Sunday, June 9, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons, Season 1, Episode 8: The Lovers

Pull back from Florence to begin – and go back 13 years ago to Constantinople with Al Rahim staring into the sky and predicting the future for the Sons of Mithras. He predicts considerable amounts of doom and gloom – and a possible hope in Leonardo Da Vinci. One of their members is told to watch him from a distance and given a compass to give to him. A figure in a blue robe (who is all hidden and mysterious so I’m going to guess is Da Vinci’s mother) guts an eel for some haruspicy augury confirming more happy news – all but one of them is going to die and the one who lives will suffer even more

Well 2 of them are already dead. So guess they’re good at seeing the future – less so at dodging it.

13 years forwards and Leo is looking wistfully across the city of Florence planning to say goodbye to everything as he plans to cross the ocean – he tries to say goodbye to Zoroaster and Nico but they insist on joining him. He plans the trip – but first he has to talk to Lorenzo. And before that, he gets an omen -  a bird from Turkey, one he’d only seen before on the day his mother disappeared. Naturally the sensible thing to do is to chase the bird that may be migrating back to Turkey.  Hopefully he’s still got his special teleporter that let him zoom to Wallachia and back a couple of episodes ago.

The dramatic music tries to cover how very silly it is for a man on horseback to chase a bird until; he eventually arrives at an old ruin, where I think he’s been before.  Either that or they’re recycling sets. Downstairs is Al Rahim who really needs to learn how to send a note. He’s confident Leo now believes in visions and demons. What, does Vlad count as a demon? Because we’ve seen no demons. And Leo’s being visioning it up since the first episode – but then he’s also been hitting the good drugs so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything (possibly the ones the writers were taking when they decided to make Leo straight).

In Florence, the betrothal dinner party held by the Pazzis is in full swing and Guiliano is conspicuous by his absence. Clarice believes that Lorenzo has screwed up telling Guiliano about the marriage and Guiliano has stomped off in rebellion. Pazzi’s also getting stressed by the absence and talks to Riario about striking early and killing Lorenzo – to which Riario reminds us of the master plan – they both have to die or the other can rally the city in outrage against the murder. And if he jumps the gun Rome will be Displeased.

Leo sums up his accomplishments to Al Rahim (who sets the floor on fire, because, y’know mystical woo-woo), he has the keys and vague, cryptic directions to the Vault of Heaven to find the Book of Leaves that hasn’t been seen for a thousand years. Leo isn’t impressed by this since it’s more people manipulating him and asking him to take things on faith (I have to say no-one’s actually MANIPULATING Leo. I don’t think “hey shiny book, go get it!” counts as manipulation).

The garden party from hell continues awkwardly with no Guiliano and Dragonetti (who is a naughty traitor, remember) tells Lorenzo that Guiliano went to Sienna for one last fling before getting married. Lorenzo has Dragonetti take men and go find him.

Leo’s token objections passed over, Al Rahim tells Leo that Captain Antonio who has a ship called the Basilisk that happens to be going Leo’s way is loading provisions in Florence. All said in his super portentous mystery voice. Of course he’ll need the super compass the man 13 years ago promised to hide – and that man was Cosmo di Medici and the compass/astrolabe thingy is in his tomb which Leo must take onto the Basilisk. And, of course, there’s a shiny puzzle to solve for Leo to get it. Again Leo talks about being tantalised and manipulated – what, he’s giving you step by step instructions? What’s tantalising about this? He could be reciting a shopping list of stuff you have to do. He’s ordering you to rob your employer’s granddad’s grave! How is this tantalising? Ooooh  digging up rotting bodies, you really know how to spoil a guy!

Elsewhere in Florence, Vanessa is feeling poorly and gets a visit from… a woman who is probably as close to a medical profession as you get at that time and place and for Vanessa’s social class. We shall call her Humble Peasant Healer. After many many side tracks of superstition, sorceries and other oddities, it’s declared that Vanessa is pregnant. And should stay out of moonlight. Because werewolf babies! I guess anyway.

In the Medici palace, Dragonetti brings the body of Batino (the man who accompanied Guiliano) to Lorenzo to see.  They conclude he was attacked and killed by bandits – but there was no sign of Guiliano

Who is alive! Alive and not quite well, he floated down river and was found by Humble Peasant Folk and nursed back to not-dying. Of course, now he has to warn Lorenzo.

Leo checks out Cosmo’s tomb with his disgruntled master, Verrochio who designed the tomb. Looking around the tomb, Leo sees many hidden messages commissioned by Cosmo . Verrochio says Cosmo had the most agile mind he ever knew – until he met Leo. At which point, Leo recognises Verrochio as a father figure and Verrochio again question the wisdom of constantly answering questions only to get more questions – and no results, ending in misery. But Leo considers having all the answers and no further questions to be a much greater misery.

Looking around the tomb they find symbols Cosmo installed (which Leo feels the need to point out with his swords. Because waving swords around is a useful way of pointing and not risking slashy death) . All of the symbols centre over his ring which is a switch when twisted (y’know, even without the symbol that’s probably the first place I’d look) revealing the Astrolabe of Shininess.

On the road, Guiliano slowly makes his way back to Florence, still injured and in pain, when he is found by Dragonetti. Dragonetti sends his men back with news of Guiliano while Guiliano tells Dragonetti about Lucrezia and will ride back with him at a slower pace.

In Florence, Lorenzo isn’t happy with Leo trying to leave and ignoring his contracts. As a bribe he offers a duchy to Leo – carved out from the land he and the Duke of Urbino planned to take from the Pope’s lands. To which Leo, having seen the Duke of Urbino in the Vatican has bad news. Lorenzo is even less pleased about Leo swanning off in those circumstances. Leo raises the curious defence that Lorenzo WAS warned that he was feckless and unreliable. Oh, well that’s alright then. Lorenzo begs for help to save the city – the city they both love and asks what he can offer – and Leo settles on Lucrezia. Leo asks Lorenzo how much Lucrezia means to him and whether he’ll set her aside – set his “toy” aside – for the sake of Florence

We don’t know how he would answer because he’s interrupted with news about Guiliano. Also receiving the news is Riario and Pazzi who are bemused as to why Lucrezia is alive and stabbing Medicis. But the guard assures them Dragonetti will kill Guiliano before he reaches the city – which means Pazzi needs to kill Lorenzo before he can uses his brother’s death to rally the people. He plans to poison Lorenzo during communion – even if Cardinal Orsini objects. He plans to poison Lorenzo, his wife – and his daughters which even Pazzi thinks is out of line.

Riding back, Guiliano is bemused at why Lucrezia is a spy and discusses how Rome and Florence do things differently – the pope in Rome constantly rewarding his family; while in Florence only those who prove themselves capable and worthy are given rank – like Dragonetti. And since Dragonetti is a murderous spy and traitor, I rather think you need higher standards of “merit”

Of course that same merit means that Guiliano  believes Dragonetti is competent – look at his meticulous notebooks that revealed the spy to anyone who examined them in detail. So why didn’t they reveal Lucrezia to Dragonetti?

Guiliano scorns Dragonetti. He doesn’t try to run – his horse is tired and he is wounded, he can’t get away. But he mocks Dragonetti, suggesting Lucrezia would reward him by sleeping with him. But Dragonetti is motivated by piety – and changing Florence so it is obedient to god. He doesn’t attack and continues to take Guiliano to Florence.

In Florence Leo books 3 tickets for the supply barge to the Basilisk. And outside, the Duke of Urbino amasses his forces, confident he can take Florence – but Riario warns him not to strike early or the people will rise against him and in the alleyways of their home they will be deadly even to Urbino’s trained soldiers. Urbino dislikes taking orders or following instructions – but Riario has some dramatic threats to keep him in line. Or some severe kinky play. Or possibly both.

On the road, the messenger from the Pazzis and Riario, looking to confirm that Guiliano is dead, rides towards Guiliano and Dragonetti. Seeing Guiliano alive, he draws a sword – and Dragonetti shoots him with a crossbow. Looks like the turncoat has turnedcoat again. Ah Renaissance politics! He tells Guiliano to pick up the sword – he will need it to save his brother.

Leo hastily packs in his workshop – and Lucrezia arrives shrouded in a hood and cloak. He uses his sword to remove it because swords are shiny and dramatic. He throws everything she’s done at her – poisoning Vanessa, working for Riario, condemning him as a sexual criminal. She counters with all the risks she has taken for him – sending Nico to get him to help the convent, begging for his life during the trial.  Personally I kinda think “I threatened your life then tried to help you escape death” is somewhat a weak excuse, given the whole escaping death wouldn’t be needed without her in the first place.

He brings up her father – and she clings to that as the reason behind it all. But Leo isn’t impressed since she poisoned an innocent man – Becchi. She slaps him. What, is pointing out one’s murders so very out of line? She says Leo’d do the same to rescue his mother. Possibly but Leo points out that when he offered to rescue her father, he refused… so is all this to rescue her father?

She tears up and talks about him reaching the heights of humanity and her the depths (rather melodramatic – I mean the pope and Riario are waaaay deeper than Lucrezia). He holds her and starts to kiss her before backing off – he needs to be ready for his boat. She warns him about Riario but he says “let the politicians kill each other.”  She begs him to do it for Florence but the city that treats him as a bastard son and tried him for sodomy – what does he owe the city? He suggests she sacrifice herself and leaves.

In Rome, the Pope has a chat with the Black Monk, Lucrezia’s father and complains about his smoking and his chess playing. He then lays out his masterplan because a supervillain must have the odd monologue now and then, it’s a rule. It’s pretty simple – unite Italy then go to war with the Ottoman Empire and then becoming a saint on account of killing all the people, as you do. The Black Monk responds piously which is totally wasted on Pope Evil Doer so instead reveals to us a deep dark secret – Pope, I am your brother.

Is that supposed to be a grand revelation? Are we supposed to care that the Black Monk is the Pope’s brother? That Lucrezia is the Pope’s Niece? That she is Riario’s cousin? It’s supposed to be this grand revelation but none of these characters are developed enough for us to really care. Is it supposed to be proof of how evil and cold the Pope and Riario are? Because we kinda knew that. They’ve been almost cartoonishly villainous since the first episode

So surprise +1 point for me not seeing it coming. -9786 points for me not actually caring.

In Florence, Pazzi reminds us all of their poisoning plan in case the utter mind numbering shock of the Pope having a brother has wiped it from your mind! Cardinal Orsini is cut out of the plan and someone else is sneaking in the poison because the Cardinal draws the line about poisoning holy communion on Easter Sunday – that’s got to get you on god’s naughty list. Though Francesco Pazzi is a little worried about Leo interfering

The poison is prepared and Lorenzo arrives with Clarice and their three daughters. On the docks Leo joins Nico and Zoroaster ready to get on the boat (Zoroaster has also drawn cards about Leo and got “uncontrolled passion leading to defeat” which sums up him and Lucrazia). But Leo is distracted, he hears the silence of the church bells – Mass is beginning, complete with its poisoned Host. Leo agonises over what to do – and finally drops his bags and runs off – telling Nico and Zoroaster to stall the barge. Lucrezia delays outside the doors to the Cathedral, fearing going in.

As Lorenzo kneels to receive communion, opening his mouth, Guiliano bursts into the room with Dragonetti behind him. A priest tries to get him to leave and shut up since he’s interrupting Mass, but Lorenzo demands Guiliano speak up. He accuses the Pazzis – to which Francesco leaps to his feet, drawing his sword and calling Death to the Medici. Sword fighting in the cathedral, chaos and running and with Dragonetti supporting the Medicis. Clarice tries to lead her children to safety, asking her brother, the Cardinal, for help – and he abandons them.

During the fighting, the priest repeatedly stabs Guiliano in the back and chest – before chasing after the wife and children. Vanessa cradles Guiliano’s bod. He gasps that he’s dying and she reassures him his line will live on, she’s pregnant with his child. The priests advance on Clarice and her daughters who haven’t found a way to escape. Clarice manages to hit one with a lit candle – and Lucrezia stabs the other. Lucrezia leads them out of the cathedral, but they run into Riario who captures her (and calls her “cousin”). He’s convinced he can take them all – and then Dragonetti arrives; as a loyal servant of Florence, he leads Clarice and the children to safety. Lucrezia is a spy and a traitor, he isn’t going to save her.

In the Cathedral, Lorenzo fights several Pazzis and takes a severe cut to the neck. Francesco draws back the killing blow – which is intercepted by Leonardo. With 4 against 1, Leo uses his flashbang grenade (cause he has one, he’s Leonardo Da Vinci) to distract them while he takes Lorenzo to safety.

They escape into the sanctuary and lock the doors. Inside Leo treats Lorenzo’s wound while outside the Pazzi gather with Riario dragging Lucrezia. After expressing eternal gratitude to Leo for saving Florence, Lorenzo notices Leo has Lucrezia’s ring. He quickly changes to swearing to kill Leo and Lucrezia.

And Riario uses a mini canon to break down the doors. The episode ends. The season end. Cliffhanger.

And it’s finished.

This episode? Meh – it all felt awfully simple, all that plotting and it comes down to a mass brawl? A mass brawl with no resolve even? At least it ended up focusing on the political machinations of Florence rather than running around looking for the Book of Leaves, but it was still lacking. All of the politics and manoeuvers and searching out the spies and political machinations with Urbino and just dissolved into a brawl. I dunno, I feel like everything that happened in the season so far was kind of invalidated by a rather simple “oh screw it – let’s just stab each other”.

Which is an extra problem because the whole machinations of protecting Rome from Florence was the only storyline that half way interested me as one that had potential and depth and involving most the cast. Without it we were stuck with a boring and unoriginal Macguffin quest for the “Book of Leaves” which, frankly, sounds like something a not very original GM might assign an artefact in a DnD game. The storyline was poor – a series of mystical people spouted random cryptic gibberish which, for reasons that are never adequately explained, Leonardo simply has to follow and just in case his motivation seems as ridiculously hollow as it actually is, they threw in some dreams and vague unspecified stuff about his mother. Then they added Dracula. Why? I don’t know, possibly because this show isn’t so much written as much as it is an odd game of Madlibs between a series of not very imaginative people.

So the storyline just hasn’t drawn me in even slightly. What has sunk this series and made me absolutely, raging, spitting mad is its treatment of marginalised people.

First of all, we have a series of POC and Jewish people filling the role of mysterious mystical of cryptic magicy-ness. This is what they’re for – mystical Others talking about visions and woo-woo. And then usually dying. We’ve even had them all pretty much predicting their deaths now.

Then there’s Zoroaster who is kept supremely ambiguous throughout (I almost suspect that half way through the season someone did a double take at Greg Chillin and only just realised the man was a POC) and, regardless, serves as a servant for Leo anyway.

And the women? What’s ALMOST funny about this show is you can go to its website and see how they are described and then laugh at how inaccurate it is. Clarice is supposed to be this shrewd political master who gives excellent advice to Lorenzo while navigating the dangerous waters of Italian politics. Really? When? When has she done… well, anything? Anything at all? Because I can’t think of one damn thing this character has done. She’s window dressing.

Vanessa? Shows her breasts, reminds everyone Leo slept with her, victim, rescued, shags Guiliano, pregnant. Well there’s a fully realised character.

Lucrezia? She’s the most present woman – but she’s the sex object. Leo’s, Lorenzo’s – her whole raison d’etre is that men want her. The whole reason she is useful as a spy is because men want her. And even her spying is not through any agency of her own – but because Riario is forcing her. I’d say she’s acting to protect her father, but it’s evident that even he is playing his own game that also reduces her to a tool. Along the way she is demeaned and insulted, often for the very sexuality everyone requires her to use as a tool or prize. Even her stabbing people in the last 2 episodes is not due to any strength or agency in her part – it’s the whole elaborate structure collapsing around her while she desperately tries to find some way out.

Then there’s sexuality – and the way Da Vinci’s Demons has straight washed a historical gay man and turned him into a straight man who once had “curiosity”. A straight man whose curiosity was reduced an actual 25 year co-habitation to a one night stand with a prostitute. A straight man who’s secondary motivation for the season has been Lucrezia. This has been his predominant love interest from the very first episode, one of his overriding obsessions and the last few episodes just doubled down on their love.

The sheer offensiveness of this cannot be understated. This is sickeningly, inexcusably homophobic. But it was made worse with both the insulting way the sodomy trial was handled (the episode may as well have been entitled “no homo”). Add the fact the few depictions of same-sex attraction on the show where to show the pope’s villainy and the duke of Milan’s decadence and we have a really sickeningly homophobic show.

But this has been made worse by the way that David S Goyer and Tom Riley completely downplaying and dismissing the homophobia of this show. Before The Tower they were assuring everyone that Leonardo’s sexuality was addressed and telling people we were jumping the gun - and after the tower trying to push the idea that not “labelling” Leonardo was gay was somehow liberating – by depicting a straight man this was somehow? This is the problem with straight folks trying to straightsplain issues they don’t even slightly understand

To make it even worse, Tom Riley, Laura Haddock and Lara Pulver appeared for an interview with Radio 2 where they, astonishingly, praised the era of Renaissance Florence as a freer time for gay people because there were no labels. Yes, ignorant straight people, there were labels – it was “sodomite” and they threw you in prison, fined you and executed people for being gay. To try and present this as somehow free and equal to gay people because you’re desperate to denigrate our label for the sake of your straightwashed show is utterly bigoted and inexcusable.

This show is sickeningly homophobia and, sadly, I rather think the people involved in it are as well