Da Vinci’s Demons: 102 “The Serpent” Review
Reviewed by Tyler Davies.
Last week’s episode didn’t quite turn out to be the outstanding premiere I was hoping for, but it did set up an intriguing premise for the rest of the series. I was therefore eager to see whether this episode would justify the hype surrounding the show (Note: it has already been renewed for a second season) and redeem itself. The question which presents itself now is whether it managed to do exactly that? Short answer: No, not quite.
“The Hanged Man” saw our hero getting himself entangled in a feud between the mighty men of Italy, but more important was his encounter with the cryptic Turk – Al-Rahim. “The Serpent” continues on from this and it is evident from the very beginning that Leonardo has become consumed by Al-Rahim’s secret society and ‘The Book of leaves’. The episode opens up with him investigating the dead corpse of the Jewish man who was unrightfully hanged in the last episode – hoping that this will lead him closer to some answers. After a few neat deductions he dissects the body, in an extremely calm fashion, and finds the man to have a key in his stomach. What ensues is a series of further deductions as Leonardo attempts to ascertain the true importance of the key.
Last week’s episode had its fair share of problems, but Leonardo’s character was not one of them. Unfortunately, this has changed to a certain extent and I now find his characterisation to be veering towards the ridiculous. His sudden investigative nature is highly implausible and it just feels contrived. There were no signs of him having the instincts of a detective before, but now, out of the blue, he is fully capable of contemplating and drawing accurate conclusions whenever a puzzle presents itself. I would have been fine with this character trait if it was presented in a believable manner, but it wasn’t. Leonardo’s deductions move at a feverish pace and they portray him as a detective by profession – rather than a knowledgeable man looking for answers.
These Sherlock-esque moments consume a large part of the episode so I was severely displeased, and especially since it averted the attention from what should have been the main-focus of this story – Leonardo’s strain to perfect his new invention.
The Duke of Milan’s death in last week’s opener is shown to have left Florence unprotected and in a very fragile state. Lorenzo Medici consequently pressures Leonardo to complete the work on his mighty siege weapon otherwise they will essentially be left defenseless. The weapon in question, his pipe organ musket, is an ingenious contraption and it’s truly impressive once it becomes the assertive weapon Leonardo had envisaged. The only problem with this plot element is that the audience is concealed from how he completes the work on it. There’s nothing which indicates how e came to the realization of that the gun was in need of a rotating motion. It’s fairly obvious that the writers decided to focus on the protagonist’s quest instead, but this secondary plot was actually more captivating. They should have allowed it to develop more naturally rather than cutting it short due to other storylines. I would therefore say that one of the flaws of the previous story has been carried onto this episode and that flaw lies with Goyer because he has far too many ideas. Even a running time of 60 minutes isn’t enough for him to realise them thoroughly.
In my opinion there is an excess of characters in this series and, frankly, none of them were appealing in the opener. This has thankfully changed and the central ones are established well in this episode. Count Riario, who had appeared meagerly in the previous episode, all of a sudden has a prominent part to play and he really comes into his own. A couple of scenes, such as the one where he maliciously tortures the young Nico, do a great job at consolidating him as Leonard’s ultimate foe. Blake Ritson must also be commended for giving an arresting performance as the Pope’s influential nephew. His malevolent demeanor elevates the character a lot.
In terms of enjoyment; this story is relatively the same as last week’s. It has its memorable moments, but it never quite picks up until the final quarter when we see the two headstrong men, Count Riario and Lorenzo, have a brawl. Their battle for power is one of the more engaging portions of this series and it’s intensified by excellent performances from both the actors. Those yearning for some historical authenticity will also be largely satisfied as there is actual truth to this power-struggle. Within the show’s story though; Leonardo is the tipping point in this claim for power due to his unprecedented intelligence and ambition – thus having enormous importance to both sides. I am completely clueless as to whether this part is factual or not, but regardless of that it still adds weight to the character and his importance to the renaissance era. The approach Goyer seems to be opting for is to portray Da Vinci as the hero of the aforementioned era and this does well at highlighting that.
Best Scene of the episode:
As Leonardo states early in the episode; presentation is essential and that explains why he pledges his allegiance to the people of Florentine in the most theatrical fashion. In the masterful ending -Leonardo arrogantly dismisses Count Riario’s offer of joining forces and makes it clear where his allegiance lies. This scene also adds a new facet to Leonardo’s persona and that is mercilessness – his pipe organ musket cripples and kills several of Riario’s henchmen (Whilst the Count himself miraculously walks away with a mere scratch) in a brutal manner. I would have been truly shocked if he showed no remorse after the murder of these men, but we do get to see him apologising, yet also stating that his actions were necessary. This was a terrific scene as well as a character defining moment for Da Vinci and I hope he continues to show darker shades throughout the next six episodes.
The second part of Da Vinci’s Demons is, yet again, entertaining, but it does very little to redeem itself. The ‘pipe organ musket’ storyline could have been great, but it feels largely underdeveloped. The writers overreliance on the mystery quotient is only to the detriment of this, otherwise, good story and it blatantly (excuse the pun) misfires.