The Borgia Bull

Season 1 .09
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"The Borgia Bull"
Characters - The Borgias Fan Wiki

Episode Title: The Borgia Bull
The Borgias Episode #: 2.01
The Borgias Season: 2
Original Air Date: 8 April 2012
Writer: Neil Jordan
Director(s): Neil Jordan
Guest Star(s): Michel Muller as King Charles VIII; Augustus Prew as Prince Alfonso of Naples

In the Season 2 premiere, Pope Alexander VI takes a new lover and throws a grand, pagan fete for the citizens of Rome when a cache of ancient artifacts is discovered; the rivalry between brothers Cesare and Juan spills into the streets; Lucrezia tends to her newborn child; now a pastoral priest once again, Della Rovere narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. [Source]

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Rodrigo Borgia - The Borgia Bull
Name: Rodrigo Borgia
Pope Alexander VI
Played by: Jeremy Irons
Plot connections: Establishes that revenge must be exacted upon families that opposed them; discovers early Roman artifacts and has a citywide party to celebrate their discovery
Giulia Farnese as played by Lotte Varbeek
Name: Giulia Farnese
Played by: Lotte Varbeek
Plot connections: Discovers the Pope's wandering eye and moves to retain her place within his affections
Cesare Borgia - The Borgia Bull
Name: Cesare Borgia
Played by: Francois Arnaud
Plot connections: Finds della Rovere but his poisoning attempt fails; simmering rivalry with Juan begins to boil
Lucrezia Borgia - The Borgia Bull
Name: Lucrezia Borgia
Played by: Holliday Grainger
Plot connections: Still pining for Paolo, she looks for comfort in her child and brother
Juan Borgia as played by David Oakes
Name: Juan Borgia
Played by: David Oakes
Plot connections: Manifests his rivalry with Cesare in sword fight and cheats in a horse race against him
Vonazza dei Cattanei - The Borgia Bull
Name: Vanozza dei Cattanei
Played by: Joanne Whalley
Plot connections: Advises Giulia on how to keep the Pope's interest
Sean Harris as Micheletto
Name: Micheletto
Played by: Sean Harris
Plot connections: Continuing his work as the family assassin, he cuts a loose end; prevents Cesare from killing Juan
Melia Kreiling as Biance Gongzaga
Name: Bianca Gonzaga
Played by: Melia Kreiling
Plot connections: Is hurried out of the Pope's bath prior to Giulia's return to the Vatican
Colm Feore as Cardinal Della Rovere
Name: Cardinal Della Rovere
Played by: Colm Feore
Plot connections: Survives an assassination attempt by Cesare at his new Umbrian parish
Jemima West as Vittoria
Name: Vittoria/Vittorio
Played by: Jemima West
Plot connections: A young art apprentice that catches the eye of Pope Alexander, unable to hide HER secret; is being used by Giulia because of the secret
Augustus Prew as Alfonso
Name: Prince Alfonso of Naples
Played by: Augustus Prew
Plot connections: On the run from the French King, he is captured and tortured for his presumed involvement in spreading the plague in Naples
Peter Sullivan as Cardinal Sforza
Name: Cardinal Sforza
Played by: Peter Sullivan
Plot connections: Raises concerns about the cost of the Pope's celebration
Michael Muller as Charles VIII
Name: Charles VIII
Played by: Michael Muller
Plot connections: Recovering from illness and blaming Pope Alexander and Prince Alfonso for the pestilence in Naples
Additional Cast
  • Altar Boy - James Wilson
  • Aged Nun - Nan Kerr
  • Flunkey - Philip Perkinson
  • French Ambassador - David Lowe
  • Doctor - Edward de Souza
  • French General - Mark Noble
  • French Captain #1 - Edward Akrout
  • Cardinal Piccolomini - Bosco Hogan
  • French Captain #2 - Miklos Turek
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Inspired by the discovery of a caché of long-lost ancient Roman artifacts, Pope Alexander VI throws a grandiose pagan-themed feast for the people of Rome. Meanwhile, Lucrezia tends to her new baby while her brothers Cesare and Juan find their mutual animosity spilling over into outright conflict, culminating in a heart-stopping bareback horse race. Alexander’s mistress, Giulia Farnese, learns that the Pope has taken a new lover and turns to Vanozza for advice…who counsels that there is room for three. Elsewhere, Della Rovere, returned to the simple life of a pastoral priest and narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Cesare. In the south, the former prince of plague-ridden Naples, Alfonso, is hunted down on the slopes of Vesuvius and tortured to death by the occupying forces of a furious – and gravely sick -- French King Charles VIII.
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Church in Umbria - altar boy to Cardinal della Rovere adds poison to the wine before mass, before the cardinal completes the ceremony, Cesare looks up from beneath his hooded cloak. Della Rovere stumbles, and falls to the ground choking on the poison. Cesare issues a warning, that the Borgia are watching him. The cardinal is laying in his bed being attended to by nuns, who are hurried out by Cesare. Micheletto talks with the altar boy outside, pushes him under the water of the well and drowns him.

Rome - chamber music playing, the pope sits by a woman in a bath and caresses her. She asks if she will become his mistress and he tells her no because Giulia is his official, and she is strict and jealous. The scene shifts to Giulia arriving at the palace foyer, and the pope's attendant alerts him to her arrival. Alexander hurries the woman out. The sound of a baby crying rises in the background as the scene shifts to Lucrezia nursing the baby. Rodrigo enters and tells her she must find a wetnurse soon. The pope takes his grandson out of the bedchamber, on his way to the audience hall to receive the French Ambassador. The ambassador complains that Prince Alfonso of Naples is still at large, and was accused of spreading the plague in his own city after he was ousted by the French invasion. The pope derides the French and king for not being able to control the situation, and for waking the baby.

Vatican Palace, the pope's private chamber - Rodrigo is joined by his sons, Juan and Cesare. The lighting is dark and the mood is sinister as he councils them that the time has come to seek vengeance on the papal families who betrayed him during the French incursion, and that the retribution will be devastating on the petty lords of the Romagna, especially the Sforza, who have proven enemies after the Giovanni/Lucrezia divorce fiasco. Rodrigo sternly tells his quarreling sons, "to triumph it will be as one, as family." He warns them not to fight one another, as it will undermine their success at controlling the papal barons. The scene moves to the weaponry rooms, where Juan is testing blades. Cesare walks in and they banter thinly veiled insults. They strike and duel, pulling a crowd and are cheered on in their violent skirmish until Micheletto cuts in and pulls them apart.

The woods - Giulia accompanies the pope on a deer hunt. They follow the quarry into an ancient Roman grotto covered in vines. They discover the frescoes and Roman sculptures in delight. Rodrigo proclaims that they must rpeserve these finds for the glory of the new Rome that will rise under his rule. The scene flashes to Cesare entering Lucrezia's chambers, he sweetly embraces her and they speak of the child's father Paolo, and the nature of forbidden love. She pines for him as Cesare seems to have a lingering overaffection for Lucrezia. The scene flashes next to horseriders galloping at breakneck speed toward Naples in the darkness of night. King Charles is lying in bed sick with Syphilis, and he curses Prince Alfonso and asks the doctor about the mummfied bodies of enemies collected by King Ferrante. The scene over Naples is one of devastation as two men speak while overlooking bodies strewn an the street and other burning on a pyre.

Vatican Palace, Borgia Apartments - The pope fondles the ancient Roman bulll, he calls "the Borgia Bull," while telling Giulia of his ideas to bring back the golden age of Rome. The pope calls for a grand celebration, to honor the finds and give the common folk some much needed joy. Giulia asks, "what then? would you give them bread and circuses?" To which he laughs and says "No, we would give them what is lacking in their" He glances at the boy painting a mural nearby. Giulia takes note of his interest in the painter. The next scene shows the pope and Giulia in bed, he arises and seeks out the painting apprentice. He discovers the boy is a woman in disguise and leads her away, all watched by Giulia, who sees the object of the pope's romantic attention, and that it may turn his interest away from her.

Cardinals are gathered in the chapel - They discuss the pope's plan for the celebration, and Rodrigo reminds them when Cardinal Sforza complains about the cost that "the ancients knew what we seem to have forgotten - Rome is its people!" The pope states that the public festivities will include a horse race, music, feasting, and a masked ball. The scene moves on to Giulia and the apprentice "Vittorio" whim Giulia prods with metaphorical questions about the painter's picture of the bull lacking virility, much like the painter "himself." She warns her, that Giulia has her eye on her, and will use the secret knowledge of her womanhood as long as it suits her.

Naples - Charles tours the greusome parody of the Last Supper and notices the seat of Judas is empty - he then wildly exclaims this is reserved for the Prince Alfonso when he finds him. The French troops and their viscious dogs chase Alfonso down from his hiding place and bring him back to the castle. The prince is lulled into feasting with the king and is taken forcefully to the torture chamber to his fate, screaming as he is dragged through the castle halls.

Rome - the festivites are in full swing, dancing, music, drink, and the horse race all prove a diversion for the people of Rome. The horse race commences, and going neck and neck with Juan, Cesare is upended from his horse. Micheletto discovers tacks thrown by Juan, and gives them to Cesare. The scene shifts to the masked ball inside the palace walls, Giulia and Vanozza are dancing, and they talk about the need for, and advice in keeping the pope's affections focused on Giulia. Lucrezia and Cesare converse as they watch the dancers. Cesare throws the tacks under Juan and he wails and falls down, as Lucrezia and Cesare laugh at their brother's missteps. Elsewhere in the ballroom, the pope is flanked by his sons. He tells them that he is the god Janus this eve, symbolizing the role of the papacy: the pope has two faces, one looks to the future, one to the past. The great wicker effigy of the "Borgia Bull" burns in the square, as the commoners dance and make merrry outside. Inside, Vanozza councils Giulia to allow the pope his fancy, and let his gaze wander both ways (a pun on his Janus mask), but to ensure that one of his gazes falls on Giulia. Giulia later walks up to Vittoria, dressed as a man, masked as Vulcan, and gently leads her away.

Naples - the torture of Prince Alfonso continues, wailing and screaming fills the dungeons.

Pope's private chambers - Rodrigo follows Giulia and his new 'apprentice Vittoria into the bedchamber, curious, and sees them standing close, then they look at him.

Naples - King Charles delights in the sound of the chamber music, as it goes on against the wails of Prince if the music itself was composed just for this moment.

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  • Cesare: "Altar boys and cantarella - neither can be trusted."
  • Lucrezia: "And for the moment you have no need for a marital alliance but if the need arose you would marry me to the moon." Rodrigo: "What, does the sun threaten our papacy now?"
  • Juan: "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord." Pope Alexander: "No, vengeance will be ours."
  • Pope Alexander: "We are family, we are one. And we will only triumph as one."
  • Cesare: "And I know the one sin my father would never forgive is fratricide!"
  • Micheletto: "Killing? Well, we'll have none of that today."
  • Cesare: "Impossible loves. I am very much afraid they can become an addiction."
  • Lucrezia: "There is one your heart must find room for, Cesare. One you must love before you can love anyone." Cesare: "And that one would be?" Lucrezia: "Yourself."
  • Vanozza to Giulia: "Allow him his fancy, let him look both ways; but be sure one of those gazes falls on you."
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Who died?
How did they die?
Altar Boy
Drowned by Micheletto

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  • The Pope, sitting on the chair of St. Peter, holding the Roman Infante and shushing the French Ambassador.
  • Cesare and Lucrezia admiring her child in his cradle
  • Guilia's decision to have a melange a trois with her rival and Rodrigo, in an effort to keep the pope's interest from straying.
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  • Did Prince Alfonso die at the hands of his French torturers?
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How did this episode differ from actual events? Compare the facts with the fiction below!
  • Cardinal della Rovere was exiled to his bishopric in Umbria, an inland region north of Lazio, where Cesare found him performing mass.
  • The pope took a mistress named Bianca Gonzaga, presumably of the noble house of Gonzaga, imperial vicars of the Northern Italian city-state of Mantua.
  • Prince Alfonso was a fugitive, hiding alone the hills surrounding Naples after the French invasion, where he was captured and brought back to Castel Nuovo to be questioned and tortured by the French king.
  • The Pope tells his sons in private that they will now seek vengeance on their enemies, nominal papal vicars of the Romagna and the powerful Sforza clan.
  • The painter apprentice was a student of Bramante, who was a famous architect of the First Renaissance Style in Milan and Urbino.
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  • Cardinal della Rovere's main stronghold was at Ostia, on the coast of Lazio. Orvieto, Umbria was a papal stronghold and he would not have hidden there.
  • The pope may have had other mistresses, but none have been recorded. He was thought to be completely 'faithful' to Giulia for nine years.
  • Prince Alfonso, who was actually the King at this time went crazy, abdicated his throne in favor of his son Ferrante II, and took refuge in a Sicilian Monastery. He died in Messina a year later.
  • The peninsular policy of Pope Alexander VI was less colored by vengeance than political intrigue aimed at setting his children up in positions of absolute power in the Romagna.
  • Bramante was active in Rome only after 1499, when he fled Milan when it fell to the French. He was supervising the completion of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan at this time (1494-1499). The painter hired to decorate the Borgia Apartments was Pinturicchio.
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