a crazy bunch.

The Borgias. Canada/Ireland/Hungary. 2011.

Rating: Seven and a half out of ten.


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