Da Vinci's Demons "The Serpent" Review: Knowledge Is Power

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Apr 20, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons S01E02: "The Serpent"

Artist, inventor, scientist... grave robber. Young Leonardo Da Vinci doesn't adhere to labels and doesn't let much get in the way of knowledge and exploration; Leo's all-or-nothing approach to bringing enlightenment to the masses puts him in conflict with pretty much everyone he encounters. But this week, in Da Vinci's Demons' follow-up to a delightful premiere (and it's worth noting that Starz has already renewed the series for a second season), Da Vinci ended up between a figurative rock and a hard place when a botched demonstration put him in poor favor with his patron, Lorenzo Medici, and his cheeky, free-thinking, grave-robbing ways did little to endear him to the Vatican and their attack dog, Girolamo Riario. With Lorenzo and Riario each crossing their fingers for the other to meet an unfortunate end, Da Vinci found himself in an uncomfortable position with each powerful figure trying to keep Da Vinci under their influence. On top of that, Leonardo also realized he'd banged his boss's mistress. Awkward. 

Lucrezia Donati kept most of her clothes on this week and expressed guilt over cheating on Lorenzo with Leonardo, despite the fact that her and Lorenzo's relationship isn't exactly a portrait of fidelity itself. She was shown to be working with Riario as a spy in the house of Medici, though her motivations for doing so remain unclear. It certainly doesn't appear to be out of any loyalty to Riario, who is kind of an all-around jerk despite his ties to the papacy's elite. I get the sense that these guys skipped the parts of the Bible about not being assholes. 

So, while Leonardo failed spectacularly at demonstrating a rapid-firing musket designed for the Medicis and received his very first deadline as a result of his shortcoming, Nico and Zoroaster dug up the dude who was hanged last week, on Da Vinci's orders. After a gore-fest autopsy, Da Vinci fished a coin, a fingernail, and an odd-looking key out of the dead guy's stomach and deduced that he'd hidden a book somewhere in Florence because Da Vinci is brilliant like that. In fact, everyone Da Vinci surrounds himself with seems to be on the higher end of the IQ spectrum, right down to Nico, his human guinea pig. When Riario realized that it was Nico who did the actual gravedigging and tortured him accordingly, Nico seemingly betrayed Da Vinci during the ordeal—at least it was just your hand they put in the box, Nico! 

But yeah, Nico spilled about the key and led Riario and his men to Da Vinci's workshop... where he promptly steered them to bust open Leo's booby-trapped trunk. You know, the one that explodes when you tamper with it. Nice one, Nico! And here I thought you were just, well, just a dum-dum. 

Despite suffering from the artist/inventor equivalent of writer's block due to his ongoing mommy issues, Da Vinci managed to successfully rebuild the musket he'd promised Lorenzo—with a little help from his mentor, Andrea de Verrocchio, and his own overwhelming desire to both avoid execution and continue his campaign of essentially trolling the hell out of anyone who stands in the way of knowledge, innovation, exploration and all that. He ultimately pledged his allegiance to the Medici family because despite their flaws, unlike Riario and "his ilk," the Medicis aren't trying to "suppress knowledge" and mold the world to their approval. Plus, he did it with the flair and spectacle of a guy who knows he's the smartest one in the room—and frankly, probably the city.

I thought the follow-up to Da Vinci's Demons' series premiere was more lighthearted and direct in a way that the pilot, while still strong enough to draw in an audience, was not. Notably missing was Starz's signature over-long sex scenes and honestly, they weren't missed. The time that was dedicated to moving the plot along served the episode well, giving Da VInci and his followers a more defined goal and a clearer philosophy that sets the tone for the rest of the inaugural season. The decision to make the bad guys agents of the Pope was somewhat risky in the sense that even though historically, Sixtus IV and his associates were pretty amazingly corrupt, there is the possibility of alienating those viewers who are less comfortable with rooting against the papacy, even in a fictional representation. 

Not gonna lie, the current stance that one can either be free-thinking or devout without much gray area in the middle had me momentarily pausing in mid-Da Vinci rant, but the whole point of Da Vinci's Demons is to imagine the activities of a young Leonardo Da Vinci, and young people, well, they tend to make philosophical mistakes from time to time. Someday, Leonardo Da Vinci will be a sage gray Gandalf type with all of the wisdom a lifetime full of enlightenment, adventure, and indulging in the best parts of your imagination can grant you, but for now, he's kind of a mischievous punk-ass who knows he's smarter than everyone else and doesn't shy away from showing it off. 

With his life and service to the Medici family once again on solid ground following his successful demonstration of the musket, Da Vinci set his sights on deciphering the code he knew had to be in the book the hanged man had hidden. Tearing out the pages, he arranged them on the floor and hoisted himself into the air to see the resulting picture from a birds-eye view. One of his assistants declared that it was a map of a "land that didn't exist"—or, you know, South America, which hasn't been discovered yet. Iiiiinteresting. 

Has any of you made Da Vinci's Demons a regular part of their Friday-night schedule? What did you think of "The Serpent"?


– I was going to be an ass and start a boob count, but there really weren't any on display this week. Womp womp. 

– What's Lucrezia's motive for working with Riario?

– At first, when Da Vinci wasted Riario's men in order to demonstrate to Lorenzo how his musket worked, I was kind of horrified because he's supposed to be the good guy and that was COLD. I was relieved to see he seemed to feel bad about it after the fact. 

– Lorenzo passively calling Riario a snake with his sexed-up retelling of the Garden of Eden was masterful. 

– Man, the opening credits for this show are mesmerizing. 

– So, South America, eh? Theories?

  • Comments (73)
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  • sablecladferret Apr 24, 2013

    This show is surprisingly entertaining, and I actually do enjoy the mixed modern style, despite finding it annoying in other shows like BBC's Robin Hood and Merlin. I like the occasional drawings that illustrate his thought process (in a kinda Sherlock way), and strangely it compliments my weekend viewings of The Borgias and GoT - all the different kinds of intrigue and plottingks against each other is fun. :P
    Never doubt that people might learn some things in all the unexpected ways. How many viewers googled/wikied about the real Leonardo da Vinci since starting on this show? I even read up about Abraham Lincoln after watching Vampire Hunter. Just saying. Sure the show's on its own track, but it doesn't mean we might not pick up some real facts along the way.
    Everyone who's nitpicking about all the wrongness of this show, just stop watching. Sorry, but it's only the second ep and if you feel so strongly about it, clearly they mean to take more liberties in the future. As it is, why are you even surprised? It's Starz, not HBO or BBC or any other network where writers might push for a more historical biopic style. It's Starz and we know that's not their focus, so why get angry about something they never claimed they were trying to do? Hell, even the name of the show should be some indication. I mean nitpicking about things like accents? Really? Should we just have all of them speak in an Italian dialect with subtitles?
    As it is, historical events/people have always been bastardized, even the ones claiming to be documentaries or similar, there's usually a point of view, or specific events are highlighted. I know it's appalling but I would even question what the average person knows about Da Vinci beyond...er....he invented/painted stuff? I have a sickening feeling that a younger generation may not even know he existed. Have we become such sticklers that we can't enjoy a show for entertainment purposes?

  • christinecros Apr 24, 2013

    I am loving this series... going to visit Leonardo Da Vinci museum in Milan in two weeks... love this period work, and find the script enthralling.. just like a drama should be!

  • pcsjunior002 Apr 23, 2013

    I think I will make this a regular part of my viewing if the quality stays at this level. It's not quite what I expected it to be, and I like what they've been doing with this book of leaves or whatever it is conspiracy thing. I really do not want it to get too religion vs. anti-religion because that will just irritate and it has been done before, but for the time being, I am okay with the papacy's "involvement" with the conspiracy. But I don't want any sort of "the Pope is evil and behind the plot to keep the entire world dumb" thing, because that will not go over well with me. Plus, there's "The Borgias" if we want to watch a show about a completely conniving papacy. Keep this show on Da Vinci, his inventions, et al. Don't go too much into the religious hooplah.
    -Speaking of this, I am glad. I do not miss the classic Starz over-long sex scenes, and would be more than happy if they weren't to overdo it on this show (using this episode as a good example of tasteful). This episode was finely constructed, and there were enough pretty women in loose/scanty enough clothing if you want to see that.
    -I'd like to see Lucrezia revealed as another brilliant young person and then that she's working with Riario in order to gain her own access to the archives/files/library/whatever.
    -I must say, I felt the same. That was pretty darn COLD. And sure, they HAD chased him the previous evening, and it kind of WAS obvious that they weren't ever going to be wishing him good cheer and health, that's still pretty brutal. But he felt bad about it, so I can chalk it up to "different times" and "good TV".
    -I thought that that was hilarious and awesome. Perfectly done for a public shout-out.
    -I agree. I've long been a fan of good TV credits (ever since "The West Wing" gave us one of the most perfect opening credit sequences of all time), and these absolutely match the show and furthermore add to the overall character of Da Vinci.
    -I don't know, but I LOVE that they went there. Mayans!!! (I hope.)

  • klotensen Apr 22, 2013

    "The decision to make the bad guys agents of the Pope was somewhat risky in the sense that even though historically, Sixtus IV and his associates were pretty amazingly corrupt, there is the possibility of alienating those viewers who are less comfortable with rooting against the papacy, even in a fictional representation."
    Really MaryAnn? Well you made me chuckle so another point for your good review then.
    I watch this show but it's so uneven - I'm not used anymore to these extreme drops in quality in terms of story, pace and effects. But generally I like the freedom they took with historic facts and realism. It's kinda campy, isn't it?

  • Shreela Apr 22, 2013

    I'm always staring at Nico's chest, waiting to see a wardrobe malfunction.

  • Vicky8675309 Apr 22, 2013

    are you familiar with the history of the Church/Vatican? Quite bloody and horrific--it would make a great cable show (the inquisition--insert Mel Brooks sing--, etc)...reminds me that I need to check out The Borgias.

    Great episode--thoroughly enjoyed it...especially Da Vinci's conversation with Riario at the end (free the knowledge--make it accessible to all [rather then filtered through an institution])

  • stanking Apr 21, 2013

    MaryAnn, if you knew "Nico" was Nicolo Machiavelli, would you be less inclined to underestimate him?

  • shocker713 Apr 21, 2013

    SSHH...now that you've let the cat out of the bag, all the historical accuracy complainers are gonna be like, "Machiavelli was only 8 when the Duke of Milan was assassinated."

  • stanking Apr 22, 2013

    Yeah, honestly, I couldn't care less about historical accuracy in this story. So much of what is told is based off of speculation anyway. There are two Borgia series out there right now, with divergent story lines. This uses some of the same historical figures, but like a lot of historical fiction it's "loosely based on history". Relax and enjoy. Nitpicking is overrated.

  • DouglasMcCast Apr 21, 2013

    and for you Historical accuracy is not important in a tv Show (about a Historical character)...because??...
    does it not matter how/when/who it happen, just show us the result of it?

  • shocker713 Apr 23, 2013

    If I want historical accuracy, I'll watch the History Channel.

    ...when they're not showing The Bible, or a show where people buy/restore/resell other people's used crap.

  • RominaMartin1 Apr 21, 2013

    I'm pretty sure that is Africa and not South America, because the first Europeans explorers arrived to Africa in the 15th century which is closer to Da Vinci's period.

  • BernardoAzevedo May 02, 2013

    Oh god with your knowledge of geography you must be American lol

  • RominaMartin1 Jul 02, 2013

    Well American is a person from America, I was borned in Mexico so ipso facto American indeen.

  • Vicky8675309 May 02, 2013

    let's not bash other countries and their citizens...por favor!

  • Vicky8675309 Apr 22, 2013

    It is South America! Please look at a map.

    Toward the top of the continent is a horizontal strip of land (now called Panama) that is the southern most country in Central America which boarders the northern most country (now called Columbia) in the South American continent. I'm not including the islands...

  • JorgeMartinez0 Apr 22, 2013

    just a small correction, it is ColOmbia, not Columbia.

  • Vicky8675309 May 02, 2013

    my bad, but as an American do you really expect me to know how to spell:-)

    edit option please

  • dhaworth Apr 21, 2013

    It's definitely supposed to be South America. Interestingly, it seems that the man credited with establishing that South America was a separate land mass, Amerigo Vespucci, was the same sort of age as Leonardo, also lived in Florence during this period and worked for Lorenzo.

  • shocker713 Apr 21, 2013

    God bless Vespucci-land, land that I love...

  • shocker713 Apr 21, 2013

    Additionally, if you're going to complain about this show's historical accuracy, you might as well go watch Jack of All Trades, then complain "Napoleon wasn't really 2 and a half feet tall."

  • shocker713 Apr 21, 2013

    The minute I saw the Jew's body on the table, I was like, "OK, circumcision joke in 3...2..."

  • Grumpyclown Apr 21, 2013

    you have a countdown for circumcision jokes?
    there are so many useless apps these days

  • shocker713 Apr 21, 2013

    Useless for you, maybe...

  • Grumpyclown Apr 21, 2013

    how many circumcisions do you watch that you need an app?

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