Da Vinci's Demons 1.04 "The Magician" TV REVIEW
Writers: David S Goyer, Scott M Gimple
Director: Jamie Payne
THE ONE WHERE As Count Riario and Rome take the fight to Florence's doorstep, Da Vinci has second thoughts about building weapons of mass destruction – and gets creative.
VERDICT A great episode that sees the tensions between Florence and Rome rising to the point of all-out war. With the manipulative Pope Sixtus pulling the strings and adapting a more aggressive stance on his rivals (is the key role of the bankers in his plan a sly dig at the present-day financial crisis?), Count Riario is free to get properly nasty. No longer just a pantomime villain, the way he slaughters a bunch of miners – citing their lack of knowledge of the Bible as an excuse for their execution – is genuinely vicious stuff, though it comes as a surprise later on when he's revealed to be a more astute tactician than we'd previously given him credit for.
It's also an interesting episode for the Medicis – indeed, it effectively reverses the roles of the brothers, with Lorenzo as the hothead hellbent on revenge, and the usually idiotic Giuliano becoming the voice of reason, pleading for Becchi's life. That said, Lorenzo is remarkably tolerant when Da Vinci unexpectedly destroys the pipe organ guns he's been building in his foundry. Lesser men would have killed him on the spot
As for Da Vinci, this episode provides the best character study we've seen so far – his usual arrogance is tempered by his recent discovery of compassion, and guilt over the use of his weapons of mass destruction – parallels with the scientists who developed the atomic bomb in the Manhattan project are impossible to deny. Using theatrical tricks to con Riario into thinking Florence has built a cluster bomb-firing crossbow is a wonderful piece of sleight of hand – "The Magician" isn't just a clever episode title. And of course, it's no surprise to see Leonardo's ego coming back to the fore when he becomes the pride of Florence, and has the guts to ask Lorenzo to fund a trip to the Americas. What a shame, then, that he's soon arrested for "sodomy" by people who may not be entirely impartial – the show's first genuine cliffhanger...
SPECULATION No wonder Da Vinci sees Lucrezia as such a mystery. The way she murders Becchi suggests she has a twisted idea of mercy, though it's easy to believe that watching a man pummelled to death on "The Wheel" (a genuine medieval instrument of torture) could have a profound effect on someone. But what's driving her to betray Florence? As she puts it to Becchi, "You have no idea of my circumstances. There's more to this than Florence, or Rome, or my life." Her backstory has become one of the show's most intriguing mysteries.
SPECULATION 2 It's strongly hinted that Riario had his own meetings with the Turk, he can do maths, and – like Da Vinci – he has his own visions of possible futures. Is he another Son of Mithras or, at the very least, a former protege of the Turk? That would explain his interest in the key, and suggest that he may be more Da Vinci's equal than we thought – a shadowy reflection of the artista.
SPECULATION 3 If Lorenzo's grandad was indeed a Son of Mithras, do Lorenzo and Giuliano know about the organisation?
NITPICK How does Riario's pocket sundial work? Without a compass and sat-nav-like knowledge of position, it would appear to be utterly useless – particularly on a day when there's little to no sun. Are those sunglasses he wears magical or something?
YOU WINSTON, YOU LOSE SOME Seems the writers have been taking inspiration from Winston Churchill. Verrocchio's spat with Boticelli – "I think you're drunk, old man." "And you're jealous, Boticelli. Tomorrow I'll be sober. But you'll still be jealous" – is a riff on Churchill's famous exchange with Lady Astor.
MAKING HISTORY Many historians believe that Da Vinci was gay, and he was genuinely accused of sodomy in 1476 – in line with the timeline of the show. Also, as suggested in the episode ("no one has been sentenced for this crime in 50 years," explains Lorenzo), the Florentine authorities were usually very tolerant of homosexuality.
Giuliano: "He's been with our family his entire life. He taught us our letters, for God's sake."
Lorenzo: "I don't care if he held your prick the first time you took a piss. Becchi is a spy and a traitor."
Da Vinci's Demons airs on Fox in the UK at 10pm on Friday nights.