Episode Title: "The Serpent"
Writers: David S. Goyer and Scott M. Gimple
Director: David S. Goyer
Like or not, "Da Vinci’s Demons" will be with us for a while. After a record-breaking premiere, Starz has already pulled the trigger on a second season, set to start shooting next month in Wales. And whether or not you enjoyed last week’s pilot episode, this is good news as "Da Vinci’s Demons" now has plenty of time to get better.
"The Serpent," which refers to da Vinci’s immediate foil and nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Count Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson), picks up the hectic search for the "Book of Leaves" initiated in last week’s premiere. More interesting than the book and the secrets it may reveal about da Vinci’s fate, his lost mother and other larger mysteries is the conflict over the tomb, between Riario and da Vinci (Tom Riley).
After arriving in Florence, Riario kidnaps Nico (Eros Vlahos) in hopes of learning why da Vinci dug up the body of Jewish man who was hanged without committing any real crime. Riario has Nico place his hand inside a nasty contraption he obtained from the Orient, which grinds a diamond needle into the back of the victim’s hand.
Under such duress, Nico tells Riario about the key da Vinci found inside the corpse and he and his men then tear apart da Vinci’s workshop to find it. Nico calls a stop to the search and cleverly directs them to a hidden chest, which contains explosives. When the men go to rip it apart to get the key, the chest explodes and Riario and the surviving soldiers flee.
With Riario on the hunt for him, da Vinci also finds himself under pressure to complete the musket he promised Medici (Elliot Cowan), after his initial attempt proves to a failure. Meanwhile, Riario confronts Medici about his plans to build weapons of war, which have reached Rome thanks to the Vatican’s spy and Medici’s lover, Lucrezia (Laura Haddock).
When Riario informs Medici that Rome has already chosen the next archbishop of Pisa, an appointment that usually falls under Florence’s jurisdiction, Medici more or less issues a declaration of war. And da Vinci kicks it off it by killing two birds with one stone when he lures Riario and his men to a quarry, under the pretense of handing over the key, and fires at them with the revised musket.
"The Serpent" is slightly improved from last week’s jam-packed premiere. What it lacks in sex and violence, the episode makes up for by giving us a more well-rounded look at our hero, da Vinci, who it turns out is just a regular guy who makes mistakes and sometimes lets his ego get the better of him.
We also get a proper introduction to Count Riario, one of several villains we barely met in the premiere. There’s nothing especially special about the power-hungry papal agent, no disturbing vices or deranged methods aside from grinding a poor kid's hand with a needle-sharp diamond. What is somewhat confusing is why Riario spends most of the episode trying to obtain the key when at the conclusion of the hour, he tells his man he finds the whole quest ridiculous and reveals that he has the other key da Vinci needs.
After two episodes, "Da Vinci’s Demons" doesn’t feel like it's hit that hook that keeps us coming back for more each week. Sure, there’s plenty of mystery with "The Book of Leaves" and "The Vault of Heaven," but like last week’s premiere, it all feels like a little too much, too soon.
Thankfully, da Vinci’s immediate obsession with Medici’s mistress, Lucrezia has subsided and after Medici’s admission about a spy in his house, da Vinci’s got to know it’s her. What this show does have going for it is a very charismatic lead in British actor, Tom Riley who looks like he’s having fun in the role of one of the most celebrated historical figures of all time. It certainly makes "Da Vinci’s Demons" enjoyable to watch for the time being, until this show really comes into its own.