Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 1: Episode 5 – “The Tower”
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Written by Joe Ahearne
Airs Friday nights at 9 on Starz
So, to continue the trend of piecing together seemingly unrelated things in these Da Vinci’s Demons reviews (I consider this completely appropriate because of the outrageous fashion in which da Vinci solves his problems in this show), let me turn your attention to Bruce Dickinson’s song, “The Tower,” with which this episode shares its name. Is it a coincidence that the album from which that song comes from, The Chemical Wedding, is concerned with mysticism to a similar degree that Da Vinci’s Demons is? Definitely. But all coincidences aside, it’s hard to ignore lyrics like “The moon and sun divided / The hanged man smiles” after seeing some of the closing images of the episode “The Tower” – the hanged man tarot card, the vision Leonardo sees of himself hanging upside down. So, how could The Chemical Wedding help inform a viewing of Da Vinci’s Demons? It’s ultimately an exercise with little contextual importance – one that would cause David S. Goyer to scratch his head if, you know, he ever read these reviews – but the album closes with a song called “The Alchemist,” whose character parallels aspects of Leonardo. “Don’t try and blame me for your games / Your games are death / My world is light / The angels fill my eyes / With every breath,” Bruce sings. We know da Vinci isn’t religious, but that worldview of “light” is something that fits with him. He very much exists on a different plane from everyone else in the show. His father says his genius is wasted on him, but we know da Vinci’s genius would be wasted on anyone else in Florence. He isn’t concerned with those games of death that Lorenzo has immersed himself into – da Vinci lives for Nature and exploring its greatest complexities. Like in the semi-narrative of The Chemical Wedding, the basest of organic materials are fascinating for Leonardo because they pave a way for understanding himself.
With the return of The Turk, da Vinci is getting closer and closer to filling in those personal gaps from his past. He even gets a little bit of information about his mother pried from his father’s stubbornness, which was played wonderfully by David Schofield; in fact, this whole episode really fleshed out papa da Vinci in a way that made the father-son relationship just interesting enough for me to care about going forward. This man isn’t as much of a bastard as Tywin is to Tyrion in Game of Thrones, but that’s the position that was taken at the beginning of the season. It’s relieving to see some humanity in that character and to see Leonardo react to it. Da Vinci’s father tells him to stay out of trouble, and on any other day da Vinci would have snapped back with a snarky remark. But he and his father had a moment of bonding in their court defense, so a benign “I will [stay out of trouble]” ends up reading as a great and subtle moment of familial connection for these two people who are usually clashing.
Da Vinci’s Demons hasn’t established those quiet moments as centerpieces. Instead, it piles on the flashy scenes, which usually feel forced, though sometimes enjoyable. In “The Tower,” that scene is the peak of da Vinci’s lunacy as he’s blackmailing the magistrate, who is strapped naked behind a pig. Tom Riley looks like he’s having so much fun waving that flare around while jumping about. These campy moments certainly have a target audience, and even though I am not a part of that audience, it’s hard not to grin when Riley is completely unrestrained. The good thing about the show so far is that those moments are interspersed between ones like Lorenzo trying to get Spain to invest in Florence’s bank. Maybe it’s Elliot Cowan’s natural charisma or just that I’m not thinking too deeply about these characters’ flaws, but it ends up being really easy to root for Lorenzo. He gives an incredibly genuine and nationalistic (in the best of ways) speech to try and pretty-up Florence as a city, and it completely works. Not just in terms of it working to convince his potential investors, it works by making the viewer realize that this guy really cares about his city. In the same way that da Vinci’s ideals define him in opposition to most of the politicians around him, Lorenzo’s ideals define him as the leader that Florence needs. The Spanish official is surprised that Lorenzo knows citizens’ names and that he can rule by empathy rather than intimidation. If Da Vinci’s Demons has fallen short on the plot level over and over, it has at least carved out places for its two main characters going forward. They are sometimes obstacles to one another – much like Spartacus and Crixus were in the first season of their Starz show – but they can achieve mutual benefit under the right circumstances. And, fortunately, it seems like that is how their relationship is going to run in future episodes.
“The Tower” by the Words:
– “You’ll do as instructed.” “I’m an elected official. I’ll do as someone pays me to do.”
– “I swear to God I’m not mad. I’m desperate, enraged, in need of a good meal, but I am not mad.”
– “Phosphorous bat-shit bombs…maybe I am losing my mind…”
– “I suppose you are aware that this device can only function in the daylight?” “I’ve prepared for that.” “Of course you have. And have you given the same amount of thought to what would happen if it doesn’t work?” “None whatsoever.”
– “Every kiss sends a message. That one was goodbye.”
“The Tower” by the Numbers:
– 15: the amount of minutes Nico was knocked out as a guinea pig for more shenanigans. Poor Nico.
– 4: the amount of documents da Vinci gets the magistrate to sign, because being acquitted just isn’t good enough.
– 1: the amount of things that Giulino is better than Lorenzo at (fighting).