I am a son of earth and starry heaven. I am thirsty. Please, give me something to drink from the fountain of memory.
Starz premiered their new show Da Vinci’s Demons this past Friday after the series finale of Spartacus: War of the Damned. Created by comicbook movie producer and writer David S Goyer, as the name suggests, the show is about the renaissance man and genius Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley) at 25. This isn’t the Leonardo we know, he’s not a soft-hearted seemingly pre-pubescent inventor nor is he an aged white haired old man. He’s a grown man, who physically reminds us of Colin O’Donoghue’s Captain Hook from Once Upon A Time, mixed with the savvy of Ezio Auditore, and the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes. The reimagined character of Leonardo Da Vinci is still the eccentric man we know, but he’s gained some modern 21st century charm to him.
Da Vinci’s Demons, which I’ll just call DVD, is a combination of the Renaissance we know, mixed with the secret societies we don’t. Of course, we’re not that unfamiliar with the concept of secret societies in the Renaissance, what with the Assassin’s Creed franchise and all that. But it is not something that has been exhausted of inspiration, and DVD makes use of the mythological Sons of Mithras. The show makes a few interesting choices, there is a brief shot of Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as the famed Duke of Milan, Leonardo’s patron, Niccolo Machiavelli (Eros Vlahos) is played by a young lackey/servant of Leonardo’s going by the nickname of Nico, they’ve tossed in some Medici family drama, as well as a Turk just for good measure.
The actual character of Da Vinci is an intriguing one, although given the source material it’s hard for him not to be extraordinary. He’s a painter, a sketcher, an inventor, he’s ambidextrous, he’s the very definition of a Renaissance man. But he is not a man of claim in his city, he’s merely an artiste and the bastard son of a man who just wants him silenced. Obsessed with flight, in more than one way, he manages to impress Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan), also catching the eye of his mistress, mysterious Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), in his pursuit of achieving a position higher than the bastard position he lives in.
The pilot episode takes the episode to establish key characters and move Leonardo into the lap of the story. Lorenzo Medici is shown to be an ambitious man, though not cruel like some of the men in Florence and takes a chance on Leo, both with his artistic work as well as his newly developed weapons engineering. The devious cult led by Lupo Mercuri, a fallen Son of Mithras, is obviously going to become the antagonistic force to Leonardo’s search for the Book of Leaves, but also the antagonist of Leonardo’s father, the notary for the Medici. The destructive relationship with Lucrezia and Leonardo starts, and we realize that she is not who she appears to be, and is also an agent of Lupo.
As in Starz tradition, the show flaunts overt sexual themes. There are all too many shots of naked men walking around without so much as a care in the world, Vanessa, Leonardo’s muse, bares her naked chest within 10 minutes of the show starting, it ends in a passionate and gratuitous love scene between Leonardo and Lucrezia. We get the message Starz, you’re no stranger to “historical accuracy” in all accounts. But what I love is the beauty of the design of Florence. Now, I’ve never seen Florence nor have I visited or studied about it, but the visual Florence that we see in DVD is a picture perfect duplicate of the Florence we see in Assassin’s Creed. It’s uncanny. It brings me right back, and in many ways, it balms whatever flaws I felt the pilot had.
The heavy use of magic realism as well as supernatural suggestions feel a little heavy handed to me. It feels like they are trying too hard to put too much introductory storyline into the first episode. I would have loved to see more of Leonardo’s own genius come forward in more forms than just sketching his ideas. The glimpse of his flying machine was wonderful, and the scene of Leonardo analyzing the bird in flight was a magnificent use of cinematography. As interesting as the political story is, I find it to be a little distracting. Or rather, I find it difficult to see where they are going with the story, and I feel like if I had the direction I would enjoy it more.
But, of course, it’s still early. And I did enjoy the character of the Turk, Al-Rahim, and Leo’s grave digger Zoroaster, both characters who hinted at a supernatural ability. Al-Rahim with his knowledge of the secret societies, and Zoroaster with his tarot cards and connection to the dead. I also enjoy the relationship Leonardo shares with his father, Piero, despite it’s destructive nature. You get to see the nature of both of the characters through their interactions together, and it makes for an interesting future relationship.
The episode is packed full of nudges towards the Sons of Mithras, but very little specification except from Al-Rahim. He reveals to Leonardo about his mother’s origins, a slave from Constantinople. He also reveals the Sons of Mithras, and their method of clouding memories and changing history. All of the history that they have changed and manipulated is documented in the Book of Leaves, which is pursued at by the fallen Sons and the Vatican. Leonardo, himself, suffers with some memory loss. Both about his own mother as well as an incident in a cave that left him covered in blood. Al-Rahim insists that he is a Son of Mithras, and that fate has told him to find the Book of Leaves.
All in all, I am excited for this show. If nothing then merely for another glimpse at the architecture and setting that I love, maybe a glimpse of the awesome Lara Pulver, but also for some more of Tom Riley’s new Leonardo Da Vinci.