Da Vinci’s Demons could be considered an important piece of the modern cable TV gene landscape if one allows it to be. The series was masterminded by David Goyer in between constructing the cinematic DC Universe and almost achieving brilliance on NBC’s Constantine.
It was difficult to pinpoint where to file Da Vinci’s Demons. At times it was a lush historical drama that cherry picked from real world events, at others, it was a Renaissance era Indiana Jones style ball to the wall adventure with a dash of Bond sexiness and Hammer horror strangeness. It never reached the lofty heights of any of those franchises, but it did manage to prove to the world that Starz is a real player in the original programming game (well Spartacus might have done that but Da Vinci’s Demons did it with better production values and less, well, tits and cock).
Da Vinci’s Demons was a series that dared to be a subtle historical meditation on the price of genius one second and then dare to feature a battle between Da Vinci and Dracula the next. It was wonderfully daring and strange and the ready to binge season three put a nice bow on a series that had the nerve to be different.
Da Vinci’s Demons season 3 collapses under the weight of its own cleverness at times, though. The season never really shed any light on the Book of Leaves business or the Sons of Mithras. Instead, it indulged in its own ambiguity and allowed the supernatural to remain amorphous, but, the excitement, action, immense set pieces, and character charm allowed the show to take the final bow it so richly deserved.
This was truly Tom Riley’s finest hour as Leonardo Da Vinci. The master began the series conflicted and faced his greatest challenge to date with an A plot centered on an invasion of Naples by the Turks. Da Vinci was shocked to discover that the Turks somehow have access to his inventions so essentially he had to figure but a way to defeat himself. Famiy issues got in the way as did Da Vinci’s own self doubt, but if Riley’s Da Vinci taught us anything, it’s that intellect prevails. Da Vinci versus the Turks was a gripping centerpiece for the season even if the middle episodes meander with myriad distractions. But the side plots and adventures are never ill conceived and always allow Da Vinci a chance to kick start some truly innovative action.
Where Da Vinci stood for reason, ol’ raspy voice himself Girolamo Riario, represented faith. Riaro was the only man in the series who was truly a believer in God and the Church. Pope Sixtus was about as devout as a slice of bacon on Friday but Rairo’s faith held strong which made him the antithesis of Da Vinci. The rivalry continued this season as Rairo was responsible for much of that behind the scenes machinations we discussed.
Riario was a potent and complex villain in a show sometimes bogged down with bad guys. Between Sixtus’s complex plots plus all the enemies of the Medicis, it was almost impossible to keep track of everything. And of course there were the constant threats of the Turks. The opening episode will remind one of The Battle of the Blackwater from season two of Game of Thrones, but hey, if you gotta homage, homage from the best. It did establish the Turks as credible threats.
None of the cast got shortchanged this season. Zoroaster was at his swashbuckling best and in fact, kicked the season off in hilarious fashion. Clarice and Lorenzo Medici stole every scene they were in as did the always lovely Lucrezia Donati, Da Vinci’s love who was caught between her love and her loyalty to the Turks. Season three was also served well by pretty much keeping the focus on Italy. Season two globe hopped and something essential was lost as Renaissance Italy was just as important a character as any of our large number of players.
Bottom line, thanks in part to David Goyer’s high profile status in the geek world, Da Vinci’s Demons will always have a legacy. It was a grand experiment that borrowed the right stuff from many places and never flinched from historical truths or from potent violence. It built a huge cast, and even in this final season, the sheer number of players threatened to derail this steam powered train, but the show never fully tipped over into incomprehension. Instead, it remained a grand experiment in the limits of original cable programming and was able to masterfully genre hop while exploring some truly complex characters.
I just can’t leave this show without crediting the people behind the scenes. From The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple to modern day comic book mastermind Matt Fraction, some true genre giants helped build the world of Da Vinci’s Demons. We also have to mention composer Bear McCreary (of The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica fame) who contributed possibly the greatest score of his storied career. Plus, stunt coordinator Nick Gillard (who, by the way, was responsible for the stunts in the Star Wars prequels), crafted some of the coolest action pieces on modern TV. The attack on Naples in the first episode of the new season was truly a sight to behold.
So take that bow gentlemen, while never a masterpiece, damn, was Da Vinci’s Demons fun.