Da Vinci’s Demons: 104 “The Magician” Review
Reviewed by Tyler Davies.
Last week’s episode proved to be a strong outing, despite giving off a strong procedural vibe. It also did very little to develop the ongoing storylines, but this was not to the detriment of the story neither. It was actually one of the most formidable aspects of it and it allowed the narrative to move at a natural pace. Nevertheless, the drastic turn of events in ‘The Magician’ is equally welcome as the writers clearly intend to set up for the final half of the series. There are still some developments which I find questionable though and I will, as would be expected, expand on this later.
The thrust of this week’s story is the eminent threat posed by Count Riario. He and the Pope impose a list of contentious terms and decide to up the ante by pledging to obliterate the Medici’s entire force if they do not find them agreeable. The menace imposed by them is depicted with great fervor and this makes Florence’s desperation feel justified. In fact, a major part of this episode is spent on establishing the imperilment which awaits Florence if they do not comply with the Pope’s demands. This is for the most part done through Leonardo’s visions, an instrument which has proven to be ideal for the writers, but also through Riario’s vicious actions. His actions display no shortage of brutality and his means of intimidation are largely effective. These means range from murdering a line of workers to surreptitiously poisoning the populations trust in the Medici’s. I must say, after a series of debacles, it was satisfying to finally see his actions having the intended effect on the magnanimous Lorenzo’s psyche.
Speaking of the Italian ruler; he embodies a heartless nature in Florence’s difficult time and we see his goodness heavily deteriorate. I initially found the sudden ferocity in him to be a great depiction of how disrupted he is by the situation in Florence and also Becchi’s supposed betrayal (most visibly showcased by his lack of trust in anyone), but I do wish there would have been some form of build up towards it. After all, he is the same man who mercifully pardoned Leonardo, despite his clear failure with the pipe organ musket, and was easily taken in by Lucrezia’s lies last week. To have the same man mandating an abhorrent execution of an innocent person is far-fetched and dubious.
The voice of reason in this dire situation is, surprisingly, the younger Medici brother. Lorenzo is extremely quick to accuse Becchi of treason, but Giuliano’s unwavering respect for his father-figures does not allow itself to be challenged. He does everything in his power to sway his brother to let Becchi go free and this presents him in a different light. It is probably the best piece of character development we have had from Giuliano and it gives him a meaningful character trait too. I’ve always been perplexed by the writers’ choice to portray him as an arrogant dimwit, but it seems they have plans to alter this.
You may have noticed that I’ve barely mentioned the sagacious main character, but that’s due to his minimal involvement in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, his screen time isn’t seriously undermined, but I was still taken aback by how long he remains inactive.
Nevertheless, once Leonardo becomes a part of the proceedings – he instantly becomes a key figure in the ongoing battle. For a refreshing change though, Leonardo does not come across as merely a suave hero. He has previously shown shades of his moral complexity, but it finally comes to the fore. I wouldn’t say that there’s deep pathos in “The Magician”, but it does show Leonardo reflecting upon the consequences of his inventions. It was pleasant for a moment to see Leonardo becoming a thoughtful character, but speedily presents some problems for me.
His position of a war engineer is one which he has never embraced and at the time of war he realises that his weapons will only bring further destruction. I find this to be… well… dumb! His concern is credible, but you begin to wonder why he even sought to have the position as war engineer in the first place. The implied reason is that it will bring him closer to ‘The Book of Leaves’, but this portrays him as an absurdly obsessed man. I’ve never been fond of Leonardo’s preoccupation with ‘The Book of Leaves’ and definitely not when it dominates his standing and eventual decisions. That is exactly what seems to be at bay though. It is made staunchly clear that Leonardo is inadequate with taking lives, a thought which he must have had whilst initially presenting his weapon schematics to Lorenzo, but yet he is unwilling to step away due to his obsession. Leonardo does not fulfill his task as a war engineer and even puts a stop to the production of his own pipe organ muskets. As a result, he comes across as a stubborn buffoon and consequently endangers Florence. I am left wondering what his discernment of the situation must have been if he was fine with taking such volatile action. Fair enough, in the end he outwits the Pope’s impending forces without any bloodshed, but there is no way he could have predicted this at the moment of action. This laminates him into a selfish, volatile and inconsiderate man. It is sad to see such a negative development occur in the course of one episode, but the characters have never been the strongest point of this series.
Best Scene of the episode:
During the time when she’s not lying in bed with one of her three men, Lucrezia is shown to be feeling genuine remorse for victimizing Becchi in this episode. The ending therefore came as a surprise to me and, in consequence, made me lose every fragment of sympathy I had for her character. In a shocking turn of events – Lucrezia murders Becchi in his cell and abolishes any sign of this act. The sadness which envelops this scene is that Becchi dies a traitor and his closest believe him to have committed suicide to avoid his punishment. It’s a tragic moment which sets two primary things into play – Giuliano’s hunt for the true perpetrator and Lucrezia’s deepening path into darkness.
After four episodes – Da Vinci’s Demons certifies itself as a likable series, but in terms of storytelling and characters, it’s pretty much a mixed bag. Leonardo, himself, is the biggest problem of this episode, and the writers will have a difficult time trying to amend this.