This review contains spoilers.
2.3 The Voyage Of The Damned
One of the little pleasures of Da Vinci’s Demons is the way the show works Da Vinci’s actual achievements into the show. From his invention of the Gatling-style machine gun to his testing of flying wings in the very early stages of the first season, when the show brings one of Da Vinci’s mad inventions to the screen, it usually is one of the coolest aspects of the episode. During this episode, we get a prolonged genesis and creation of one of Leonardo’s most interesting creations: the submarine.
After getting thrown off the boat he was hoping to abscond with after doing a pretty good Riario impersonation (complete with hipster hat and Renaissance sunglasses) and getting in a sword fight with the boat’s rightful owner Duke Alfonso, Da Vinci, Amerigo and Zoroaster swim back to shore and try to put together a secondary plan. Fortunately, there is a budding fish market in Florence and that’s where Leonardo derives the inspiration for his next mad invention, a submarine with grappling hook grippers to secretly sneak out to where the ship is moored and use the ship’s cargo of slaves to overthrow the crew, kick off Alfonso, and make for the New World.
However, there’s a problem. Da Vinci’s Demons keeps staging sword fights between Da Vinci and Alfonso, but they’re really not shot very well. There’s some clashing of swords and dancing around, but most of the action is shot really close up and really mangled in the editing room. The fights are practically incomprehensible at some points, and really good at other points. It’s bothersome, especially in an episode that features two sword clashes that should be great (and one that has a very satisfying endgame). They’re too cluttered, too busy, when two ambidextrous guys are fighting with swords in both hands, it should be an epic event, not a muddle. This was just a bit too unclear.
I can’t help but blame the direction for that, even though the rest of the episode was fine, by and large. The shots of the Papal palace are always good, as was the high opening shot before they dropped down to a more standard view. Ditto the shots of Florentines taking their frustration out on various strung-up corpses of Pazzi conspirators. Da Vinci’s scheme is also played out well, with a good performance from Lee Boardman’s Amerigo Vespucci as a secret Da Vinci double agent.
Blade choreography aside, it was a fairly solid episode. There was a good balance between Leonardo and the fallout in Florence from the Pazzi Conspiracy (with a funny bit where kids used dead Francesco Pazzi as a battering ram) and the next step in Lorenzo’s attempt to keep the Papacy from crushing Florence in its iron grip. The confrontation between Lorenzo and Claire was good stuff courtesy of Brian Nelson, as was the episode’s overall arc involving Lucrezia Donati, Cardinal Lupo, Sixtus, and the other Sixtus, AKA Dungeon Pope. That’s the sort of intrigue that will keep folks interested in Florence’s politics when Leonardo is off building submarines and traveling to Machu Picchu. Or I guess it won’t be Florence, since Lorenzo is going to be heading to Naples to be a hostage.
It seems that the show is running into a problem. The boat voyages are going to take forever, and they haven’t even really left Italy yet. However, the other stuff on the peninsula seems to be flying by. It’s a series pacing problem, and it feels either slow or rushed, depending on who we’re talking about. It’s also tough to engage with, since it feels like the characters we’re used to seeing together are all dashing off in different directions and are all going to be completely disconnected from one another.
I’m sure the show will round into better shape as the season progresses, but at the moment, it feels like there’s a lot of stuff going on and nothing is actually happening. The lack of focus can be a show-killer, but I can only hope that the first epsiode is more a taste of what’s in the rest of the series than the latter two episodes.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that more actual history and invention is making its way into David S. Goyer’s version of Renaissance Italy, even if it’s also full of weirdness. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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