The Borgias

Season one of Showtime’s The Borgias (2011) is a show the depicts the decadent lies and scandals of the Borgia family, outsiders from Spain who attempt to take over Renaissance-era Italy through treachery, lies, and manipulation. The Borgias is packed full of themes such as lust, greed, and murder. Through the art of imagery, movement, and sound, the title sequence, consisting of the gorgeous manipulation of paintings from the Italian Renaissance with a dark and ominous twist can give more than a sample of these themes, as it attempts to prepare the viewer for the debauchery of the notorious Borgia family.

Title sequences, whether it be before a film or before a show, plays a crucial role in setting the emotion and expectations for a show and gives the audience a taste of what they are getting themselves into, all without giving too much away. A title sequence that fulfills those roles creatively and intriguingly is Showtime’s The Borgias, as it includes many contrasting elements to support the show’s plethora of dark themes, as the family attempts to manipulate itself to the top all while maintaining a somewhat pure and picture perfect visage to the public.

                                              The Borgias– Title Sequence

The Borgias uses imagery as one of the many ways they convey the show’s dark themes of lust, greed, and murder. The title sequence begins with a black liquid, resembling the consistency of blood, dropping and spreading across a pure white background, one that resembles the purity that was so thoroughly embedded into the religious culture at the time, and still somewhat is. The black liquid then begins to fill in the cracks in the seemingly smooth surface, revealing that what was before perfect to the eye is now covered in imperfections, similar to the Borgia family. They were a family of high ranks, as the father was the new pope of Rome, but their inner workings and lies quickly made it is way out of the bounds of the family and quickly infiltrated Rome as a whole and began affecting everyone negatively. As the title scene progresses, the dark drops begin to reveal and compose a series of historical Italian Renaissance paintings, all of which serve as a symbolic reference to a majority to the show’s themes and plots. The paintings presented begin as ones of peace and beauty, encapsulating the artistry and growth of Rome at this time, but as the sequence progresses, the images become darker and more evil in tone. One painting included was of the notorious suicide of Lucrezia Borgia, one of the show’s main characters, this is just one example of the many paintings presented that allow the title sequence to draw the viewer in with glimpses into the story without giving away the plot.

The Borgias– Title Sequence- Suicide of Lucrezia Borgia “Lucretia” by                              Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553

Alongside the use of imagery, The Borgias also uses movement to accentuate the overall mood and pacing of the title sequence. The movement begins slow and flowing; the drops of the ominous liquid do not appear to be as frightening since the music and speed of the composition do not warrant their terror just yet. As the title sequence progresses, so does the camera moment and overall speed of the composition. The camera work begins to jerk, and it loses all of the delicacies it once focused on, it mimics the feeling of being whipped around on a whirlwind of emotions and storyline as the dark imagery and dark liquid flashes on the screen, similar to the entire plot of the Borgia family, a plot of murder, treachery and incest. As the jerks continue, it begins to pan as if it is the viewer’s eye, carefully scanning texts hungry for evidence. Despite the intentionally abrasive camera work, the liquid continues to delicately compose the framing of the paintings, the juxtaposition of these flowing and delicate transitions with the harsh camera work creates a very emotionally dynamic piece that draws viewers in.

The Borgias– Title Sequence- Judith with the head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

Although the use of imagery and movement are imperative to the success of a title sequence, the use of sound is what bundles those two elements together and adds the bow on top. The music in the title sequence begins with ominous and dark undertones, which provides the viewer with the feeling that they are about to turn a corner to stumble unknowingly unto an intense scene unfolding in front of them. Which almost entirely summarizes the entire basis of the show’s plot, with its insane plot twists and scandals. Through the entirety of the show, the viewer is kept on their toes, never knowing what to expect next, and the music conveys that very well in the title sequence, it begins the show with an unsettling and somewhat scary ambiance. What sounds to be the Gregorian chanting of deep voices begins to ensue, which pays homage to the religious undertones of the show, and the basis of the Borgia family’s fame. This chanting begins as delicate, almost like a whisper, which gives it a very mysterious countenance, around halfway through the sequence, the chanting intensifies and so does the accompanying music, and it becomes an overwhelming mass of emotions. Angelic voices begin to shine through the intense music, almost as if they are calling from the heavens, attempting to communicate with the chanting of the earthly souls. Similar to the use of movement, the juxtaposition of these opposing forces creates a feeling of intrigue as the title sequence itself beings to develop an independent plot outside the one of the show. The intensity of the music mirrors the intensity of the show, there is not a lighthearted episode present in the entire three-season runtime, every episode is full of lies, deceit, lust, and vengeance, and the music conveys nothing less.

Overall, the title sequence for Showtime’s The Borgias does an unbelievable job of conveying the storyline and dark themes of the show. The combination of imagery, movement, and sound, alongside the juxtaposing elements of delicacy and abrasive aesthetic, create a compelling piece that draws the viewers into the whirlwind of a drama that is the show. People initially come for the scandals and history of the Borgia family but stay because of the title sequence.