This review contains spoilers.
3.1 Semper Infidelis & 1.2 Abbadon
Da Vinci’s Demons hasn’t been what Starz hoped it would be. They brought on David Goyer, threw a lot of money at the screen, and they haven’t found that must-watch show they were looking for. Three seasons in, Starz and Goyer have decided to part ways and end the show in unremarkable fashion. Da Vinci’s Demons was intended to be a replacement for Spartacus, the hyper-violent, hyper-sexualized, and hyper-popular series that reignited the star of Lucy Lawless and sucked in viewers with a blend of swordplay, nudity, and soap-opera cheese capable of landing with viewers of all stripes.
Da Vinci’s Demons has struggled on all fronts. After a good debut season and a solid second, the third season bowed to a quarter of the viewers the show received in its first episodes, and it seems as though Starz is done with the show (a sure sign your show is doomed is when it gets moved to air on Saturday night). I remember seeing promos for the first and second seasons every time I flipped the channel to Starz and its offspring; the third season of Da Vinci’s Demons caught me completely by surprise. Indeed, it was such a surprise that my DVR failed to record the debut.
Fortunately for me, Starz has pushed the entire third season of the show online, another sure sign that the premium cable channel is ready to move on from the pseudo-historical adventures of Da Vinci and his motley crew of friends and associates. The difficulty I had actually accessing the episodes on my computer is another discussion, but I was able to watch the first two episodes on my phone. Not an ideal way to consume a couple of episodes full of big action set-pieces, but it’ll do.
When last we left Da Vinci, he was looking out at the invading Ottoman fleet, ready to invade Otranto and storm Christendom due to the cruelty of Pope Sixtus and the machinations of the Sons of Mithras. Da Vinci makes use of his cannon design, obliterating the Ottoman flagship, but there’s a little problem. Not only do the Ottomans have his designs, they’ve improved on them. The Turks open fire with their own four-barrel cannon barrage, using a block and tackle system to lift their ships over the blockade and into the port of Naples. The oncoming fleet of Naples is no help, as the Ottomans make use of Da Vinci’s underwater mine designs to turn them into rubble.
The two episodes work very well back-to back. Semper Infidelis and Abbadon tell two sides of the same tale. In Semper Infidelis (written by new show-runner John Shiban), the Ottomans take Otranto; in Abbadon (written by Amy Berg), Da Vinci and the survivors try to escape Otranto with their lives intact while the Turks go around town rounding up survivors and beheading those who don’t embrace Islam while selling the women and children into slavery. (This is very much in line with what really happened in Otranto.) Interspersed with the action in Otranto is the fallout from the very impressive armed invasion from director Peter Hoar: Sixtus is ready to call a crusade to rally the forces of the Church against the Ottomans, Florence has to decide whether to support the Pope who hates them or risk being overrun by the Turks, Vanessa gets to show off her leadership skills, and the full conspiracy by the Sons of Mithras begins to be revealed.
That’s one of the places where the show has made a big mistake between seasons two and three. The Sons of Mithras are now apparently bad guys, too, which means Riario and Carlo De Medici are now… super bad guys? I’m not quite sure, honestly; if both sides are working to damage humanity, and it appears that they are, what was the point of making the Sons of Mithras into good guys for the first two seasons? Indeed, the longer the show seems to go on, the less I care about the fate of humanity and the book of leaves and all the supernatural conspiracies; the normal conspiracies are more than entertaining enough for me without the distraction of shadowy covens meeting in caves. It feels increasingly like an unnecessary complication.
That’s a shame too, because Da Vinci’s Demons‘ strong suit isn’t Da Vinci himself, who is definitely a remote genius, but his supporting cast. Nico and Vanessa get about five minutes of screen time total in the second episode, and she’s the leader of Florence. Clarice Orsini is a great character, strong and capable, and she’s sidelined chasing stolen money like a Renaissance Elliott Ness. Lucrezia Donati is an afterthought, even with her father being the true Pope. Pity poor Riario, who was brought back from death to stand around whispering.
It seems that eight episodes would be enough to wrap the series up, but given the mass of new characters introduced last season, it’s clear that the series’ ending is going to be tacked on, and a lot of people are going to get the short end of the stick, if not directly written out, before all is said and done. There’s just not enough screen time for everyone, and too many people to keep an eye on.