Let’s just jump into what happened this episode, shall we?
Flashback time! Innocent little boy Leo is just watching over his sheep. Then he wanders off into a cave filled with dead Sons of Mithras and some dude hanging from the ceiling. It’s like Stand By Me, if River Phoenix and friends stumbled onto the Heaven’s Gate cult post-suicide.
Leonardo wakes up in jail to his fellow inmates’ homophobic insults. He shrugs their verbal barbs off, until one criminal steals a smaller prisoner’s food. With the kung fu prowess of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle he’s named after, Leonardo beats down the bully and is sent to solitary confinement. Tom Riley absolutely goes off playing someone whose sanity is stretched to its breaking point, and it’s fun watching.
Meanwhile Lorenzo tries filling the Medici coffers since the Vatican banks with Pazzi Mutual now. This involves wooing humorless Spanish royalty King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It’s not a fun process, as they’re complete philistines who see Donatello’s David and merely respond “Ew, penis.”
Next we’re courtside at the sodomy trial. In the Florentine justice system, Leonardo is represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police and officials bribed to convict him, and his defending attorney father. This is his story. DUNH DUNH.
This is when DaVinci’s Demons stumbles handling Leonardo’s sexuality. Sure, there’s a rousing speech about unfair laws, but its tempered by cringeworthy moments. As the charges are read, Vanessa pipes up stating she crotch wrestled with the artist so he must be innocent. It feels tacked on, almost as if the show’s saying “Leonardo got charged with sodomy, no homo.”
Characters also reiterate how progressive Florence is for rarely enforcing its no gay sex law, which rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe that’s because Montana just struck its anti-sodomy laws off the books last month. Alternatively, it could be due to my home state of Texas’ penal code presently containing the statement “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle” (that’s hopefully changing soon!). Sure, these laws are unenforceable after a 2003 Supreme Court ruling. It’s still a reminder that even today, part of our culture hasn’t moved on from 15th century Italy. Couple that with how the show really hasn’t shown any of the gay culture it pays lip service to and BLEH.
Okay, rant over. Leonardo’s friends gather supplies for some scheme, and we learn it’s Lucrezia who anonymously tipped off the feds. Giulino starts staging a play to impress Ferdinand and Isabella in a wonderful storyline. It’s great watching him do something other than serve as target practice for Lorenzo’s withering glares. “The Tower” adds a level of depth to his character we haven’t seen until now.
After executing a daring escape plan involving bat guano explosives, Leonardo confronts the corrupt judge. His revenge plan is pretty diabolically sick: glue the official in a sexually suggestive position with a pig. If the charges aren’t dropped, Leo will show all of Florence this rather compromising image. Ummm… okay.
The plan works, and the artist is out celebrating when along comes his old male lover who recently testified against him. His ex bluntly states what Leonardo has with women isn’t love. Leo responds he’s “curious”, desire isn’t divided along gender lines and nothing defines him. Did he have to say “curious”? As in strongly hinting “bi-curious” instead of just straight-up bi? Maybe that’s a small thing, but it’s stuck with me.
After kissing the lad goodbye [we have the clip here], Leo promptly bangs Lucrezia because sigh. Everything ends with the man from Vinci realizing he was the one hanging from the ceiling in that opening flashback.
Despite its missteps, there were some great parts in “The Tower”. The performers shine, the subplots entertain. As for its handling of Leonardo’s sexuality, DaVinci’s Demons’ intentions don’t seem hostile. Tom Riley even commented on The Backlot’s latest interview with him clarifying a few things, which is all kinds of awesome. Labels shouldn’t define us. However, that sentiment belongs to an optimistic future while we’re in an uncomfortable present. Today, it’s hard watching a historically gay figure romp with women while attributing his same sex attractions to curiosity.