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Da Vinci’s Demons – Modus Operandi Review

"Method of operation"

No one is safe this season of Da Vinci’s Demons. By the end of the episode, Leonardo (Tom Riley) has been captured and poisoned by the Labyrinth, and Clarice (Lara Pulver) has been murdered and crucified by an unknown assailant.

Clarice has had an interesting story arc this series. In season one, she was a pious wife who knew about her husband’s infidelity and stayed loyal to him for the sake of Florence and their daughters. In season two, interestingly, her and her husband’s roles flipped: Clarice was adulterous with Carlo (Ray Fearon) and was a cunning and adept negotiator in place of her husband while he was busy in Naples. In the first three episodes of season three, Clarice was trying to get revenge on Carlo for stealing from the city of Florence and shaming the Medici name. It was sad and surprising to see her story arc end so early this season. It was also surprising to see her torture a member of the Labyrinth for information about Carlo, and just how far she was willing to go for revenge.

Lara Pulver’s final performance of the series was in one of the series’ most horrifying scenes: Leo decided to dissect Clarice’s corpse and inspects her organs for evidence about her whereabouts before she was killed. Leo’s arms are covered in blood as he looks at Clarice’s organs displayed on a table in front of him, while Clarice lays on a table behind him with her chest cavity wide open and covered in blood. In this gruesome scene, Leo’s guilt-warped mind hallucinates Clarice walking and talking, confronting his brutality and questioning his morality. Pulver’s performance is chilling, and Tom Riley perfectly conveys Leonardo’s conflicted and tormented state of mind.

Leonardo (Tom Riley) arrives at the Vatican to ask the Fake Pope for help defeating the Ottomans. Riario (Blake Ritson) and Laura Cereta (Simone Lahbib) are as surprised as you and me. Photo by Starz.
Leonardo (Tom Riley) arrives at the Vatican to ask for help to defeat the Ottomans. Riario (Blake Ritson) and Laura (Simone Lahbib) are as surprised as you and me. Photo by Starz.

The shock factor in this episode of Da Vinci’s Demons was cranked up to the maximum. The shocks appeared in many forms, and they began immediately with the opening scene with Clarice chopping off the physician’s fingers while she tortures him. Nico (Eros Vlahos) gets peed on after trying to negotiate with the owner of a debauchery-filled pleasure temple. Leo and Riario (Blake Ritson) find the murdered cardinal’s heart on a plate and present the heart to the Fake Pope (James Faulkner) while he’s eating. The Fake Pope gets covered in bloody bathwater. Clarice is found crucified. Clarice’s corpse is disemboweled and Leo inspects her organs. The Fake Pope stabs a caged Ottoman and blood sprays all over him. Leo picks up a rock and clubs Carlo to death and blood sprays all over his face (but this turns out to be a hallucination). There were far too many shocking moments in this hour-long episode, taking away from the show’s usual cinematic quality and well-honed pacing. If these gruesome moments hadn’t been jam-packed into just one episode, it might have worked better, story-wise and pacing-wise.

There was another reason this episode was hard to stomach: there were two plot lines where Leo formed unlikely and unbelievable alliances. Leo decided to travel to Rome to ask the Fake Pope for help. He even went so far as to kiss the man’s ring, something no one would have ever expected. Even Riario points this out, serving as the voice of the viewers who are surprised Leo would turn to this seemingly last resort. But upon closer inspection, it does make some sense. Leo is desperate. He’s been betrayed by the Turk and the Sons of Mithras, and he feels guilty that his father and mother are now both dead. And now, in the final season, Leo and the Fake Pope actually have something in common: they both want to stop the Ottomans.

The unlikely murder-solving duo of Riario (Blake Ritson) and Leonardo (Tom Riley). Photo by Starz.

The second unbelievable alliance within the episode is between Leo and Riario. The Fake Pope gives Leo one condition for providing assistance to him and Florence- Leo has to team up with Riario to figure out who killed the cardinal. Riario and Leo survived their journey to South America in season two by the skin of their teeth. Riario was courageous and helped saved Leo’s life in the second season, so it makes some sense that Leo can trust Riario, but only to an extent. But sending this unlikely duo on a crime-solving mission seems out of place for this series (although, a Leo and Riario buddy-cop spin-off series could make for a fun time). My fears were proven true when, near the end of the episode, Riario knocks Leo unconscious and Leo wakes up in the clutches of Carlo and the Labyrinth. You can never trust Riario.

In the highlight of the episode, Lucrezia (Laura Haddock) and Zo (Gregg Chillin) reunite in the Renaissance equivalent of a dive bar. Lucrezia, her hair in disarray and mentally out of it, shares her opium with Zo. Lucrezia confesses how lonely she is, and calls out for Leo. Zo pleads with Lucrezia to put down the pipe, but Lucrezia takes another hit. This scene, with Haddock’s and Chillin’s powerful performances, was the standout moment of the episode. I hope more of this kind of nuanced storytelling will return in the next episode, because after the gruesome horrors of this episode, we all need a break.

  • Emotional performances from Laura Haddock, Gregg Chillin, Lara Pulver, and Tom Riley
  • More of the show's beautiful camera work, lighting, sets, and props
  • The shock factor is jam-packed and over the top
  • Plot lines and character alliances that are hard to believe

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