Da Vinci = Tony Stark
A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 1: “The Hanged Man”
By: Lawrence Napoli
Who ever really knew the genius behind the Renaissance polymath? A man of art, philosophy, creativity and ingenuity apparently had himself some inner demons with which he had to deal. At least, that’s what creator David S. Goyer would have you believe for the premium television series debut of Da Vinci’s Demons only on Starz; a show about the mystery surrounding the man, the myth and the legend of Da Vinci as he finds his way in life during tumultuous times.
Da Vinci, the dynamo.
This debut episode entitled The Hanged Man presents the setting of Florence, Italy during the middle of the Renaissance and the viewer is introduced to Leonardo in the prime of his youth. His creativity is literally bursting from his mind and his eagerness to extract every thought is just as ambitious. Despite the inspiration of the period, there are still social and political restraints that the man must contend with and it is in this specific regard where we learn of his first true demon, namely: how a genius such as he is to fit in with the rest of society.
Tom Riley plays Da Vinci in a manner that directly channels Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in just about every way. Perhaps this is the preferred method of portraying a human dynamo onscreen these days? Riley shows off a decent amount of charisma with the rest of his cast, but his best moments are shared with the mysterious character known as “The Turk” played by Alexander Siddig whom you will all remember as Dr. Bashir from Deep Space Nine. Riley’s energy matches his arrogance, but it appears that director David S. Goyer has steered Riley’s performance to reserved calm and focus whenever Leonardo engages in painting or drawing portraits; specifically those of beautiful women.
Dr. Bashir, I presume?
Oh yes fellow viewers, Da Vinci’s Demons won’t be appearing in high school classrooms anytime soon due to its R-rating for language and nudity and as this is more of a fictional elaboration of the man’s life, it won’t be appearing on the History Channel either. I get a very distinct Assassin’s Creed sensation while watching this show as not only the set and costume design mirror those used in Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations, but the concepts of conspiracy and shadow government is a thinly layered veil that obscures the events in which Da Vinci participates. Being a man of singular talent, he values the freedom to pursue his own machinations above all else so it remains to be seen if the protagonist will be presented as a proponent of social freedom, of social control or simply a man out for himself.
Da Vinci, the lover.
The only weakness of this debut episode is the fact that the show launches the viewer immediately into a plot rife with betrayal and conspiracy without being thorough about introducing Leonardo himself and what he’s all about. Goyer is counting on people being somewhat familiar with Da Vinci’s history as he gradually introduces his own unique vision of the man over the course of the next seven episodes. Honestly, I would have preferred a tad more time (perhaps even the entire episode) devoted to strictly establishing the character of Da Vinci. The audience is shown a multitude of the man’s talents over a fraction of the screen time which feels like the show is rushing through Leonardo’s key traits and abilities.
What drives Da Vinci to his multiple areas of expertise?
This show will not suffer from a lack of production value as the visual effects look great, but are used sparingly for wide establishing shots of various cities and provinces in addition to an impressive means of communicating Da Vinci’s photographic memory in the form of bullet time. This show certainly looks the part of a well developed series, but I still have a question in regards to the cast of characters. Although those of power certainly could be forms of opposition to Leonardo, no one appears to be worthy of being his intellectual foil. Perhaps the series will be pitting intelligence against politics and money and that would indeed be a fresh take on what the concept of “true power” means in society and how it pertains to groups as well as individuals. However, I get the impression that we may be in store for a singular adversary to Da Vinci which would be a tad formulaic and somewhat diminishing of the man’s well established brilliance. I would equate this potential conflict to pitting Superman against Lex Luthor: there really isn’t a match there. But, Superman versus world peace, world hunger, climate change, terrorism, etc; that would be very interesting because it pits an individual of infinite capacity against problematic ideas that are self replenishing.
Plenty of inventions are showcased in this show.
The Hanged Man was a good first episode, but I really need to see more of Leonardo’s character. He easily comes off as superior to his peers in every category save for resources, but he needs to generate a tad more sympathy to be “heroic.” I anticipate next week’s episode: The Serpent, to unravel a bit more of the shadowy plot, even more of his iconic inventions and dynamic applications of his natural talents. But, I also want to see a better connection between the main character and the audience rather than glazing over the mundane details of his personal relations.