One of my favourite shows of all time is Breaking Bad. Many things about it made it great, but if there was something that I always found ironic about it, it was the fact that it spent five seasons talking about how the main character was going to die of cancer, and in the end he died of a gunshot in the stomach. Life. Gunshot, mosquito bite, it’s pretty much the same, right?
I’m going to be country-jumping again, but hopefully it will all make sense.
We begin our story in the Gallic country, and not to talk about the French king, but about the Spanish one. You see, Felipe is mad as hell because Henri has basically published a note calling him a wimpy, fainthearted monarch. So this, added to the fact that Henri has been trying to invade Milan and Naples, infuriates Felipe, who decides that the only way to shut Henri’s mouth is to enter France through the Flanders border to invade Saint-Quentin (yes, this is the legendary Battle of Saint-Quentin). But you know what happens? That Felipe could really use English soldiers to make his attack even more powerful, so…
… off, off Felipe goes to sweet-talk his cougar wife into lending him some troops! But seriously, this woman is way too obsessed with him. I mean, I get it. She is 40 years old, she has a hunky young husband, she is head over heels in love!
But problems start soon. While Mary is all “let’s go to bed, I haven’t seen you in months,” Felipe wants to settle the war issue as soon as possible to bring the men with him to France. Mary gets all nuts about it and tries to let Felipe see that the lords are not really into allowing all the country’s soldiers to go and fight for Spain just because. So what does Felipe do to convince Mary to go and ask the lords again? He bonks her. Yep, just as Alba told him to do –well, he didn’t tell him that exactly, but he did suggest that Felipe had to charm her into doing things because she had obviously become a horny teenager that would do anything Felipe asked her to.
So as you can imagine, a bed session gives Mary enough strength to convince the lords, and Felipe gets his much-needed English troops. It is quite a show to see how he says just the right words to keep her happy. But I cannot blame Felipe for doing that, because he was forced into that marriage, and also because he is a super nice guy. But don’t take Mary for a fool, because she clearly knows that her husband doesn’t love her, at least not the way she ardently loves him –I guess he is fond of her, but in the way you can be fond of your AUNT, for God’s sake.
Anyway, she tells Felipe that the victory has to be as English as it will be Spanish, to which Felipe quickly agrees, and then returns to…
Yes. So now Felipe is all set to go to war, talking strategies with Alba and Granvela.
But then drama happens! While waiting in the Spanish camp by Saint-Quentin, Alba realises that the Frenchmen are getting too close to them, so he sends Granvela to where Felipe is waiting the English troops to ask for permission to attack. Felipe tells Granvela that there will be no attack until the English arrive so he can take them to the battle site –they didn’t call him “The Prudent” for nothing. Granvela then shares this news with Alba, who gets very angry and decides to attack anyway, to which Granvela wisely replies that “the defeat will be yours only, but the victory will be the king’s.” Anyway, Alba attacks and obtains a demolishing victory over the Frenchmen, capturing many important nobles and everything. Thank God for the Iron Duke.
So then when Felipe rushes to the camp upon hearing about the victory, he quickly acknowledges the bravery of Alba, who has been, after all, one of his teachers since he was little. It was quite a victory, this battle, with even the faithful Montmorency getting captured and vowing before Felipe.
Needless to say, this drives Henri mad, and decides to attack Calais and get it back for the French crown, and he basically does this so that the English lords get angry at Felipe for “allowing” this to happen. Sneaky Henri.
At the same time, Felipe has decided that he needs to do more to conquer France, and when he receives a letter from his father urging him to take Paris now that he is on a roll, he is met with the opposition of Alba and Granvela, who advise Felipe not to do what it would be an impossible task. Alba even tells him that, even though he would follow his king anywhere, Paris is just too much and the Saint-Quentin victory is more than enough for now. Ouch. So they leave it as it is and go to Flanders to do some business there before returning to Spain.
So now it’s time to check on Carlos and see what he’s been doing all this time! At last, after 50 years, the emperor manages to lead a quiet life. Hobbies! Naps in the middle of the day! Fishing! Eating an entire pork without anyone interrupting him because of some issue with the French! That is all he ever wanted.
But he can’t exactly be free of worries, can’t he? And the first one appears in the shape of his grandson and heir Carlos –you know, the one Felipe had with his first wife Maria Manuela. Problem is, this boy is basically the worst: he is quite obviously mentally unstable (ahem, inbreeding ahem), and he has a cruel personality, which the emperor witnesses when the prince orders Borja around like he’s a dog. Let’s just be thankful that he died and never got to be king.
Nevertheless, meeting his awful grandson makes Carlos confess something to Borja: even though he had promised himself upon the death of his wife never to be with a woman again, he had spectacularly failed when he met Barbara Blomberg ten years before, and the result of that had been a boy called Jerónimo, whom Carlos had decided to bring to Spain to live under the care of Luis de Quijada. And of course, he hadn’t recognised to anyone that the child was his, because that would be a stain on the memory of his wife and an insult to his much-beloved son Felipe. But he still wants to meet him, so he asks Borja to go and bring him over –and Borja at first is a bit taken aback by the emperor’s ‘sin’ until Carlos reminds him that everyone has sinned in some way, alluding to Borja’s eternal crush on Carlos’s wife.
In the meantime, Carlos receives the visit of his sisters Leonor and María. The main issue here is that Leonor wants to go to Portugal to spend her last years with her daughter, but Carlos has found out that Leonor’s daughter doesn’t want to meet her. To avoid hurting her feelings, Carlos simply tells her that the kings of Portugal haven’t granted permission because they are still angry with Carlos for cancelling the marriage between Felipe and Leonor’s daughter. This angers Leonor beyond reason, who thinks her brother simply doesn’t care and hasn’t tried hard enough. But the truth is that Carlos has decided to be a good brother for once and prefers to have Leonor mad at him instead of mad at her daughter. María, who knows the truth, decides that she wants to go to Portugal to convince the girl, and also to meet her sister Catalina.
So then María finally gets to meet her sister Catalina, both of them in their fifties. Luckily for Leonor, María discovers that king Joao’s dying wish was to make Leonor’s daughter reunite with her mother (her name is Maria, but there are so many Marias that I rather refer to her as Leonor’s daughter, it is less confusing).
But then the daughter thinks it twice and decides to ignore the dying wish of her half-brother (who is actually her father, but never mind), and not go to the Portuguese border with María to meet Leonor, which leaves Leonor completely devastated, sinking her into a sadness that would take all the strength from her and eventually her life, a month later.
In reality, just so that you know, mother and daughter did meet, but Leonor’s daughter was so justifiably angry at her mother that she told her she didn’t want to be with her or spend any time with her. And then Leonor died. Poor woman, what a suffering life she led.
But let’s go back to the monastery, where Carlos eats while staring at Titian’s painting of his late wife Isabel like one would stare at a TV these days. God, that was sad.
The last happy thing in Carlos’s life finally happens when his son Jerónimo (Jeromín) arrives to meet him. And Carlos couldn’t love him more. Jeromín’s big dream is to be a soldier, to fight alongside Felipe and achieve great things, like Carlos did. The emperor sees in this young boy the fierceness to fight that Felipe lacks –because Felipe is more of a humanist, who achieved great things for Spain in the world of culture, like El Escorial, which Felipe commissioned to commemorate the Battle of Saint-Quentin, by the way. Anyway, I’ll have you know, before I go back to the plot, that Jeromín ended up serving his half-brother and becoming his military support, so in the end, they complemented each other.
One thing that comes out of Jeromín’s visits to the emperor is that Carlos decides to keep writing his memoirs, which he would eventually send to his son Felipe.
Life seems good to Carlos (except for the gout), doesn’t it?
Well, no it doesn’t, because we all know that Carlos can’t have too much of a happy, quiet life, and this time the drama comes in the shape of, chan chaaan…. a mosquito. Yes. A mosquito bites the emperor and he contracts malaria.
With the end near, Carlos confesses to his sister María that he is disappointed in himself because he didn’t end the heresy in Europe nor stopped the Turks, and wishes he had killed Luther when he had the chance, to which María replies that his standards are way too high, because he did achieve a great deal during his successful reign.
And not wanting to leave loose ends, Carlos asks a last favour from Borja: he wants to add a codicil to his testament, acknowledging Jeromín as his son and giving him the name of Juan de Austria, the name his mother Juana wanted for him. But on one condition: Felipe will receive this codicil after Carlos has died, because as I mentioned before, Carlos doesn’t want to hurt his son and his wife’s memory in life. So he’s literally leaving all his dirty dishes for his son to clean.
Carlos’s life is ending, and he barely has the strength to go on. He has a nightmare, in which he sees his wife but then sees Jeromín’s mother, and the trauma is too much for the “old” emperor, who collapses. After this, he will never get up from his bed again.
Of course, while this is happening (I won’t make a whole section just for this), Felipe is happily writing a letter to his dear father to let him know of all his achievements and such, but he is quickly told that the letter won’t arrive on time. Cue sad music. Felipe is so nice that seeing him sad makes me sad.
And back to Yuste, we have Carlos lying in bed, saying goodbye to Jeromín and subtly acknowledging him by saying “goodbye, son” to which he replies “goodbye, emperor.”
The final day arrives, and Carlos knows it. He has Borja by his side, and Isabel’s cross in his hand. He is aware that this is the end, and all he can think about is that he will be soon reunited with his dear wife, who died way too soon because 16th century people didn’t understand what the words “family planning” mean. He exhales, whispers “Oh, Jesus” and then he is gone.
And if I thought I had cried enough with this, the last two minutes of the show tore me apart, because we got to see all the people who cared about Carlos receiving the news. We see a heartbroken María, who never made it to the Netherlands because she died a month after her brother did. We see an inconsolable María crying her heart out after learning that her father had died, being comforted by her husband Maximilian while Carlos’s brother, the now emperor Fernando I, silently weeps the loss of a brother he never got to say goodbye to. And we see a wrecked Felipe, who tries to maintain his composure in front of Granvela and Alba, but as soon as he is by himself he throws the memoirs his father had sent him to the fire in a fit of heartbreak, only to quickly pick them up and save them for generations to come (because Felipe was obsessed with preserving history and keeping every document to show the indisputable truth of every fact).
And then he realises that his father is truly gone, and in a captivating shot that was a unique and perfect way to end this miniseries, he looks up to the sky while on his knees and prays, in the exact same way Carlos did when his wife died.
Well, that was sad, wasn’t it. Now all we have to do is hope that TVE will be smart and make a miniseries about Felipe’s 40 years of reign with the same actors from Carlos, Rey Emperador! I know that all the fans of this show and Isabel would want to watch that, and it is always good to teach history in a way that can reach everyone. So yes, let’s start an online petition to lobby for a miniseries about Felipe to air by the end of the year!
By the way, I forgot to mentioned something I particularly liked throughout the episode: the way they kept ending a scene with Carlos by transitioning it into a scene that starred Felipe, and vice versa. It helped to get the feeling that the power went from one to the other.
Also, all the costumes were insanely pretty. The fabrics. The patterns. The details. Insane.
And for the last time, here is El Mundo de Carlos. I hope you enjoy it. I will be back to talk about La Corona Partida, which comes out on February 19th –I will be going to Spain for Easter, so I hope it will still be on cinemas and I get to see it. I will probably write some more about Carlos very soon, because I’m not done with it. In fact, it has only just started.