Well, that was a brilliant episode, wasn’t it? Just as good as I expected it to be. The premiere of Carlos, Rey Emperador captured the history period it’s covering perfectly. So much to talk about, so many sets, so many different storylines – the director himself admitted in the special that aired after the episode that he had taken inspiration from Game of Thrones to deal with the complexity of the show. It might be a bit messy to just talk about everything in general, so let’s divide it by plot.
Warning: I will be referring to the characters by their Christian-born name. That is, Spanish for the Spanish, French for the French, etc.
Carlos’s journey: from Flanders to Tordesillas to Valladolid
The story begins with Cisneros, our link to Isabel, writing a letter to Carlos to let him know that his grandfather, King Fernando, has passed away. While Cisneros has been the regent in Castile since Isabel died and Juana was locked away, this power has been shared by both men (even if Fernando couldn’t technically rule in Castile). Now Carlos needs to come back to become the king that will finally make Spain one. But he comes with what seems to be one of the worst advisors ever, or at least one of the greediest: Chièvres –yes, the guy who threw Cisneros’s last will to the fire (idiot).
By the way, are you extremely overwhelmed by the insane amount of new names and characters that popped out on the first episode alone? Because I fricking am! I spent the entire time with Wikipedia open on my phone (as I used to do with Isabel). Thank God the RTVE people know this and, as they did with its predecessor, they have created an interactive map of characters –beware: many more to come!
Because Carlos is advised by this total arsehole whom I hate already, instead of rushing to meet a dying Cisneros, who can tell him who to trust in Castile and, you know, inform him on what he’s been doing with the country for the past 13 years, he goes to visit his mother Juana, who is technically still the queen, so that she can acknowledge him as the legitimate king who will rule “beside” her, mostly to end the possible dispute with his brother Fernando (more on that later). It is through this visit that we learn that all Carlos cares about is his family: okay, he probably doesn’t want to see his mother again, but he does care for the rest. He brings Leonor with him, he is astonished when he finds the state little Catalina has been living in and he wants to have a good rapport with his only brother, one that he has never met.
But alas, Cisneros died (I will miss you) before Carlos could meet him, so all he has left as he gets to his court is reuniting with his little bro so that all disputes can be solved. And they are. FOR NOW (Chan chaaaaan).
The French Court
Oh, these parts were so joyful, so lively. If we could feel the Renaissance in Castile, in France it is completely exploited. We even got to see Leonardo da Vinci! We meet the VERY lusty François I of France (grandfather of François II, who married Mary Queen of Scots). Even with his mother close by all the time, the man just can’t keep it in his pants, not even in the morning of his daughter’s christening. It appears his alliance with Carlos starts weakening for two reasons. The first one is that Carlos rules the world now, basically, and the second one is that he has just pissed off the wrong guy, the wrong guy being Charles III, Duke of Bourbon –he hasn’t got his revenge yet, but you know, Wikipedia.
The seductive (and captivating, I must admit) monarch begins his own personal storyline by falling in love (read: getting infatuated) with Françoise de Foix, who politely rejects him, for now. You never know with these guys.
The New World: Cuba
These scenes were just a breath of fresh air. It was a pity that we couldn’t enjoy more of Colón’s travels instead of just his returns to Castile, but now we get to see the work of his successors thanks to the adventures of Hernán Cortés. In the first episode, Hernán is busy getting in bed with Catalina Juárez, a Castilian. He is set to marry her, but the governor, Diego de Velázquez (nothing to do with the painter), informs him that he cannot go to the next expedition if he is married. Imagine how Catalina feels about it. Disaster, pretty much. But who cares. I cannot wait to see where this Indies storyline goes!
Castile’s Court in Valladolid
If you remember Isabel, Juana gave birth to a boy while she was in Castile (you know, when Felipe returned to Flanders and her parents didn’t let her go while pregnant). She pretty much hated the baby for being the reason keeping her apart from her abusive husband and she left him in Spain. Anyway, the baby was named after his grandfather, and he became his favourite. So much that even when Isabel was dying, he was conspiring to make him the heir, as the little boy was born and raised in Spain.
And even though king Fernando stuck to his wife’s memories and her last will to have Carlos as the rightful heir, that hasn’t stopped the infant Fernando, who is now a bit mad at his dead grandpa for doing this to him. And by his side he has the person whispering Machiavellian ideas to his ear, Germana de Foix, who married the king in 1506 and pretty much raised the now 14-year-old Fernando. Plotting, plotting, plotting. If there is one thing I have learned, is that none of that is going to get them anywhere, especially after Carlos shows up full of brotherly love. The game is over, at least for now. Wait until Carlos sends him to Flanders to silence the possibility of a popular revolt. Well, at least he became Holy Roman Emperor when Carlos died, so there’s that!
But seriously, so much happened, all this new information I have to assimilate, the bazillion Wikipedia pages I’m going to have to read before the next episode (and I’ll still check while I watch it, I’m sure of it), and we haven’t even seen Portugal and England! I’m so excited about it: we will finally get to see the life of Queen Catalina told from a Spanish perspective instead of an English one! That means we are getting a blue-eyed blonde actress as she actually was instead of a stereotypical olive-skin, dark-haired one! But honestly, check the website to be able to learn everyone’s name. I wish they wore a name tag on their colourful Renaissance clothes!
If time allows me to do so, I will be posting my thoughts every week. The journey has begun!
Note: kudos to the characterisations, by the way. It won’t be easy to show characters over a 40-year span and Isabel did a superb work. My mother even asked me if the boy playing Carlos in the first episode was actually Álvaro Cervantes, as he looked like a completely different person (i.e. a 13-year-old) without the bear!
-Oh! I just remembered that Cisneros kept the cross Isabel gave him before she died and he was carrying with him and holding it on his deathbed. Tears. So. Many. Tears.
-Aaaaand another thing I just remembered: kudos to the casting people, because they really got actors who resembled their real-life counterparts! Not just that, but the actors playing Carlos and Fernando, even being blond and dark-haired respectively, have similar facial features, and at the same time resemble Irene Escolar, the actress who played Juana in Isabel. Well done.