‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ Season 1, Episode 2 Review – Borrowing Trouble

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Tom Riley in Da Vincis Demons The Serpent Da Vincis Demons Season 1, Episode 2 Review – Borrowing Trouble

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.

Ian Pirie Tom Bateman and Elliot Cowan in Da Vincis Demons The Serpent Da Vincis Demons Season 1, Episode 2 Review – Borrowing Trouble

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.

Blake Ritson in Da Vincis Demons The Serpent  Da Vincis Demons Season 1, Episode 2 Review – Borrowing Trouble

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:

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  1. Still hoping the show gets much better. This ep had all the same problems, though the best and worst moments were less extreme than the pilot. The slow mo birds combined with Leonardo’s perspective and distinct artistic style made for the best moment in the first two shows, and the similar scenes of insight and beauty last night were not as striking or strong. I dig the animation of a key and it’s implied tumbler pattern, and suspect this visual gimmick will be reused every week. Fortunately the lead wasnt as insufferably infallible and gifted as in the pilot, but he is still the biggest problem and the weakest element. It’s not that all the other actors are so great, it’s just that Leo HAS to be done well here, and he is not. He is exhaustingly modern, arrogant, brilliant and endlessly, breathlessly inventive. It’s tedious, but it bring up another pitfall: even if we knew that he was this unlikable, (and generically “cool”) in real life, do we really want to watch him act thusly?

    Another example (in which I sense a clear decision on the part of the show), is with his apprentice. It was widely believed that they were lovers, that Leo was homosexual as oppossed to bisexual or fiercely hetero, and that he left everything to the younger artist when he died. (If I recall correctly). So the first question that arises is: shouldnt he be more gay and not so much, if at all, a womanizer and studly vision of scruffy manliness? And secondly, if that would be much more historically accurate, do they want to rewrite history for the sake of the show? I for one would not enjoy the show as much if at all if it were to revolve around his gayness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it revolving around his sexuality at all, and I am a supporter of equal rights and such, but I simply wouldn’t enjoy watching such a gay show. Showtime can get pretty graphic, and I’d feel happier not being in the bedroom while gay men have sex. Call me a homophobe, but it just wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

    So my personal preference would be to de-emphasize all the requisite Showtime sexuality that is distracting and diminishing to the character quality, allow for some implied affection that will grow between Leo and his assistant, and make the lead character much less of a modern action hero. Even if it’s historically inaccurate, I’d rather have a DaVinci who isn’t a smug prick, doesn’t have a modern 100$ just-rolled-outta-bed haircut, can’t create preposterously magical scifi devices, and isn’t such a smirkingly perfect specimen of the species. He was probably pretty arrogant, but that isnt endearing, so while we are playing with historical accuracy, how about making a character that isn’t so unlikable? The actor is trying too hard, I suspect, and being told under great pressure what will win him an audience. Taking a cue from the artist himself though, I’d go for a more meticulously nuanced depiction without all the swashbuckling and 007 shenanigans. I will watch again next week and hope for less frustration and more thoughtfulness.

    By the way, the idea of life and death cyles they speak of was once suggested as the beginning of human spirituality. Imagine a caveman whose father breathes his last breathe…and then he hears his newborn baby cry for the first time. A sophisticated enough mind might start to draw connections, real or imagined, between death and birth. Cylcles of nature, balance, continuity, recycling of matter… A primitive mind may have thought the same things the wiseman spoke, constituting the birth of all religious thought, quite possibly. Fascinating.

  2. They’ve given this thing a second season, god. That pilot was absolutely awful

    • Yikes! Potential alone earned it a second episode in my opinion, as a chance to do better. But a second season based on what we’ve seen? That’s sad.

      • That’s TV (also movie) execs for ya I’m afraid.

        Call for another season (or a sequel) to something that hasn’t proved itself yet while denying the chance at more to other projects.

        • Starz did exactly the same with BOSS (gave it a second season around pilot) and the second season was brilliant but it still got axed.

          I think it’s more off the back of Spartacus ending too that they don’t have much that they renewed it.

          • I saw most of Boss, season one, and I liked it. Too bad it’s cancelled. Spartacus looked appealing from a production standpoint, but the few minutes I saw were pretty cheesy and full of weak style and fake sets rather than substance and subtlety. I have yet to see a full ep.

  3. This is gonna be awesome

  4. Just remember neither Fringe or even BSG had pilots that were as fantastic as these shows eventually became!

    • Well I’d agree that Fringe got much better, peaking withthe White Tulip episode, but then it became a teztbook disaster. By the end I was consistently very dissapointed and even insulted by the quality and effort put into the show.

      BSG had a few odd choices in the pilot, but it was also full of amazing moments of story, music, science, sets, special effects, nostalgia, strong characters, good actors, and best of all a real purpose. It too faltered by the last season or more, but first it made a lasting mark on scifi, tv, and its fans.

      I could believe that Defiance may put Fringe to shame if it ever gets any good, but if it ever approaches BSG quality I will question all that I believe. It’s got no clear ambition or vision beyond making money off mediocre television.

  5. You know that one guy you first see in a series you know your not going to like? Well Count Girolamo Riario is that guy.

    So it’s off to South America now and is DaVinci is going to be the one to discover it?

    • Based on the unlikable, infallible arrogance, I’d say Leo himself is the one.

  6. I cant really get into this at all, I have a very big depth of love all things related to Leonardo and that period of time. But this thing is not syncing for me personally, I don’t know i found something missing in it, something lacking, something empty, there is something of the Devine that is not there. When i examine DaVanci and all those times there is beauty,there is a depth of inspiration that cant be described until you put paint to canvas.

    I just cant take to this series there is no magic of feeling of paint on canvas here, it seems to be speed tracked towards sensational entertainment, than the real Leonardo, will we get to see Raphael present with Leonardo as Leonardo was painting the Mona lisa and how he was generous with Raphael in showing him his work, will we get to see and hear of some of what went on in the classroom of Leonardo and the writings of vasari and the writings from an author called merjcovsky who wrote a book in the 1930′s called the romance of Leonardo,, will we get to see his famous argument with Michael Angelo.

    I feel if these should be more in it than running around looking for some book is just mad,,
    Leonardo is not Indiana Jones, He was a real person, if your going to do anything on the man do it right, not all this book of eves.

    mind you i hate most of the shows on tv there all sh*te, and i just taught i would give this a try, i was not expecting much from this and i was right. Again there is something very much lacking,, the lack of real Devine Presence, instead we get distortion, and a murky web of half cooked supernatural that is very unhealthy for us to be opened up too. I keep hoping tho, you have to Hope,, look at the miracle of the series that was on about Jesus, that was superb, don’t get me wrong i love all mediums of film its just i hate some of the same ol same ol empty rubbishy entertainment of the half cooked supernatural crap that gets used and reused that seems to be dominant. No one wonder youtube is so popular folks dont have to put with crap any more they can just youtube something now.

    • Sort of a big can of worms in your spiritual arguments… I agree with most of what you said wholeheartedly, but as for the religious aspect I differ strongly. A story that uses religion historically is fine, and never addressing the accuracy or truth of a given faith is fair as well. After all, with so many different views, why should a story have to tell us that one is right and others are wrong? Unless of course it is a story from that faith like the Bible series, which will obviously begin and end with the assumption that this is all factual reality whether people believe it or not.

      I happen to be agnostic, and wide open to the possibilities and teachings of various peoples. On the other hand, I am also an observer of human nature, and find it hard not to filter every story through the lense of fallible humans. If we were to know for a fact that some text such as the bible was created every step of the way by the pure of heart believers that would never alter a fact to further their own interest or embellish any details of a sacred encounter, we would still have to rely on the inherently unreliable humans. So taking a massive step towards plausibility by removing all potential manipulations and inventions, (in itself a ridiculous notion), we still end up with stories that any non-indoctrinated person would question. My point being that the teaching of religion as fact is in itself a dubious and dangerous endeavor.

      You say that the show has half cooked supernatural crap, and I agree, but the reason you don’t think YOUR religion is full of the same wobbly inconsistency and baffling absurdity is because you have accepted its truth, probably long before you ever thought about any of it in terms of stories people tell. As a person who distrust other individuals and especially our entire species in general, I find the wisest of the faithful are focused on the result of their thoughts more than the source. If you share the beliefs of your community that may mean that you are POSITIVE that your cracker transformed into the flesh of Jesus, oritmay mean that you follow the preachings of poverty and give your money to the poor (instead of the church). Your belief structure may have indisputable values and community importance, but the core religion is a murkier issue. The implication that we all need to accept god into our hearts, and in so doing relinquish our right to doubt others that claim to stand between us and god… It’s a lot to ask, and more than a little creepy when society seeks to enforce conformity. I hear that a third of the country wants a national religion, and that is not only unamerican, but also says something bad about those thirty percent that need the rest of us to conform.

      Let’s not lose track of freedom of speech and religion. Believe whatever you wish to, whether it’s ancient texts or some screwey new -age gibberish. Spirituality and faith are potentially about questions and values, but established religion is often about answers and traditions more than social concerns. I’d be okay with any number of religious characters, but if they approached Christianity the way they have this “empty rubbish”, I would feel preached to. The underlying message would become “Cristianity is real, and it is magical.”. Well that doesn’t seem like a story that wants to entertain me, as opposed to indoctrinate or merely preach to the choir.

      I don’t trust strangers to tell me the truth, and tv is not a good place to be educated. For that reason I prefer fictional faith, whether it’s a newly made up religion (as opposed to an older, made up one), or just a non-recruitment story. Any time you sense ulterior motives you shoulD be distrustful. If this show spotlights the wonders of any particular religion then I will wonder why. Who is served by my belief? Is this entertainment or just someone’s agenda? Unless its a religious history story that is NOT MADE by the faithful believers, it is no longer entertainment, and becomes a lot stranger: recruitment. Religious characters are often appropriate and necessary, but a religiously oriented show that lacks any subjective/objective distinctions is unhealthy propaganda. Also, alienating those who have no religion or a different belief structure is an insidious evil in the world.

      Most of us know that we are expected to share certain cultural beliefs, but I find it very creepy that Presidents are expected to discuss how they absolutely do believe in the same exact magical stories that most of us do. They feel obliged to assure us that in times of national or global strife they will be kneeling to whisper to their favorite invisible deity who may or may not be be listening or bother to react. I’d be more impressed to hear him say that he would act swiftly in accordance with his training and expertise, and then “pray” he’d made the best choices.

      Pardon my ranting. Anyone actually read this? :)

  7. I just can’t get into the show. It seems slow and boring to me. The plots are all over the place and the script is average at best. It just doesn’t have that “it” factor that I usually get with series like Hannibal, Breaking Bad, GOT, TWD, Bates Motel, and most of all Spartacus. I feel bad for Starz because the way it’s going Spartacus might be their biggest and most successful series they ever made. I am interested to see Deknight’s next project for Starz but unfortunately that’s a year or 2 away. Good thing I got 3 free months for Starz or else I would have dropped it.