This review contains spoilers.
3.4 The Labrys
An adorable little boy playing with toys that look suspiciously like models of Da Vinci’s famous tanks and castles. Mother’s getting water from the well… and by mother I mean Lucrezia Donati. The little boy’s name is Andrea, after a famous teacher of artisans. And the boy’s father? Leonardo Da Vinci, of course, who emerges from his workshop with a model of his famous gyrocopter. Da Vinci is being summoned to Rome, but the trip will be dangerous because the Italian peninsula has dissolved into civil war between the Sons of Mithras and the forces of the Horns of the Increate.
If this is confusing to you, what with the creepy cave echoing with chanting voices and the child that Da Vinci doesn’t have, no need to feel like you’ve been missing anything, because none of it’s true. The marriage, the farm, the child… it’s all fake. The camera travels from Da Vinci and Andrea to the depths of the cave to reveal Leonardo Da Vinci, strapped to a rack, eyes held open by the Clockwork Orange eyeball clamps, the drip-drip-drip of water and/or hallucinogens a constant reminder that Leonardo Da Vinci isn’t a married householder, but a prisoner of the Labyrinth undergoing some hard-core brainwashing.
The episode functions as a sort-of Last Temptation of Leonardo Da Vinci, where Leo faces up to a life he could have if he made the choice to join up with the Labyrinth. He’s isolated from their politics and the world, having beaten back the Sons of Mithras and saved Italy from the Turks, earning himself legendary status among the Labyrinth while his former friends Zoroaster, Nico, and Vanessa are part of the resistance movement. Carlo Medici comes calling, Zo and Vanessa are hiding in the cellar, Nico is dead, and Leo has to choose sides. Will Leo go with the Labyrinth or the Sons of Mithras, or will he use his ability to read the Book of Leaves on both sides?
Of course, the dilemma doesn’t really matter, because Will Pascoe’s script makes it clear that it’s not a real dilemma with any actual weight. Nico’s not dead, Lucrezia’s not dead, and Zo isn’t dead either. Leonardo’s not a father or a husband, but he’s faced with a choice. Either he joins the Labyrinth or he goes crazy or they poison him. Rather than risk losing the greatest inventor of all time to the Sons of Mithras or to neither side, the Labyrinth are willing to kill him in an effort to recruit him, but it’s up to Leonardo to resist their efforts and it’s up to Riario to decide whether or not it’s worth the risk to Da Vinci to potentially win the day in the shadow war.
It’d definitely not a subtle way to show the war going on within Da Vinci, and it’s not the most elegantly staged, either. The scenes with Andrea do a good job of invoking younger Da Vinci from flash-backs, but the fight scenes are dark and a little muddled in Alex Pillai’s hands. To be fair, that could be the way I watched the episode, but even on a bright television things will probably be a little dark, and it will definitely be confusing as Zo, Vanessa, Carlo, and the rest of the Labyrinth goons are all wearing black. Worse, it lacks a lot of emotional punch when you know it’s a hallucination and you know that everyone dying will be back on screen the next time we snap to Florence. That said, there’s some fun in seeing Leo at odds with his closest allies, and it’s also nice to see Da Vinci working through his problems in his subconscious with a little additional Da Vinci Vision.
However, it feels as though it’s mostly a wasted episode. All the time is spent either with the Labyrinth people talking about Da Vinci’s fate or Da Vinci wasting time in his dream world where everyone he loves may or may not be getting killed because of his unwillingness to get involved in the war (or, technically, the post-war governance). He’s going to have to pick a side, or pick neither side and use the Book of Leaves to nuke both collectives at the same time and potentially destroy the world.
There still feels to be too much going on in the world, and for me, the “it was all a dream” episodes shows indulge in are usually just an irritation, a way for writers to get paid to write their own Da Vinci’s Demons fan fiction. Even episodes like this one, which is pretty good and carries a lot of weight internally for Da Vinci, still feel like wasted time more than anything else. No matter how good of an episode this is, we’ve got a power struggle between conspiracies and the little matter of an invading army on the Italian peninsulas, winning converts for a foreign god and selling people into slavery. This is a show that doesn’t have much time left to waste on CSI: Vatican City and Patrick Duffy showers.