Da Vinci’s Demons S2 E1 “The Blood of Man” (Fox)

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I watched and indeed reviewed the first season of David S Goyer’s fantasy adventure series about the early life and times of Leonardo da Vinci and found it a handsomely mounted, fast moving but ultimately frustrating show. It did at least build to a satisfying big climax depicting the Pazzi conspiracy, a Rome-backed uprising in the city of Florence resulting in a decent season cliffhanger, but I was left somewhat nonplussed by the thing as a whole and wondered I’d bother sticking with it for a second series, the first part of which aired last weekend.

I gave it a go, and have to admit that I found the opening episode of the sophomore season hugely enjoyable. It carried on directly from the events of the uprising in one long, sustained, breathless chase through the streets and sewers of the strife-racked city as da Vinci (Tom Riley) seeks to save the life of the gravely wounded city ruler Lorenzo de Medici (Elliot Cowan) whose family is meanwhile under siege by a bloodthirsty mob in the family home, and at the same time da Vinci’s friends Zoroaster and Nicos (Gregg Chillin and Eros Vlahos) flee the city only to fall into the hands of da Vinci’s mortal foe Count Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson), the nephew of the Pope (James Faulkner). By the end of this first episode, everyone is in such overwhelming mortal peril that if anything it makes for a better season finale than the episode before it.

Perhaps once things settle down again the show might go back to being unsteady and messy as it did in the first season, but there’s certainly no criticising how strongly it’s started. The writing appears more assured, the plotting clearer overall – more firmly structured in drama and less in gratuitous sex and violence purely for shock value, and it even manages to use its late night cable license for the crudest of language to some genuinely laugh out loud comedic effect to counterpoint the non-stop roller-coaster momentum. Production values and direction have never been an issue and here are unimpeachably top notch – and it’s rather startling to find that the man at the helm of this episode is Charles Sturridge, who helmed the glacially magnificent Brideshead Revisited in 1981 and now 33 years later shows himself just as adept at thoroughly cutting edge 21st century visual storytelling techniques.

There was never a problem with the large and universally excellent cast, either, so the pieces were always there for this to take off and become something rather better than just a Game of Thrones or The Borgias wannabe. On the basis of this opening episode for season 2, it might finally be on the cusp of achieving that breakout form and taking flight on its own pair of wings at last.

Da Vinci’s Demons airs in the UK on Fridays at 10pm on Fox. Season 1 had just been released on DVD and Blu-ray.

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