Sunday, April 28, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons, Season 1, Episode 3: The Prisoner

Riario is being sinister like a sinister person in sinister surroundings like the sinister bloke he is. (He must practice to get his sinister this perfect), eating snack food prepared by a servant (intimidated by his sinisterness) and being taught a bored game by a prisoner. They try to make it some kind of metaphor for the show, with Da Vinci staring at his map (aha, the cunning move of “stoner’s laziness!” I know it well) and Lucrezia doing her spying and dodging her husband (I am not even going to comment on the subtext and stereotypes with her husband because if I accept that they ARE trying to portray him as gay with all these stereotypes, after what they’ve done to the actual gay Leonardo, I may have to break something).

Lucrezia violates curfew, dodging the guards to leave her message for Riario. She’s caught briefly by a captain but a lady of her standing who is boffing the boss doesn’t get arrested. And on the way back she runs into Lorenzo’s carriage – he’s waiting for her and pretty desperate for her. She quickly has to arrange things so they can have their fun and she can hide her message. Clarice Orsini, Lorenzo’s wife, watches from her window and isn’t amused

While Lorenzo’s chief assistant, seneschal, whatever, Becchi complains at Leonardo because he’s holed up in his room rather than watching the workshop cast his canons. They go there and Leonardo has a blind mind hitting the finished barrels with a spoon to listen to the sound they make, if they ring loud and true. One doesn’t and Leonardo reams the engineers for scrimping with cheaper materials. Guiliano Medici has a hissy fit over this, because Guiliano has to have a hissy fit per scene he’s in, it’s a rule. When proved wrong and that the inferior canon will crack he then whines to his brother that he’s never trusted to lead. Seriously, this is when you make your argument for greater responsibility?

With money in his pocket Leo goes to the market to release more birds, being bemused why one stays in its cage. And Lucrezia approaches him asking why he isn’t spending more time on her portrait and accusing him of running from his feelings.

But also in the market is a half naked woman covered in mud and wounds, screaming and babbling. Vanessa recognises her from the convent – she’s a nun. When she runs to help with Guiliano she screams that Lorenzo is making a new Sodom. Over nuns arrive to help her, they say demons are afflicting her, long with 5 other sisters in their convent. (Wow, ladies your convent is infested with demons? That must be a pretty shoddy convent there; by definition the nunning should make it demon proof). It gets even more grizzly when the nun manage to grab a knife from one of the guards and stab herself in the eye. Guiliano has a hissy fit (of course).

Back in his studio, Leo has discovered tectonic plate movements based on the shape of Africa and the map he’s found (does his map of South America have a scale?). Andrea isn’t impressed that Leo is mooning over a map rather than doing his legitimate work – or moving out the rotting corpses. Nico runs in saying Vanessa has gone to the convent and wants Leo to help – but Leo doesn’t believe in demons and swears at Nico for interrupting his map obsessing.

The Medicis, however, are more concerned about the will of the people if ranting naked nuns run through the street accusing them of causing demonic possession. It’s not great PR. Guiliano is sure he can handle it, let him handle it oh please please please! Unfortunately, in a moment that perhaps proves Leo isn’t the only one on drugs, Lorenzo agrees. Becchi also worries that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice Orsini, who Lorenzo married to build links with Rome may be the spy. Lorenzo rejects it vehemently.

Riding to the convent, Guiliano and his men come across 2 more enraged nuns who attack – one of whom Guiliano stabs by instinct. As his men point out, that’s not going to help PR either. The convent is not a happy fun place. Ok, convents generally aren’t supposed to be, but severed arms is taking things a little too far. One of the guards is pretty useless since all he can do is cross himself, kiss statues and pray. They find a room full of screaming, raging nuns being restrained by their more lucid sisters. One of which, the Abbess, berates Guiliano for the Medicis being all bad and naughty and evil. And Da Vinci has arrived – to find that Vanessa is one of the restrained women. Abbess (I don’t know her name so I’ll just call her Widdecombe), Mother Superior Widdecombe berates Da Vinci for dissecting cadavers, having sex and nude modelling for his paintings.  She wants no help from him or the Medicis – just prayer and penitence.

Lorenzo is counting in his counting house (sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme), since the Medicis are bankers before all else, he keeps an eye on the sums and doesn’t just leave it to the help. Clarice is there to comfort him as he worries about well, everything. He tells her what Becchi said and she thinks they’re quite reasonable suspicions to ask and it would be ridiculous not to think of them, though it was silly to talk about it with her - she says he should have had her letters read without her knowledge (obviously). Showing she is considerably more politically savvy than Lorenzo. She makes it clear she’s loyal and adds a double entendre that she knows he is with Lucrezia – she understands the need for escape as long as he comes back to her.

At the convent, Leo criticises Guiliano who has a hissy fit. Honestly, someone get that boy some anger management therapy already. Leo asks his plan then scoffs at the idea of waiting until the spirits leave since there’s no proof of demons at all. After brainstorming in which Leo merrily shoots down Guiliano’s ideas; before going for his own. Magic mushrooms, poisonous spiders, mercury in the paintings. All prove false – and there’s a delegation from Rome, Lupo Mercuri.  He’s here for an exorcism.

In Rome the Pope and Riario discuss the dead nuns in ways that hint that they may be behind it as a way to discredit the Medici’s. Riario also thinks that Lucrezia could turn Leo to their side – he’s impressed by the weapons he makes. The Pope also demands Riario’s slave for the night.

In Florence, Clarice meets with Lucrezia to tell her that she knows about her affair with Lorenzo – and that she isn’t the first. She doesn’t want it to end but she does want Lucrezia to be more discreet – especially with a traitor about, flaunting a weakness is a bad idea. Lucrezia is a distraction – no more and she rubs Lucrezia’s face in it more than a little. As she leaves, Becchi tells Lucrezia that he will call on her tomorrow to ask about her movements – as he is everyone who accesses the palace.

To the nunnery!  Where Lupo’s exorcism doesn’t go well – especially when he starts strangling one of the women to death. Lupo is gleeful, claiming he saw the light of god in her eyes before she died; ugh… yay? Leo is much less impressed. But then Vanessa cries out with some hard truths for Leo – he promised her wonders but questions whether they’re all just toys to him. Lupo moves in for exorcism and Leo negotiates one more day.

But the next day Vanessa almost commits suicide, trying to “fly” for Leo. Guiliano banters words with the Romans and has a hissy fit (yes, yes he does) and gives away important state secrets in a temper. And he wonders why he’s never trusted.

Lucrezia returns to the place that night and plants her little book with the hidden compartment and messages before seeing Lorenzo. He’s surprised because he didn’t send for her and is too busy with political matters and tells her to go. He changes his mind when she strips naked. Afterwards, she urges Lorenzo to search everywhere for the spy, even those closest to him, let no-one be above suspicion.

Back to the convent where Leo uses Nico to taste things to see if they’re drugged – no longer looking for natural causes but intentional poisoning. He doesn’t buy demonic possession or divine punishment – not when there’s heathens like him unscathed and god’s admirers are afflicted. He sees it as a plot to make people afraid – because frightened people don’t question.

Their rumination is interrupted by the praying and statue kissing soldier they brought with them losing his mind and slashing throats (statue kissing being the most relevant part here, methinks, since we already had images of many nuns doing the same thing). Guiliano restrains him. Leo talks about the man and learns that he’s the most pious of all of them (as if that weren’t obvious) and learns that everyone kisses the feet of the statue in prayer (like we’ve been seeing. C’mon why did Leo need people to tell him what has long since been obvious?). Dousing the lights and using fireflies in glasses they can see the fungus on the foot of the statue (Renaissance UV lights!)

At the same time Lupo is covering all the women in flammable liquid to burn them and make them all better. Dead, but better. Leo runs in screaming about ergot, a fungus that causes hallucinations. Leo points out only those devout enough to kiss the statue fell sick – not heretics and non-pious people. He challenges Lupo to do the same. He gives the cure to Abbess Widdecombe and even Guiliano praises him. Luppo leaves in a huff

And we’re suddenly plunged into Leo’s nightmarish hallucination. After many disturbing images – he wakes up undergoing the cure (involving many leeches). He kissed Vanessa and the ergot was on her lips.

We see a flashback of how it happened – the bottle given by Riario to Lucrezia and she pouting the ergot on the statue per instruction, since the convent is open to all.

Back in Florence Lorenzo is happy to have more term, but Becchi isn’t happy by Guiliano telling Rome how many cannon they have. They conclude they’ll have to produce more guns. And the guard, searching the palace, find Lucrezia’s book – in Becchi’s quarters. They look through and find all the spy’s instructions – Lorenzo instantly believes Becchi’s guilt and hits him and has him imprisoned.

Riario loses his game against his imprisoned friend and has his own little tantrum.

Leo goes home and has the corpses removed and we get the closing scene with lots of cages.

The plot thickens, kind of – the story remains decent.

And we have a Black woman – and she’s a slave who, it seems, is raped by the pope. +10 points for recognising Black people were around in Florence at this time +5 points for referring to Abyssinia, -1,000,000 points for making her a raped slave.

Women in general on this show need vast improvement, especially after an episode with lots of female victimisation. I hope Clarice Orsini becomes more of a power rather than just being “insightful” enough to tolerate her husband’s infidelity

Even Lurcrezia with her cunning spying would be a great character – if that spying was something she chose. But it isn’t and she isn’t even a valued agent; she’s a disposable tool who is casually abused by Riario. And it puts the doubt to everything she does – is she having an affair with Lorenzo or Leonardo because she wants to or because she is being threatened by Riario?

Decent plot, decent setting, but with near non-existent POC (and highly problematic when they appear), victimised women and a straightwashed Leonardo makes for a show that’s full of severe representation problems and offensiveness.