Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 2: Episode 5 – “The Sun and the Moon”
Written by Dan Hess & Corey Reed
Directed by Jon Jones
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
After introducing the idea in its first season, Da Vinci’s Demons showed a great deal of narrative potential in the journey that would take Leo across the ocean to find the Book of Leaves. That first season, like an average one, fumbled some of its threads and didn’t manage to get others off the ground. But if first seasons can be excused for being the messes that they sometimes are, the promise of something bigger and better is hopefully enough to get viewers to come back the following year. Even if I hadn’t decided to continue reviewing DVD, I’d like to believe I would have still been curious enough to check in to see how that journey would be handled. Similarly, even if the season premiere hadn’t used the flashforward technique to address that concern immediately, there has been enough focus in the season so far to suggest that the New World adventure wouldn’t just be a tease that would be postponed to the end of the season. Now, we find ourselves with da Vinci on new shores and with a new group of characters with half a season left. What makes that situation even better is how much more interesting things in Italy are now that the cast has been divided.
“The Sun and The Moon” doesn’t spend any time with Lucrezia or Sixtus, which might be a smart move given that that is probably the most interesting B-story right now and I would rather see it when it’s necessary and not have it in every episode just for the sake of it. What the means, however, is that Lorenzo’s and Clarice’s stories have to pull more weight, which they do to varying success in this episode. After a great entry for Lorenzo and Piero last week, their difficulties in Naples are much less interesting this time around, though there is groundwork for something entertaining in the coming weeks. The relationship between Lorenzo and Hippolyta is the most misguided part of this story, since none of it really lands in the way it was likely intended to. In fact, everything after the first scene we get in which Lorenzo bribes the guard all the way to the episode’s end feels like filler material that can’t even reach that mindless humor that DVD sometimes uses to carry viewers through certain scenes (mostly thanks to Zoroaster). Yet, whatever Alfonso’s father, the king, has in mind for Lorenzo in terms of testing his mettle, there’s a sick quality to it that brings to mind last year’s best episode, in which Vlad the Impaler got to strut around an episode just being evil as all hell. This seems more like a Most Dangerous Game kind of scenario, and we have to assume that neither Lorenzo or Piero will be in much real danger, but Lorenzo’s needs to make alliances now that Rome has excommunicated Florence are still of major concern for this season, thus making him a necessary character to be following.
Clarice fares much better in “The Sun and the Moon” as she gets closer to Carlo, whom she appoints to Giuliano’s empty position on the banking board. Carlo has quickly turned into an interesting-by-being-charming character for DVD, and his pairing with Clarice helps make both of them more three-dimensional, since they–as minorities–show power and fortitude in their dealings with the Florentine big wigs. That actually is the most interesting point that “The Sun and the Moon” makes–that these are two kinds of people who are marginalized, that DVD is aware of the social commentary and that it is doing something about it to address those common concerns when viewing a fiction (or historical fiction, in this case) created by a group of people who may or may not form a melting pot of sorts. It is especially satisfying when you take into consideration all the flack networks like Starz and Cinemax get for supposedly being such base pleasures, relying on anything but intelligent storytelling in their original programming. I tend not to notice as much anymore, but I don’t believe there’s been many nude scenes in the past few episodes, if any (Lara Pulver’s at the end of this episode is very respectfully shot, and could have easily been in an FX or AMC series).
Again, though, “The Sun and the Moon” mostly succeeds by bringing Leo and co. to the New World. I don’t want to spend too much time on this just yet, since I’d rather talk more in-depth about it once we see what the crew is up to after the reunion with Nico and Riaro. But to address some of the material, the information we get about Leonardo’s mother situates this series more deeply within its roots of faith and destiny, which I find interesting. Leo is such a pragmatist that it’s hard to balance the more intangible forces of the world with his practical-minded sensibilities that he enhances through creativity. I genuinely wonder what he thinks of all this mysticism and how the Book of Leaves might actually help through application (and how that relates to the phantom presence of his mother, who seemed to have the gift of foresight). On the technical level, these scenes are also simply beautiful. The on-location stuff in DVD has been solid, but the scenery has been mostly well-designed city streets and palace halls. To see the open world like this makes the episode so much more vibrant than this relatively dark (in color, not tone) series is used to being. And, one final note, the test that Leo goes through, in which he uses his vast intellect to figure out not just the language of these natives but what it is that will save him when presented with seemingly disparate items, is a great climax for “The Sun and the Moon.” Those other two characters are there to die, of course, which is unfortunate, but there’s still enough believable tension in the sequence to have it serve as a centerpiece for the episode. In any case, more talk of the New World to come next week, just as soon as Zoroaster stops punching Riario in the face.
– Sean Colletti