THE BORGIAS “The Moor” Review

THE BORGIAS "The Moor" (Showtime)

THE BORGIAS “The Moor” Season 1 Episode 3 – First thing is first: how awesome is that opening title sequence? A supreme mash of sex and blood which sets us up for an episode filled with…well, not quite as much blood and sex as the opening title sequence would suggest.

The Tudors also had this problem. These eras in history make for a delicious read, but when they’re stretched out over the course of a television series the taste quickly becomes bland. Two people talking to one another have made for the best sort of entertainment, but it can also be dreadfully dull without the key ingredient: tension.

The problem we have here is that these characters are unable to shake off their historical shadows: we’re not rooting for Cesare on that television show on Showtime. We’re rooting for Cesare from fifteenth century Italy, if even. Many people compare The Borgias to The Tudors, but really it should be likened more to Deadwood or I, Claudius. The latter takes one character, Claudius, and presents everything from his point of view which affords us the chance to root for Claudius and share in his glee and despair when horrible things happen to those he despise or cares about. The former took place in another century, involving real, historical characters, and created a story about moral corruption, chaos and isolation.

The Borgias, alas, does not make use of either technique. It gives us several characters and these characters act out of jealousy or greed or lust against other characters, but I don’t know these characters. They glower and say snide things, sly things and things that are meant to be cruel, but I don’t care. The Borgias is entertaining because it’s a show where we get to see a guy garrotted in a public swimming baths (we’ll ignore the fact that there were no guards and that about a dozen men fled in terror because of this one guy) and a bizarre and totally unnecessary but nonetheless quite cool shot of a recreation of the Last Supper, with stuffed, rotting corpses, but aside from scenes such as these, which are pretty much trailer substance, The Borgias have no characters I actually care about, and therefore I don’t care about what they do.

With one exception: Augustus Prew’s campy villainous performance as Prince Alfonso was by far the best thing in this show.

When Rodrigo embraces Cesare and asks him to “accept this calling” we know this is an important moment, not because the episode has been building to such a moment, but because the music tells us so.

Cesare is a very inconsistent character. When he sticks his thumb into a garrotted watermelon and gleefully says, “One almost feels pity for the man,” we are supposed think that he is a dangerous fiend, but when his father ponders assassinating the Muslim Djem for a price, Cesare is morally horrified.

“She can meet her betrothed before she’s bartered like a golden calf.” In fifteenth century Italy, I really doubt even the most progressive woman would say that. Nor was domestic abuse commented on in public, and I highly doubt it would have been regarded with such disgust. Of course the weird scene of possible suitors filing in for Lucrezia’s hand was clumsy and unfunny, probably because of all of the fifteenth century in-jokes, but mainly because the scene was simply unfunny.

Djem’s desire to become a Christian is a microcosm of the show’s major problems. I’m not dismissing his desire to convert to Christianity, but it came across as sudden, insulting and unintentionally racist (I hope, though all of the “in my country…” anecdotes could have been ripped right off of FOX News). We don’t know anything about Djem (aside from the fact that he fancies Lucrezia). He says he has read the Gospels and admires the kindness of Christians, but that’s hardly reason to change religion. And why was that scene written in the first place, when Juan had Djem poisoned one scene later?

I wish The Borgias was a better show, but it takes itself far too seriously without characters to root for. It’s not a bad show however, and perhaps down the line, when the characters are better established so I don’t have to consult to find out which character is which then I may care more about their trials.

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below.

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