Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 2: Episode 1 – “The Blood of Man”
Written by David S. Goyer and Corey Reed
Directed by Charles Sturridge
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
As Riaro sentences Zoroaster and Lucretia to death, Nico fumbles around for a moment and awkwardly asks “…what about me?” His enemies don’t even consider him a threat. Poor Nico.
The first season of Da Vinci’s Demons (now called DVD for the purposes of these reviews; I’m an idiot for not noticing that acronym last year) ended on a classic freshman cliffhanger. What was going to happen to Leonardo and Lorenzo? We were forced to wait it out as Starz filled its line-up during the interim with other historical adventure shows like The White Queen and Black Sails. I’m generally not a proponent of cliffhangers as a device, especially when they’re cheap. And, admittedly, when we return and see Leo and Lorenzo escape into the sewers, the exciting potential of that cliffhanger is reduced to nothingness. But if there is ever an appropriate time and excuse for one, it’s the end of a first season of television. Writers are still figuring out what’s what, and the cliffhanger leaves them an easy thread to pick up and develop for the second round of scripts.
“The Blood of Man” earns a bunch of credit for being a satisfyingly action-packed return to this world. Florence is on the brink of collapse, the Medicis are in death’s line of sight and Leonardo can’t catch a break. Amid the chaos, Leo gets to go into artista mode a couple times, once to foil Riario’s schemes and once to help save Lorenzo’s life. The latter takes up a good portion of the episode as da Vinci conducts the world’s first blood transfusion. Though I think television series should be allowed to deviate as much as they like from their source material, fictional or otherwise, one of the more interesting aspects of DVD has been the portrayal of Leo as the inventor he was in real life. The specifics of the blood transfusion are detailed, including elevating da Vinci’s body so that his blood will pump through the guts. I have zero knowledge in the fields of physiology and medicine, so this whole process might be grossly inaccurate, but the episode pulls it off convincingly enough that it is both entertaining and important for the story (not just because it helps save Lorenzo, but because we need these reminders of why da Vinci is singularly unique among his peers). The scene glosses over the religious implications of the blood transfusion, which would have been more interesting had it been explored a little further, but it also emphasizes Leo’s self-centeredness as somewhat of a facade. He is, after all, prepared to make the sacrifice to help defend Florence with the knowledge that Lorenzo has promised swift vengeance for going behind his back with Lucretia. When there is a genius character in a story, it’s important to find these other kinds of ways of making his personality more complicated. Pulling the strings of his morals and allegiances is one way of doing that.
It’s hard to say how many of the characters we spend time with in “The Blood of Man” are going to wind up being important to this season. There’s a scene towards the end, for instance, in which Pope Sixtus visits his brother in his cell, which seems like an odd use of the episode’s time given that neither character commanded many of their own scenes last year, separate from characters like Leonardo and Riario. But we see that DVD will be expanding itself geographically with the search for the Book of Leaves, so an expansion of viewpoint characters might do it some good if done well (there is a Giuliano-sized hole in the show now, unfortunately).
Whichever characters we do spend time with, though, we know where the destination is thanks to the episode’s first scene. Taking place somewhere in the Americas, Leo and Riario are imprisoned presumably at their execution ceremony. This is exactly the direction the series needed to take, and while this trope is also somewhat of an easy way to manipulate the viewer’s interest and expectations, it makes for good fun. Blake Ritson, it should be said, is so good as Riario that DVD could have the dumbest scene imaginable and make it engaging simply by having him on the screen. So, an opening like that in which Riario and Leo get to exchange what they think will be their last words (and which certainly won’t be their last words) excuses the laziness of the time jump device through sheer force of charisma. Yet, “The Blood of Man,” like the season one finale, opts for another cliffhanger–or cliffhangers, even. Lorenzo is atop da Vinci, ready to drive a blade into his savior. Lucretia and Zoroaster walk the plank and spend the final moments of the episode drowning. This one is a little less excusable, since DVD is capable of punctuating its episodes on something more character-driven. So, if both of those threats get handled poorly in next week’s installment by some contrived convenience, that’s a pretty glaring misstep in the plotting. Innocent until proven guilty, though. And an ending like that doesn’t take away from how densely packed “The Blood of Man” is with movement and action. Things are anything but quiet in Florence, and DVD hits the ground running in this season premiere.
Welcome back to Sound On Sight coverage of DVD. Has it really already been a year? This was one of the first two series I ever reviewed as an aspiring critic, so it’ll be interesting for me to see how my opinions of the show and writing have evolved with the series itself. The second season was picked up for a slightly longer 10-episode order, so expect to see Goyer and his team pack this year with even more of Leo’s crazy plots and more reasons for Nico to feel sad. Feel free to leave some comments about your experience with these episodes as the season progresses.
– Sean Colletti