Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Review of DaVinci's Demons 1x01: "The Hanged Man"

Written And Directed by David S. Goyer

DaVinci’s Father: “Why do you have to make this so difficult?”
DaVinci: “Because it’s my nature. I see things the way they are and not as they might be.”

For a show that had yet made it to air, it’s amazing how quickly viewers were divided by the portrayal of the most infamous of artists and inventors but having watched the opening episode with an open mind, I can say, quite honestly that parts of the criticisms a bit justified, but only partially.

If we focus on the depiction of DaVinci’s sexuality first, let’s remember here that there are eight episodes to go in this first season and both Tom Riley playing the man himself and David S. Goyer have promised that we will get a full exploration into Leonardo’s sexuality that goes beyond the artist’s appreciation for the female form. This episode made a slight attempt of fulfilling that promise but at the same time, let’s hope for more than Leo turning down male hustlers, eh? Or scenes that involve the likes of the Duke Of Milan and Pope Sixtus IV with their lovers too, especially considering how neither ended particularly well.

The women that seemed to pique the artist’s attention in this episode were both Vanessa, a model that Leonardo drew inspiration from (when he wasn’t conducting flying experiments and thinking of a military role in Medici’s court) and in some ways, while she was the less focused, Vanessa was slightly more interesting, considering that she stirred a memory of the man’s mother that will obviously play a bigger role in later episodes.

Then there was Lorenzo Medici’s mistress, Lucrezia Donati, played nicely by Laura Haddock who DaVinci both seduced into getting an audience with Lorenzo and actually seduced when she was pretending to be a whore towards the end of the episode. DaVinci may boast of having a way of reading people but clearly he wasn’t paying enough attention to Lucrezia.

She point blank told him that she was capable of manipulation and low and behold, the end of this episode wasted no time in revealing that she was Riario’s spy within the Medici court as she warned both her employer and his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV that DaVinci was a potential threat to their overall plans in relation to the Secret Archive and the Book of Leaves.

I have to admit, it’s the Book of Leaves and fate plots in relation to the Vatican, the Sons of Mithras and DaVinci’s destiny as a whole that seemed to be the bigger pitch for this series. While it might feel a little odd to make DaVinci into some kind of a superhero for this show to work, it actually felt a lot less jarring than I thought it would be.

The episode won’t win points for subtlety in hammering home the fact that Leonardo has a destiny that in years to come could be altered by the Vatican (who seem hell bent on suppressing certain knowledge/advancements in society) and the connection of sorts to his mother seemed a little contrived to this plot, I will embrace it with an open mind at the very least.

Throughout the hour when Leonardo wasn’t being filled in about his destiny and bedding Lucrezia, the episode did manage to tap into some other deep seated issues. His dependency on opium in order to dull his mind was nicely handled as was his impressive blagging skills when he actually managed to become a military strategist for Lorenzo Medici along with organising a mechanical bird for flight at the carnival that marked the end of Lent. All of these whilst at the same being reminded by other that his arrogance could be his undoing as well.

DaVinci’s arrogance definitely cost him when he was being tortured by his own father for saving the mysterious Al-Rahim/the Turk but nevertheless it never stopped DaVinci from feeling justified in his superiority towards the majority of the characters he encountered throughout this episode alone.

Also in “The Hanged Man”

The title came from an encountered with an actual hanged man that DaVinci found in a cave when he was a boy (as well as in one of Zoroaster's Tarot cards) and we saw a falcon that came near him when he was six months old.

Duke Of Milan: “What day is it today?”
Chico: “Palm Sunday.”
Duke Of Milan: “Balls.”

Yes, we did see some of those in this episode with Hugh Bonneville playing the ill fated Duke Of Milan, who was promptly killed at the behest of the Vatican in the first five minutes of this episode.

Vanessa (to DaVinci): “All men are searching for their mothers. That’s what guides you between our thighs.”

DaVinci (to Nico): “Florence only demands one thing of it’s people. To be truly awake.”

DaVinci’s friends Nico and the seemingly bisexual Zoroaster were good fun in a lot of this episode. I do hope they become bigger to the plot as the show goes on. We also briefly saw Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice Orsini in this one too.

DaVinci (to Verrocchio): “I think too much. I need to dull my thoughts, otherwise I will be eviscerated.”

Zoroaster (re the Turk): “No, no, this isn’t your fight, Leo.”
DaVinci: “When’s that ever stopped me?”

Zoroaster seems to be providing DaVinci with bodies for his experiments. The Jew that was hanged in this one was a body DaVinci later requested for Zoroaster to collect for him. Leo also mentioned his vegetarianism and being ambidextrous.

Al-Rahim: “Centuries from now, your own history will be suppressed.”
DaVinci: “How could you possibly know that?”

Al-Rahim: “Fate has chosen you, Leonardo.”
DaVinci: “I don’t believe in fate.”
Al-Rahim: “Then believe in yourself.”

I loved the scene at the marketplace where DaVinci was drawing the birds as they flew and the title sequence for the series is actually quite nice and fitting for the show.

Lucrezia (to DaVinci): “Remember, you’re not the only one capable of manipulation.”

Chronology: April 1477, Florence for this episode, around the time DaVinci was 25.

For an opening episode, “The Hanged Man” was solid but not spectacular. Tom Riley is taking on quite the role here and his man about town depiction of DaVinci is an interesting way of interpreting the character (as well as the costume being modern and period looking) but it’s also a depiction that might not please other viewers either. In short, if you’re looking for total historical accuracy, it’s probably wise to look elsewhere but for historical fantasy, fun and intrigue, then this show certainly has potential.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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