Da Vinci’s Demons: 105 “The Tower” Review
Reviewed by Tyler Davies.
Last week’s episode concluded with a moderate cliff-hanger that saw Leonardo being charged with the grave offense of sodomy. As this may suggest, “The Tower” treads on controversial ground. It deals with Da Vinci’s real-life allegations of sodomy and also his dubious sexuality. So unlike previous ventures, where the historical backdrop is largely disregarded, there really is an assemblage of history weaved into this story.
One of the surprises of this episode is Tom Riley. His acting has improved manifolds over the course of this series and his adept performance in this episode is a testament to that. This should be credited to the writers too as they give him some substantial scenes to work with. Leonardo suffers in an agitated state and Riley conveys this with utmost flair and makes the character come alive. He laughs eccentrically, fidgets manically and relishes playing the outlandish side of Da Vinci.
Early on in this episode I surmised that Leonardo would promptly be gallivanting through the streets of Florence again and that the story would be built around him seeking some form of vengeance. Fortunately, my assumption proved to be wrong as the focal point of this episode is the court room case. This could have been a dull endeavor, but it was, to my surprise, very engrossing. This is due to the sharp and dynamic nature of the arguments lead by each side. And despite having his own defendant, Leonardo’s despondent position leads him to spew out heinous counter-arguments himself. His act during the court is easily the highlight for me and yet again I must highlight Riley’s adroit performance in these scenes. Frances Pazzia is this episode’s leading adversary as he acts for the prosecution and his sturdy hold over the magistrate works well for the story in the sense that Leoardo’s eventual liberation comes across as a true exert. His superlative process in the court also adds to this and it’s a treat to see both parts sparring feverishly.
The unusual aspect of this court case is Piero da Vinci who assumes the role of lawyer for his (bastard) son. Of course, this is done under concrete orders from Lorenzo and so their underlying animosity for one another is present throughout most of this episode. It is nonetheless delightful to see the writers transforming yet another frivolous character into a full-fledged part of the series. By the time of the trials culmination you can’t help but respect him. His initial laidback attitude to liberate his son is frustrating, but his eventual resoluteness makes amends for that. Commendably, Piero’s determination is not due to a clichéd realisation that he loves Leonardo, but because of his detest for the corrupt nature of the trial. He is a dignified man and so this approach remains truthful to the character.
There’s also some elaboration on Piero’s rejection of Leonardo as it becomes evident that he’s truthfully a depressed soul who struggles to deal with the grief of being left by his beloved. It’s an interesting twist which justifies his spiteful attitude towards his own son.
I have quite a few issues with “The Tower”, but the weakest part for me is, without a doubt, the resolution. It makes for some good entertainment, but it just feels preposterously surreal. The exploding bats, the Batman-esque projection and the obscure blackmail just form one big spectacle. There’s no sense of intelligence behind it and it would have been a lot better if Leonardo found a clever way to make his innocence undisputable. After all, this episode is essentially a court-room drama and it should have concluded that way too. His blackmail is just far too simple of a solution and it lets the story down.
This week there are two central plotlines, as has been the case with the majority of this series, but the second one doesn’t bear much significance. In fact, it’s more of a story which concentrates on Florence’s politics as there’s a cluster of history packed into it. There are nuances of Rome’s culture and a stark depiction of how some states embrace the more liberate art whilst the more sanctimonious don’t. I’ve been hungering to see more of Florence’s culture and I was therefore thrilled by this; however I feel that this is a lifeless plotline. It gets tedious several times and seems to be there merely to layer the extensive length which this series carries. A true shame as I’ve always wanted a more historical aspect.
Best Scene of the episode:
The denouement of this patchy episode proves to be the most compelling part of it as it aptly leaves us with a sense of shock.
After several weeks of lingering in Leonardo’s flashbacks; the Turk finally makes an esteemed return. (What is interesting about his character is that we, the audience, are still not aware whether he’s real or just a figment of Leonardo’s diluted imagination. He just arrives, toys with Da Vinci’s mind and then, literally, vanishes in a burst of smoke.) This time though, his arrival triggers Leonardo to foreshadow his own daunting future. Since this series’ beginning there has been a recurrent theme of the hanged man Leonardo sees in his foreboding visions and his realisation that it is himself comes as a thrilling surprise. It is easily the best cliffhanger thus far and it truly racks up the tension for the upcoming parts.
This episode is profoundly flawed as it suffers from a tedious subplot, along with a ridiculous resolution. Despite this, the alluring court-room drama, Riley’s brilliant performance and the heavy cliffhanger elevate it significantly and they are the main reasons for this gratifying score.