TV Report Card | 'The Borgias' Season 3, Overall Series Review


Overview: The final season (hopefully that will change) of the epic series saw the “original crime family”, “The Borgias”, band together to fight off threats from outside of the Vatican walls and within them. After last season’s cliffhanger saw the Pope struggling to cling to life, his ambitious son rose to the occasion to secure the safety of his family and some other things as well.

Storyline Direction: Neil Jordan’s Pope Opus contained everything a melodrama could ask for; lust, greed, forbidden fruit, epic battles, parties galore and a villain who had a pet hawk. Anything you thought could happen probably happened and you didn’t mind. Sadly this will be the last season of the show, should the outpouring of support from millions of fans who want it to return, fall on the deaf ears of the Showtime Network.

Neil Jordan just needed 1 more season to tell the story he had originally intended to. Showtime gave “The Big C” a farewell mini-series and turns its back on this amazing show? That is not right.

It is made even sadder because there was so much that was accomplished on the show and yet so much more story to be told. As hard as it might be to believe, what viewers saw was only half of the story in terms of what else this family got up to, both before the Pope’s death and after. The series did deliver everything it was given the opportunity to and that was quite a bit.

It’s not easy telling a story, where essentially the premise relies upon following the exploits of antagonists. However, these weren’t one-dimensional characters doing bad things. They were the true grey characters that so many of us are thirsty to see. They aren’t perfect people and from the outside, it seemed impossible to understand their actions. The series provided us with greater insight into their motives behind these actions.

It masterfully pulled you into their world, their view of it and you caught a glimpse of what makes antagonists so compelling. If written correctly, you understand they are doing the wrong things for what seems like the right reasons. If you weren’t pulling for “The Borgias” just a little, you need to tweet me or something because I found their charms impossible to resist and would like to know how you did it.

After 2 seasons (now 3) the series was ignored by the mainstream press and awards ceremonies. That didn’t slow down the ambition of the series however, as they were always reaching for something greater than the previous season. This season saw the telling of its most controversial plot point and one that had been tip-toed around since its inception, the close relationship between siblings Cesare and Lucrezia.

Was there something more to it or were we, the audience, just seeing something that wasn’t intended to be on-screen? It remained the lingering question for two seasons. Having no previous knowledge of the legend of the historical Borgia family, I’d walked into the pilot, clueless as to their story.

So suffice it to say upon viewing the pilot episode something became rather blatantly apparent, there was an undercurrent of chemistry between these characters and not the strictly familial kind either. After toying and giving a wink to the audience for so long, fans’ curiosity was finally laid to rest. There was indeed a romantic attraction between them.

It speaks so highly of the writers and the actors that this plot, that could have been easily cast aside as a smutty plot twist contrived to get ratings, instead felt so organic, so inevitable that to have ignored it would’ve ruined the integrity of the series. For someone to have to explain it without context, it sounds insane.

To those who say, “That is disgusting. How could you even watch that?” I have two responses. Firstly, the actors aren’t related; it’s a TV series so calm down. Secondly, you really have to see the show to believe it. It contradicts everything you think it would or could be on paper.

All of the other plots had a challenging time of as being as enthralling as that ever present angle and yet Cesare’s rise to power was equally entertaining to say the least. His battle with his father was one of the soul elements of the series. Their dynamic was always intriguing and it provided for some of the series’ most powerful moments.

Their reconciliation during the penultimate episode was yet another illustration of what this series has done so well, demonstrating the battle between father and son isn’t necessarily a battle between opposing views, rather views that are so closely woven together it is next to impossible for either side to extricate themselves from their respective positions to see they are the same.

Production Caliber: One of the most beautifully filmed shows on TV. The set design was breathtakingly rich and adorned with meticulous accents. The costuming was phenomenal and crafted with impeccable detail.

Performance Quality: Led by Oscar Winner Jeremy Irons (Pope Alexander IV) it was obvious from the beginning that his talent would serve as a challenge for everyone else on the cast to up their game. Every word he spoke was as grandly uttered as the last, a sermon of great magnitude. He carried himself with the gravitas of great importance and kept you hanging on his every word.

The charisma of Irons is pretty much undeniable. His charm and grace redeemed a lot of antics that would’ve crushed a number of other actors under the weight of it. If you are fortunate to see a role where an actor is truly having fun, it elevates the material to a whole other level and you could tell Irons was having the time of his life, or at least appeared to be. He also imbued in the Pope, a warmth and paternal guidance that convinced you of why his children felt such loyalty towards him.

Francois Arnaud had no problem holding his own against Irons as he gave one of the most underrated performance on TV, yet again this season. He is a mega talent and the show was wise to continue to put the amount of story they did behind him. He proved he is more than capable of carrying a show, he is a leading actor. His characterization of Cesare was amazing to behold as he evolved the character through a multitude of stages, seamlessly latching them all together.

 It was the epitome of a grey and brooding performance. You wanted him to be good and yet he portrayed that fall into the dark side with such resonance that you could almost feel the gravitational pull that had him on a collision course with it.  This was outstanding work and the industry buzz surrounding him should be deafening. He currently has two indie films in the works.

He also proved to have a talent that has sadly became a rare gift in TV and movies today; he shared mind-blowing chemistry with his co-star, Holliday Grainger. Hopefully someone in the universe is working on getting these two reteamed as soon as possible and hopefully in roles where they aren’t related.

Their performance together was an exemplary display of a lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry. There was nothing forced about their interactions. It makes all of the on-screen romantic pairings that Hollywood has tried to force on us apparent in its lack of authenticity.

Why the chemistry between actors playing siblings is superior to those who are playing in non-incestuous relationships that we should be rooting for, is another question. As the season waged on, it provided viewers with one of the most sexually charged sequences in recent memory.

As Lucrezia’s marriage consummation to her husband Alfonso was put on display, it was the clandestine moment between her and Cesare that took center stage. It was a scene that relied completely on eye contact, a connection that transcended anything physical and they nailed it.

Grainger, who has already lined up gigs in a Bonnie & Clyde mini-series and the new live-action Cinderella movie starring Cate Blanchett, is a star on the rise as well. Her angelic presence made Lucrezia’s devilish deeds all the more hard to believe despite having just seen her commit them.

Her vulnerability and screen partnership with Arnaud highly elevated the depth of her characterization. It is so interesting to look back at how far she too, evolved her interpretation of Lucrezia from innocent coming of age girl to victimized child bride to woman scorned and eventually, a sexually awakened vixen.

Her performance developed from what she planted at the beginning of the series, that of a naive daddy’s girl who was trying to comprehend all of the rapid changes around her and the loss of her innocence amidst her families’ battle for power. Add to that her portrayal of Lucrezia’s steady confliction that took root as she battled for her happiness and exactly what that would require and you had a sensational character study. 

Rounding out the cast was Sean Harris as the deadly assassin Micheletto who did “The Borgias” bidding through three seasons as he morphed the sociopathic killer into something deeper than a run of the mill psycho, it was a performance that echoed the sentiments of a samurai doing his perceived duty.  

Joanne Whalley was sympathetic as the mother of the Pope’s children, a performance filled with maternal warmth and feminine ambition. Colm Feore was missed this season as the focus shifted towards Borgia nemesis Caterina Sforza played with defiant strength by Gina McKee in a gripping performance. She was a worthy adversary for “The Borgias” as she rivaled them in charm, grace and overall likability. It was a fierce portrayal of a woman warrior.  

Musical Score: The original score offered the perfect amount of dramatic flair and was a wonderful accent to whatever was happening on-screen.

Overall Grade: A+, an always engaging series that featured political intrigue, historical drama and at all times the exploration of family dynamics. This show never held back and for that reason the ride was always an entertaining and unpredictable one. The reason they were able to venture to controversial territory was due to the cast Neil Jordan assembled.

While other shows push storylines that their cast simply isn’t talented or charismatic enough to pull off, “The Borgias” never suffered from any of those issues as it easily had the most charismatic ensemble on TV. There were no limits to where things could venture to and that made it dangerous and exciting to watch. This show deserves to tell the rest of its story. Here is to hoping Showtime changes their mind.

What do you think about “The Borgias?" I want to hear from you about this TV Report Card and any other Eclectic Pop topic. You can do that by tweeting @EclecticPop or commenting below this post. 

If you want to join the cause to #SaveTheBorgias please sign the following petitions:


You can vote to save the show here:


Special thanks to @DaughterOfLaeta and @Fay_TheGreek for sharing these links with me on Twitter!

[Images by Showtime]

2 comments

  1. I thank you for so eloquently expressing what I have been thinking for three plus years.
    We cannot understand why everyone on Gods green earth doesn't see what we see..
    I believe it is because the casual viewer would have moved on to a vampire or superhero.
    The Borgias requires attention, focus, a thinking process, and time for revelations slow unfolding. A willingness to be caught up, enraptured by a power bigger than your conscience and the fortitude to recover from the gut wrenching impact Mr Arnaud has on your emotions. Casual will not do.

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    1. Thank you for the kind and incredibly thoughtful comment. I completely agree that 'The Borgias' pacing cannot be appreciated without long term focus. It's a truly human drama and those are hard to come by these days.

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