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This emotional episode of Da Vinci’s Demons explores a nightmarish alternate reality. Show creator David S. Goyer told TV Insider that “The alternate reality is a glimpse of Leo’s future 10 years hence. A future that might be, that could still be, if certain choices are made. In some aspects, it’s a terrible future—but on a personal level, there are elements that are meaningful for da Vinci, if he gave up inventing, for instance, and devoted himself to family life.” The writers definitely succeed this episode in bringing this nightmare world to life.
It’s a decade after the Battle of Otranto. Leonardo (Tom Riley) and Lucrezia (Laura Haddock) are married and raising their son in the countryside. Leo has a workshop where he sketches and paints. It’s a nice touch that Leo and Lucrezia’s son is named after Andrea, Leonardo’s mentor and father figure who was killed by Carlo (Ray Fearon) in season two.
This seemingly comfortable reality, however, comes at a grave price. Leo has destroyed the Book of Leaves and the Labyrinth has taken control of Italy. Leo has turned his back on his friends Zo (Gregg Chillin) and Vanessa (Hera Hilmar), who are fighters in the resistance movement. Nico (Eros Vlahos) has been tortured and crucified by the Labyrinth. When Zo and Vanessa show up asking Leo to read a lost page from the Book of Leaves, Leo is subconsciously presented with a choice to either betray his friends or fight against the Labyrinth. His choice in this nightmare world reflects his fight to survive the Labyrinth brainwashing and poisoning him in the real world. In the real world, Leo is resisting the Labyrinth’s conversion ritual, causing the events in his nightmare world to escalate further and further.
This nightmare world reflects Leonardo’s real-world fears. In the prior events of season three, Leo has been horrified at the destruction his inventions have wrought. He’s worried that this will become his legacy. He’s scared that he won’t live up to his friends’ expectations and that he’ll disappoint the people that matter to him the most. Throughout the series, Leonardo has been a leader and an influential participant in societal and political events in Florence. In this imagined world, Leo has retreated to a comfortable, but cowardly, existence. His inaction in this hallucinatory nightmare causes Leonardo to lose the people he cares about the most: in his nightmarish imaginings, Lucrezia is stabbed and killed before Leo can do anything to stop it; Zo dies shielding Leo from an arrow; Vanessa dies in Leo’s arms as he’s trying to stop the bleeding; Nico has been tortured and crucified. The death scenes are heartbreaking to watch. The main cast gives very strong performances in these emotionally-charged scenes.
This episode would not have been intriguing to watch were it not for the writers. They do a great job building intense scenes. And the storytelling’s intensity is matched by an equally powerful soundtrack. Bear McCreary’s work as the show’s composer has been a highlight of Da Vinci’s Demons from the very beginning. McCreary rightfully won an Emmy in 2013 for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for his memorable work in season one. It is nice to hear different renditions of “Lucrezia’s Theme” throughout the episode, as it is a track that manages to be passionate, hopeful, and sorrowful all at once. “Lucrezia’s Theme” is perfectly placed during the scene where Leo runs into the room and sees Lucrezia lying dead on the floor.
The only downside of this episode occurs at the very end. Riario (Blake Ritson) has called a horse-drawn cart for Zo and Lucrezia, who approach him near Rome’s gate. Leo is lying on the ground unconscious with his eyes wrapped in bloody bandages. Zo and Lucrezia ask Riario what happened, and Riario gives Zo and Lucrezia a fabricated story. He says it so quickly that I was surprised Lucrezia and Zo weren’t suspicious of Riario. For one thing, Leo looks like a mess, while Riario is wearing a nice outfit with not even a scratch on him. This interaction raised a red flag for me. Riario isn’t good at lying. After everything that Riario did in season one and the first half of season two, why wouldn’t Lucrezia and Zo be suspicious of this guy? It’s a bit hard to believe.
Even though Riario should be suspect number one, he appears conflicted over his actions. This was apparent during the scene when Carlo and the Architect (Paul Freeman) administer more eye drops and poison to Leonardo. Riario watches in obvious torment as Leonardo cries out in agony. And Riario did rescue Leo from the Labyrinth, so it’s not like he doesn’t care. Riario even says himself that Leo is worth more to the Labyrinth alive than dead, and he tries to convince the Architect to go easy on Leo. The writers have been able to humanize even their most villainous characters, including Riario.
This episode was the best of the season so far, and it really made me feel connected to these characters that we’ve all come to know. I’d be sad to see any of these characters’ stories end in such heartbreaking ways. The writers wanted to make the point that the stakes have never been higher, and they succeeded in that.