This review contains spoilers.
2.9 The Enemies Of Man
When Da Vinci’s Demons takes a page from the book of Leonardo (not the Book of Leaves) and uses the character’s creativity as an asset, it can be one of the most fun shows on television. Perhaps more importantly, it shows that brains can and will beat brawn if properly applied, which is one of the great lessons of Renaissance Florence as a whole. It was never the strongest of the Italian city states, but it reached a height that made it infamous both in its time and in our own. Using creative solutions, Florence became a power-broker known worldwide. The clever application of brains over brawn is the story of Florence, and it is the story of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Da Vinci has proven that he’s a clever character many times over. In certain fights, he gets the advantage over his opponents with his ambidexterity. When he’s facing a fellow ambidextrous fighter, he turns to other means to get an advantage. When he faces the villainous Duke of Urbino, who is a significantly better fighter than he is despite having one eye, Da Vinci uses his superior brain power to best his opponent using cleverness. It’s a really brilliant bit of fight-craft: Da Vinci taps his opponent’s sword before engagements to set a depth, then he switches to a slightly shorter sword. Urbino thinks he’s got the range to take Da Vinci’s head, but he’s a few inches short, allowing Leonardo to disarm his opponent. Claire shows up just in time to ram a sword through Urbino’s remaining eye, but it isn’t Claire’s blade that ends Urbino, it’s Leonardo’s deception and a crippling lack of depth perception.
Of course, the fact that Urbino and Leonardo have a climactic conflict suggests that, well, something’s changed, and indeed, Florence is not a very happy place when Leonardo, Nico, Zo, and Amerigo return from their trip to the new world. The streets are deserted, the people are in hiding, there’s lots of gratuitous rape, and Lorenzo’s magnificent palace is a shambles because Urbino and his men have taken over the town. Just back, and Leo’s already got to save Florence again, because Lorenzo is still indisposed with Pope Sixtus and King Ferrante of Naples. And like Leonardo, he’s trying some creative solutions to his problems, but it won’t be paying off as well for Lorenzo Medici.
The Urbino swordplay stands as one of the finest sword scenes in Da Vinci’s Demons, courtesy of director Justin Molotnikov. He makes good use of the show’s settings, adds some interesting clandestine elements, and does a good job of putting across the horrible state of Florence. It looks the same, but it also looks awful, which is a fun balancing act for the show’s set designers and cinematographer to pull off. Da Vinci looks adequately shocked at his betrayal by one of the Medicis, and Molotnikov did a good job handling a pretty full cast of actors. The Batman-style climbing of the blacksmith’s flue was a pretty fun moment, even if I doubt anyone ever crawled around in the chimney in real Florence.
The first season of Da Vinci’s Demons typically held pretty close to the true history of the tale, just exaggerated to some degree. It included real inventions from Da Vinci, real historical events, and so on. However, the second season seems bound and determined to stray from history whenever possible. I mean, Da Vinci did end up in the New World for several months, which I don’t think actually happened at any point in Da Vinci’s life. Lorenzo did surrender himself to Ferrante in an attempt to break the alliance with the Papal States, and Ferrante did make enemies of everyone he ever knew while keeping a corpse museum, but I don’t think Pope Sixtus and Alphonso killed Ferrante and turned him into one of his own stuffed corpses.
It’s clear that the show is heading more into the fantasy and less into the historical, but despite this, the script from Allison Moore and Marco Ramirez is still pretty good. It stays fairly grounded, and when it unveils its big revelations, they feel natural. I didn’t expect Carlo to turn on Leonardo, nor did I expect Riario to nearly come to Leonardo’s side (before making terrible choices and ending up on the wrong side of the Sons of Mithras/Labyrinth divide. It’s clear that the show’s conspiracy-centric plots are going to take up more space than its Italian political plots in the just-announced third season, and this is a first step in that direction. The cleverness continues, and the turns are handled pretty well.
With the third season heralding a new showrunner (John Shiban) and a new direction towards increasingly crazy conspiracy theories, this episode seems like the last moments in which Florence will continue to matter in the grand scheme of Da Vinci’s Demons. I’m sure the show won’t completely on in that direction, but given that this season is almost over, it feels like a sea change is coming.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is distressed to see that Carlo Medici has turned bad and that Riario hasn’t turned good as was hinted at. Perhaps next season the bromance will return with a vengeance? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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