Leonardo da Vinci has not been seen in Florence for two entire episodes now and Da Vinci's Demons is suddenly an adventure series because of it. Sure, it's still a deeply flawed adventure series, but at least things are happening beyond da Vinci's involvement with the Medicis and it feels like the story is progressing (albeit at a very deliberate pace) toward the storyline the series had promised since that first episode way back when.
Last week saw da Vinci and his companions, Nico and Zoroaster, spend an evening in Vlad the Impaler's castle and learn a thing or two about the concept of real evil and witness (inconclusively) forces beyond what the world would have them know existed. While it felt like a throwaway episode, what with the trio traveling the lengthy expanse between Florence and Vlad's castle in the blink of an eye, as the supporting cast was scattered across the country, securing favors, plotting, scheming or otherwise being punched in the face by the pope with his massive pope ring, 'The Devil' was the closest Da Vinci's Demons had come to expounding on the larger narrative, and the inclusion of Dracula seemed to suggest the series was, in some small way, prepared to accept its hokey nature and simply run with it.
In some regard, that's also true of 'The Hierophant.' Da Vinci's Demons has had enough trouble getting its main character to do anything remotely related to the Book of Leaves and the Vault of Heaven, and by giving da Vinci time away from the brothers Medici, it's seemingly remembered that this is supposed to be a quasi-fantasy adventure series and not a historical drama.
If anything, the last two episodes have illustrated what a burden the subplot of Lorenzo and his go-nowhere misadventures in Florentine banking and Giuliano's halfhearted investigation into the circumstances surrounding Becci's death have been to the series' ability to progress its own storyline. It's even more unflattering to realize the only interesting thing Giuliano has done this entire season is float down a lazy river after being stabbed by Lucretia Donati.
More importantly, however, 'The Hierophant' finally gives the audience a glimpse at the stakes of the series, by allowing da Vinci access to the Vatican archives with Pope Sixtus as his tour guide, after a wonderfully ridiculous sequence that found Leonardo drilling into the papal bath and emerging through a thick, swampy fog as though he just crash-landed on Dagobah. At any rate, things go gloriously over the top when Sixtus takes da Vinci to Vatican's treasure trove via an elevator system built right into the archive's floor. Once there, we see Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant and the Spear of Destiny, among many other artifacts.
But the series finally goes full-boar when da Vinci winds up skewering a heavily armored guard with the Spear of Destiny as though he were cutting through warm butter. And yes, da Vinci makes like Samwell and leaves an incredibly powerful weapon behind after dispatching a single foe with it, but at least he manages to secure the second key to the Vault of Heaven since Nico and Zoroaster managed to detain Riario after a brief scuffle.
'The Hierophant' is really the first episode this season to have its plot tied into the overall narrative of the series. The fact that the first real glimpse of plot progression comes to us in the season's penultimate episode, however, shows just how bungled the storyline has been since the premiere. It's hard to think just what we've learned in the episodes between the 'The Hanged Man' and 'The Hierophant' that couldn't have been given to the audience in a brief bit of exposition or a flashback sequence, which ultimately speaks to the tremendous lack of direction this season has seen.
There's still one episode left this season, and considering where we are at the end of 'The Hierophant' it seems unlikely that we'll see any significant progression of da Vinci's quest for the Book of Leaves. With any luck, the Medici's feud with the Pazzi's will come to some kind of conclusion, so as this series trudges toward season 2, it will have a better shot of actually telling the story it set out to in the first place.
Da Vinci's Demons will conclude season 1 next Friday with 'The Lovers' @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview below: