Last week Lucrezia was married off to a stern brutish man, Giovanni Sforza (Ronan Vibert). He does not suit her young carefree ways, but he very much suits her father’s political interests. Sforza took Lucrezia’s virginity in a most uncouth and savage manner in the previous episode and we see the nightly brutality continued this week. It seems Cesare’s (Francois Arnaud) prophetic words from episode three are proven true. He told Lucrezia, “Most things in life prove to be sad, sis.”
Although in this episode Lucrezia has no contact with her beloved family, since she is locked away in Sforza’s household, there is an interesting family dynamic worth noting from the previous episodes. Last week Cesare begrudgingly performed his sister’s marriage ceremony and at the end of the night’s festivities carried his sister Lucrezia off to her wedding bed and tenderly tucked her in. This is one of many questionably intimate moments between the brother and sister, which have viewers wondering if their closeness foreshadows an incestuous development.
The writer and director of the series, Neil Jordan, explained the relationship of Lucrezia and Cesar during a Showtime interview. “They will never find a bride or a groom that would live up to their expectations having grown up with each other. So, it’s not an incestuous relationship but yet it’s so protective as to be dangerous.”
During a moment of respite from her abusive husband, Lucrezia visits the handsome stable boy Paolo (Luke Pasqualino) who happens to be shirtless and washing up. She flirts relentlessly and he tries to maintain some semblance of propriety. She laments how the fate of the stable horses is better off than her own.
There is an innocent moment when Lucrezia initiates a game of patty cake with Paolo and we see her girlish tenderness allowed to flourish with this young man outside the confines of her tyrannical marriage bed. She may be beaten but she is not yet broken. On a ride in the country she plots with Paolo to cut Sforza’s saddle which, to Lucrezia’s great joy, leads to Sforza breaking his leg and precludes his nightly abuse.
Her brother, Cardinal Cesare, pursues the wife of a baron, named Ursula (Ruta Gedmintas), he met at Lucrezia’s wedding. The baron had greatly offended Cesare by calling his mother a whore. Cesare is driven to destroy the baron and avenge his mother’s name while also pursuing his infatuation with the baroness.
Ursula begs to be delivered from her husband while visiting Cesare in the confessional but later, knowing how violent her husband can be, warns Cesare to stay away. Ursula and the Cardinal are separated by the confessional walls as they are by their positions in life. By the end of the episode Cesare rips those walls down. He duels with the baron and kills him. Cesare’s trusted assassin Micheletto is on hand to help him dispose of the body in the river.
Lucrezia’s other brother, Juan (David Oakes), is presented with a marriage offer, which is played out quite humorously by Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander. A painting is revealed of the homely bride to be and Pope Alexander graciously promises to give due consideration to the offer. His sideways glances and gestures to his son reveal his true feelings on the matter.
Juan later snobbishly declares to his father that he will only marry a princess or none at all. He does suggest the King of Naples’ illegitimate daughter would make a perfect bride for his younger brother Jofre, who is still a child. They need Naples as a political alley to secure Rome’s borders and the papacy.
When Pope Alexander tells his lover Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek) of the idea of marrying off his young son she says, “You are going to ensnare the whole of Europe in your progeny.” His very telling response is, “What else are families for?” This statement sums up how every relationship Pope Alexander has is at his disposal for political gain and power. Although a family man who loves his children, he is also a man of power who will pursue any means to maintain his status.
Cesare is also involved in the politics of Rome on behalf of his father the pope. He travels to Florence and has a talk with Niccolo Machiavelli (Julian Bleach), the Florentine ambassador. He asks him to ignore the previous agreement Machiavelli made with pope dissenter Della Rovere (Colm Feore) to allow French troops to march through Florence. In exchange Cesare promises to suppress a caustic preacher who publicly voices sentiments against the Medici.
Vice Chancellor Sforza, a cousin of Giovanni Sforza who Lucrezia is married to, is sent by the Pope to the Vice Chancellor’s other cousin, the Duke of Milan. The Pope wants to make sure the Duke’s allegiance is with him and his interests. He sends Sforza to pose a threat that they will depose the Duke and put his nephew (who he keeps caged underground, since he lays claim to the title of Duke of Milan) in power. The Duke responds by poisoning his nephew, claiming he died of gluttony.
The anticipation of the series grows as it is yet to be revealed if Cesare will finally rebel against the cloistered path his father has chosen for him and how Lucrezia’s loveless and abusive marriage will play out. Also, the politics of Rome and its many enemies and interests still remain unresolved.
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