Tuesday, December 29, 2015

“Da Vinci’s Demons” Ends in a True Series Finale!

I did not expect this, but the final episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, Ira Deorum, was a true series finale in every respect.


Leonardo’s pseudo history came to a fitting end, and Lucrezia’s character arc was finally complete, as was Riario’s – though his was the final twist. 

Not all questions were answered, but I’m not surprised. The writers hinted to that in the penultimate episode in dialogue between Sophia and Leo:
“I just wanted to find out why,” Leo said.
“Did you get your answers?” Sophia asked.
“A few. Perhaps we’re not meant to have them all.”
And that’s where the show left us, with a few answers, but not all. We’ll never know if the Book of Leaves was a tome made by the Nephilim, but given the power that a single page produced, I can guess at the answer. Also, the episode’s Latin title, Ira Deorum, translated as “Wrath of the Gods,” lends further proof to the book’s Enochian origin. We’ll also never learn the fate of Riario’s soul, but his story arc finished with a fitting, if not historical, end. Yet the story of Leo and Lucrezia – which is what the show was always about – ended beautifully, even if the conclusion was more sad than happy. 

I thought the final episode was a fulfilling end to the series, which I still believe is one of the finest historical fantasy shows to ever be aired. I will miss Da Vinci’s Demons.

* image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

HAPPY HOLIDAYS & MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Merry Old Saint Nick!
I'm taking the week off for Christmas, getting ready to prepare the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a Southern Italian tradition in our home! But I'll be back before New Year. Until then, I hope you enjoy the holidays!

P.S., the above link is to an article about Lidia Bastianich and her suggestions for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I had the pleasure to meet Lidia last Friday in New York City. She even gave me a signed copy of her cookbook: Lidia's: Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine. It's a great resource for the home chef, and I'm definitely using one of her recipes in this year's feast!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Thoughts before the Penultimate Episode of “Da Vinci’s Demons”

When I published my post titled 5 Questions Going Into Season 3 of “Da Vinci’s Demons,” I never thought I’d receive a tweet from Tom Riley, who plays Leonardo Da Vinci on the show. Commenting on my post, he wrote: “You will actually get decent answers to all of these.” Heading into the penultimate episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, I agree with him wholeheartedly.


One concern I raised in my earlier post is that Starz made the decision to end the series after filming wrapped. As a result, I thought it would be unlikely we would see a true series finale that resolves all the show’s story lines. That still may be the case, but so far my questions are getting answered, even while other intriguing questions emerge. Looking at my original queries, let’s see where things stand.


1. Will Pope Sixtus Fail?


When I wrote this question, I intended it to be about whether the evil Pope Sixtus would lose to his twin brother, who I believed to be the true – and benevolent – pope that would restore honor to the papacy. It turns out the show does appear to be heading toward a conflict between the two men, but in a twist I didn’t see coming, the “true” pope looks more evil than his brother! 

Rather than restoring the honor of Saint Peter’s throne, it turns out the true pope is one of the Sons of Mithras. In prior seasons, I assumed these were the good guys, yet now it appears that they’re as evil as the Labyrinth. The “true” pope, we learn, is supporting the Ottoman invasion of Italy, killing Christians by the droves, and even pondering the murder of Lucrezia, his own daughter. Amid these two evil popes, Leonardo and his friends have emerged as the only good guys in the show, so does it really matter which pope wins? 

That may depend on how we define winning. For the record, the historical Pope Sixtus lived six years after the Pazzi Conspiracy depicted in Season One, so I’m betting on evil pope #1 being the victor, but only with Leonardo’s help in defeating the Ottomans. I won’t put much money on that bet, however. Plot twists are one thing this show has excelled at, and I think we’re in for one more before the series ends.


2. Will Lucrezia End Up A Hero?


This question has already been answered in my book. While I had a fleeting concern that Lucrezia might end up an opium addict, there is no doubt that she’s a hero. After all, she saved Leonardo’s sister from the hands of a madman, obtained the mysterious page of the Book of Leaves, and helped direct Leo to both the page and his sister an episode ago. Lucrezia remains in mortal danger in the hands of the Ottomans, and hopefully she’ll be rescued before the series’ end. But I love the character arc the writers gave her on this show. It was very well done. 


3. Will Leonardo Meet His Past Self?


We may have the answer based on last week’s episode. Leo returns to that mysterious cave in Vinci, only to be ambushed by Carlo de’ Medici and hung upside down, much like the Hanged Man the boy Leo saw at the beginning of Season One. After being saved by his sister Sophia, she reveals that the cave is a place with special properties, a nexus if you will with the “River of Time.” Leo believes this might explain the vision he had as a boy. If this is the final answer to this question, I’m satisfied.


4. Is Riario Lost to the Dark Side? 


I think we have the answer to this one as well. A few episodes ago, it was revealed that the Labyrinth (aka the “Enemies of Man”) poisoned Riario and turned him insane. Leonardo, however, was able to cure Riario’s insanity, and last episode, he confessed to murdering Lorenzo’s wife, clearly seeking absolution or punishment, but either way I think he’s been saved from the dark side. For now.


5. What is the Book of Leaves?


Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever see the entire book before the series ends. Leo’s mother tells him that she obtained it, and warns him that it’s dangerous, but so far this season the show has only focused on that single page we saw earlier in the secret Vatican archives. That page, it turns out, has the power to drive men mad – at least those who can’t read it. Yet when Leo and Sophia finally have a look at that page, under moonlight (a necessary ingredient), and in the mystical cave in Vinci, we see the book’s true magic. Three dimensional images appear, and both Leo and his sister see different things. The images appear to be the plans to a weapon of some sort involving electricity. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the final two episodes, and I’m looking forward to it!

In the end, I’m really going to miss this show. I still believe it’s been the best historical fantasy on television, and I’ll gladly purchase the series collection when it comes out on Blu-ray. 

Thank you, Tom Riley. You were true to your word.

* images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Came to Be

With little time to blog today, I thought I'd pass on an interesting article in io9 titled "J.J. Abrams Told Us the Origin Story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


I'm as excited as anyone for the new film (Episode VII in the Star Wars chronology). And, as a writer, I was fascinated to learn the story of how the most significant new Star Wars film since The Return of the Jedi came to be, especially after the disappointing prequel trilogy.

For anyone who is worried that The Force Awakens might turn out like the prequels, I think you can take a deep breath. According to io9, Disney nixed George Lucas' outline for the story, and instead allowed J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasden, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, to take the story in a new direction. Here a few excerpts from the article on io9 by Germaine Lussier:
Abrams co-wrote the script for Episode VII with Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This wasn’t the plan at first. Originally, Abrams was set to direct, with Kasdan consulting, and Oscar-winner Michael Arndt penning the script. So how did we end up with the script we have today? We asked Abrams to take us through the early days and explain how this new story came to be.
* * *
Abrams confirmed that Star Wars creator George Lucas provided outlines for the films before Abrams came on board, but “Disney had determined they wanted to go a different direction.” That direction was developed over the next six to eight months—basically the better part of 2013. He, Kasdan, Arndt and others came up with a structure and lots of elements everyone loved, but Abrams said “some things were still unsolved.”
At that point, they hit a bit of a bump. Arndt – who Abrams describes as a “precise gentleman” – said he needed 18 months to finish the script. He only had six.
“Despite my absolute, burning desire to direct a script that Michael Arndt had written, I realized I didn’t have that time,” Abrams said. “[Lucasfilm President] Kathy [Kennedy] didn’t have that time. Disney didn’t have that time. And so I sat with Larry and I said, ‘Look, there are things about the story that I know are right. And I believe we could actually answer the questions that we still need to be answered if we wrote this together.’”
Kasdan agreed, but because he was now coming on board with a different position, he decided he wanted to wipe the slate clean.
You can read the full article here.

Also, Germaine Lussier has been running posts on io9 that critique the prior films, and his critique of the three prequels is well worth reading. Here are the links: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Those prequels were problematic on so many levels, and I really think Lussier nails it in these posts.

As always, I'm curious to hear you thoughts on the prequels or the upcoming film, so feel free to leave a comment.

Update: Germaine Lussier has posted his critiques of Episodes IV and V. Here they are: Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Once again, he's spot on!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

“Fin Gall” – A Viking Adventure in Ireland

For months I’ve been meaning to post my review of Fin Gall by James L. Nelson. Guest reviewer Bill Brockman first reviewed the book here. My take follows this image of the book’s cover.


Fin Gall turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I was expecting a book focused on Vikings, but Nelson’s novel is as much about the Irish as it is the Norse and Danes. Set in the mid-ninth century, the tale unfolds from the viewpoints of multiple characters, both Viking and Irish, and I think the novel is richer because of it.

The central plot concerns the Crown of the Three Kingdoms, a magical device “forged even before the true faith came to Ireland by some long forgotten druids.” The crown has the power to bring together the warring Irish kings, who, if united, can dispel the Northmen from Ireland’s shores. As one of the main Irish characters puts it, the “future of Ireland rests with the crown.”

The book begins when a Norse longship attacks the Irish vessel that is secretly ferrying the crown to the Irish king of Tara. One of the Norsemen is Thorgrim Ulfsson (aka Thorgrim Night Wolf), the novel’s primary protagonist and a seasoned Viking warrior whose dreams warn him of the dangers of possessing the crown. So, Thorgrim buries it like pirates’ gold, setting up a treasure hunt that will dominate much of the novel.


In short time, Thorgrim and his crew of Norsemen (“fin gall” in Irish) encounter the first of several factions seeking the crown, the Danes (aka “dubh gall”) who rule the Viking settlement of Dubh-Linn. There we meet a trio of Danes who serve as antagonists in the tale: the Danish ruler Orm, his treacherous hirdman Magnus, and his craven and conniving henchman Asbjorn the Fat. But we also encounter Morrigan, a beautiful and cunning Irish spy posing as a one of Orm’s thralls.

After being captured by the Danes, Thorgrim and his crewmen soon find themselves trapped between these two fictions: the Danes who want the crown for themselves, and the Irish who want to use it to unite the Irish kingdoms. Once the Norsemen escape from Dubh-Linn, the adventure kicks into high gear. The action scenes are wonderfully written, the treachery is thick, and the plot rollicks along with turns and twists.

Amid all the adventure, there is a love story or two. Thorgrim finds himself drawn to the beautiful Morrigan, while his fifteen-year-old son, Harald, falls for Brigit, the Irish king’s daughter. Harald and Brigit’s story alone would make the book an enjoyable read. Yet instead it’s only one of many plotlines that Nelson weaves into the larger tale, making the entire story feel more epic in scope. If you’re at all interested in the Vikings in Ireland, and fun medieval adventures, Fin Gall will be well worth the read!