This review contains spoilers.
1.3 The Prisoner
One of the best things about Da Vinci’s Demons is the way the programme is shot. It’s very well crafted, and it’s obvious that money was spent in the making. For example, when the show is going to feature a location, they do their best to make it as perfect as possible. If you go into a haunted nunnery full of demon-possessed nuns, it is going to be set-dressed to within an inch of its life. Torn books blowing ragged pages in the wind, demonic Latin written on the walls in blood, an off-screen smoke machine creating rolling clouds of fog, and lots of creepy artwork will decorate the place. It will look smashing no matter what is going to happen; director Jamie Payne is no slouch when it comes to TV direction.
This week’s episode takes a bit of a side-step from the pursuit of the Book of Leaves and the conflict between Rome and the Sons of Mithras and emphases the conflict between Rome and the people of Florence, specifically their Medici leadership. That means spies, intrigue, and… possessed nuns? Indeed, in one of the show’s many running themes, Leonardo the great humanist squares off against the superstitiousness of the fifteenth century Catholic Church and the people of Florence when a rash of demonic possessions wracks a nearby nunnery. Is it God punishing Florence, or the machinations of the evil Pope Sixtus?
Strangely, for a show that goes out of its way to look great, there’s a pretty similar pattern of how characters look. Aside from Leonardo and his distinctive Indiano Jonesetti leather jacket, Nico’s looking like Lommy Greenhands, and Lorenzo always wearing a bright red, I’m having difficulty telling my Dragonettis from my Giulinos and Zoroasters. Ditto telling apart Lorenzo Medici’s two women, Lucrezia and Clarice. They’re two very pretty, petite, brunettes (Lorenzo must have a type) and I’ve had kind of a bit of trouble keeping them separate, except for when Lucrezia wears that thing on her forehead or when they’re together in the same scene. This has rendered one of the show’s many subplots very confusing and hard for me to follow, and I really hope it’s not just me.
I can generally tell the other men apart based on how much they try to beat up Leonardo; believe me, I’m getting a bit tired of Guilino Medici’s untoward aggression vis a vis Leo. He doesn’t like him, but I don’t like a lot of people and I rarely go around trying to strangle them to death in mid-sentence. They seem to have made some strides in that relationship this week, and I kind of hope that particular dislike tempers down to something a little less community theater. It’s borderline comical, but not funny so much as it is irritating.
Still, the thrust of the script, Guilino aside, is solid. Da Vinci’s trial and error process this week is good, as are the scenes with Riario and the mysterious prisoner, albeit a bit heavy-handed. I like the use of parallel action between those voice-overs and Da Vinci’s actions. Perhaps the best thing the show did was have what is essentially a stand-alone episode that also moves its main plot forward (that of Leonardo versus Rome in all its forms). It’s actually a pretty clever bit of storytelling, thanks to Scott Gimple (the new showrunner of The Walking Dead) and David Goyer.
There are still a lot of flaws with the way the show presents itself. It goes too far into the Game of Thrones style of storytelling in which we see some characters a few times an episode for a minute or two at a time and no more until next week. That works on Thrones because we’re in the third season and we know all the characters – and that show did a better job of differentiating characters, locations, and stories from the get-go. However, there’s something to be said for Da Vinci’s Demons creativity, and this week’s episode is definitely an improvement over previous efforts. It’s far from perfect, but there’s some substance there to work with, clay that can be molded.
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