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The penultimate episode of Da Vinci’s Demons is all about the set-up for the final battle. Every character is in motion, like pieces on a chessboard, moving into place before next week’s series finale. Since that’s the case, the episode has to focus on a dozen characters and all of their plot lines and that’s a lot for viewers to follow.
Unfortunately, the story suffers for it. Leo’s plan to defeat the Ottomans, an important plot point, is only given one short scene. And with the dozen other characters and plot lines to follow, important moments get lost in all the clutter.
There’s just too much story to fit into such a constrained amount of time. There are at least three different instances where one character’s dialogue is overlaid with footage of other characters in action. This is the writers’ way of cramming as much possible story as they can into each frame.
Where the episode also falters is in its inconsistent use of subtitles for the Ottomans. In one scene, two Turks in a tank are talking to each other, but no subtitles are used for their dialogue. In another scene, an enemy soldier finds Leonardo at the Ottoman camp, and subtitles are used, even though Leo isn’t able to understand what he’s saying.
Aside from this episode’s faults, there are standout moments from new cast member Sabrina Bartlett as Sophia. Bartlett has really fit in well with the cast. She can keep up with the quick dialogue, and she’s a good match to Tom Riley’s Leonardo da Vinci. The two playing brother and sister feels really believable. There are plenty of great moments between Sophia and Leonardo this episode, and it’s emotionally compelling to watch these two newly united siblings catch up and realize just how much they have in common. Casting Sabrina Bartlett as Sophia was an excellent choice.
And Sophia has fit right in with the rest of the group as well. Her introduction to Zo is a fun moment of comedic relief: Zo asks Leo how he can have a sister, and Sophia jokingly replies, “Our mother and father had carnal relations.” She’s teasing and sassy with Zo, like a long-time friend. Later in the episode, there’s a great plot device to have Zo and Sophia go on a mission together so that these two characters can get to know each other better while exchanging fun and witty dialogue. In a funny moment, Zo and Sophia are climbing out of a tunnel. Sophia is the first to exit the tunnel, and she watches in amusement as Zo bumps his head on the tunnel wall and stumbles out of the tunnel and falls onto his butt. She helps him up to his feet, but not before saying, with a big grin, “When I told Leo I’d be looking after you, I didn’t realize you’d be quite so delicate.” The two’s interactions feel natural and they work well together.
Another strength of this episode is its music. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack once again steals the show. There’s a riveting complexity and depth to this music, and it’s always fun hearing different renditions of the opening theme. The music is strong in the scenes that require more emotional nuance, like the Architect’s conversation with Riario in the prison cell.
The visuals this episode are also very strong. Leo and Sophia’s electric device is fascinating to watch. It has multiple spinning components, and it sparks with energy. In one scene, Zo absentmindedly spins it and gets zapped by a bolt of lightning. Viewers are finally seeing what the Book of Leaves is capable of, and it makes sense why over the entire series, people have wanted to get their hands on its potential power. It’s a shame it’s taken this long to see one of the Book of Leaves’ creations in action.
There’s another great use of visual effects in the final moments of the episode, which requires a ton of fire. There are fiery explosions, a burning bonfire, and people engulfed in flames. The fiery imagery is meant to hint at the possible fate of Florence and all of Italy if they lose to the Ottomans.
In the midst of all this episode’s clutter, there’s an important revelation about one of the main characters. In a shadowy prison cell, the Architect tells Riario that his life now has meaning: he’s “god’s angel…an avenging angel…the Minotaur in the labyrinth…the sword of god.” The Architect’s dialogue during this scene is terrifying. But he seems to have convinced Riario.
Earlier this episode, Riario seemed at peace with his fate. He stood trial in Florence and proclaimed in front of Lorenzo, Vanessa, and the entire Council of 100 that he’s guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with. After hearing the Architect’s prophetic and zealous claims, Riario seems to have changed his mind. The conclusion to Riario’s story arc will undoubtedly be fascinating to watch. Riario’s fate, and the fate of all the main characters, is going to make for exciting television next week.