~ by Rebecca Fisher
Welcome to one of the strangest shows you’ve ever seen. Part totally-fabricated biography, part anachronistic historic-political drama, part Da Vinci Code conspiracy, part buddy-comedy, with a smattering of courtroom dramas, supernaturally themed mysteries, and romantic intrigue, Da Vinci’s Demons wants to be absolutely everything, all at the same time.
Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into this show, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the myriad of subplots that meander throughout the course of each eight-episode season. Even Vlad Țepeș of Count Dracula fame pops in for a guest-starring role.
Perhaps the show is best described simply as a fictional account of Leonardo da Vinci’s adventurous youth: his inventions, his associates, his travels and his participation in various historical events.
Set predominantly in 15th century Florence during the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci is already notorious for his artistic skill, wild ideas, and unorthodox sexual practices. He fits into his surroundings like a spark with gunpowder. Florence and its de-facto rulers, the Medici family, are currently under immense pressure from Rome to submit to their control. Lorenzo de’ Medici (Elliot Cowan), his brother Giuliano (Tom Bateman), and his wife Clarice (Lara Pulver), are all passionately defensive of Florence’s beauty and independence, and forge an unlikely alliance with Da Vinci in the hopes of maintaining its freedom.
On a more personal note, da Vinci is on a quest of his own. As the illegitimate son of a notary, he’s always been an embarrassment to his father, and knows nothing of his mother save her name: Caterina. Over the course of the season he comes to realize that her disappearance may have something to do with a cult called the Sons of Mithras, whose members encourage him to seek out an artefact known as the Book of Leaves.
The balancing act between these two plot strands is somewhat clumsy. The wider political intrigue and the cult storylines seldom intersect, and since both vie for screen-time it’s difficult to decide which of the two should be considered the focus of the show. That’s not even getting into the various subplots involving Leonardo’s dalliance with Lorenzo’s mistress (who has an agenda of her own), but one of the advantages to having such a hectic array of plots is that the show is never boring.
There’s also very little attempt to adhere to history accuracy — although you only need to glimpse the astounding outfits of the women to realize that. Though some famous events are touched upon (and the Pazzi Conspiracy makes up the greater part of the last two episodes), the show is content to work with its own rules and more-or-less make things up as it goes.
Da Vinci is played by Tom Riley as a sort of hyperactive savant, and the viewer occasionally gets glimpses into the way his mind works: when a flock of birds is released, he sees them as moving sketches; when a new idea comes to him, we see the outline of his plan drawn in his mind before it’s committed to paper.
Yeah, it’s almost exactly like what Sherlock Holmes does on BBC’s Sherlock. In fact, this da Vinci is what you’d get if you combined Tony Stark with Sherlock Holmes – intensely intelligent, rather selfish, somewhat anti-social, and yet treated as attractive because of rather than in spite of how wrapped up he is in his own little world.
The supporting cast can be roughly divided into the rulers of Florence: Lorenzo de’ Medici and his wife and brother, all as charming as they are ruthless, and Leonardo’s little collection of comrades: sardonic Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin), long-suffering Nicco (Eros Vlahos), and free-spirited Vanessa (Hera Hilmar).
And of course, every show needs a decent antagonist. Blake Ritson plays Girolamo Riario, a pitiless agent of the Church who will stop at nothing to reach the Book of Leaves before Leonardo, and has a number of spies and assassins at his beck and call.
All the assorted elements of Da Vinci’s Demons add up to a rather disjointed show — though it deserves credit for taking risks and trying new things as opposed to treading the same familiar paths. Its central theme is that of reason, logic and light overcoming superstition, but it also celebrates free love, creativity and liberty over that which seeks to stifle and control.
In its energy and originality, Da Vinci’s Demons encapsulates both these outlooks.
Veering more toward light science-fiction than epic fantasy is Chuck — an average guy who just happens to have an entire database of government secrets downloaded into his head. Now he’s the most important asset of the CIA, who aren’t above using this Average Joe to hunt down all manner of spies, assassins and international criminals.
About The Reviewer:
To read Rebecca’s detailed introduction of both herself and the series, as well as preceding reviews, click on: