Banishing “DaVinci’s Demons”

One of my bigger regrets so far as editor of TheBacklot was the amount of coverage– and, inadvertently, cover– we gave to the Starz series DaVinci’s Demons last year. We touted the project, ran preview clips, interviewed creator David S. Goyer and star Tom Riley (the actor was sporting enough to engage with angry readers in our comments section). Hell, we even recapped the damn first season– all in the faint hope that it would at some point deliver something of interest to us. It never did, likely never will, so no surprise but we’re banishing DaVinci’s Demons.

When we first got wind of this project a couple years ago we were naturally excited. An exploration of history’s most celebrated artistic gay genius? Yay Starz! And yes, I’m calling Leonardo “gay” rather than “bisexual”. There’s exceedingly scant evidence for his switch hitting in the actual historical record. And as it turns out, possibly less within the TV show.

History may be “a lie” as the DaVinci’s Demons tagline proclaimed, but the real Leonardo’s lack of female attachments and that sodomy trial court record are hard facts to finesse.

Leonardo DaVinci's "John the Baptist"So let’s call a spade a spade and drop any pretense that the historical Leonardo DaVinci was attracted to women at all. Leonardo may not have been going to Pride Parades back there in the 15th century, but he certainly was gay.

This is television, and we knew early on that Goyer’s series was going to take a lot of liberties with the artist’s life. When Goyer said that “Da Vinci was not a man that could be confined. Our show will embrace his many complexities” we figured at least that meant this fictional version of Leonardo would be attracted to both men and women. Creative license after all, and television certainly needs more (and more interesting) bisexual male characters. So it still was going to be a show TheBacklot would be interested in and happy to promote.

And then the first several episodes of the series painted Leonardo as a swashbuckling ladies’ man. (And hilariously, had all the other characters address him as “DaVinci”. Leonardo was born in the town of Vinci. So his contemporaries calling him “DaVinci” is like calling someone “Of Des Moines”.)

Yes, it was pretty laughable, but still we withheld judgment and continued to suggest DaVinci’s Demons to our readers. We did this because Starz was oh so helpful with private assurances that the show would eventually get to the character’s bisexuality, and when they did it would be meaningful. Starz had built up a lot of goodwill with us because they we’re the same network that had given us Spartacus (an often brutally violent series that treated same sex relationships with surprising dignity.) We believed them. Hell, the nice folks in their PR department might have believed it too at the time, who knows.

So, we soldiered on like chumps, continuing to talk up DaVinci’s Demons. The fifth episode finally got to that pesky sodomy trial. Leonardo gave a pretty courtroom speech about the right to privacy and delivered a pitying kiss to an imprisoned male prostitute. “Every kiss sends a message” says Leonardo. “That one was goodbye.”

Then, hey, it was back to bangin’ the ladies.

David S. Goyer Tom Riley, DaVInci's Demons
Star Tom Riley and creator David S. Goyer of DaVinci’s Demons
(Photo: Starz)

So what can viewers expect in season two? Lady banging exclusively. TheWrap talked to Goyer yesterday about the character’s bisexuality. Here’s what he said:

“We’re not backing away from it and we will get back to it should we go into another [third] season…We don’t want to throw it in gratuitously… The sodomy trial [in the first season] was something that happened during the year that our show was taking place. It felt disingenuous not to do it.”

Heh. Funny he should mention “disingenuous.”

It’s entirely unnecessary for Goyer or anyone connected to this show to make hollow promises about bisexual representation. It’s their show after all, and if they want their fictional “DaVinci” to be some skirt chasing Errol Flynn-type then that’s their prerogative. Though it probably would have been far less insulting to LGBT audiences if they’d just dropped the half-assed “bisexuality” bullsh*t entirely and went balls to the wall with an exclusively hetero Leonardo DaVinci from the start. They so clearly wanted it.

At any rate, it doesn’t matter to us what DaVinci’s Demons does or doesn’t do with their fictional artist now. We’ve given up watching.