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Starz was certainly hyping up the return of Vlad this season on their social media profiles. They even made a hashtag, #Vladsback, to promote the return of Dracula. But was this even something a lot of fans wanted? His appearance in season one was a fun one-off story line. The season one episode “The Devil,” when Leo, Zo, and Nico visit Vlad’s castle and are put in peril to rescue the Abyssinian, was a horror and gore-filled diversion from the overall story arc of season one. I personally never needed or wanted to see another episode with Vlad. His character, a demonic, disturbing, and blood-thirsty villain, served his purpose in that episode as a huge obstacle to Leo and Leo’s friends. His storyline ended when Leo, Zo, and Nico lit him on fire and they escaped the castle. That should have been the end of it.
It seems odd that now, in the final season of Da Vinci’s Demons, Vlad has suddenly become very important to the story. Near the end of the episode, Vlad shows Zo and Nico his massive stockpile of armor. This comes across as lazy writing. It’s almost like the producers noticed how some fans on social media were asking them to bring Vlad back, so the writers had to insert Vlad into the story in season three at the last minute as a nice little surprise for these fans. But it just isn’t believable story-wise, and it doesn’t work well. Nothing against Paul Rhys’ performance. He did a great job as Vlad in season one, and this episode is no different. Vlad’s voice reads as perfectly evil, and he has a dark humor to his performance. But am I really to believe that after everything that happened in “The Devil,” that Zo and Nico would just walk right into another possible poisoning and another perilous trap? It’s ludicrous, and the writers even point this out, when Zo writes a note that says “please don’t kill us.” And it’s not even interesting when Zo and Nico get poisoned yet again, and Nico gets put in Vlad’s trap. It’s all very predictable. Are viewers expected to believe that Zo and Nico would knowingly and willingly put themselves in this life-threatening situation yet again?
The lazy writing is also present in the way the writers handle Leonardo’s scene in the cave. Back in season one, viewers were shown Leo’s vision he had as a child, where he saw an older version of himself hanging upside down in a cave, and dead men lying on the ground below him. This episode, the differences between Leo’s vision and what actually happens are painfully apparent and obvious: there are fewer dead men in the cave this time; Sophia frees Leo from the rope, so he isn’t hanging upside down when the Labyrinth guards get killed. The differences between Leo’s vision and what actually happens are just written off and quickly explained in a scene between Leo and Sophia. This really stood out to me as the height of lazy writing on this show. It was apparent in season one that the vision in the cave was an important moment. The way it’s handled this episode is a real letdown.
There are also quite a few melodramatic scenes this episode. The melodrama is over-the-top in the scene when Riario confesses to Lorenzo that he is the one who murdered Clarice. There’s just something off about the pacing and tone of this scene that don’t really work. And the moments leading up to the fight between Leo and Carlo are full of melodrama. It’s almost a cliche: the two men slowly turn around to face each other; there’s a pause in the music and the dialogue; the camera angles only heighten the melodrama. This scene in particular, the lead-up to the fight, just goes on a bit too long, and it gets boring. The writing this episode is overall really weak and lacking.
I would give this episode a lower rating if it weren’t for the gorgeous music, props, sets, and visual effects. Da Vinci’s Demons has always been a visually stunning series with gorgeous music. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack has been amazing this season. It’s fun noticing different renditions of the main theme, Leonardo’s theme, scattered throughout various episodes. The props are beautiful this episode, especially Leo and Sophia’s invention. There are beautiful sets, like the Medici room where Clarice’s skeleton lies in a shrine. And there are impressive visual effects this episode when Leo and Sophia read the page from the Book of Leaves and see different things, like clouds, lightning, and a spinning device with many cogs and wheels. At the end of the episode, the visual effects are very well-done when the invention becomes electrified and lightning strikes a tree. But it’s a bit disappointing that the visuals this episode are actually stronger than the writing and the story. I hope the writing improves in the next episode, because we’re nearing the end of the line, and there are a lot of characters and story arcs to wrap up.