Da Vinci’s Demons 1.05 “The Tower” REVIEW

Da Vinci’s Demons 1.05 “The Tower” TV REVIEW

Episode 1.05

Writers: Joe Ahearne
Director: Paul Wilmshurst

THE ONE WHERE Da Vinci faces trial for sodomy, but despite the best efforts of the authorities to find him guilty, Leonardo refuses to go down without a fight. Meanwhile, Lorenzo does his best to win the banking business of the King and Queen of Spain.

VERDICT Da Vinci’s Demons seems to be steadily working its way through popular TV tropes. We’ve already had Renaissance takes on Sherlock and House,  now it’s the turn of the courtroom drama. While the screen trial has become riddled with cliche, however, “The Tower” pulls it off to near-perfection in Da Vinci’s Demons‘ best episode to date.

The courtroom scenes (filmed on a magnificent set, the latest of production designer Ed Thomas’s masterpieces) sizzle, as the thoroughly unpleasant Pazzi lobbies to get Da Vinci burned at the stake as a heretic. The fact that the judge’s guilty verdict has already been bought – he readily admits that the trial is just for show – only serves to up the stakes as Leonardo fights for his life.

Except, for much of the episode he doesn’t seem to be fighting that hard – much to the exasperation of his father, who’s serving as his defence counsel. Up until this episode, Da Vinci’s dad Piero has been portrayed as a villain, a man who wants to distance himself from an illegitimate son he sees as an embarrassment. Here we see another side to him – while he’s never going to be the supportive father figure, it’s clear that he cares about his son, and appreciates his genius. We also learn a bit about Piero’s relationship with Leonardo’s mother – notably that she was “a commoner”, and that they came from different social strata. Maybe he still carried a torch for her while Florentine society forced them apart? It’s another example of the show’s refusal to paint its characters in black-and-white, every player coming with plenty of facets to their personality. David Schofield’s performance is also a highlight of the episode.

While Tom Riley’s turn as Da Vinci is slightly overfilled with distracting tics this week (there must have been subtler ways to show that incarceration is bad for the maestro’s mind than his constant tapping on a table), Leonardo’s escape from prison is a work of utter genius to rival the Mona Lisa. Sending a coded message to his friends and asking them to gather a disparate group of objects is straight out of MacGyver or Mission: Impossible – and his plan to blackmail the judge is unexpected, ridiculous, cheeky and brilliant. (It’s interesting to note that Da Vinci never tries to deny that he was intimate with the man accusing him – in his eyes, he’s effectively putting the law on trial.)

This week’s B-plot about the King and Queen of Spain coming to Florence to talk about investing with the Medici’s is an entertaining distraction from the court case, with more sparring between the Medici brothers (fists are involved this time), and a very bawdy play. Da Vinci’s Demons has well and truly found its feet – it’ll be interesting to see where the maestro takes us next.

TRIVIA The episode’s writer Joe Ahearne has plenty of genre experience, having created vampire drama Ultraviolet and Martin Shaw exorcism-starrer Apparitions, adapted the Beeb’s recent The Secret Of Crickley Hall, and directed several episodes in the Christopher Eccleston series of Doctor Who. He also wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle’s recent Trance.

NITPICK When Alexander Siddig’s name appeared in the opening credits, it was rather obvious that the Turk would appear this week.

SPECULATION Pazzi makes allusions to Lucrezia being afraid, but what can have made her so scared that she’s willing to betray Florence?

SPECULATION 2 When Da Vinci recalls his trip through the “fountain of memory”, why is he seeing himself hanging upside down? Is it his own future? Or some kind of metaphor? Hmm… 

DA VINCI VISION Da Vinci susses out how bats use echo location to hunt insects, and subsequently (in the series’ most surreal illustrations so far), plots an ingenious scheme to use bats as explosive weapons. Awesome.

THE DA VINCI RISES Okay, we know that series creator David Goyer wrote Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but now the Dark Knight parallels are getting ridiculous. Not only does Da Vinci have memories of time in a cave and visions of bats, he’s projecting images onto the clouds. All Leonardo needs now is a cape and a cowl and he’d be the first Renaissance superhero.

BROOKER PRIZE Discrediting a public official in front of the masses by forcing them to get intimate with a pig? Anyone else think Leonardo’s been watching the first episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, “The National Anthem”?

MAKING HISTORY King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were 15th century rulers of Spain, who played a major role in the country’s unification. Their pious sidekick Torquemada was the leader of the infamous Spanish Inquisition (you know, the one that nobody expects).

Da Vinci’s threat to snap the judge in a compromising porcine position may seem far-fetched, but some historians believe that the Holy Shroud of Turin was actually the result of Leonardo attempting an early form of photography.

OUT FOR THE COUNT No Riario this week – not on camera, at least, though we suspect his devious hands are all over Pazzi’s rigging of the court case.

BEST LINE
Judge: “That hustler hurt us. If the people believe he’s amoral, I can’t pass a guilty verdict without appearing corrupt myself.”
Pazzi: “You’ll do as instructed.”
Judge: “I’m an elected official. I’ll do as someone pays me to do.”

BEST LINE 2
Leonardo: “This is how history will remember you, fucking a pig in the middle of your courtroom. Lies, truth, it’s irrelevant. The best story wins.”

Richard Edwards

Da Vinci’s Demons airs on Fox in the UK at 10pm on Friday nights.

Read our other Da Vinci’s Demons season one reviews.

Watch our exclusive interviews with the stars of Da Vinci’s Demons!