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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Borgias make "The Confession"

 Showtime's The Borgias concluded its second season last week with "The Confession." Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons) mourns the death of son, Juan (David Oakes), coming not long after losing a younger son, and is disturbed that his other children don't seem nearly as upset about the murder as he is. When Rodrigo vows to find the killer, Cesare (François Arnaud) realizes he must come clean, admitting to Rodrigo that he offed his brother, and asking for Juan's military command. While Rodrigo flounders with this revelation, Cesare goes a step furthering, taking control of the family and ordering that the wedding of his sister, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), proceed, despite his family's grief and objections.

It's hard to single out "The Confession" as a single episode, and judge its story this way. After all, The Borgias is an extremely serial show, with plots continuing for weeks of years, not ending in an hour. "The Confession" is a great finale, bringing to a head many threads, but does not present its own tale, separate from any other installment. Which is not a bad thing, by any means.

"The Confession" will be remembered as the time when Cesare takes control of the Borgia family. In season one, Cesare is a relatively dutiful and obedient son to Rodrigo. But as his frustration with his lot in life grows, doomed to be a cardinal, while watching brother Juan get the military glory Cesare longs for, Cesare strikes out more and more on his own. Taking out Juan is the last straw.

Cesare claims to have killed Juan to protect the family. This claim isn't to be dismissed out of hand. Juan is acting in a disgraceful manner, including lying about an incident where he beat a hasty retreat. Juan's anger makes him unpredictable. His irrational wrath, including hanging the father of Lucrezia's son, makes him dangerous. While Cesare may have some selfish reasons for acting, as well, it will assuredly be a good thing to get Juan out of the way.

The question is, is Cesare growing too big for his britches? He has the audacity to ask his father for Juan's post at the same time that he is confessing to fratricide. He demands a wedding when everyone, including his mother, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), is against such a celebration in a time of tragedy. These behaviors are reckless, designed only to assert authority. If Cesare continues down this path, he may become as dangerous as Juan, thus negating the good deed that he has done.

Lucrezia isn't sad to see Juan go, given his murder of her lover. While Cesare's lack of sadness comes from a not-quite-fully-just place, Lucrezia only wants what is fair, and to protect her family. In this, she ends "The Confession" in a good, considerably happy state.

Jeremy Irons is a masterful performer, and "The Confession" showcases his talent more than any other episode of The Borgias yet. Deeply sorrowful, and blaming himself for Cesare's devious actions, Rodrigo spends much of this season finale in a state of shock. He cannot believe the ruin that has been brought upon his family, through his own fault, he believes. His machinations have not always been with good intentions, but in this pivotal moment, Rodrigo seems devout, and laid out before God's judgment. Irons handles each nuance and scene with such precision, keeping a lid on insanity, but allowing strong depths of emotion to well up in his emotive face, that his acting is a masterpiece of film. This happens not once, but throughout the hour. This is what a true star does!

Then the twist ending. Della Rovere (Colm Feore), plotting all season to end Rodrigo's reign, sees the chance to make his move. His protege, a young man willing to sacrifice himself to take out the pope, poisons Rodrigo, who collapses on the floor. Unlike the martyr, Rodrigo only takes one small sip, and it isn't clear if he survives or not. After all, Della Rovere lives through the same event last season, and the youth ingests the vile brew several times before taking his fatal gulp. Has Della Rovere succeeded?

The Borgias would not be the same without Rodrigo. Cesare, Lucrezia, and the others are interesting characters, and it would still be fun to watch them weekly, but without the head of the family, the show would suffer a serious directional blow. Irons proves his worth yet again this week, and certainly makes audiences unwilling to lose him. Eventually, his day will come, but it seems a little too early to do so now. Especially when Della Rovere hides in the shadows, depriving the pope of a genuine confrontation.

The Borgias has been renewed for a third season, and will return to Showtime next year.

Click here for every review of The Borgias I've ever written. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Buy The Borgias DVDs and streaming episodes.

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