• Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 Review

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    ​Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 (2013)

    Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 Leonardo da Vinci is a young but talented artist and inventor living in the city of Florence when events throughout Italy shove him to the forefront. The Duke of Milan has been murdered, the Medici family is threatened by the power in Rome, and a mysterious man known only as The Turk makes contact with the young artist. Informing Leonardo that he has a great destiny, Leonardo must contend with the Medici family, the Vatican, as well as his own inner demons as he sets out to find a mysterious artifact, the Book of Leaves, and challenge the authority of those that wish to oppress the freedom offered by Florence. In the backdrop of Leonardo’s quest stands the Medici family, on the verge of conflict with the Papacy and its rival the Pazzis, as well as Leonardo’s friends and loved ones who are caught up in the political turmoil of the period.

    First off, it must be said that this series is historical fantasy. What this means is that the show uses history as a guide, but does not follow it to the letter. This allows the producers to explore the possibilities within the time period, as well as allow for some more fantastical elements to be present in the series. The character of Leonardo is portrayed as a gifted individual, a talented artist and weapons designer (true to life), but also a skillful swordsman and lover of women. It’s those last two attributes of Leonardo where the show tends to deviate from history. However, they do show Leonardo has experimented with men, which is a major plot point during an episode this season. But besides that, it is clear that it is his gifts that make him so valuable to the Medici family, as well as the envy of the Vatican, and finally what attracts the mysterious Sons of Mithras to Da Vinci.

    One of the strong points of this first season is certainly the acting and the characters. Tom Riley, who plays Da Vinci, turns in a stellar performance as the polymath, portraying him in this re-imagining of history without any acting issues at all. While many consider the change of him being a quirky Italian genius (many viewers believed his character and acting as more suitable to Doctor Who), I find it a bit of a refreshing and fun take on the person. He brings a lot of energy and charisma to the role. Though everyone really did an excellent job on this show, several actors and characters stand out almost immediately besides Riley. Of particular note is the subtlety intimidating Count Girolamo Riario, played masterfully by Blake Ritson, and Elliot Cowan and Tom Bateman as Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici, respectfully. Alexander Siddig, though not in the first season much as The Turk, brings an air of mystery into the show as well, and definitely deserves a mention. Laura Haddock also brings much to the screen as Lucrezia Donati, the mistress to Lorenzo and the lover of Leonardo.

    Another amazing aspect to the show is the production values set forth in bringing fifteenth century Florence and indeed Italy to life. Though not wholly accurate in terms of costumes for the time period (remember, historical fantasy), every character and extra looks like they belong to their respective classes or occupations. In addition, the world of Da Vinci is brought to life with a mixture of incredible sets and CGI. The CGI is used for both aiding creating the world as well as helping the audience with a look into Da Vinci’s mind and imagination as he examines things (such as birds in flight), portraying his sketches and designs as he breaks down what he sees. I should point out, however, that the CGI in some scenes, particularly the first episode, is not as good as I would expect from a premium cable show. This could simply be the producers overextending themselves as well as just early fumblings with the work needed for a show this caliber. Despite these shortcomings, the atmosphere generated by this level of effort put into the show brings a large amount of satisfaction while watching, and it is a great treat to behold the world of Da Vinci, even on a TV budget. Starz and the production team really went all out in trying to make it visually appearing, and it certainly paid off.

    The story itself is quite engrossing as well. Leonardo’s quest for the artifact known as the Book of Leaves is intriguing. The artifact is known to hold secrets to the world, and with the Sons of Mithras urging him on Leonardo believes it is his destiny to find it. The Sons of Mithras, a secret society within the show that apparently goes back generations, is also an interesting aspect to the show. From this first season it is simply unknown what the purpose of it is, as is the motivations of The Turk, the member of the society that contacts Leonardo. It is clear from the outset that this society as well as the Book of Leaves is intended to be the series-long story, and I look forward to seeing it be brought to the screen. Outside of the Book of Leaves, there is also the side stories. The most interesting of these side stories has to be the Pazzi family conspiracy against the Medici’s along with the related conflict between Florence and the Vatican. It is an interesting dynamic to the show, especially when you consider Leonardo’s place within it. And even better, it leads to a fantastic and explosive conclusion for the whole series. While I do not believe these aspects of the show can possibly be as long lasting as that involving the Book of Leaves, it was nonetheless a great addition to this season.

    I think much of the criticism of the show comes from the portrayal of da Vinci, the highlight of that criticism being him as a womanizer rather than into men which seems to be the accepted theory of the historical person. However, I do not necessarily consider it a bad thing; it was a marketing decision by Starz and possibly the creative team to have him as (mostly) straight, a gay lead unlikely to draw large audiences. But it is not completely absent from the series, just not at the forefront. I do not particularly care one way or the other. Other criticisms of the show are directed at its portrayal of sex. I will admit, the sex can be a bit excessive at times and perhaps used as a distraction, but I do not consider it wholly gratuitous. The story of Leonardo as well as the depiction of the time period is definitely not wholly accurate. This can be problematic if one really wants to watch it as a historical drama. However, going into it I knew they would be taking major liberties with history, and it does not bother me that much. It is clear that it was never their intention to be accurate to history, so I do not particularly see this as a major problem, and I do not find that it alone detracts from the quality of the show nor the work that went into it. One thing that does bother me a bit with the show is the introduction of mystical/spiritual artifacts in the Papal Vault that are shown and even used, but there is no explanation offered for them in the rest of the series. Again, it's minor, but I felt like even a small explanation would be better than nothing. There are also many nitpicks that I could make, but I do not see the need. I truly believe much of the shows criticism from other people mostly stems from the fact that the show premiered after the series finale of Spartacus, a show that most viewers consider to be superior (and should have been continued). I say that they are both excellent; it was just time for Spartacus to pass on, and for a new show to rise. I consider this show to be a more than suitable replacement. My only criticism is its length; at only eight episodes and 466 minutes long and ending on a great cliffhanger, I only wanted to watch more when it first aired.

    In all honesty, I cannot think of anything major to complain about in regards to the first season. The acting was superb in many regards, the action was decent, the story was intriguing, and the characters were interesting. It is not a *perfect* show by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely a high-quality and entertaining watch. Da Vinci’s Demons is at its finest a very entertaining story. It has a great overall story and great characters, and the best parts of the story could go on for several years. The atmosphere and design are superb, adding much to the craftsmanship of the show. The music is also amazing, scored by Bear McCreary (of Battlestar Galactica fame), adding a layer of complexity and emotion to the series. Of particular note from the score is the theme, composed by McCreary to be played both backwards and forwards, a tribute to da Vinci’s ability to write backwards and forwards. But by far my favorite track is “Easter Mass”, which serves as the final song for the whole season. It is fantastic, and adds tension to the already dramatic conclusion to the series.

    Everything considered, the first season feels like a nearly eight hour long movie rather than a serial drama. It is quite a beautiful series, and one that I think well deserved its second season. Because of this, I think that this first season deserves an 8/10


    Interested in writing for The Helios? We are looking for enthusiastic people to join the Content Branch of TWC Staff and produce high quality content for the site. Anyone can apply and all are welcome to. If interested, PM me (Gen. Chris) or any of these fine gentlemen.


    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Shankbot de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Shankbot de Bodemloze -
      Excellent review, will have to add it to the list of things to watch. Is it available on anything like Netflix/Prime?

      Kind of getting a Medici: Masters of Florence/Marco Polo vibe too it?
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      This sounds like a great series with well-created characters and good actors (I remember enjoying Alexander Siddig's performance as Dr Julian Bashir in Deep Space Nine).
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Shanky, it might be but it is not on Prime or Netflix in the United States as far as I know. I know foreign Netflix has other Starz shows like Black Sails so maybe...

      You might be able to watch it with the Starz subscription on Amazon if you have that in England.
    1. Shankbot de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Shankbot de Bodemloze -
      Thanks for the heads up GC, will take a look and see what I can find.
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      The second season was marvelous as well, weird but marvelous. Pity they didn't make a third one.
      Loved the sound track.
    1. Thasildur's Avatar
      Thasildur -
      It does have a 3rd and last season, not as good as the first two but at least an end to the series.
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      I think Gig was being Gig here...We all prefer to think of that season as not existing. It's a shame it was rushed.
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Just finished watching it - and wished I hadn't.
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Lol. The final season is just GREAT huh gig?
    1. Pinarius's Avatar
      Pinarius -
      I hate that rubbish so much.