Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Controversy surrounded this final season of Showtime's series about the most notorious papal family in church history.
Pope Borgia (Jeremy Irons) has been poisoned and the enclave is in an uproar. His enemies maneuver themselves into positions of power, while his daughter Lucretzia (Holliday Grainger) employs her knowledge of charcoal powder to save his life. His unexpected survival sends his adversaries running for the hills, some of them burning the Vatican archives on their way out. His only remaining son, Cesare (François Arnaud), fights to maintain military authority with limited financial resources, while the Pope believes his survival requires a newfound piety. His mistress, Giulia (Lotte Verbeek), knowing she's about to be overthrown in favor of his first love, hopes to position herself as invaluable to the Vatican through her priest brother.
Meanwhile, the Pope's most dangerous and powerful enemy plots against him... and an unexpected hitch in Lucretzia's impending marriage spirals the family into scandal. Where last season had more footing, this one wanders a bit in uninteresting directions, ranging from the contrived spy love affair (between two men) to the series' pivotal plot twist -- incest between siblings. Political maneuvering bog it down, where occasional moments of levity and peril remind us how good it could be with more effort (and less emphasis on shocking its audience). The cancellation after the filming of the usual cliffhanger ending leaves us unsatisfied as we ponder the future of these characters.
As usual, the acting is first rate from the leading cast and Holliday Grainger in particular comes into her own as she embraces the infamy of Lucretzia's true legacy as Rome's most notorious mistress of poison. The script plays fast and loose with history, and earlier established characters drop into the background or vanish completely in favor of newer ones... that I never really became attached to. For someone who always liked the affection as siblings between the Borgia family, the incest-driven development was an expected but unwelcome surprise. It taints what was the only "pure" relationship in the series, leaving me no one to root for.
Graphic sex scenes (between unmarried couples, married couples, homosexual couples, and siblings) that often include female upper nudity; backside nudity on men several times; crass sexual language; a man and woman consummate their marriage before witnesses (including her brother).
F-words, profanities, and abuses of Christ's name.
Men are shot with arrows, stabbed, poisoned, and eaten by carnivorous fish (we see a bloody mass splashing around in the water); they spit up blood after being poisoned.
The Pope conducts affairs with unmarried and married women.