The Borgias: Season 1
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The Borgias: Season 1

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Here’s the premise for a premium tier cable series. The patriarch of a well to do family is intent on increasing his scope of power and accumulated wealth. Hatch a plot with his son and trusted consigliere he sets about to rig a pivotal election to consolidate his political grasp and employs the services of a deadly but loyal hit man to eliminate those that dared to stand in the way of his Machiavellian schemes. You might think that this is a taut modern drama about the Mafia but you would be off by almost five hundred and eighty years. This is not a reboot of ‘The Godfather’ or reimagining of ‘The Sopranos’, it is an exceptionally well crafted series about Pope Alexander VI who reigned over the Roman Catholic Church during the turbulent end of the fifteenth century. Actually, the application of the term Machiavellian while syntactically correct is historically inaccurate. Niccolò Machiavelli was a contemporary of this Pope and his ruthless son and incorporated many of their tactics into his seminal publication, ‘The Prince’. You will only need to see the first few minutes of the initial episode to see how this historical figure helped define Machiavellian strategic method. This will inevitably draw you in but it is the impeccable attention to details and brilliant execution that will keep you coming back for more. This is the kind of series that in many ways better experienced on Blu-ray. This allows you the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the roar of the public pageantry juxtaposed to the subterfuge and intrigue carried out in the shadows. This show contains every element necessary for a captivating story albeit one intended to mature audiences. If you think that period pieces are inherently dry or pretentious then you are about to have a major shift in your perceptions. Showtimes ‘The Borgias’ goes far beyond any mob story you have ever enjoyed where the stakes altered the very course of history. The men depicted here played chess using the nations of the globe as pieces and people as disposable pawns.

The current perception of the Catholic Pope is usually a kindly old man in fancy adornment waving beneficently at the adoring crowds. While crowds of the faithful have always showed the men holding this title in the highest esteem the motivations of the Holly See have changed drastically over the centuries. At one point it was one of the most politically influential positions in the world and men who stop at nothing to obtain it. The series opens in the summer of 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed west to the new world. Pope Innocent VIII was on his death bed and the College of Cardinals has been convened in anticipation of electing his successor. One of the leading contenders for the soon to be vacant office is Rodrigo Cardinal Borgia (Jeremy Irons). He is a shrewd and ambitious man seeking to elevate his family to the highest possible stations in life. He has three children by Vannozza dei Cattanei (Joanne Whalley), his long time courtesan. The eldest is Cesare (François Arnaud), a cleric and trusted advisor of his father. While the conclave of Cardinals is sequestered he works behind the scenes bribing the families of pivotal Cardinals eventually swaying the election in his father’s favor. The white smoke is released and Rodrigo Borgias exits as Pope Alexander VI. This ignites the bitter rivalry between the new Pope and Giuliano Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) who openly hates and opposes the new pontiff. He openly charges the Pope with Simony and seeks to have him declared morally unfit to hold the Throne of Peter. This is quite a realistic ploy since the Pope has taken a young and beautiful mistress, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek). Her position in Borgias’ favor threatens Vannozza who is afraid of being replaced. The other two adult children find themselves at the center of a plot for global domination. The younger son, Juan (David Oakes) was given over to the military, a wise move back then while their sister Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) whose beauty and intelligence was being cultivated to use as a political enticement, the primary function for daughters. Also pulled into this moral and political quagmire is the Pope’s mistress, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek). One thing you might notice here is although women were little more than chattel they were quite expert at manipulating the men to achieve their own agenda. In many ways they were more dangerous than the men. The Pope must hold himself above reproach, at least officially, so through proxy of Cesare condottiero, Michelotto Corella (Sean Harris). This was a position that was basically the assassin or hit man in charge of removing the obstacles to his employer’s goals. This man was deadly, stealthy and fiercely loyal.

This series demands the full 1080p and lossless audio afforded by Blu-ray. The pageantry of the Holy court comes alive with the incredible attention to the textures and color pallet that adds a dimension of realism to the series. The writers waste absolutely no time in plunging the audience into the thick of things. The plots and machinations that Borgias employs to gain the Papal throne just sets the stage for the complicated plans that unfold, intersect and tangle. The usual caveat applies here that this is not the History Channel so you can’t rely completely on the veracity of the material. The thing about the historical figures portrayed here; the real events contained the salacious, deceitful schemes shown here. Still, do yourself a favor and pick up a historically accurate book on the subject. It will have more sex, violence and action than you might imagine. This was the time when the Renaissance was getting underway and mankind was on the verge of major advancements in the arts, architecture and science. It was also the period of time that was dominated by the city states; small by comparison to the world powers of the time but important to the socio-political structure of the world. ‘The Borgias’ is a tour de force of complex writing, powerful acting and outstandingly stylistic direction. It is by far one of the best things to happen to TV in a very long time.

Posted 12/28/11

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