We all have our vices. Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) is addicted to power, money, and women. I'm addicted to watching him. 'The Borgias' isn't a great show by any means. It's entirely too melodramatic for its own good. The third season, especially, has a penchant for introducing new plotlines, gargantuan in nature, only to write them out of the show's overall arc in the next episode or two. As soon as you feel like the show has nailed down exactly what the main conflict of the season will be, it switches it up on you, resolves that conflict, and introduces a new even more unbelievable one. It's like a period soap opera with a larger budget and more blood.
The second season ended with Pope Alexander struggling to breath, blood pouring from his eyes and mouth. Banished cardinal, and mortal enemy to the Borgia Pope, Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore) carried out his devious plan of murder by poison. By placing his young assassin in the Vatican as the Pope's food taster, the plan was foolproof. Only, if we've learned anything from 'The Borgias' it's that the Borgia family is just about the luckiest group of people in Italy. Sure, they constantly have threats thrown in their faces, but they narrowly escape every time. I would compare them to a cat with nine lives, but heaven knows they've already used up all their lives a long time ago. Let's just say I've pretty much given up wondering if any of this show is based on historical fact. It's far too dramatically convenient to be. Yet, I can't stop watching.
Something 'The Borgias' does really well is what other period dramas have mastered. The intricacies of Roman politics are complex and dangerous. No one portrays the dangers of political power as well as 'Game of Thrones,' but 'The Borgias' does a decent job nonetheless. There's a constant feeling of dread that one wrong move politically can land the whole Borgia clan in some dank castle dungeon.
Season three introduces Caterina Sforza (Gina McKee) as the main antagonist. Overseeing her vast kingdom of Forli, Caterina is sick and tired of listening to this blasphemous Borgia Pope. She continuously concocts assassinations and battle strategies to try to rid the world of him. At home in Rome, Pope Borgia is inundated on all fronts. His daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) is walking around the Vatican with a bastard child and must find someone noble to marry in order to help shore up the family's foreign alliances. His son Juan (David Oakes) is an incompetent military leader who revels too much in Rome's brothels. His other son Cesare (François Arnaud) is an adept military mind, but has been asked to stay in the Vatican as a cardinal so he can counsel his father. Only Cesare wants more. He wants the army Juan has, yet he finds himself stymied at every turn.
Perhaps the most interesting person in the series, and especially this season, is Cesare's right-hand man, Micheletto (Sean Harris). There have been quite a few badass characters on television over the years. Micheletto deserves to be listed right up there with the baddest of the bad. Out of everyone in the show I feel like Micheletto is the only one who could also survive in the cutthroat land of Westeros if somehow he was transported there. Watching his character evolve is, for me, the real pleasure of this final season.
Unfortunately, like HBO's 'Rome,' 'The Borgias' succumbed to the exorbitant costs that are required to make a believable episodic period piece. The fact is that the show never ended where creator Neil Jordan intended it to. Rumors of a two-hour wrap-up movie were floated around, but never materialized. The scrapped movie was released in e-book form last week for those die-hard fans that need some catharsis (me being one of them). Sadly, an e-book is no way to end a show that people invested so much time into.
I felt like the third season was immensely entertaining at times and deeply flawed at others. Though, it's almost impossible to recommend since it doesn't end where it was intended to end. Yet another high-concept, high-budget show cut off before its planned finale because of budget constraints. Committing to a TV series is an obligation that eats up a lot of time, and I can't recommend one that ends with a story wrap-up available solely on e-book. That just doesn't seem right.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season three of 'The Borgias' comes in a 3-disc set. Each of the discs are 50GB Blu-rays. They're housed in a standard keepcase with a swinging arm that holds two discs back-to-back, with the last disc housed in its own hub inside the back cover. There is an episode list printed on the inside of the artwork so you can see the episode information after you open the case. The list simply contains episode titles and synopses. One thing to note is the extremely annoying hardcoded Showtime intro piece on the first disc. Every time you turn on the first disc you're greeted with a three minute-long commercial for Showtime shows. There's no way to skip past it. It's extremely frustrating.
I'm continually impressed with the visual prowess of 'The Borgias.' It's easy to see where the show's budget went, especially when viewing it through an HD lens. Everything from the texture of Rodrigo's illustrious robes, to the dirt covered faces of the hordes of destitute peasants looks completely realistic. In contrast a show like Starz's short-lived 'Camelot' looked cheap and presenting it high definition magnified it cheapness.
Here detail is as rich as ever. The show has never really had a filmic look to it. It's a clean, digital picture, but still has discernible dimension. Shadows are deep and add amazing depth to the picture. Colors are bold and vibrant. The sets are dressed immaculately. The opulent nature of the noble life pops off the screen. Sparkling gold and crimson red dominate the color palette.
As with past seasons, I didn't notice any signs of artifacting going on. Banding, aliasing, and anything else that may distract from one's viewing pleasure aren't found here. What you get is another great looking Showtime presentation on Blu-ray.
The show's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is almost as impressive. It's a full-bodied surround sound experience that outdoes most other TV shows. It has an notable array of ambient effects that add to the experience. Most of the time it's hard not to feel like you're in the center of the Vatican.
Rear channels get a hefty workout here. They're constantly alive with all sorts of frenzied action. Whether it be a party full of dancing and music, or the hushed whisperings of conspiracy within the Vatican walls. There's a nice echoing effect that happens whenever scenes take place in the cavernous hallways or rooms of the Vatican.
Dialogue is always clearly heard. Even the show's penchant for whispering most of its important lines isn't a deterrent. Irons usually grumbles a lot of his lines, but it's captured and reproduced through the front and center channels easily. The show's striking and memorable soundtrack is forceful. LFE is plentiful during battle scenes as cannons explode and horses thunder across open fields. The bottom line is that if you were pleased with the subsequent seasons you'll be very pleased with how this one turned out.
As we all know, Showtime is probably the absolute worst in offering any kind of meaningful special features for their shows. Instead they use this almost exclusively as a cross-promotional tour of their other shows.
'The Borgias' ended up getting canceled before Neil Jordan and his team could finish it off properly. It's hard to recommend people get into a show that ends with an e-book conclusion. Still, if you've made it this far into the show, it's worth taking on the third season. There are some great character arcs. The story arcs are dropped by the wayside faster than one might suspect. However, many of the show's mainstays evolve and grow, which is exciting to see. With stellar video and strong audio, this will make a great addition to anyone's collection. Yet, knowing the show doesn't finish off where it was meant to bumps it from recommended to a "for fans only" recommendation.