Although it may have had led to some unintentional snickering or guffaws, Da Vinci’s Demons managed to score high enough ratings during last week’s series premiere that Starz has seen fit to grant it an early second season renewal.
Whether or not those numbers will continue to impress as the series goes forward (especially without the lead-in of Spartacus), remains to be seen. But perhaps the news that Marvel Comics writers Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman will be coming onboard to write for season 2 will keep the audience’s attention.
For the series’ second episode, ‘The Serpent,’ two alums of The Walking Dead – season 4 showrunner Scott M. Gimple and composer Bear McCreary – join Goyer in his anachronistic journey. It’s definitely too soon to say that either has had any positive creative impact on the series; McCreary’s contribution is difficult to put value on so soon, though there’s plenty to suggest that, like The Walking Dead, his musical stylings might soon become one of the more enjoyable portions of the show.
When it comes to Gimple, however, it’s worth noting that Goyer worked with him on Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – which, script-wise, was filled with some of the same tonal uncertainty as Da Vinci’s Demons. Then again, being shepherded by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor helped to inform the audience that the more flippant moments of the film were intentional.
While Da Vinci’s Demons might benefit from having Neveldine and Taylor to address some of the perplexing inconsistencies in the show’s tone – both in terms of making them more palatable and to simply confirm their deliberateness – ‘The Serpent’ seems to have found a way around that by offering Blake Ritson’s rather campy villain, Count Girolamo Riario, a far more prominent role in not only the second episode, but in the series’ overall plot, apparently.
Embracing the silliness of the series certainly seems like a good way to go. Watching as da Vinci’s first effort with the repeating cannon blows up, nearly killing him, his friend and two members of the Medici family, was reminiscent of watching as one of Wile E. Coyote’s ACME contraptions not only failed to capture the Road Runner, but also led to him suffering grievous bodily harm.
Of course, by the end of ‘The Serpent,’ da Vinci has perfected his repeating cannon and managed to slay six of Riario’s men, as evidence of that fact (which, to his credit, is something Wile E. Coyote never really managed). But more importantly, the episode is determined to establish a solid connection between the two characters that not only provides a far more stable foundation for the series to continue forward, but also gives the audience a character who is more fun to dislike because he’s so unlikable you forget about the negative qualities of da Vinci’s character.
Riario provides a much-needed nemesis for da Vinci to do battle with. The smarmy intensity that Ritson gives his character seems to mirror Riley’s portrayal of da Vinci, creating an interesting antagonism between the two characters that’s enhanced by the fact they’re each in possession of one-half of the key that will purportedly unlock the Vault of Heaven.
Of course, in an effort to add depth, it quickly becomes apparent that the two are very much like the keys in their possession: seemingly the same, but with subtle differences. Riario is a narcissist battling to suppress knowledge for nefarious reasons, while da Vinci is a narcissist battling to free knowledge and deliver it to the people. Hopefully, that competition between two men with very similar dispositions – i.e., they’re as driven by the notion of a quest as they are their own ego – will give the series some lift as it continues.
So far, pitting da Vinci against Riario in the search for the Book of Leaves has helped to alleviate some of the storytelling issues that bogged the first hour down so much. There’s still a lot to be desired – like an episode where da Vinci discovers a shirt with a neckline higher than his navel – but the prospect of a larger journey, wherein da Vinci and Riario clash to see who can reach the Vault of Heaven first, is an early bright spot for a series that was lacking one.
At least that gives the audience something other than the promise of more mechanical doves to look forward to.
Da Vinci’s Demons continues next Friday with ‘The Prisoner’ @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview of the episode below: