|By Christopher Cerasi|
I was all set to write yet another blog analyzing yet another tepid episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, but I actually really liked this past Friday’s episode.
It is entirely due to its main guest star, the truly creepy – and amazing – Paul Rhys as Vlad Dracula.
Yes, that Dracula.
And not the angst-ridden version Gary Oldman played in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film, or the tuxedoed version famously played by Bela Lugosi. This Vlad the Impaler is one unfettered badass, and I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather watch a show where he is the lead than the far less appealing in contrast Leonardo da Vinci (Tom Riley).
There was the usual surprise visit to da Vinci by Dr. Bashir, I mean, Al Rahim (Alexander Siddig), who imparted more cryptic wisdom to Leonardo about his being the Hanged Man, and instructed him to rescue a captured Abyssinian map maker (Shaun Parkes), a Son of Mithras who holds the (figurative) key to uncovering the mysterious Book of Leaves that has been a plot element since episode one.
da Vinci and his two besties, Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin) and Nico (Eros Vlahos), travel to Wallachia to meet Vlad Dracula, who – rightfully so – scares the shit out of them. Although da Vinci, in his usual conceited bluster, claims not to be as frightened as the others. He should be, however, as Rhys’ Dracula is not one to be messed with, and far more menacing and dangerous than da Vinci estimates.
This Vlad is a truly – and literally – soulless monster, with rheumy eyes and a red-veined face that would strike fear into any man. Any man, that is, except Leonardo da Vinci. Only da Vinci would be cocky enough to take on the Prince of Darkness with a few magic tricks, and when Dracula proves his superiority to da Vinci, it is especially satisfying, especially given how much the artista had underestimated his opponent and tried to outwit him by thinking he was facing his usual kind of adversary. Not so.
Vlad has known great cruelty at the hands of the Turks since he was a child, as well as “dungeons, dogs, and a lightning strike,” and the years have made him crueler and harder, thanks in part to an implied literal deal with the Devil. In exchange for freedom and seeming immortality (“I cannot be killed.”) and superhuman strength (he survives being set on fire, a sword in the shoulder, and a fall from a great distance out a window), Lucifer possesses his soul. But Vlad, much to his relief, finds he does not miss his soul, or live his life without one. Which is good news for him, and very bad for others. In this episode that means Leonardo and company.
Rhys bring such great menace to Dracula, and clearly has fun making the most of a well written role, and it is hard not to be drawn in by his menace. There’s a rich back-story and potential for so much more all contained in the few scenes Rhys appears in. When he is on screen he owns it, and he makes the most of his time by adding to the Dracula legacy in a fresh and unique way.
“Do you really think I would die at the hands of a fucking Florentine?” Dracula asks da Vinci at one point, and you know that no matter what Leonardo tries, there is no defeating the Prince of Darkness. And that’s a good thing, as I hope we get to see Vlad again soon. Preferably in his own series – he deserves it!
We get to see some full frontal male nudity this episode as well, but unfortunately its from two pretty unattractive and less-than-physically prime characters, the crass and blunt Duke of Urbino, who cradles his massive cock lovingly while he crouches to drop a deuce in front of Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) and Piero da Vinci (David Schofield), and the sadistic and corrupt Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner), who, while flaccid in his scene, gets a mental hard-on meting out punishment to Lupo Mercuri (Nick Dunning) and his nephew, the equally sadistic (perhaps even more so) Count Riario (Blake Ritson).
Still, if you pardon the pun, they have a lot of balls for going Full Monty, especially when their more physically attractive cast mates don’t. It would be nice to see Zoroaster or Giulano Medici’s (Tom Bateman) junk – in fact, I secretly pray for it every episode – one of these days, but somehow I doubt it.
Still, a man can dream…