‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ Review: “The Prisoner”
‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ has, so far, promised a lot and mostly delivered on the premise of Leonardo Da Vinci as fifteenth century bad-ass. He’s smart, he gets all the chicks, he can fight, and yet because he’s Leonardo Da Vinci, he’s still pretty likeable. And with an eight episode order for the first season, it’s likely the series is working much more as a mini-series than your standard issue episodic show, as each episode so far has done a good job of moving the ball forward. Tonight’s episode “The Prisoner” is more episodic than the previous episodes, but still engaging.
The episode opens with Girolamo Riario visiting a man in jail. He and the prisoner play the game Go, which serves (of course) as a metaphor for real life, while showing footage of Leonardo and Lucrezia Donati. Lucrezia drops off a letter in a hidden place while receiving a message, but then runs into Captain Dragonetti, but she’s able to dissuade him from saying or doing anything about it, but then she gets into a carriage and in it is Lorenzo Medici, who she then fellates. Lorenzo’s wife Clarice sees that his cab has a red rose in it, and knows about their affair.
The jailed man opines in voice over that in the game to “cross the sea unseen” is difficult because it requires exploiting weakness without tipping your hand. Just then Da Vinci is late for a meeting about his new weaponry. Leonardo meets with Lorenzo about his new weapons and they are being built, but everyone’s curious why Leo’s checking the sound of each gun. It’s revealed that a tonal imperfection also reveals that the weapon is faulty. Clever clever.
Da Vinci works on studying bird flight to help his flying machines when he runs into Lucrezia. She complains he’s not painting her any more, but he mentions that she’s sleeping with Lorenzo. Leo notices a bird that didn’t fly away, which also serves as metaphor, and notes that she has conflicting interests. She then takes the bird.
Back to the game, Girolamo opens up a new front in his game, while in town a former nun has a public freak-out, and it’s revealed that five nuns have recently been possessed, and the most recent nun stabs herself in the eye and dies. Ouch. Leonardo is looking for the land mass that he discovered in the last episode, and realizes it’s South America, but as much as he can for a fifteenth century European. Nico shows up to tell Leo about the possession at the nunnery, and he convinces Da Vinci to take an interest. Lorenzo is then made aware of the threat, so he decides to send his brother Giulino to handle it. On the road Giulino and his group sees a freaky, possessed looking woman. She then attacks. The group arrive at the convent to find severed limbs and screaming. Inside they find a number of nuns acting possessed. Just then Leonardo shows up to investigate. He finds Vanessa tied up and under the influence. Lorenzo has a discussion with his wife about their troubles, and questions her loyalty, but she offers a good defense and proves that she knows about his affairs.
At the convent Giulino and Da Vinci fight, but Leonardo gets the best of him. Giulino plans to close off the convent, while Leonardo posits that they should check if it was poisoning, mushrooms, spiders or bad paint. Just then Roman soldiers bring a Vatican prefect who proffers an exorcism. Girolamo meets with the Pope and confirms this is a plot, but Girolamo wants Da Vinci on their side because of his expertise with the book of leaves. They plot to turn Leonardo to their side. The pope then requests Girolamo’s lady, which sets up a possible defection.
Lucrezia sees a rose in a carriage, which she thinks is Lorenzo, but is actually Clarice who confronts Lucrezia about her relationship with Lorenzo, and mentions the traitor (which is obviously Lucrezia), and tells Lucrezia that she will not tolerate her distracting her husband too much. Lucrezia’s also asked to report on her whereabouts. Back in the convent, the prefect gives an exorcism, which leads to nudity and the nun being choked to death. Da Vinci talks to Vanessa, who is going through the same possession as the others, and Leonardo fights off the prefect to give her one more day.
The next day Vanessa tries to hang herself but Da Vinci’s there just in time to save her. Giulino then tries to kick out the Roman soldiers, but reveals his side’s offensives. Lucrezia goes to meet with Lorenzo, and strips naked, which leads to a quick sex scene. She thinks he’s troubled. She then suggests he search everywhere for the traitor.
Nico checks the wafers and wine for Leonardo, and Da Vinci suggests it’s a plot from Rome. Just then a soldier asks insane. It turns out he’s been kissing the feet of a statue, which is a bingo for Da Vinci. As the Go game continues, the prisoner notes that a smart player can turn defeat into victory, just as Leonardo figures it all out as a fungi has been applied to the statue’s feet.
As the prefect is about to burn the possessed, Da Vinci presents his truth and suggests that if the prefect wants to burn the women, all he has to do is kiss the feet of the statue. The perfect – of course – storms out when Da Vinci presents the antidote. But then Da Vinci has a nightmare about his autopsies, Rome and his mother. It turns out he too fell under the sickness from kissing Vanessa. Weakened, he confronts the prefect and tells him off. It’s then revealed that it was Lucrezia who did the poisoning, and that she’s set up one of Lorenzo’s most trusted advisers. As the episode ends, Girolamo upends the board game, and Leonardo throws out the dead bodies in his workshop as he analyzes his treasure map.
Tonight felt like the first stand-alone mystery of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ and it was interesting enough of a plot to keep the plates spinning. It still feels like the end game of this series has yet to reveal itself, but this was a very compelling third entry that seems to both advance the general narrative, while also offering a stand alone episode that shows that Columbo’s got nothing on Leonardo.
There’s something about this show that almost makes a week-to-week review lacking in that it’s going to be better (or worse) if all the pieces come together, but this offers the best parts of pay-cable offerings, which is intrigue, nudity and violence in equal amounts. I’m still on the fence with this show’s great qualities, but I’m anxious to watch more.