Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 1: Episode 8 – “The Lovers”
Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Written by Brian Nelson, Corey Reed and David S. Goyer
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For those of you not following along, that’s Zoroaster and Nico up there with very what-the-fuck expressions. Nico looks downright peeved. While the thoughts going through their heads might very well be “For fuck’s sake, Leonardo” (Leo has just left them to go try and save the day, essentially), the people who have been watching Da Vinci’s Demons probably have different thoughts but are likely to be wearing similar facial expressions.
Some viewers haven’t realized that Da Vinci’s Demons doesn’t have legitimate grand aspirations and have unfairly criticized it for being not very good when, in fact, it has no pretensions of being anything more than fun. And it has been fun, to take issue with some of those detractors. Everything about that episode with Vlad Dracula was a riot. Most of the actors – especially Blake Ritson – look like they’re enjoying the hell out of the camp that is each and every script. So, unusual haters aside, why would we expect viewers to be looking all what-the-fuck as well? It’s that ending – not just of the episode but of the season.
Off the top of my head, I can think of three ways a season of TV can end: with narrative closure or catharsis (Spartacus: Blood and Sand), with a quiet segue into the next season (Mad Men season 1; how this differentiates from the first way is that there are more questions left than answers) or with a cliffhanger (every season and episode of True Blood ever). A cliffhanger is the laziest way to finish a story, but it isn’t necessarily the worst way. Take The Walking Dead season three, which was some amalgamations of all these things (spoiler alert): the closure/catharsis comes from the too-little-too-late death of Andrea, the segue that asks a bunch of questions is Rick bringing Woodbury people to the prison and the semi-cliffhanger is that The Governor lives. That is the worst way to end a season of TV. What writers have to struggle with is deciding what path to take and making that path as satisfying as possible. The Walking Dead season three was a season-length build-up to a confrontation that never happened. Da Vinci’s Demons had a season-length build-up of a few different plot strands (Leo’s mother, the Book of Leaves, the political stuff) and gave us a payoff right before its cliffhanger ending. Romans and Florentines get to bust out their swords and start stabbing each other. It’s a catharsis for these groups who have been quietly hating and plotting against each other all season and it’s probably the least interesting plot strand of the season, but it still feels like a payoff whereas nothing in season three of The Walking Dead did. Are we still rolling our eyes as the screen goes to black once Riario blows down the door of the room Leo and Lorenzo are in? Sure. But we can swallow that better having seen that extended action sequence, because – once again – Da Vinci’s Demons is content to just be fun.
If I am to take serious issue with something from this season finale, it will be how it handled Giuliano’s death. Last week, I wrote about why Giuliano’s death was a great decision that was extremely well-executed (I also wrote a lot about water, in case you didn’t read it; who doesn’t want to read about water?). Stupid me, though, right? I mean, it was so silly of me to think the man dead after having been stabbed in the stomach and watching him drift away down the river motionless and wide-eyed. To be fair, Giuliano does die in the season finale and the main reasons it’s an effective decision (we were just starting to get to know him and like him and Vanessa, another underdeveloped character, was developing an attachment to him) are still in tact. But the way the penultimate episode concluded was not as a cliffhanger. It wasn’t “Oh, shit, Giuliano’s been stabbed. Is he going to live!?” It was very much “Oh, shit, Giuliano’s been stabbed. Now we’re watching his body float away for a while set to very somber music. Man, I’m actually going to miss him.” It was bad writing that kept him around for one more episode. More than that, it was manipulative and probably unbelievable. And we TV viewers don’t like being manipulated or being forced to suspend too much disbelief for the sake of a lazy writer. What this decision also did was allow Giuliano to be the one to interrupt the Easter proceedings, making him seem like the hero of a show that’s called Da Vinci’s Demons. Da Vinci only comes in later and to less fanfare, which is extremely odd after there’s been so much heroic imagery surrounding his character (that bath scene last week). The Medici plots this season haven’t been the strongest parts, so it was jarring to see those characters take center stage while Leo runs around snapping his fingers.
All that said, though, this is about what I expected out of the first season of Da Vinci’s Demons, and that’s a good thing. The episodes might run a lengthy 58 minutes, but this season only had eight of them. I’ve never felt exhausted from hanging out with these people in this world over the last few months. On the contrary, I’ve enjoyed Tom Riley pull his best Sherlock impression and do eccentric things. After all, we got to see da Vinci tie a naked magistrate behind a pig and blackmail him into letting da Vinci go free. We got Riario sporting his gangster pre-sunglasses and generally being a paper-thin badass. It may just be that TV is overcrowded with shows that are worth watching right now that explains why a lot of critics and viewers have boxed-out Da Vinci’s Demons from their watch lists. I’m perfectly fine accepting that. Even if the IMDB editors saw it fit to highlight the show, it’s certainly not for everyone. But it fits into an important category of shows that could be classified as “Easy Viewing” or “Pleasure Viewing” or “Guilty Pleasure” or what have you. The ones you can just sit down with and not have to think. And in that capacity, I look forward to following it into its second season next year.