Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 1: Episode 6 – “The Devil”
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Written by Brian Nelson and Marco Ramirez
Airs Friday nights at 9 on Starz
Late in its recent third season, The Walking Dead aired an episode – “Clear” – that really didn’t serve a purpose in the context of that season’s arc. The main conflict was put to the side in favor of a more removed episode, which at the very least had a chance to make the viewers more anxious to reach the climax of the season. What “Clear” ended up being, though, was the best episode of the season and probably the best in the series to date. Part of what elevated it ahead of its peers was its stubbornness in sticking with a few specific characters and telling a good story (Game of Thrones did this with “Blackwater”). “The Devil,” last night’s episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, doesn’t quite reach that level of stubbornness, since we get a few scenes with Lorenzo and other characters who aren’t a part of the primary story here. But man, that primary story is so far out there and ridiculous and enjoyable in its ridiculousness that I don’t mind that it didn’t need to happen for the purposes of this show’s first-season plot.
The excuse that da Vinci is given to go pay a visit to Vlad Dracula is that one of the Turk’s companions is being held captive by the Impaler and da Vinci won’t be able to continue his quest until the man is rescued. That whole aspect of the episode is wrapped up rather poorly, making you scratch your head and wonder why Leonardo couldn’t get the information he needs from one of the various visions he has. But the time spent in Vlad’s castle is simply the epitome of fun. Paul Rhys plays the hell out of the Impaler (especially in the third quote at the end of this review, which was laugh-out-loud hilarious, intentional or not) and gets to deliver all these sinister and/or insane lines of dialogue with long pauses against a B-horror soundtrack. There’s also a Saw-inspired sequence – depicted above – where a puzzle must be solved to release a man from bondage only for the puzzle to be revealed as a trap. Everyone involved – actors, writers, tech. crew – is clearly going all out here, with the dimly-lit, bone-covered set of Vlad’s dining room providing the most memorable scene of Da Vinci’s Demons so far – and I really can’t imagine anything in the final two episodes being able to top this. From the web of scars across Vlad’s face down to the soulless center of his being, this guy makes Riario look uninteresting (Riario does appear in this episode but continues to be a minor figure, which is something I’m glad the writers have done; the more time spent between Riario and da Vinci face-offs, the more delightful they end up being). We’ll have to write this off as a one-and-done story, probably and unfortunately, even though Vlad’s body is nowhere to be found when da Vinci and co. make their escape. In the same way as “Clear,” though, not revisiting this story will make it all the more enjoyable in retrospect.
While I would have preferred doing away with all scenes that didn’t involve da Vinci or Vlad this week, important pieces are being moved both in Florence and Rome. Similar to what has been going on with Game of Thrones this season, a marriage is being arranged between two characters with or without their consent for political purposes. There’s been some tension between Lorenzo and Giulino these last few episodes, so Lorenzo’s decision (prompted by his wife) isn’t exactly surprising. What is surprising is that it makes Giulino the more sympathetic character, whereas we previously respected Lorenzo’s tenacity and patience with regards to da Vinci.
Down in Rome, His Holiness can’t seem to have a peaceful bath. News of the alliances that the Florentines are making causes him to almost drown one subject, beat the crap out of Riario and insult a Lucrezia who has been putting her life on the line by being undercover. At the episode’s end, Riario, black eye and all, gives the order to have Lucrezia killed outside of Florence. It’s hard to believe Laura Haddock will make an early exit from this show, since her character is the leading lady. So, expect Leonardo to enact some series of ridiculous actions that prevents her from being cut down.
With all the recent buzz and TV news surrounding the broadcast networks’ announcement of line-ups, I find myself watching Da Vinci’s Demons and wondering if this is the right brand or direction for Starz to be investing in. Their own truly quality show has been Spartacus, which has finished its run, leaving Da Vinci’s Demons and Magic City as the only two active shows. That leaves a lot of room to build a list of shows that are targeting a certain kind of audience and hitting the mark. Da Vinci’s Demons is not a great show yet, but what it shares with Spartacus is an ambitious and adventurous sensibility. Starz has ordered some more shows that align themselves with that bent – shows that deal with exploration and are just generally grandiose in scope. It’s a stark difference from the kinds of things you see going on with HBO or Showtime, but I think that’s the appeal for me when I sit down to a Starz show. I know there won’t be layers of subtext and that I won’t have to be as receptive as I would be in something like Boardwalk Empire or Homeland. I can pretty much sit back and enjoy. Da Vinci’s Demons has already been written off by most critics, and I’m guessing it’s for reasons that ultimately have to do with that. Since when did pure entertainment become such an unambitious quality?
“The Devil” by the Words:
(All Vlad quotes this time around, because that’s just the kind of guy he is.)
– “Please don’t be unsettled by the vermin. I welcome them.”
– “I don’t find it hard to live without a soul.”
– “I spend every waking hour in resistance to my brother and the fuuuccckkkiiinnnggg Tuuurrrkkk!”
– “I fought off the Ottoman Empire. Do you really think I would die at the hands of a fucking Florentine?”
– “Life is a trap, don’t you think? Well, now I am going to set you free.”
– “You cannot kill a man without a soul.”
“The Devil” by the Numbers:
– 4: the amount of times Riario gets punched or kicked in the face by His Naked Holiness.
– 3: the amount of ingredients in a potion that ensures your unborn will be a male (ass’s milk, powdered goat’s antlers and bull’s testicles).
– 1: the amount of times Vlad has been struck by lightning.