Sunday, May 19, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons: Season 1, Episode 6: The Devil

 We rejoin Leonardo dealing with his various visions with Al Rahim – particularly how he could have seen himself hanging in the cave when he was a boy. Al Rahim explains this with cryptic stuff which I interpret as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff”.

Lorenzo is in Urbino, watching the rough and tumble Duke of Urbino fight several other men to prove how tough he is; which is useful since Lorenzo is there for mercenaries.

Back in Florence, Guiliano is moping over Becchi and Clarice Orsini, his sister-in-law wants to make sure he joins her for the upcoming party since, even if Lorenzo is home, he avoids them. She’s also flirting – if you call putting a hand on his thigh flirting – Guiliano ducks away and talks about finding the spy (though Clarice is convinced Becchi is the spy).  She goes in for the sexy shoulder rub. She’s interrupted by her physician bringing her an awful potion intended to ensure she will produce a male heir and she reflects on how the lack of male heirs may reduce the value and standing of the Medici name.

Back to Leo and Al Rahim points out the obvious, a land mass and direction “west” is not really going to get you anywhere. But he adds that the map is just a copy of a more detailed (and cryptic) original. To read it they need to find the cartographer who copied it, Solomon Uqbai, the Abyssinian. Unfortunately Uqbai is held prisoner by a savage warlord to the North while working for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And only Leo is smart enough to free him

Uh-huh, Tepes I take it? Leave Florence to go visit Dracula? Yeah, good luck with that then.

Al Rahim spins a coin which causes Leo to appear riding next to Uqbai who agrees that he “will” be captured. There is a brief moment of confusion explained by further “big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff”. Leo accuses them of being cryptic which is freely admitted but it’s not like Leo isn’t at times. Cryptic cryptic and more cryptic, vague allusions to hell being evil being more overwhelming than hope and how special Leo is. He comes out of his little trance on horseback travelling with Nicco and Zoroaster.

Leo, he slipped you something in your drink! Either that or the writers know it’d make no damn sense for Leo to leave Florence and go swanning off to Wallachia at this time so they introduced some woo-woo to make it so.

Zoroaster and Nicco inform Leo he was the one who got them on the road – for days – and was a sullen git to boot. And lo, they are at a castle with people impaled around it

Time for some naked people, back in Urbino where Lorenzo, Pierro and the Duke of Urbino are together in a sauna. The Duke continues to be a less than pleasant man but does agree to their plan to ally with Florence and conquer northern Papal territories so Florence doesn’t have enemies on both sides. Urbino loves a scrap, shows off his empty eye socket, and agrees – then shits in a corner. Nice man.

Back in Wallachia, Leo and crew find all the impaled men are Turks, with their turbans nailed on their heads. They surmise that the warlord has an issue with the Ottomans (they know enough about him to know he spent time in prison, but not enough to know about Wallachia’s battle to avoid being conquered by the Ottoman empire?) Leo’s sure it’s fine, since they’re not Turks they won’t be impaled! Simple! Zoroaster points out it’s quite possible for someone to mistake him for a Turk.

Don’t worry, the warlord is here and knows Zoroaster isn’t a Turk; though he does ask what he is and has no time for him being a “half-breed” or “unique”.  He has quite a long dramatic speech on the subject. I’m assuming he says all this in a language Zoroaster understands and will refrain from asking exactly what that language is. Leo greets the prince by all his titles – Vlad Dracul, yes, Dracula. Leo invokes Lorenzo’s name and says they’re there for friendship and to learn of Vlad’s battle tactics.

To the Vatican, where Riario and Mercuri bring Lucrezia to the naked Pope bathing room. Lucrezia tells him Leo has left the city and that Lorenzo is forming an alliance with Urbino. The pope correctly guesses what Lorenzo’s plan is in the north – to sack and divide the papal lands. The pope also has a bit of a tantrum about Mercuri and Riario bringing Lucrezia in person because they were too scared to bring the information themselves. Mercuri starts to creep like a good little toady (while Riario gives him “oh shit!” eyes) and the Pope half drowns the man in his bath. Riario tries to speak up so the Pope punches him repeatedly in the face with his ring hand (“kiss this ring!”).

Do not piss off the pope. Lurcrezia looks on in several kinds of shock as the Pope leaves, giving one final kick to Riario.

Back to Wallachia where Dracula quickly tries to convince us all that he’s scarier than the berserker pope. He’s certainly creepier, much much much creepier, but his taste in décor is a trifle overwrought. He’s crossed the line from “evil menacing supervillain” to “goth kid trying too hard”. Just in case anyone was in any doubt that the creepy guy is indeed creepy, he proposes a toast to his master Lucifer. There’s nothing like a bit of devil worship over dinner to ruin your appetite.

In Florence, Guiliano talks to Vanessa about Leo and learns that he’s left the city and she doesn’t know where. Questioning leads to flirting which is interrupted by Dragonetti telling everyone to go home before curfew and revealing he records all curfew violations in his little black book. Guiliano realises that the book would probably show anyone who was a repeat offender and maybe point to the spy.

Back in Wallachia and Vlad the Creepy wants to use Leo’s brilliant mind to help him against the Ottoman army. For added entertainment, he brings out a Turkish prisoner and has him fight vicious dogs with a butter knife for funsies.

Leo, still playing goodwill ambassador, pours out a drink from a bottle he’s brought with him, toasting Vlad the third. Zoroaster has to be chivvied to drink – not being impressed by the vicious monster playing host. Leo makes a point of ensuring all the servants and guards get a sip of the liquor.

After dinner Leo gets to spend some time alone with Vlad who increases the creepy levels and shows him a creepy view from his creepy castle at a creepy landscape complete with creepy wolf howls (alas, he didn’t mention listening to the “children of the night, what wonderful music they make” which is really a damn shame).  He also tells Leo that he keeps the Abyssinian in a special cell where he can think up extra special evil tortures in his evil dungeon for his evil amusement! Including carving miniature replicas of his castle into the man’s severed hands. Even Leo’s rather perturbed by this epic display of evil villain psychosis. Leo then has a genius moment allowing the CGI to map out the entire castle using the severed hand map as a guide.

In his room, Leo is woozy and Nico and Zoroaster are near unconscious – they’ve all been poisoned. By Leo, of course, with the liquor he insisted absolutely everyone drank, but he also has the antidote as well. This allows them to go through the castle while everyone is unconscious and find the Abyssinian in Vlad’s room. They find him in a cage made of blades and other complicated things – and Zoroaster takes the time to repeatedly stab the sleeping form of – presumably – Vlad III making reference to his “half-breed” comment while doing so. Leo uses his genius to figure out how to pull the Abyssinian free from the Saw-style cage.  And revelation – the man in the bed wasn’t Vlad.

Vlad is perched above them, looking very vampiricly dramatic and he swoops down with what can only be described as super-human speed, throwing Leo across the room like a rag doll explaining how immune he is to toxins. Zoroaster hits him with a giant crucifix (of course) which shatters doing no damage, so Vlad knocks him across the room with one super-human punch. Leo throws flammable powder at Vlad, driving him back and setting half the room on fire, before rushing to Zoroaster to try and wake him up. And Vlad returns with the dramatic evil villain stalk, with little flames in his robes that he ignores. He has livid burns on his face and his hair has been burned away – it doesn’t slow him down as he lifts Leo – and the Abyssinian manages to drive a spike from his cage through the man. Also doesn’t kill him or stop him or slow him down and he slaps Uqbai away. Leo finally pushes him out of a window that is very very very high up, and Vlad plummets to a distant, stony floor.

They help the Abyssinian and begin to escape – and yes, Vlad’s body has disappeared. Time to leave pretty damn sharpish.

But when they get clear and look at his wounds, it’s clear the cage has mortally wounded him when they released him. The Abyssinian tells him to never mind and tells him of the key, in Rome and when Leo has both he will see his mother, Katerina, who is still alive. And has some more cryptic bullshit to go with it. Oh and the cryptic secret to the map? It’s tattooed on his skin so they’re going to have to flay him, with his blessing of course. And he dies.

Leo has a little sad tantrum then realises he recognises the clearing they’re in – as where he first met the Abyssinian in his little vision.

Back in Florence Clarice finds Guiliano poring over the curfew records and he finds that high ranking, “sensitive” Florentine citizens are noted in code rather than by name to prevent embarrassment (like he himself)

In Rome, Riario tells Lucrezia to disappear for a time – don’t speak to everyone, avoid Florence. She asks why and Riario points out that the pope is rather intolerant of questions. As she leaves, Riario tells his men to have Lucrezia murdered – her affections for Leonardo make her too dangerous to keep around.

And Lorenzo gathers some of the treacherous Pazzi’s around him to show off his alliance with Urbino and call upon them to support him, support Florence, rather than Rome. And he even suggests marrying off Guiliano to one of the Pazzis. When the Pazzis leave, Pierro asks if he’s consulted Giuliano about this: “don’t worry, I’ll remove all the breakable objects from the room before telling him.” Even Pierro thinks this is unfair for Lorenzo – but Clarice reveals it’s her idea.

To Clarice and Lorenzo having sex in their bedchamber – because this show definitely needs more heterosexual sex, of course!  It’s very bad sex though, they’re more concerned about politics and their heir and even discuss it in the middle of the act. Totally not sexy, until they finally laugh and find some real passion.

The Sons of Mithras do not convince me the Book of Leaves is special – every time they appear they spout the same Fortune Cookie Wisdom Bullshit. What is Fortune Cookies Wisdom Bullshit, you ask? Well, it’s lots of cryptic phrases that sound so incredibly deep and insightful and meaningful but actually mean sod all or mean something incredibly basic or are used to cover blatant plot holes (hence the time wimey crap). Al Rahim can talk for 20 minutes solid and not say one damn thing – or only a sentence worth of pertinent knowledge among a raft of cryptic bullshit that absolutely means nothing – no matter how many times you dribble on about the “fountain of memory” it doesn’t give it any meaning.

And this time it was used to magically teleport Leo and crew over 900 miles. Seriously 900 miles covered by some woo-woo just so the writers can shoe-horn in Dracula for no damn apparent reason that WOOO LOOKIE WE’VE GOT DRACULA!

Of course, all of the Sons of Mithras are mystical, primarily POC, woo-woo “Other”. Their otherness is so stressed that they’re known more by it than by any actual name. The Turk, the Jew, the Abyssinian, all providing woo-woo for Leo, all sacrificing themselves for Leo. Not only sacrifice but he’s dug one key out of the Jew’s stomach and is now ripping a map key off the Abyssinian’s skin. He’s literally tearing wisdom and learning experiences out of their dead bodies. Even having Zoroaster confirmed as a POC doesn’t increase things because he’s only ever dragged around on various dirty deeds by Leonardo against his own better judgement.

As to Vlad? Yeah I’ll give him a pass – a delightfully cheesy, over the top, ridiculous villain he may be, but a bit of a cheesy villain isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ham up the acting, crank the melodrama to 11 and sprinkle liberally with cheesiness and throw in a few reject props from Saw why not! It’s a recipe for mindless fun. Gods know this isn’t a show that takes itself that seriously and if I’m going to swallow 900 miles of magical teleportation, I might as well indulge in this cheesy, gothic melodrama as well.

The site writeup likes to present Clarice as a dastardly plotter and skilful politician behind the scenes. I’d like to see that- and on episode 6 out of 8, we’ve got as much chance of that as seeing Leonardo presented as the actual gay man he was. Even this week’s plan to marry off Guiliano feels a little like frustrated jealousy in her part as much as anything.