Sunday, April 21, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons Season 1, Episode 2: The Serpent

Leonardo is on a boat, in an underground cavern talking to an old man about the cryptic speech Al Rahim gave him . He finishes the line “I’m the son of earth and starry heaven, I’m thirsty, please give me something to drink from the fountain of memory. See as I have seen into infinity and you will be a god.” He gives Leo a cup to drink from

Zoroaster, meanwhile, is taking Nico on a little trip grave robbing to unearth the Hanged Man for Leo, he points out the symbols pressed into the Earth in Hebrew to warn of anyone disturbing the grave.

Leo drinks from the cup and the man warns him he will suffer and shows the hanging marks around his neck – and Leo wakes up just as Zoroaster and Nico arrive with the corpse. He notes the missing thumb nail then starts cutting. Let the autopsy commence.  Much queasiness follows. Leo finds the missing fingernail in the man’s stomach (wow, that’s a severe chewing your nails problem) and a key. “One man’s death opens the doorway for another.”

Elsewhere in a cottage, Lucrezia and Lorenzo are together naked but for a very annoying length of blanket. And Lorenzo openly acknowledges that Lucrezia has a husband (it’s the Italian Renaissance, deal with it) and Lorenzo complains about Count Riarrio coming to visit (see, political pillow talk, not only does it kill the mood but it totally gives all your secrets away to the pretty spies). Count Riario is Girolamo Riario who works for the Pope and does a fair but of killing for him last episode (I say again, Renaissance Italy, deal with it). He wants her to come, though she sees the awkwardness of doing so while Clarice, Lorenzo’s wife, is there and he offers to invite the scoundrel, Da Vinci as well.

Leo heads to the palace in the pouring rain and runs into the jolly figure of his father, who instantly starts insulting Leo for being a bastard (there must be some rules about one’s parents being unable to mock one for one’s parentage) and how he has written the contract so he’ll be able to get rid of Leo. But this seems to be based on his belief that Leo can’t fulfill the contracts.

Leo starts sketching Lucrezia, having flashbacks of them sleeping together at the same time. But the painting isn’t going to plan and he throws away his pencil in anger. He asks her what’s changed – something about her has changed since last they met. She puts it down to feeling guilty about sleeping with Leo when she has affection for Lorenzo. Leo again spots the statue that so intrigued him last time and asks Lucreazia why they hanged the Jew. She tells him he broke into a bookshop saying he was being chased by cutthroats and he was hanged for theft, despite nothing being missing and the man’s bag being empty. They kiss – and Lorenzo comes in, giving Leo just enough warning to hide. Lorenzo kisses Lucrezia and she declares how faithful se is to him. Lorenzo leaves and Leo snarks about that “bit of her” that is his alone. She says no, it isn’t – but it is Lorenzo’s first.

At the workshop, Nico gets gunpowder materials from Master Andrea (who declares that Da Vinci’s invention will kill him). Which cuts to Lorenzo, Guilino and their major domo trudging through a field outside Florence with Guilino saying that Leo won’t show because he’s realised his inventions are impossible, he’s not Leo’s biggest fan. Who is even more pissy when Leo shots, they arrive and find the guns pointed right at them. Lorenzo declares this a display of how the gun intimidates people. They’ve also brought Commander Quatrone of the militia.

Time for the demonstration in the pouring rain. And the gun explodes. This is not what it was intended to do and isn’t very impressive. Well it IS impressive because explosions tend to be, but no-one wants their own guns to blow up in their faces. Guilino wants to arrest Leo for fraud since his prototype failed, but Lorenzo, perhaps being more sensible about how these things work, gives him a week to make it work.

And Nico is taken while walking the streets by people who say his footprints match those of a grave robber. Uh-huh, well he’s guilty of that. They knock him out and he wakes up outside the city facing Count Girolamo Riario, captain of the Holy roman church and the Pope’s nephew. Ah, well on the plus side it looks like he’s not under arrest for grave robbing. See, there’s always a bright side. And he beheads the man who kidnapped Nico as his payment. Look, I know it’s cost saving but beheading employees makes for terrible retention rates. The plus side is it does tend to convince people he means business, as does his demonstration of interesting torture devices. Nico is brave and stubborn  and wont’ tell him why Da Vinci wanted the Jew’s body – which means the device is used to strip skin from the back of his hand. I think I’ve seen that for sale as a beauty product – removing layers of skin one at a time. Nico is not interested in smooth, luminous skin and breaks and tells them about the key

To Leo’s workshop where Riario’s men start ransacking the place. To stop them destroying everything, Nico reveals Leo’s hiding place. His chest which he can’t open. Riario orders his men to hack it apart. And it explodes – explodes massively enough to send everyone flying. Yes, it’s Leo’s secret’s box he described last episode. Riario and what’s left of his men have to run when the noise attracts attention.

Leo, Zoroaster and Andrea arrive (Andrea not impressed that Leo is messing with the Medicis and the Pope). Nico is guilty and sad that he told Riario about the key, but Leo praises him for saving his life and using the bomb.

Riario calls Lucrezia out of the city to get instructions – and Lucrezia is furious with him for putting her at risk. Riario cuts her off by hitting her and gagging her with his glove. He tells her how to send messages to him and how he will send them to her, drawing the Greek letters on her chest, and gives her a phial of clear liquid to use as he directs later. She tells him that Leo is interested in the bookshop where the Jew was captured. He sends her off with misogynist insults and she responds that he’s a bastard – which he freely admits. As she leaves, Lupo Marcuri remarks to Riario that she’s getting more impertinent (well yeah, we’ve already discussed how terrible Riario’s people skills are). Which Riario dismisses. Yup, you’re in for a major betrayal.

Leo calls in the Medici’s to his workshop to show them what the Pope’s men did. Leo tells them they were after his weapon’s designs and Lorenzo has one of his rare hissy fits adding to the damage in the room and surrounds the building with guards and tells someone off to follow Leo wherever he goes. Leo protests and Lorenzo slams him into a wall and tells Leo he will hang if he doesn’t make the gun. Lorenzo is… intense when irritated.

Leo reacts to this by… sneaking our his secret passage to go to the tavern. At the tavern, Vanessa (who seems to be a sidekick to Leo now he rescued her from the convent) kisses him and Leo examines the key which is a very very weird shape. Time for a CGI sequence of picturing how a key works. No really. Examining the coin he got from Al Rahim and picturing the statue in the Medici palace he realises there are 2 keys that need to be pressed together to be used.

Zoroaster doesn’t know why Leo cares or why he can’t just give the key to Riario. Time for Leo to retrace the Jew’s steps. He finds a blind beggar who heard what happened that night, including that the Jew was carrying a book, was muttering “woe” and that his pursuers were foreign, but said “halt” (not in Italian). Which is, of course, a German or English word which would be spoken by the Swiss mercenaries employed by Rome. And that “woe” in Yiddish means “where”, the Jew was searching for something. He was asking where because he needed somewhere to hide the book – the book shop.

There’s some language squeaking here, but it gives me a headache. Suffice it to say that Leo is very very clever.

Into the shop and while Zoroaster distracts the owner by being suspicious, Leo realises the Jew ripped off his own finger nail to indicate which of the 10 shelves he hid the book on. More Leo cleverness follows (it’s like Sherlock Holmes Renaissance edition) he finds the book. Of course the funny thing is he could have just looked for the shelf where the blood was and looked for the only non-dusty book written in Hebrew. Much easier. Zoroaster’s impressive and tells Leo “if you had tits I’d marry you”

Of course, outside they run straight into Riario’s men who have been watching the shop. After a failed bluff with a snuff box, it’s time to run through the streets of Florence. He escapes with some rapid calculations and the use of a scaffold with a rope and pulley to pull him to the top of the building.

Riario has his official meeting with Lorenzo and, in more private setting, he tries to downplay what Leonardo is doing while chastising Riario for his ransacking of Leo’s workshop. Lorenzo hits back, accusing Rome of assassinating the Duke of Milan and not paying their debts. But Riario wants to tell them all about the new Archbishop of Piza, Salviati – under their domain – Riario’s cousin. Lorenzo says they better raise an army because he will not allow Salviati into Piza. Riario leaves and Lorenzo is disturbed by how much Riario knew.

At the workshop Leo has another stroppy genius moment with Andrea as he worries about meeting the deadline for the gun. But then Leo returns to his obsession with the Book of Leaves and give Andrea the book he found that talks about “opening the Vault of Heaven”. Andrea tells him to focus on his commissions, but Leo says it could tell him more about his mother so he can’t give up.

Time for the big party to which Leo was invited – and Lucrezia, after orders to get close to him from Riario, starts flirting with Leo. And a nice little montage to make sure we get the necessary nudity content and so Lorenzo can imply, slyly, that Riario is like the snake in Eden

Alone, Riario approaches Leo who makes it clear he has no desire to hand over the key or the book or himself (and Riario isn’t smart enough to use the book and the key anyway). Riario threatens Lucrezia to try and make him join Rome. Leo invites Riario to meet him at sunrise the next day, apparently convinced.

The next day, Leo is waiting next to a large covered objects while Lorenzo & co watch from a small distance. Riario and his men come riding around the hill and Guilino declares that Leo is working for Rome (of course he does). Leo carefully sets down a glass bottle and Riario gives Leo a large chest of coin – which further incenses Guilino.

Leo and Riario have a little argument where Leo accuses Riario of being afraid of progress and too interested in suppressing knowledge rather than  sharing it (he even implies he doesn’t believe in god). Riario gives one last chance to align with Rome and Leo yells (loud enough to be heard by the Medicis) that he pledges allegiance to Lorenzo “his foolish brother” and all of Florence.  He rants at Riario about why he likes Florence free, while the rising sun light, focused through the bottle he carefully placed, lights a fuse. Leo uncovers his rack of guns he designed for the Medicis as the fuse fire reaches the cannons.

Boom. It works this time of course and Riario’s men are decimated. They hit the ground and Leo swivels it, revealing another rack of guns ready to fire a second devastating volley. He screams at them to run.

In the aftermath, he approaches one of the dying men left behind and apologises. Great demonstration I guess – but I’m pretty sure that shooting canons at the Pope’s nephew is politically… unwise.

Lorenzo meets Leo in his private cottage getaway. Lorenzo reveals there’s a spy but also that he knows Leo isn’t it since he killed 6 of the Papal guard. He adds that he knows Leo intended to see him meet Riario or why else would he have allowed Lorenzo’s men to track him? They celebrate victory and plan to mass produce more of the cannons

And Lucrezia enters the room not realising Lorenzo has a guest. But Lorenzo assures her they can rely on Leo’s discretion (discretion? In the first episode even Nico knew Lucrezia was Lorenzo’s mistress! Is it supposed to be a secret?)

Leaving Florence, Riario laughs because he’s sure they will win one day. And Leo’s key is useless without the second key – which he possesses.

In the workshop, Leo has another brainstorm looking at the book and starts ripping out pages.  Lining up the pages with illustrations and looking at them from above it shows a map of where the Vault is. Of South America.

South America!?

Storywise it continues to be intriguing with enough swashbuckling to hold it together. Leo is frustrating in the way that these television genius are; they never focus on the task at hand yet they always have the answers. Normally it annoys but since it’s Leonardo Da Vinci, it fits. It’s not a bad story and I definitely don’t grow bored watching.

But it really fails with minorities. This week was entirely straight and white. The women are confined to 1 line from Claire Orsini, 1 line from Vanessa about how much more fun it is in a bar than a nunnery and then Lucrezia, the devious spy who Riario treats like shit and is there as a love interest.

And we’re in the second episode and this historical gay man has… 2 women interested in him. Vanessa and Lucrezia. And he’s focused on Lucrezia to an extent that he’s actually jealous about Lorenzo being with her.

And when people complained about the homophobic straightwashing of Leo, Starz claimed that Zoroaster would be bisexual. Apparently not (with an extra reaffiriming of gender binary as well). For that matter they said Leo would be bisexual – still not right for a man who was gay – but we’ve seen precious indication of that. I can’t repeat enough how grossly homophobic this is. In the end, it gets another low fang rating for it, because the sheer offensiveness of this is nauseating.