Da Vinci’s Demons: The Rope of the Dead

The latest episode of Da Vinci's Demons is co-written by David S. Goyer and comics scribe Matt Fraction. Here's Marc's review.

This Da Vinci’s Demons review contains spoilers.

Attention comic fans, this week’s episode of Da Vinci’s Demons is penned by show creator David S. Goyer and Matt Fraction, the genius scribe responsible for three of the greatest books on today’s comic racks, Satellite Sam and Sex Criminals from Image and Hawkeye from Marvel. This seems to be Fraction’s first television writing credit and it will be fascinating to see if he can weave the same magic on a television drama that he does on a comic page.

This is as much Lorenzo and Riario’s episode as it is Da Vinci’s as the show continues to effectively juggle between points-of-view. Early on, we get some insight into Riario through Zita, the slave girl Riario has taken under his wing and into his bed, and more unexpectedly, into his heart.  Through Zita, Riario has moved beyond his simple role as the sword of God and into a more three dimensional villain whose actions are not so black and white anymore.

The other third of the trinity, poor Lorenzo is doing his best impression of Theon Greyjoy as he is being tortured by the King of Naples. The King is mighty pissed because Lorenzo knew his wife biblically. Lorenzo is out of his element as his riches, men, and political savvy cannot save him from the sick and jealous husband of the woman he once bedded. Lorenzo is beaten so bad he starts seeing visions of his dead brother Giuliano, the first but not the last spectral guide that appears this episode.

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Lorenzo has an interesting prospect put in front of him as a means of execution. Lorenzo will be tied neck first to a horse while armed with a bow and a single arrow; if Lorenzo can shoot the horse before his own necks snaps he will be freed. The Duchess, Lorenzo’s former paramour,  makes a power play and tries to convince Lorenzo to shoot her husband instead of the horse, the logic being that Lorenzo death’s would mean their freedom from the cruel king. Well, it’s all certainly a bit more convoluted than a simple guillotine.

Da Vinci finds himself in a bit of a pickle as he must marry the Incan priestess and to seal the wedding pact; one of Da Vinci’s companions must spill blood on his behalf in order for the marriage ritual to be complete. Riario, always eager to spill a bit of non-Christian plasma, volunteers. Like Lorenzo, Da Vinci must face a trial of his own, but the artist must ironically rely on Riario as his champion. Just to make sure everyone plays ball, Da Vinci is poisoned by a serpent and Riario must survive three predators for Da Vinci to be gifted the antidote. Riario’s unlikely role as champion is pure Fraction, a writer who constantly explores themes of redemption and the nature of heroism and sacrifice. Like all good villains, Riario is the hero in his own tale, and this is his chance to prove it…and if he gets to spill some pagan blood along the way, so much better for the Sword of Christ.

With Lorenzo and Da Vinci in deep poopie, we check in with Lucrezia and her ninja. This is where things get pretty surprising and odd…after the ninja gets drugged, the Turk from Da Vinci’s visions shows up and recruits Lucrezia into the quest for the Book of Leaves. The repercussions of this are pretty staggering. Is the Turk actually real, if so, what exactly is Da Vinci seeing in his dreams, and what role does the beautiful Lucrezia play in the whole thing?

Things get even more confounding as the Turk grants Lucrezia a vision of her long dead sister. So Da Vinci is seeing ghosts, Lorenzo is seeing ghosts, and now Lucrezia is seeing ghosts of her own. Sometimes a motif becomes a crutch and this show is becoming dangerously close to hobbling itself with an overreliance on the supernatural.

Da Vinci beds down with his new bride, tripping on Incan dream wine and serpent poison. While Da Vinci enters a coitus-induced vision quest (awesome band name), Riario awakens in a cornfield. Hunted in a land where the light of his God does not shine, a pagan place, Riario must resort to savagery to defeat the Incas, and boy does he, decked out in war paint, he bites, claws, and stabs the shit out of his pursuers. The man of God becomes a primal man of nature and gets all nativist Rambo on his Incan hunters. This sequence is just beyond the boundary of awesome and into another realm as Riario has gone from generic villain to the breakout character of the season

Through Da Vinci’s spirit journey, the episode saves itself despite all the supernatural shenanigans, as Da Vinci sees the Mona Lisa for the first time in his vision. Goyer and Fraction get all metaphysical up in here as Da Vinci sees his most famous of paintings hanging in a modern museum. Who knew snake venom, Incan drugs, and Incan sex can make things all timey wimey?

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Da Vinci gains an understanding to his place in history and how his works, particularly the Mona Lisa, will bring himself and the world joy and a sort of salvation. Now that’s some storytelling and Goyer and Fraction should get credit for respecting their viewers enough to get so experimental. Da Vinci’s Demons may be overusing the ghost bits, but it makes up for this overreliance through sheer gutsy storytelling. Bravo!

Ghosts might be getting tiresome, but Riario’s Rambo impression is not, as he uses the pagan battleground to his advantage and takes out the Inca hunters in the most wet and grisly ways possible. The wet meat on wet meat smacking of the Inca versus Riario fight is sickening and visceral. The show is not afraid to get sublime but also has no fear in getting as real as a train wreck as Riario brings some uberviolence to the New World.

The violence doesn’t stop there as it is time for Lorenzo’s game. The first poor sucker that is put to the noose tries to shoot the King, but of course, whiffs badly and has his head popped clean off. Lorenzo proves himself a good man by begging for Da Vinci’s father’s life, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. To escape the noose, the spectral Giuliano advises that Lorenzo aims at who he hates the most, which turns out to be Giuliano himself, as Lorenzo is furious that his brother died and left him alone.  A nice little story twist, as Lorenzo aims the arrow at the ghost of Giuliano, killing the horse and freeing himself.

Lorenzo stand victorious and so does Riario. But his task is not as easy as he hoped as he approaches the Inca wearing the antidote; he sees it’s his beloved Zita. Riario, always putting duty first, kills the woman he freed and procures the antidote for Da Vinci. Zita appears in the spirit world in front of Da Vinci and utters the phrase “Tell him I forgive him.” The moment is pure brilliance as Riario throws away his only chance at true happiness to save a man he despises.

What I learned…

– Matt Fraction can write the hell out of TV show, and someone needs to option Sex Criminals NOW!

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– Incan weddings are weird.

– There is such a thing as too many ghosts.

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3.5 out of 5