Review of Da Vinci's Demons Episode 2: The Serpent

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Da Vinci = Sherlock Holmes

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

The tale of how Leonardo Da Vinci fits (supposedly) into the political climate of Renaissance Italy and perhaps a greater global web of conspiracy and control continues with "The Serpent."  In this second episode, I already see a structural pattern that may be developing for the remainder of this initial season in that substance induced visions set Leo on the path for which his exploits will follow.  The mystery and cryptic nature of Leonardo’s visions dangerously tip toe along the line that separates intrigue and absurdity.  This really puts an unnecessary burden on the viewer to really want to see the episode through to the very end before he or she has decided to make that kind of commitment on a Friday night filled with channel surfing.  Perhaps creator David S. Goyer’s desire to designate substance abuse during this time period as common as drinking wine ought to be shelved in favor of a slightly more traditional hook to begin episodes.  The story of Da Vinci’s Demons is certainly layered with more than enough juicy plot to keep viewers coming back for more that it shouldn’t give them excuses to turn away from the very start.

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Stay with me.  The investigation is just getting started.

As for the plot, Leonardo’s pursuit of a once thought, mythological source of knowledge known only as ‘The Book of Leaves’ continues via baby steps in this episode that certainly comes off as an investigation worthy of Sherlock Holmes.  Da Vinci continues to use his photographic powers of observation and deduction to connect the events that unfold before him in the city-state of Florence to clues that are vital to his fated path of enlightenment.  What makes this episode work a tad better than the first is that other characters are given more opportunities to develop independent of Da Vinci’s presence which not only makes each character rounder, but makes Leonardo’s interaction with them that more meaningful.  I also like how this episode reveals the maestro as more than a selfish artisan, but as a loyal patriot to his native Florence.  It’s an important development that finally establishes Da Vinci as a hero and not simply smarter than everyone else.  Overall, the plot’s progression continues to intrigue as it leaves the viewer with a new destination in mind for our hero which may lead him to entirely new shores.

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It looks like I will be Da Vinci's nemesis.

It seems as though the budget allotted to each episode via Starz precludes the possibility of having episodes strictly devoted to action and set pieces that require the use of prolonged special/visual effects to get the idea across.  Where "The Hanged Man" episode used sparing visual effects for a couple of Da Vinci’s inventions and his “bullet-time vision, "The Serpent" uses effects for his inventions and a harrowing escape involving a rapid ascent via pulleys.  Yes, budget limitations can be used to a filmmaker’s advantage in that it forces one to rely on spectacle less and writing/performance more.  However, it can also lead to predictability, because if a very elaborate effect is used early in an episode, chances are the audience will not see another.  I understand that this is a very nitpicky criticism, but if the idea is to show Da Vinci’s works as awe-inspiring, then showing more visual effects is an inevitability that the budget may not have accounted for.

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Perhaps one of Da Vinci's infernal devices at work?

The only other character I’m starting to be interested in beyond Da Vinci himself is Lucrezia Donati, played by Laura Haddock, and yes, my interest goes beyond the regular nudity her character engages in.  Being a secret agent for Rome (which isn’t portrayed in the kindest light), she is meant to infiltrate the ruling Medici family and report her findings.  However, her budding relationship with Da Vinci and her proximity to Lorenzo may have compromised her self-serving nature.  She appears to be showing genuine affection to Leonardo, but it may still be her ingratiating herself into his inner circle for nefarious ends.  Either way, Lucrezia is a woman to watch for her fate may be more closely tied to Da Vinci’s than any of us realize.

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Keep your eyes on the prize Leo; not the thighs.

I enjoyed this second episode, but I am disappointed at the fact that this first season is already 25% complete.  With only 6 episodes left, I feel the show may not have accomplished enough plot-wise to justify a second season which traditionally means a new direction, characters and stakes.  Unless, of course, the “second season” is simply “season one: volume 2,” which would make more sense if released within the same year; along the lines of what AMC does with The Walking Dead.  Too much downtime between volumes of the same season without some evolutionary leap in the storytelling process would lose viewers and ultimately kill the show.  Next Friday’s episode "The Prisoner" will reveal even more, but it remains to be seen how only 8 one hour-long episodes can effectively communicate the conflict between one man of singular intelligence and talent against a sea of corruption, control, greed and violence.

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