When I first saw the pilot of Medici: Masters of Florence, I thought that Ken Bones had one of those quietly essential roles. Ugo Bencini was Giovanni de Medici's right hand man, the administrator of the Medici bank. He was perhaps the most knowledgeable of Medici financial affairs. Before decisions could be made, either by Giovanni and later by Cosimo, he was consulted. Marco Bello, whilst a trusted lieutenant, communed with the servants. Ugo had a place on the dining table with the Medici family.
It was not until much later that I realised just how essential Ugo's role was to the series. Medici: Masters of Florence was an exploration of a family of massive historical importance that was bookended by a murder mystery -- the death of patriarch Giovanni de Medici.
If you have not finished watching the series, I truly recommend that you cease reading now. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
Ugo was a loyal company man. In contrast with Marco Bello, who was shown to enjoy his free time, we have only ever seen Ugo at work. His counsel was invaluable to the Medicis. Though he gave his advise when asked, he always, always, did what the Medicis asked of him.
So, when Giovanni ordered him to take Lorenzo's peasant lover Rosa to a sanctuary, he obeyed. Born without a title, Giovanni used his wealth to marry into the aristocracy. He fully expected his own children to do the same. When his eldest son and heir, Cosimo, fell in love with a laundress who doubled as an artist's model, he paid off the woman, Bianca, so she would leave. When his other son, Lorenzo, also fell in love with a peasant, Rosa, she, too, was sent off.
Lorenzo had no idea what happened to Rosa after she disappeared. In contrast with Cosimo, who simply accepted Giovanni's decree for him to marry Contessina, Lorenzo did not give up hope on Rosa. He used his fortune to find her, to no avail. What he did not know, what Ugo kept to himself, was that Rosa, and their unborn child, had already died.
How Rosa died, it was not clear. Was it the result of cruelty? Was it because of the conditions in the home for unwed mothers? What we do know was that Ugo was broken when he saw Rosa lying dead, her child lost. He tearfully asked Giovanni about God's judgement when he shared the news with his employer. Ugo was wracked with overwhelming guilt. He almost spit the words as he passionately told Giovanni that he gave the order and he, the good servant, obeyed.
Giovanni was unconcerned. He compared Rosa to a mule. It was then that the patriarch of the Medici clan lost his most loyal lieutenant.
It was Ugo who killed Giovanni. It was Ugo who killed the apothecary to cover up his crime. It was Ugo who framed Marco Bello.
Ugo consistently presented his calm, competent side to the Medicis. After Maddalena came to him with potential proof of Marco Bello's innocence, however, Ugo broke down. It was clear that his actions weighed on him. He clutched his rosary as the tide of memories came and with it, flashes of the elderly, quiet man who sentenced to death the founder of Florence's greatest fortune.
It was chilling how Ugo shifted, within minutes, from a guilt-ridden, tearful man to a kindly old family friend when he later spoke to Cosimo. Contessina and Cosimo had agreed to raise Maddalena's child as their own. Ugo, his truth hidden behind his eyes, told Cosimo that he had not become his father, that he was a better man than Giovanni ever was.
Ugo Bencini was initially presented as a secondary character in a series peopled with formidable families vying for more wealth and power. It was not until the end that we learnt he was the driving force behind the first season of Medici: Masters of Florence.