Da Vinci’s Demons, Ep. 1.04: “The Magician” – History is alive

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Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 1: Episode 4 – “The Magician”
Directed by Jamie Payne
Written by David S. Goyer and Jami O’Brien
Airs Friday nights at 9 on Starz

Something that might interest me more than it should is how seemingly unrelated shows can connect on any given week, much like how Leonardo reminds Clarice Orsini in “The Magician” that everything is connected to everything. Take the episode of Community that aired the night before Da Vinci’s Demons. In it, Abed strives in a typically Abed fashion to trace an elaborate backstory for the study group – everything is connected. When da Vinci is looking at the picture of The Magician at the end of last night’s episode, he recalls the mysterious echoes of the Turk in the pilot, and suddenly every symbolic image in the picture comes together in the same way it did for Community: things make sense, I suppose, but the endpoint or epiphany isn’t all that interesting compared to the process of getting there.

The writers appear to have realized that Da Vinci’s Demons gets a lot of its entertainment from pitting da Vinci and Riario against each other in battles of strategy and wits. The downside that comes with that is how the funny and engaging scenes that material provides will probably lose their luster before the show finds other, more meaningful kinds of scenes in which characters can play off each other that flawlessly. These two can’t clash physically all the time, either, and so far the episodes have been content to tease and build up those confrontations until a later date. All that said, it was still satisfying to see da Vinci interrupt Lorenzo’s surrender by turning the tables on Riario in a bluff. The flashbacks to the occasions in which Riario has almost been…well, exploded by da Vinci’s inventions were meant to convince us that Riario would back down in the face of a giant, fake crossbow. But the way Tom Riley has played this eccentric version of da Vinci is convincing enough in its own right. After all, Riario tends to get ahead of himself and winds up empty-handed, as in his game of Go with the prisoner last week, after which he slammed the game board down like a child.

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Halfway through its first season already, I’m reluctant to call out Da Vinci’s Demons on some of its early, repetitive issues just because this clearly feels to me like a show that is dipping its feet in the water before plunging anywhere in particular (and one that has inherited a Friday-night spot in the wake of the dearly departed Spartacus). Yes, there aren’t really any meaty scenes to chew on here that give you a sense of confidence on the show’s part. But most of this is just mindless fun and shouldn’t be taken at anything beyond that yet. All of the mysteries that pile on top of each other and all the binds that da Vinci unintentionally escapes through tangents that a geometry professor would blush at are just part of the package at the moment. And even though the show has proven that it’s capable off killing characters in the early going, I don’t expect any of the main players to be in any jeopardy here – especially Lucrezia, who is apparently capable of spying like a boss and is the only recurring, quintessential Starz female role.

So, what are the ways in which Da Vinci’s Demons can end its first run of episodes and feel like a relative success? Alan Sepinwall recently described the final episode of The Americans‘ first season in this way, saying that there doesn’t have to be some big event or cliffhanger that gives either full closure or create anticipation on a manipulative level. It has to do with feeling like the episodes that came before it were building up to something that happens in the finale. This is now the second episode of Da Vinci’s Demons in a row that has suggested that da Vinci will be looking to travel to South America. If that’s what the next four episodes build up to and where they take us, that’s great. I’m totally satisfied with that. But if we get more and more of this Rome vs. Florence cloaks and daggers stuff that just gets rehashed every week and we finish the season still stuck within that structure, then viewers have the right to feel a bit letdown by this show that has at least provided some nice explosions, snappy dialogue and, of course, sex scenes. I’ll try not to come back to this forward-speculation too much over the next few episodes, but it seemed appropriate now that we’re at the halfway point. And to end on a more minor, positive note that I’ve not mentioned yet, that title sequence and the music it’s set to are fantastic. Little things like that set a good tone at the start of every episode.

“The Magician” by the Words:
– “I think you’re drunk, old man.” “And you’re jealous, Botticelli. Tomorrow, I’ll be sober. But you’ll still be jealous.”
– “It’s better to be a coward now than a traitor later.”
– “I think I have a cat in my bag. Would you like to kick that too?”
– “I’d rather have my testicles gnawed off by conger eels.”
– “We read that we ought to forgive our enemies. We do not read that we ought to forgive our friends.”

“The Magician” by the Numbers:
– 100: the amount of Botticellis that Verrocchio would trade for another da Vinci.
– 3: the amount of pomegranates that da Vinci keeps by his bed while partaking in certain pleasures, because why not?
– 1: the amount of 15th-century fedoras, Ray-Bans and Rolexes that Riario wears, because – also – why not?

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