Is the Pope's new-found piety genuine? It certainly seems so as he washes the feet of an old woman in a public ceremony celebrating Ash Wednesday. Cardinal della Rovere and his friar friend (Roger Lloyd-Pack) are watching on but are not convinced. In Florence, Friar Savonarola (Steven Berkoff) is also marking the occasion. As several men flagellate themselves, he cuts off a noblewoman's hair as she repents. The di Medicis try and move through the city centre unnoticed but they are spotted by the crowd and forced back as Savonarola preaches against them and the Pope.
Cardinal della Rovere is teaching his young recruit Antonello (Jesse Bostwick) about cantarella. He intends to give him small doses of the poison so that he can build up some resistance to the poison and not succumb to it immediately when he is trying to assassinate the Pope. Antonello drinks a solution of the poison and is wracked with pain.
Their intended target is alone in a confessional and wondering aloud who the Pope confesses to. Cesare interrupts him and asks for his own confession to be heard. Cesare confesses to murdering Giovanni Sforza and sleeping with Caterina Sforza. The Pope asks if he at least managed to convince Caterina to come to Rome in peace. Uh, no. The two leave the confessional and the Pope rages at his son for starting a war just as god shows his displeasure. Cesare asks to be given command of the Papal army but the Pope tells him they do not have the resources and tells Cesare to explain to his sister why she must marry again.
At a dinner with his cardinals that evening, the pope tells the assembled men that they will remain in Rome over Lent and fast with him. The Pope is about to tuck into his paltry sardines when his taster, Brother Bernadino (John Arthur), insists on testing them first. He gives them the all clear and the meal proceeds.
Absent from the meal was Cardinal Sforza who is in Florence, meeting with Savonarola. He invites the friar to Rome to meet with the Pope but Savonarola refuses, telling the cardinal that he has much work still to do in Florence. Sforza then offers him a cardinals hat which Savonarola takes and then throws in his face, telling him that no man can put a price on salvation.
Cesare goes to see his sister, taking with him a small package. He tells her that while he promised her Giovanni Sforza's heart, he was only able to bring her the next best thing: the bloody knife that he killed him with. Lucrezia laments that she would rather have her innocence back. The Pope then comes in and asks her if Cesare has broken the news yet. He hasn't, so the Pope gets right to it, telling her that they need another alliance. Unsurprisingly, Lucrezia doesn't take the news well, asking how the last one turned out. She insists that she will not marry again but the Pope puts his foot down.
Vannozza is bathing when the Pope pays her a visit, asking if she has turned Lucrezia's mind against another marriage. His former mistress replies that she had nothing to do with it, adding that the first marriage saw to that. The Pope asks for her help in marrying Lucrezia off again. Vannozza explains that their daughter still loves Paolo and is reminded of him every time she looks at their son. The Pope tells her that Cesare fucked things up with Caterina Sforza and explains that they need a new alliance to shore things up in the north. He suggests the nephew of the Doge of Venice and asks Vannozza to give him the once over for him. She agrees and he remarks how good she looks but she rebuffs his flattery, reminding him that he has taken a vow of chastity for Lent. The Pope leaves, looking rather glum.
Niccolo Machiavelli (Julian Bleach) is in Rome on official business. Cesare meets with him secretly and Machiavelli reports that the de Medici's house is being attacked and they are fleeing to Rome. Cesare asks about the family's bank and Machiavelli reports that all the money, including the Vatican's deposit there, could be lost. What remains is being smuggled out of Florence.
Vannozza visits Lucrezia, telling her that the Pope has asked her to vet suitors, explaining that at least this way she will have some choice. Lucrezia doesn't see it that way but her mother points out that even when her husband was being cruel to her, she still found love with Paolo. Lucrezia admits that finding love again would be nice and the two hug.
As Antonello recovers from the poison, the Pope is sitting down to another plate of sardines. As his taster examines them, the Pope asks him how he would feel if he did consume poison and die. The taster replies that he would feel happy having died in place of the Pope. After dinner, Cardinal Sforza reports back to the Pope that Savonarola, his power growing daily, turned down the offer of a cardinal's hat. He also reports that Cardinal della Rovere has been spotted meeting with Savonarola and the Pope moodily replies that they should have "dealt with" him sooner. Upon hearing the news that Savonarola claims to speak directly with god, the Pope's mood improves. This could be grounds to excommunicate the friar and even burn him at the stake.
Vannozza, Giulia and Lucrezia are continuing their mission to improve the lives of Rome's downtrodden. Today, they meet with cardinals Piccolomini (Bosco Hogan) and Versucci (Vernon Dobtcheff) in a large abandoned building. Guilia explains that they want to renovate the place to house the poor. The cardinals protest that the office of public works has been drained of funds and Vannozza asks them if Giulia should widen her investigation to include the cardinals' palaces and Rome's brothels too.
Cardinals Piccolomini and Versucci meet with Cardinal Sforza to complain about the women and their obsession with helping the poor, asking how long the Pope's new-found piety will last for. Sforza replies that it should be over by Easter and advises the cardinals to keep quiet and pay for the restoration work.
The Pope asks Cesare to travel to Florence and meet with Savonarola, to tell him that he is banned from speaking in public ("he will laugh in my face", Cesare replies), that he is to be charged with heresy ("he will laugh in your face") and that he is to be excommunicated ("he will deny your right to do so") and that he is to be burnt at the stake.
Machiavelli meets again with Cesare, telling him that some of the Medici gold has left Florence, disguised as alum. He gives Cesare a map of the route and excuses himself. Cesare promptly seeks out Micheletto and orders him to round up the men. Micheletto wonders what kind of reward Cesare could expect for rounding up some of the missing gold and Cesare replies that he wishes to be free of his cardinals robes and given charge of the Papal army.
Vannozza and Lucrezia prepare to meet the nephew of the Doge of Venice. Vannozza tells Lucrezia that the Doge is a wealthy man who dotes on his nephew and asks that she at least meet him. Lucrezia agrees, asking her mother to meet him whilst she watches. Vannozza meets with the man as Lucrezia looks on from above, hidden from view. The Pope joins her and asks for her verdict. It's a no.
Cesare explains his plans to his merry men, promising them a share of the spoils in return for their work.
Vannozza delivers a box full of gold coins to Giulia and Lucrezia, much to their delight. The three toast their success and declare that their work will begin.
The Pope receives Piero de Medici (Cesare Taurasi), asking why he has fled Florence. He explains that angry crowds have thrown stones at him and burned his house. The Pope asks if he has brought the Vatican's missing money with him and he replies that the money is safe but being moved to a new location. He then asks for the Pope's protection and for assistance in dealing with Friar Savonarola. The Pope replies that Cesare has already been sent to Florence to deal with Savonarola and that if he is successful, a new bank will open in Florence: a Vatican bank.
In Florence, Savonarola is just beginning to preach in his church when Cesare enters, accompanied by four Papal soldiers. He tells Savonarola that he has been censured by the Pope and ordered to stop preaching. Savonarola announces to the crowd that he will use the paper it is written on to wipe his arse. Cesare lowers his voice and warns the Friar that he is standing too close to the fire and liable to get burnt.
Antonello has recovered from the cantarella so Cardinal della Rovere prepares some more for him. He drinks it and collapses again from the pain.
In the streets of Florence, suspected sodomites are being stoned. Cesare watches on as a gang of young boys try and take his ring from him. Refusing them, the boys accuse him of sodomy and Cesare and his merry men take their leave. Riding out of the city, they set off for the second part of their mission.
On a misty dirt road, a convoy of wagons is ambushed by Cesare's merry men. The wagons are not as unguarded as they had hoped, with several soldiers hiding inside the wagons. A battle breaks out and Micheletto saves Cesare from being shot with a crossbow. The soldiers are overwhelmed and Cesare climbs into a wagon, digging through the alum to find the gold hidden inside.
Lucrezia is preparing to see her sixth suitor and complains to her mother that what was once an amusing distraction has become tiresome. Vannozza tells her to just pick one, put a strong lock on her door and be done with it. Lucrezia spies on the man, Calvino Pallavicini (David Alpay) but she is apparently more interested in his younger brother, Raffaello (Tom Austen).
Cesare has returned to Rome and brought news of Savonarola's defiance with him. Bringing his father to a window, he shows him the wagons and tells him that they now have enough gold to lay siege to Caterina Sforza's castle in Forli. If they can find the rest, he adds, they could conquer Florence. The Pope asks if Cesare would lead the expedition and Cesare replies that he would. The Pope tells his son that what he asks is impossible. He needs one son in cloth and one in the army, adding that he could never make Juan a cardinal. Speaking of Juan, the Pope adds that he is returning to Rome, apparently a reformed man and bringing with him some battle-hardened conquistadors. The Pope asks Cesare to promise him that he will embrace him like a brother when he returns. Cesare replies that he must do it for him, as he will be in Florence dealing with the Church's business. The Pope leaves and Cesare scatters a handful of Medici coins on the floor in anger.
Well, the mini-battle was a lot better than the last time Cesare's stray dogs saw combat, that laughable confrontation with the French scouts in episode four. Other than that, there was nothing particularly notable about this episode. Cardinal della Rovere was mostly absent and the only Sforza, Cardinal Sforza, didn't do much apart from visit Friar Savonarola. Vannozza had some good moments, particularly when she reminded the Pope that he had sworn off intimacy for Lent. The Pope himself seems quite hamstrung by his new-found piety. Jeremy Irons is doing all he can to squeeze some malevolence into the character but when he can't commit lechery or blasphemy, it's not exactly an easy job. The scene where he plots to have Savonarola burnt at the stake is one of the best from an otherwise average episode. It's a good job Juan's coming back, he'd have been perfect to spice up an episode like this one.
6 out of 10.