Oh, Carlos, you lucky bastard. Just when you are having money problems, someone sends you a ship full of gold. And then you inherit the kingdoms and empires that your grandparents fought for years to conquer when you are no more than a teenager. It’s like you are not even trying! That said, even though I knew –because it is general history and part of the series’ title- that Carlos was to become Holy Roman Emperor, this was quite a thrilling episode! It was all about the women behind the kings, and I loved that.
This was a very Hernán Cortés-centric episode, wasn’t it? It looked as if it had nothing to do with the other main plot until the very end (but we’ll get to that later). The New World story gets a massive boost with Cortés and his men arriving to the Yucatán Peninsula, where they encounter the Nahuas, the indigenous people of the area, who happen to be at odds with emperor Moctezuma. It was all very Pocahontas if you ask me, but it was fantastic and, you know, kudos to the producers for getting only Mexicans for these roles (if only other shows learned from this).
Luckily for Cortés, he encounters a Spaniard who was kept captive and speaks the language, so he manages to talk to both the Nahuas and the emperor’s emissaries. Since Cortés is a massive badass, as he proved in this episode, he steals the show and forces the Aztecs to give him as much gold as needed (all part of a larger-scale plan). With an entire ship of gold sent back to Spain, the focus is on La Malinche, this Nahua woman with amazing hair that, as history goes, will prove essential in the overthrow of the Aztec Empire. Yay! That’s what I call hating your own people, ladies and gentleman. But again, she has amazing hair.
Coming back to the other side of the Atlantic, here is where all the crazy political drama begins, and what is crazier than Henry VIII? Instead of supporting François I, Henry decides to run for emperor, because of course that is going to end well. Luckily, here comes our first display of powerful and intelligent women of the night, with Queen Catalina talking him out of it in the most cunning way (“Imagine being Europe’s referee” is what she said and what he bought). It made me wish that she had been the monarch instead of him, because everything she did was perfectly planned and smart. But what can you expect of the daughter of Fernando and Isabel, anyway?
So in the meantime, my pal François is too busy getting his measurements taken by da Vinci for his coronation suit and getting it on with his very cultured and intelligent mistress Françoise, so Louise of Savoy has to do all the hard work herself. This involved trying to get the support of the wealthy merchant Jakob Fugger. At first, François has the upper hand because he is the only candidate who has made an actual move towards the war against the Turkish, which helps his cause, but when Fugger turns to Carlos after the promise of getting 18% of the gold Hernán Cortés might find, his potential succeeds fades away a little bit.
The very last move, suggested by Louise, of course, is to withdraw, as there is no chance of winning, and support the candidacy of the lesser evil Frederick III, Elector of Saxony. But this of course backfires, as we’ll see later in the Spanish Court section, and François becomes very, very angry.
It even made me feel bad. Of course, I knew, as we all did, that Carlos was the one who would become the emperor, but I felt bad for François nonetheless. His father figure, Leonardo da Vinci, had just died! Which reminds me, R.I.P. Carlos Álvarez-Nóvoa, who portrayed da Vinci and who died earlier this week. Thanks for your performance and your life-long career.
As I have said before, this is all about the powerful women, so while Louise was doing her best to get her son to win, Margarita was doing the same for her nephew. Without a second to grieve the death of her father, Carlos’s aunt begins a powerful marketing campaign to get supporters for the rightful heir. But at first, as you can guess, this backfires: everyone prefers the very, very alluring French monarch as the new Holy Roman Emperor, as she is told by a very fashionable visitor, Anne de Montmorency, childhood friend of François and eventually Marshal of France. Did you notice how his blue clothes stood out among everything else in the Flemish Court?
Scared as hell, Margarita makes a different move: why not suggest Carlos’s brother Fernando as the new emperor? While this is accepted by everyone, it doesn’t really please Carlos, who feels betrayed and sends Margarita a letter saying that if this goes on, he will charge them with treason. Oops. But never mind that, because Margarita solves this problem by convincing Jakob Fugger (remember, French Court section) to support Carlos in exchange for lots of New World gold. Fugger says that he will make sure that the other electors choose Carlos as well instead of the other left candidate (Frederick III, Elector of Saxony). How does he do it? By sending pretty much an army to force Frederick to withdraw his candidacy. Did Carlos know this was happening? We will never know.
Carlos and his angry hair didn’t get a single moment’s rest in this episode. It was all about “where do I get the money I need for the support my candidacy requires, even though I am the rightful heir and this chaos has been caused by a technicality”. Because if you don’t understand why Carlos wasn’t named emperor as soon as his grandfather died, let me explain: Maximilian had to be “blessed” by the Pope before he died so that he could just name the heir and be done with it, but obviously, because he was dying, that was the last thing he thought of doing, so there you go. Drama!
Poor Carlos, he was shy and taciturn and no one thought he would be fit to be king, but then some things make you grow up. On this instance, Carlos grows up because of his anger. He sees the throne slipping away, he is reminded of the way things worked in the days of Enrique IV (when Pacheco ran everything for him), in a way that suggested that it is the same with his reign, and then he gets backstabbed by his dear aunt.
But don’t be surprised now if I tell you that, after trying to get money from the Castilian people via taxes and whatnot, sneaky Chièvres’s idea was to get the money from Carlos’s mum, Juana, because “she is obviously not going to use it.” Harsh, even if true. But of course, Juana is not stupid, and got quite angry at her son for this. Even his sister Catalina seemed to be disappointed in him -poor girl.
And just when things couldn’t get worse, the Duke of Alba’s grandson, Fernando de Alba, realises that he wants to be loyal to the crown instead of plotting with the People’s Front of Judea. Because he knows Carlos won’t listen to him, he sends Germana de Foix to warn him. This was very heart-breaking and hurtful and it allowed us to see what a nice guy Carlos happens to be: he is so traumatised by his parents’ marriage and his father’s constant infidelities that he swears that, if he ever gets married, he will be faithful to his wife. So cute.
Because, you see, Germana’s suggestion to get money was for him to marry Isabel of Portugal and use the dowry to buy the votes. But we know he really doesn’t want to. And that is when the two main plotlines converge, as out of nowhere Carlos sees all his problems solved when a ship full of gold from the New World arrives in Spain. Thank you Hernán Cortés and your badassery. Now Carlos has money to pay Fugger, who threatens Frederick III and ends this madness. Finally! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, even though I knew how it was going to end! That is great television, everybody.
Next week: the coronation takes place and the commoners decide to strike while Carlos is out of the country. Piece of advice: you don’t want to use a severely depressed woman as your puppet. Jerk. I am happy Carlos got them all executed.
Don’t miss the special that was broadcast after this episode. So much to learn!
Another thing not to miss is this slideshow, where you can see what a great job the casting agents did when it came to choose actors who resembled their real-life counterparts. And the perfectionism of the costume department.