Da Vinci's Demons "The Magician" Review: How to Succeed at War Without Really Trying

By MaryAnn Sleasman

May 04, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons S01E04: "The Magician"

Riario, backed by his uncle, who was rocking a seriously fine pimp—I mean pope hat—slaughtered a bunch of proles in Lorenzo's mine and brought the sass while backed with a huge army from Rome. He had a hefty list of demands, like the Medicis forgiving all papal debt and handing over Florence's finest artists to serve Sixtus IV, including our boy Leo, who sassed right back with "I would rather have my testicles gnawed off" and a quip about anal leakage. Sometimes the Da Vinci of Da Vinci's Demons tries my patience with his smarter-than-everyone-but-also-really-pretentious-about-it routine, but then he makes declarations like that and I'm over it because poop jokes are funny even when you're delivering them in rather formal language. In fact, sometimes that makes them funnier. 

Still, we're at the halfway point of Da Vinci's Demons' inaugural season and like I said, sometimes this version of Da Vinci is just... infuriating? Sometimes? Time after time, Leo's been shown to simply pluck his ideas and these huge breakthroughs from the air as though he can see the molecules themselves and the molecules are full of brilliance and know-how. The real Leonardo Da Vinci was certainly one of the brightest minds humanity had/has ever seen, and many of his ideas probably did seem completely daffy to his contemporaries—like airborne insanity that only he was susceptible to—but sometimes, as a modern TV viewer watching Da Vinci's Demons as a fictional series and not a historical account of Da Vinci's life, the ease with which Leo just discovers everything has started to occasionally feel like some deus ex machina action. 

Get Leo drunk, let him wander around town in a brown acid haze for a few hours, and it's all good. His brain is like Batman's utility belt. 

This week, that meant destroying the gun-canon thing that Lorenzo threatened to execute him over because he didn't want to escalate things with Riario. Riario had figured out the weapon's limitations and brought enough men to overwhelm the Medicis' forces after the first round of shots was fired and the soldiers had to pause and reload. Sure, he'd lose some men in the siege, but he was prepared to make the sacrifice because his victory was almost certain.

Or so he thought. 

Da Vinci may have blown up the works building his muskets, but just because he didn't want  to actually massacre Riario's forces didn't mean he was ready to force the Medicis to surrender either. He just bluffed his way through a second confrontation with Riario by offering a demonstration of a weapon that was far superior to the muskets... but also far more not-actually-existent. 

The bluff worked—for now. At a party celebrating Leo's big ol' brain, two Florentine conspirators who we'd seen being BFFs with Riario earlier in the episode, one of whom played the GOD HATES ARTISTIC PERVERTS card during Leo's latest binge-drinking session, crashed the party with sodomy charges against Da Vinci, punishable by death, because enlightenment and all.

At first, I wasn't terribly on board with that turn. Da Vinci's sexual orientation has been a topic in the comments here due to the show's overtly hetero stance on this particular incarnation of Da Vinci, and I took it for a cheap way for the series to acknowledge the "rumors" without actually delving into the possibility that Da Vinci was homosexual. However, I also thought it was a particularly odd choice for Starz, considering that our dearly departed Spartacus, formerly of the Friday-night slot, was very much okay with being a little gay and also featured what is widely acknowledged as one of the most positive gay relationships on TV. 

But a little research never hurt anyone and it turns out that when he was 24, Leonardo Da Vinci really was arrested on sodomy charges in Florence. So, good job, show. I'll shut up now. Can't wait to see how this plays out. 

Lucrezia Donati went all ninja lady again when Guiliano, Lorenzo's brother, revealed that Becchi—the dude Lucrezia pinned her espionage activities on last week—could prove his innocence after all. Stupid Guiliano. 

I'm pretty much over Lucrezia being conflicted and sad about literally everything she does ever. I mean, killing peeps for Riario? SADNESS AND GUILT. Banging Lorenzo? GUILT. Banging Leonardo? GUILT GUILT GUILT. Getting her portrait painted. SADFACE. I get that she's a slave. I get that she's in kind of a tough position, but it's just a lot of guilt. I sincerely hope we learn more about this terrible, impossible, life-shattering situation that she's in because I'm really bored with the kill-cry-kill cycle she's caught in. 

And for the record, I would totally watch a completely fantastical, cracked-out, not-grounded-in-reality-in-the-slightest show about Leonardo Da Vinci shipping off to the Americas to go on swashbuckling adventures in search of the Book of Leaves, but maybe that's just me. 

What did you think of "The Magician"?


– Verrocchio told us the story of how Leonardo came under his tutelage. Not sure why it was necessary except to remind us that Da Vinci is crazy-smart and his dad is kind of douche. 

– Zoroaster was crabby about not getting enough credit for helping Leo out. Might this be a bigger problem later?

– When Lucrezia claimed that she was killing Becchi in order to spare him from a more gruesome death at Lorenzo's hands, Becchi was having none of it, "This isn't mercy. This is you tying off lose ends." I miss you already, Becchi-boo.

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  • mucka May 21, 2013

    I'm absolutely sticking with the show!!! My boyfriend and I loved every episode!

  • misslarousse May 08, 2013

    I like it.The show is beautiful and fun, if you want historical accuracy then Starz is not the place for you.

  • mucka May 21, 2013

    I agree! It sure is entertaining !

  • Glenn1140 May 07, 2013

    Executive producer and writer David Goyer is treading on very thin ice with this ridiculous hetero Leonardo of his given the fact that Leonardo da Vinci himself wrote that male-female copulation disgusted him and also given the fact that there is no historical evidence whatsoever that Leonardo ever had a wife, children or any sexual relations with women.

    Whereas there IS verified historical evidence that Leonardo da Vinci was arrested not once but TWICE for engaging in sodomy with males.

  • mucka May 21, 2013

    Well, in episode 5 (The Tower) I think that you will be pleased - it is obvious in that episode that he had sexual intercourses with men. We can even see the kiss between him and one man!

  • rmekdaschi May 08, 2013

    You do realize that this a fantasy show. Also it's a STARZ show, how do you not expect there to be sex scenes given their track record...

  • ken_wakashimazu May 06, 2013

    i enjoy the name calling, pretty much waiting to see columbus appear at some point and ask leonardo to help with preparing the navigational tools of the santa maria.

  • TriniMysTic May 06, 2013

    Is it is wrong that I grow to love Riario more and more? Boo is so sassy <3 him LOL.

    Not nearly enough Clarice this ep <3 AND way too much Lucrezia, I've had enough of her.

    Oh Guiliano *facepalm* - he's lucky he's kinda pretty cuz he sure is dumb. What's he gonna blab about this week I wonder?

  • TriniMysTic May 06, 2013

    *Is it wrong...

  • RebeccaVeight May 06, 2013

    Stop griping about historical details, it's TV not a documentary. And then you gripe about the arrest & woops it actually happened? But then you want him to go find America even though we know it's not true.? If you are gonna get huffy about details get your facts straight & decide what you want from this show, entertainment or historical accuracy.

    Actually in this episode the idea did not come from thin air. He had the pomegranate from the beginning & I was screaming shrapnel, long before Da Vinci figured it out.

    I liked the Lucrezia character up until she killed Becchi. I really don't feel sorry for her at all anymore, she really didn't get what the priest at confession advised her, she already had him condemned what more did she want. It was just the series way to keep her from being discovered yet because Lorenzo was coming to forgive Becchi.

    I love Da Vinci's character, of course he'll be arrogant, he's a genius & he knows it, have you ever met or seen a genius who isn't arrogant? The House comparison is good, & who didn't love his arrogance?

    I would also like to have seen that trip to America, who knows? I think the book of leaves storyline is intriguing, give us more of that. Also I would like to know who the prisoner that Riario was playing the game with last episode is.

  • Shreela May 06, 2013

    This show seems like it's trying really, REALLY hard. I generally enjoy most costume-historicals, but this one's still a bit off putting to me for some reason.

  • MuffetJones May 06, 2013

    What is wrong with the costume designer, Annie Symons??? The women's clothes look like she'd gotten them from Filene's Basement in the 80s. Ridiculous. Either stick with the period or go home.

  • Rykros May 05, 2013

    I'm sorry, but I'm over shows playing up an event like an arrest into something more ominous than it is.

    As a somewhat intelligent viewer of television in general, I know at least this much: You can't threaten your lead character, because he is your lead character. He won't die, not at least until the finale (if ever), so any suggestion that he will come to an untimely end is absurd.

    Now, let me clarify that perspective. I don't mind plot elements like arresting the lead character. Not at all. But when they are used as "cliffhangers" that are meant to signify he is somehow in real danger, it's boring and annoying. It would be much more effective to arrest DaVinci in a cold open and spend part or all of the episode setting him free.

    Now I have to wait a week to see what I already know will happen. He'll be released, whether through his own ingenuity or a combination of that and support from his friends and allies. This grinds the pace of the story to a crawl and I can only hope they don't keep him locked up for more than one episode.

  • Taccado May 05, 2013

    I came here to say that the show can be frustrating, and then you used the word "infuriating". So someone here is on the same page as me. It's not just that Leo comes up with his ideas seemingly from the air, it's also that they have these long scenes were he engages in intellectual masturbation, presenting the grandeur of his inventions while the rest of the people are marvelling him. I get it, while there's nothing special about a grenade for us, it would have been a great invention at the time, and therefore it might have been necessary to show at lenght how he presented it to Riario, for dramatic effect. But it made me wonder how difficult it would be for Riario to return to the Holy See and explain to their engineers how to make grenades.

    I also dislike some of the acting performances, for example Leonardo himself. In addition, I would like to see more of Lara Pulver. Shame she is such a minor character.

    The reason why I'm still watching the show is the mystery behind the keys and The Book Of Leaves. I don't really care about how they figure out what they are, what kind of tricks Leo employs to do that, as long as they give us the answers soon.

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