Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Review of DaVinci's Demons 1x05: "The Tower"

Written by Joe Ahearne
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst

DaVinci (to Jacopo): “No-one defines me.”

And here we have it – the game changing episode that wasn’t quite the game changer it should’ve been. Never mind about DaVinci overreaching, it’s the handling of his sexuality that has rubbed viewers up the wrong way and sadly for the show itself and Tom Riley (in spite of his best intentions with his recent interviews with The Backlot concerning this episode), it could also be the show’s undoing to an extent.

It’s not a secret that the ratings have slid since the premiere episode and a large part of this does seem to stem from viewers annoyance over the ‘straight washing’ of DaVinci as a character. Having him on trial for sodomy was a way of addressing this dilemma head on and coming out the other side but on that note, the episode became a mixed bag.

The male prostitute that DaVinci had spurned in the first episode – Jacopo Saltarelli managed to get himself coerced into testifying against the artist mainly because of the rejection that he had felt from DaVinci. He didn’t want the artist killed but he certainly wanted revenge and when Leonardo did communicate with him towards the end of the episode, we got some strange insight here.

For some people, it seemed that this episode implied that DaVinci was bi-curious at best but Jacopo seemed to think that Leonardo was only suppressing his homosexuality out of fear along with at least a kiss between the two of them. I’d like to think that Jacopo is actually right and that creator David S. Goyer will actually live up to his promise and deliver on DaVinci’s relationships with both men and women but as interesting as this episode was, I’m starting to doubt such a thing will happen to be honest.

It also didn’t help for some strange reason to include a bath scene of sorts with DaVinci and Lucrezia straight after the former had said goodbye to his former male lover. I get that maybe they were trying to set up DaVinci realising Lucrezia being the one who wrote the denouncement but for an episode that went to lengths to not define DaVinci sexually, it felt like a bad narrative choice to be honest.

As for using bestiality (aka the corrupt magistrate glued to a pig and sort of exposed projection style to Florence), that part bothered me less for some reason. I kind of liked DaVinci being a bit more vindictive in his pursuit of freeing himself and given that Rome were going to town on disgracing him, perhaps he had the right to incite some vengeance of his own, extreme as it were.

One of the plus points about the trial wasn’t seeing a beaten, dirty, scruffy DaVinci nearly losing his mind but it was mainly getting more insight as to why Piero hated him so much. It’s a simple but effective explanation and while Piero won’t exactly be embracing his bastard son anytime soon, this episode did manage to humanise him a little more, especially given that he was also tasked with defending his son in court and did mostly a good job of it as well.

Of course the other important component of DaVinci this week was realising that the hanged man from his youth was actually him. Al-Rahim’s return came at an interesting time too, especially given that little else about the Book Of Leaves was explored in this episode but I’m still not entirely sure if DaVinci should trust him all that much.

As for the non trial elements of the episode – Giuliano was brilliant in this episode. I loved that he decked Lorenzo (who really deserved it this week) and managed to get the crowd going for Vanessa’s version of The Decameron and his comments about the city having a pig or two were nicely timed as well.

Lorenzo and Clarice had less to really do in this one, other than schmooze with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to get support, which they eventually managed to get in spite of their visitors initially being a rather joyless lot.

Also in “The Tower”

If Piero is improving as a character, then Dragonetti is still pretty one dimensional and dull. Did we really need him taunting DaVinci that much this week?

Piero: “You are demented if you think these charges will simply vanish.”
DaVinci: “They must. They will.”

I liked DaVinci using the cluster bombs and the bats to cause a distraction for escape. He really does owe Zoroaster for that too.

Clarice (to Lorenzo, re Giuliano): “Like you, he has his talents. You impress, he charms.”

Piero: “I warned you Leonardo about overreaching.”

Clarice had some works by Donatello, which didn’t exactly seem to go down too well with Isabella.

DaVinci (to Piero, re his mother): “I remind you of her. That’s why you can’t stand to look at me. Because she left you.”

DaVinci (to his friends): “I will be no man’s pawn. They put me on display to be ridiculed as a tool to sodomise Lorenzo. They took away my liberty and now they will taste the same bile that I have.”

Giuliano shared a kiss with Vanessa in this episode and we learned that she was deflowered by DaVinci as well. Oddly enough she mentioned that to Zoroaster during the trial.

Vanessa: “And the pig, sir?”
Giuliano: “Stays in. For what’s our city without a pig or two.”

Jacopo: “What you have with the women isn’t love. You’re with them out of fear.”
DaVinci: “I’m curious by nature. Desire, it’s not as simple as one sex or the other. I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Chronology: Historically, it should’ve been a month since “The Magician” but it seems for behind the scenes reasons with the show, it’s a few days. I also missed not seeing Riario in this one, especially given how annoying Francesco was.

Overall, it’s an odd episode. “The Tower” failed in it’s delivery of trying to appeal to viewers annoyed over the show’s handling of DaVinci’s sexuality but taking that out of the equation, it’s almost the best episode we’ve had in some respects. It was certainly character driven and the reintroduction of Al-Rahim came at an interesting time too as well as a magnetic performance from Riley, so those are the reasons why it’s getting a higher rating than it arguably deserves.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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