The second episode of Da Vinci's Demons presented da Vinci with the man who would be, for all intents and purposes, his nemesis as far as the quest for the Book of Leaves is concerned – although the apparent wickedness of the papacy and the conspiracies involved in that group certainly help to round out those who would stand in da Vinci's way.
It was what appeared to be the beginning of a great rivalry between two men driven to complete the same task, but for wildly different purposes. As it stood, Blake Ritsons' Count Riario provided a fun and sometimes interesting distraction from some of the tonal problems in the script and the fact that Tom Riley appears to have the same hairstylist as Kate Beckinsale did in the 1997 film Shooting Fish.
Instead of continuing to play up the nascent rivalry between Riario and da Vinci, the third episode puts that conflict on the back burner in exchange for some symbolic game playing between Riario and a man whose face remains unseen throughout the episode, while da Vinci heads off to a convent that's recently been hit with an epidemic of "demonic possessions" to show everybody what an episode of CSI might look like if set in the 15th century.
After da Vinci's spectacular display of engineering prowess at the end of 'The Serpent' earned him the trust of Lorenzo Medici, it more or less earned him the ire of Lorenzo's meathead brother Giulino (Tom Bateman). The characters have been at odds since the series premiere, but as they both find themselves pursuing the mystery of the "possessions" at the Convent of St. Anthony, a somewhat tenuous truce between them is born when Lupo Mercuri (Nick Dunning) starts strangling the "possessed" women of the convent in an effort to burn the evil out of them and keep the flock in line.
It seems clear that 'The Prisoner' is intent on illustrating the difference between the good man of science that da Vinci is and the others who are either gripped with belief that the convent has suddenly been filled with a hellish influence, or are intent to keep others believing that (which, of course, is the key element that da Vinci is battling so far in the series).
It would be unfair to say that the episode as a whole doesn't work, because there are elements that come off rather intriguing – e.g., the gentleman who seems content to stay behind bars and occasionally play what looks like Go with Riario and basically lay out the plot of the episode, is himself a compelling mystery, even if everything he says comes off a being painfully obvious.
But one has to question why the series would pause just as things ramped up at the end of last episode so that da Vinci could solve a mystery by using a lantern full of fireflies.
Yes, there is an element of Sherlock Holmes in Goyer's da Vinci, and it's plain to see the appeal of utilizing that aspect for the entirety of an episode, but it doesn’t feel like episode 3 was exactly the best time to drop such an installment.
All in all, other than a mostly unconvincing alliance between Giulino and da Vinci, as the investigation into the mysterious possessions progresses, the actual da Vinci portion of 'The Prisoner' winds up being filled with too many characteristics we've already been told about with regard to Leonardo, rather than offering a compelling expansion of his abilities or thought processes (for example: there's another segment involving him watching birds take flight, which may lead to something larger, but for now feels like an unnecessary reminder he likes watching birds take flight).
On the bright side, while da Vinci is stuck doing a familiar song and dance, there're some interesting developments back in Florence as Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock) is confronted by Lorenzo's wife, Clarice Orsini (played by Sherlock alum Lara Puliver) in a tense scene that's followed up by Donati planting fake evidence against Lorenzo's top advisor, Gentile Becchi (Michael Elwyn), convincing everyone he is actually the spy in their midst.
In the end, it seems odd for a series with just eight episodes in its first season to spend an hour walking in the footsteps of the previous two installments rather than heading off in the direction that's been so clearly laid out before it.
As evidenced by the way the plot of 'The Prisoner' progressed through great leaps and bounds (and sudden hallucinations), Da Vinci's Demons isn't the kind of series that needs or even wants to spend much time setting the table – so hopefully the episodes to come will do a better job of just cutting to the chase.
Da Vinci's Demons continues next Friday with 'The Magician' @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview of the episode below:
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