This review contains spoilers.
1.2 The Serpent
Somewhere in the pile of ideas that is Da Vinci’s Demons, there may very well be a good television show, but two episodes in it hasn’t emerged from the sketchbook into the realm of reality. Like the real Leonardo’s helicopter, the ideas are present but not fully realised. Indeed, there may be too many ideas for the show’s own good.
There’s a lot going on in Da Vinci’s Demons. There are elements in conflict in Florence, as Lorenzo Medici goes up against Leonardo for the love of Lucrezia (who is also married to someone else, though he hasn’t showed up yet to complete the rare love quadrangle). There’s also apparently a power struggle within Florence. Leonardo has a strained relationship with his father, who works for Medici. The father, of course, thinks that Leonardo is a fool who will be restrained by his low birth to a slave girl. As if that wasn’t enough, Florence is in a power struggle with the Vatican and its allies, as the Vatican wants to expand its sphere of influence over the whole of the boot. And, oh yeah, there are a couple of warring secret societies going after a magical artifact that contains some sort of germ of super-knowledge.
Essentially, it seems as though creator David S. Goyer dug into his idea bag and stuck everything into the same television show (one with just eight episodes per season, remember, so it’s not like they’re filling twenty-four-episodes). I understand that some of these things are intended to stretch out over the course of a series (specifically the Florence/Vatican conflict and possibly the Book of Leaves thing with the duelling secret societies), but at present, it just comes across as cluttered and unclear, with a whole lot of people to keep track of.
However, one thing has come into focus, to the show’s benefit, and that’s who the main antagonist for Leonardo is going to be. That would be Count Riario, played with scenery-chewing mania by Blake Ritson. Having a villain who can actively play off Leonardo, Lorenzo Medici, and the rest of the Florence crew has kind of perked things up. One specific bad guy who is clever enough to work against Leo and his crew and young enough to be a physical match for the gifted fencer and his friends is a huge improvement. It’s a rare bit of focus for a show that’s pretty muddled through its second installment. Leonardo is doing too much stuff week in and week out,
Many of the characters still aren’t well defined, and for a lot of them who aren’t Leonardo, Lorenzo, Lucrezia, Nico, and now Riario are kind of inconsequential. I only know Nico’s name as a character because he’s the same kid who played Lommy Greenhands on Game of Thrones. I’m aware that Leonardo’s scruffier friend is Zoroaster, but I never remember his name until I look it up on the IMDB and simply think of him as “scruffy friend”. I have no idea what his father’s name is. I only know Pope Sixtus because he’s the guy dressed like a Pope. I’m having difficulty differentiating between the Florentine police and the Vatican militia. I hope it’s not just me.
One of the things that Da Vinci’s Demons does well, as far as I’m concerned, is showing Leonardo’s thought process. In the hands of David S. Goyer, who is a good visual director, these scenes of plot and plan become interesting rotoscoped blueprints imposed over whatever’s in the real scene. It’s clever – you have someone like Sherlock Holmes who talks his way through his movements step by step with slow-motion and voice over, and someone like Leonardo who is also famed for his keen visual sense in pretty much every field of human achievement.
It’s one of the show’s many ideas and it may be its best-executed idea. There are some good visual moments, but at present they seem to be getting a little lost in the massive amount of plot to chew through. Sometimes, less is more.
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