Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 2: Episode 4 – “The Ends of the Earth”
Written by Marco Ramirez
Directed by Charles Sturridge
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
What strikes me most when considering “The Ends of the Earth” is how the episode (and this season, by extension) manages to engage the viewer while Leo and Riario–arguably the series’ two most compelling characters–are so far removed from the events occurring in Italy. I believe I half-expected Da Vinci’s Demons to become a different kind of show altogether once Leo got started on his quest for the Book of Leaves. It might have made more sense to abandon most of the cast to recurring, minor roles and introduce new companions at sea and from whatever places Leo and co. find themselves along the way. Yet, it feels like the lion’s share of “The Ends of the Earth” tracks multiple plots across Italy, and it doesn’t suffer in the slightest because of that.
Most surprising is the effectiveness of Lorenzo and Piero’s storyline. I made a point in this season’s reviews so far to mention how the writers have managed to handle the Sixtus material in interesting ways, making that character (and his twin brother) more than just a figurehead or placeholder. “The Ends of the Earth” does even better by Piero, who has mostly been relegated to being the crabby father of Leonardo who is occasionally funny. In this episode, we hear his side of his family’s story as he explains to Lorenzo how difficult his relationship is with his son and the memory of the woman who fathered Leo. David Schofield absolutely shines in the role during moments like Piero describing how he woke up and she was just gone or when he recalls the one piece of da Vinci’s artwork that he is most proud of. Perhaps the sequence is as effective as it is because we don’t expect to see Piero humanized in this way, but both the actor and the writing totally sell the moment and give us the possibility of some form of reconciliation in the future of this series (even if Piero’s stubbornness would probably only allow for that in a moment near death). The Lorenzo-Piero scenes work so wonderfully in this episode that I wish no one had felt the need to tack on the unnecessary action plot they get wrapped up in after a travelling man of the scripture attempts to steal their gold. Though DVD is an adventure series first and foremost and having action is an important component in every episode, there’s enough going on elsewhere in “The Ends of the Earth” that we could have just received the quieter moments with Lorenzo and Piero simply talking by the fire or on the road.
The other major landlocked plot we follow is Lucrezia trying to influence Mercuri to do what is right by the true Pope. Like with Piero, Mercuri becomes much more vibrant in the episode by virtue of being pulled in two different directions. It’s an easy way to induce character development–have some revelation that forces the character to question his motivations and beliefs–but it helps bulk up what’s going on in Rome with stuff that isn’t just political points. Scattered about in the episode are also flashback scenes from before the current Sixtus usurped his brother (even one all the way back to when they were children). These are slightly less interesting in terms of being able to make Lucrezia more compelling, but they at least provide some useful information on the beginnings of the Lucrezia-Riario relationship and how far the pretender’s jealousy and rage for his brother can take him.
And, of course, we also get to see the separate voyages of Leo and Riario, neither of which goes particularly smoothly. Riario’s in the less engaging of the two and might actually be the weakest part of the whole episode. Not much is done with the relationship he’s developing with the woman he’s sleeping with, though it seems like the intentions are there. Even Riario sitting down and speaking with Nico, which should be entertaining in and of itself, makes you wonder if the time spent we these characters might not be better spent in a different way. Leo’s side of the story, however, picks up a lot of the slack. Again, I’m not big on how it comes across as a bunch of plot just being thrown at him–the former slaves rebelling against him and killing themselves after being chained up again (the fight scene, in particular, is pointless). That said, everything that has to do with Leo trying to teach the others about astrology and how the world is round lands incredibly well. Zoroaster, too, manages to wring out some great exchanges in which he challenges who Leo has become based on moral grounds. The highlight of the episode for me is Leo reacting to something Zoroaster says almost as an aside that causes him to make the connection to the planets revolving around the sun and not the earth. We typically go into da Vinci Vision when he’s constructing some kind of tool or inspiration for a tool. This time, the map of the solar system simply hangs above him in a way that’s rather beautiful and flawlessly draws out that feeling of epiphany that he experiences. It might have been easy to fumble with the da Vinci scenes in this episode, since he’s essentially static (the ship is in constant motion, of course, but they don’t reach any destinations, making the setting the same regardless of geography), but the whole thing comes together swiftly and powerfully just as ideas tend to come to the man himself. It’s certainly not an episode without noticeable shortcomings, but “The Ends of the Earth” is at least maintaining the consistency of this second and improved season of DVD.
– Sean Colletti