Da Vinci’s Demons, Season 2: Episode 7 – “The Vault of Heaven”
Written by Brian Nelson & Marco Ramirez
Directed by Peter Hoar
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
One of the more surprising improvements Da Vinci’s Demons has made in its second season is how the diverging storylines in any given episode manage to work well in tandem. Even if some of them are unrelated, there is enough going on that is, at the very least, entertaining to give purpose to following certain characters. “The Vault of Heaven” doesn’t deviate from that formula. And, really, none of the supporting storylines that serve the main one from which the episode gets its title fall completely flat. They each work in their own ways. The problem in this case is that this is an episode of DVD that needed to be completely focused on Leonardo’s trip into the Vault of Heaven.
The journey that Leo and co. take might as well have included a character named Indiana, because The Last Crusade is written into every scene. There’s a wonderful amount of fun in watching the various challenges that characters have to go through when trying to get from point A to point B in a rigged temple like this. Da Vinci is the perfect character to be put through the trials, too, since it’s much more believable for him to be able to solve these puzzles under pressure than just a normal person. Once again, he creates a World’s First–this time, a self-propelled cart. Before completing the construction, Nico verbalizes what the audience is thinking when he says he’s missed this part. For a series intent on finding as much action as it possibly can in nearly every corner of the story, seeing Leo go into Da Vinci Mode usually makes for episode highlights. Again, seeing the genius at work becomes more enjoyable when he’s challenged to the brink of failure. This time, failure can’t really be a viable option, since it means life or death, but a decision to have to have Leo be strung upside down to find a hidden keyhole while the platform everyone is on shrinks into the wall does wonders for making the tension work. It’s strange how the journey through the Vault seems designed for more people than just the Sun and the Moon, but logistical issues generally fall to the wayside when the scenes are fun, which they are. Of course, we leave Leo on the cliffhanger of believing his mother is in the Vault, but with the Book of Leaves so close, that teasing doesn’t come off too annoying.
And then there’s the rest of the episode. Again, everything here is surface-level fine, but the adventure story that this episode is really trying to be gets dragged down by how disparate our other points of view are. Although Lucrezia is enacting part of the plan to get her father back in the Pope’s hat, her sections of “The Vault of Heaven” don’t feel particularly connected. However, using Constantinople as an exotic location makes it worthwhile to be following her right now. She makes very little progress, winding up a captive by the end of the episode, but while things in Florence have to remain stagnant for a while, bringing in more characters from another part of the country adds to rather than distracts from everything else going on.
Clarice’s scenes with Carlo are even more disconnected from the bigger picture of “The Vault of Heaven,” but they succeed through sheer force of acting prowess on the parts of both Lara Pulver and Ray Fearon, who have fantastic on-screen chemistry together. There are some more strange narrative decisions here, too, like Carlo just stabbing one of the banking board members in the middle of the palace and then just walking away (shouldn’t there be more of a reaction to this?), but I can’t really complain about that when there is basically a nighttime ninja attack from the roof in this episode. It’s utterly ridiculous, but the most ridiculous episode of DVD to date, which featured Vlad the Impaler, is one of the show’s best.
Mercuri’s story is the one that fits in best. Director Peter Hoar even makes the point of cutting between the cardinal looking at a page of the Book of Leaves that Rome has in storage while Leo and Riario are nearly in possession of the thing. It’s a wonder that Mercuri makes it out of this episode alive, though. So many of the shots are framed in ways that you might expect the camera to drift just enough to show us Sixtus’ face behind Mercuri as he’s scheming behind the fake Pope’s back. But he somehow gets away, not heeding the advice of his long lost friend to just lay low and let the events play out. That must mean that there’s still a huge target on his back, and I still probably would bet on him not living past this season, but he’s been a great supporting character for the past few episodes, and he’s someone who is easy to root for.
But despite any of the reasons why I might have liked these other stories, I still find it a shame that the writers felt like they needed to check in with so many characters when “The Vault of Heaven” could have easily worked as an hour-long Crusade homage. That doesn’t even mean that it would need to be full of so many puzzles or anything. There are plenty of moments that invite great character beats or else there are shots like Leo and Riario stepping out and seeing all the surroundings from high above in the Vault. That’s still enough to make an episode like this work.
– Sean Colletti