“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”
The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.
Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book.
And this time round, with the drama heightened and all the globe-trotting, the level of invention gets even higher as Da Vinci comes up with all sorts of notions to get through these scrapes – blood transfusions, PA systems, significant astrological deductions, submarines, parachutes… But pleasingly there’s real character development too, both for Leo who discovers he’s not actually invincible and for others, Blake Ritson’s Riario deepens into real pathos (as well as being incredibly alluring in even the most trying of circumstances) and Eros Vlahos’ Nico is also allowed room to grow out of sidekick capers into something more sophisticated, befitting his (unspoken) surname (which is Machiavelli btw).
Elliott Cowan’s Lorenzo de’ Medici also benefits from being allowed out of Florence, his journey to the King of Naples’ court setting him up against the gothic horror of the mad king (Matthew Marsh) and his hyper-violent son Alfonso (the thrillingly ambidextrous and pictured Kieran Bew whose shirtless swordplay I could watch all day long…) as he tries to persuades Naples to side with Florence against the vindictive Pope. Aided by first love Ippolita Maria Sforza (a very good Jeany Spark), these scenes also resonate strongly with their fine line between negotiation and torture.
By comparison, Lara Pulver’s Clarice gets a rougher deal left in Florence, the show not returning to her stories quite so often and so they don’t develop as much as they could as she attempts to defend the Medici fortune against grasping hands. Ray Fearon’s newly arrived Carlo de’ Medici is an intriguing addition here though but too much of Clarice’s story happens off-screen for my liking. And Laura Haddock’s Lucrezia draws the shortest straw, the big reveal of her origins ending up isolating her and only latterly involving the character in the long set-up for the finale and (presumably) event of the third series.
So a second series that builds on and improves on the first, developing the intriguing mythology of the show but never forgetting to be darn entertaining whilst doing so. And that’s just it, Da Vinci’s Demons may not be earth-changing stuff but it is enjoyable in the extreme and whilst it’s a shame that the forthcoming third series will be its last, there’s also something salutary in something finite, the ability to wrap things up as they want rather than the indignity of a cancellation that leaves so much in the air.