Da Vinci's Demons episode 5 review: The Tower

Review Ron Hogan 12 May 2013 - 21:06

Da Vinci's Demons delivers one of its most successful episodes so far. Here's Ron's review of The Tower...

This review contains spoilers.

1.5 The Tower

The more of Da Vinci's Demons I see, the more I like the performance of lead actor Tom Riley as the mad genius. As Leonardo gets put under more and more pressure by the machinations of Rome, the deadlines of the Medicis, the needs of Florence, his chaotic personal life, and the weight of his own genius - not to mention his fate as the savior of humanity - his quirks become more pronounced. He has facial tics, he fidgets, he twitches, he sweats and roils uncomfortably in his own skin. It's broad and showy, but this is a series that rewards broad and showy, and it really accentuates the character's instability, in addition to his genius. It's not subtle, but it's interesting and this is a show that strives above all else to be eye-catching. 

Florence, at its core, is a city of spectacle. When times are rough, the leading lights of the city band together with their best friends and put on a show that will save the community centre! Or, in this case, they get together, put on a play, and try their best to mollify the nervous Florentines while impressing the King and Queen of Spain. However, there's more than just a play to distract people from the looming specter of Roman invasion; there's also a high-profile show trial involving the most famous artist in Florence - one Leonardo Da Vinci - that hits all the right notes for an awesome judicial spectacle. Namely, there's sex, violence, celebrities, and the chance to impress the pious Spanish with Florence's sudden embrace of its extant anti-sodomy laws. 

Given the chance to introduce both more of Da Vinci's real life and famous characters from that time period, The Tower truly embraces that opportunity. Not only does Joe Ahearne make good use of that by splitting Isabella and Ferdinand between Claire and Lorenzo, while still managing to get the infamous Cardinal Torquemada, leader of the Spanish Inquisition, involved in Da Vinci's trial (though the characters point out how strange this is considering Torquemada's outsider status and the fact that all he was doing was moralizing about Florence's permissiveness). That's three outsiders, all integral to the plot, which concerns Rome's recent default on a massive loan from the Medicis. 

In a show that's positively stuffed with characters and plots, it's strange to see the show add more into that group; however, this might have been one of the more successful episodes in the series so far. By distilling the programme into a relatively simple courtroom drama, it helps the show keep a focus. There are two central problems and two possible results for each one. 

One of these is a foregone conclusion, we just have to see how Leonardo gets out of jail and what kind of crazy inventions he'll use to do it; the other is more up in the air. However, these are both immediate problems, that need immediate solutions, which along with the change in format, helps keep things driven. Both stories propel themselves, and the two are well merged together given the overlap force of Ferdinand and Isabella's official visit. Weirdly, adding these extra characters with specific purposes enriches the show in a way that adding more vague enemies/friends would not. The characters have goals and a narrative purpose that's rare to see in the sprawling wannabe epic clock punk Da Vinci world. 

That's a sense of direction that Da Vinci's Demons has trouble displaying. The show tends to lose itself in bigger, longer story arcs and mysticism, rather than having smaller advances every week. By having steps that must be taken, the show has managed to make some progress on its bigger journey. It's all well and good to have crazy globe-spanning conspiracy theories, but if you can't make them serve your show, then what's the point of even having secret societies and mystical books?

Read Ron's review of the previous episode, The Magician, here. 

US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks it is interesting how much Googling the show makes him do to figure out if its wilder inventions are plausible. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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