Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 1, Episode 2: “The Serpent”
Directed by David S. Goyer
Written by David S. Goyer and Scott M. Gimple
Airs Fridays at 9 pm EST on Starz
The second episode of Da Vinci’s Demons doubles up on explosions, but packing on the action doesn’t dust up the interest packing on a little more character development would. Leonardo continues to stand out as a dashing, charismatic lead. But so far, the show demonstrates no interest in allowing its other characters room to grow or compete for equal attention.
This latest chapter manages to spare some of the spotlight for one Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson), even if it doesn’t shed much light on his stake in the drama. Riario is the pope’s nephew and has been poised to become Da Vinci’s biggest antagonist. The episode’s title, “The Serpent,” is a reference to Riario’s devious personality and a nod to the Garden of Eden story, a decent metaphor given that it was the hunger for knowledge that led to the loss of Paradise and the pursuit of knowledge remains at the heart of Da Vinci’s greatest conflicts. The difference between the biblical story and this one is that the serpent’s motivations were much clearer than Riario’s.
In their standoff, Da Vinci accuses Riario and his ilk of wanting to suppress the knowledge contained in the Book of Leaves, a charge Riario quickly denies. He claims instead that he wants to administer it as an agent of God. But it isn’t clear if Riario means what he says here. No doubt, one can consider himself a holy man and still slit throats, rough up women, and employ torture, but nothing about Riario’s performance up to this point really indicates spiritual devotion. He has not so much as crossed himself, kissed his uncle’s ring, or uttered a single snippet of Scripture. And yet, there is no other explanation for his involvement on offer. And all the questions surrounding him do not paint an enigmatic picture but more of an incomplete one.
Even worse, Riario never quite proves himself to be much of a threat. He’s suitably sadistic and despicable to be sure, but he’s also vulnerable to the cunning ruses of Da Vinci’s young and less sophisticated assistant. And when Da Vinci’s canon predictably blows away half his enemy’s guards, Riario ends up looking pathetically outmatched. Six episodes remain, so it’s hardly too late for Riario to obtain the upperhand, and to hang onto it for more than five minutes. But to draw a comparison between Riario and the serpent, and by association Satan of all villains, is an exaggeration the writing in this episode just doesn’t back up.