At the end of Second Episode, The Young Pope (both the show and the character) dropped upon the world a cataclysmic upheaval. We ended with Pius XIII raging at the crowds. He was a dark specter demanding a return to fundamentalism, seemingly accompanied by God’s own fury with a thunderclap. And yet by Third Episode, everything seems to have returned to a sense of normalcy. People are confused, the press wants answers, and cardinals with giant moles are still scheming.
You may not have noticed this, but people get weird about religion. In the real world, there is an active conspiracy theory that Pope Francis might be the Antichrist. (Which may be more than a theory for our young pope.) Any preacher can name a random date for Armageddon and he’ll found a major movement. It does not matter how awful the message, you’ll still win over millions of followers in 2017. So things are weirdly calm around the Vatican this episode considering Lenny’s speech. He should have launched a global panic, or at the very least been the trending topic on Twitter for a weekend.
Instead Third Episode’s “plot” is more about how Lenny became the pope, a question nobody seems to have asked up until now. It’s a slower episode with the various pieces around Lenny continuing to move. However, I expected throngs of freaks and weirdos gathering around Pius. Imagine people flogging themselves before him. Just really weird stuff. Maybe we’ll get there eventually. But for now, The Young Pope is still a show about politics.
Who Made Lenny Pope?
We get two stories in this episode about Lenny’s ascension. The Young Pope never explicitly says what happened to make a handsome forty-year-old recluse the pope. For now, you can choose your own answer: the mundane or the divine.
It has been assumed up until now that Lenny became pope thanks to Cardinal Voiello’s manipulation. In the first episode, an ancient gaggle of Cardinals sarcastically claimed “The Holy Spirit” chose the Pope. But really they meant it was the work of some operator, probably Voiello. Spencer was certain Voiello betrayed him last Monday as well. Yet in this episode is it strongly implied to have been actually the work of God.
We open with Lenny speaking in confidence to Tommaso, his spy in the Vatican. Lenny confesses that during the Conclave he saw that either Spencer (his father) or Dussolier (his brother) would become Pope. He prayed to God, “I, not the others, can be useful to you.” He prayed so hard he almost shat his pants. And then, as if the word of the divine, Lenny became Pope. To Tommaso, Lenny covers up with his usual ambivalence about God. (This is followed by a scene of Lenny praying privately, begging forgiveness for his arrogance.)
Voiello tells the story two ways during the episode. When he meets with Spencer he claims it was out of his control. It really was the Holy Spirit that chose Lenny, he says. But later when Pius XIII demands an answer, Voiello claims he manipulated the vote. Lenny won’t believe that. The issue remains unsolved. Voiello picks whichever version suits him best at the moment.
A Church of Liars
One of the themes I’m starting to notice in The Young Pope is that almost nothing our characters say can be taken at face value.
Voiello is complicated but still untrustworthy. Sister Mary calls him “strange and contradictory”. He lives in an opulent apartment, yet houses children. This character always seems to have two stories. To Lenny, Voiello claims that he’s on the liberal faction, but later he says he has no real goal other than power itself. Can we even believe that he’s attracted to that Venus from the first episode?
But Lenny’s own confessions may not be trustworthy. He’s said twice that he does not believe in God, yet now we see him pray honestly. Pius XIII claims his speech is about bringing fear and mystery back into the church. But Spencer, now playing the disappointed dad, sees him as a “vindictive little boy”. “You want to make the world pay for what it did to you.” Lenny says this is not about his parents, but then we see him dreaming about them. They’re clearly important, and their absence tells us a lot about Lenny’s complicated relationship with the Lord.
If Lenny can’t be honest with himself, how can he be honest with us, the audience? Just how many of his stories should we take at face value?
The Pope and His Women
One thing we can probably trust last night is what we’ve learned about Lenny’s sexuality. Gutierrez hears a confession from Lenny that he once had a girlfriend for a week. Voiello is quick to suck this information out of Gutierrez. Nobody has been more interested about what side of the plate Lenny swings from than the old Italian with the giant mole. “The Church is female”, Voilello repeats from last episode, seeing sexual issues in Lenny’s obsessive control. (Lines like that are so Italian, I love it.)
But for a celibate Bishop of Rome, Lenny’s love life sure seems to be heating up.
First off, everybody’s favorite marketer, Sophia is still around. Though her job now seems to revolve around giggling at Lenny’s antics when he’s in his “bitchy Dr. House” mode. Lenny acts charmed around her, and I can’t tell if he’s teasing her or not.
Then there’s the new love interest. Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) is the big introduction in Third Episode. She appeared last week, but with things so busy I did not have time to comment on her. Esther is the promiscuous wife of a Swiss Guard. She had or is having an affair with Father Valente, a minor background character. But she’s the first Catholic to be enraptured with Pius XIII and his speeches full of his fire and brimstone. Lenny orders a private audience with her, but before we can figure out where this scene is heading, he collapses.
How that moment ended we don’t know. But later Lenny is spying on Esther rollerblading. Is that the smile of a priest happy to have led a young woman closer to God? Or is it an admiring love? Hands off, Mr. Pope.
Sister Mary seems increasingly distant from her son, the Holy Father. Lenny sends her out to represent himself before the media, but only allows her to read another bizarre speech. “I’m Sister Mary” is the explanation she gives as to who or what she is before the legitimately lost crowd.
Lenny seemed to have big plans for her as his main confidant, but Voiello is successfully splitting them apart. She acts fearless before Voiello, but in a comedy smash cut admits she’s worried to Spencer. Any mom would be worried when their son just went full megalomaniac before the world.
As for Lenny’s father figure, Spencer, he spends most of this episode bitter and drunk. He finally decides to make something useful out of himself when he’s confronted by Voiello and Cardinal Caltanissetta (Toni Bertorelli). Caltanissetta has seemed up until now just an old fart, possibly even demented. But we discover he has a streak of real charisma in him. In a mystical scene, he mimes the heavy, delicate weight of God before Spencer, bringing the proud man to tears. It’s a powerful moment, but characteristically bizarre for this show.
Oh, and the kangaroo is still wandering the grounds. Good to see from him.
The third episode introduces us to an opening credits sequence for the first time. The song is set to All Along the Watchtower, which is forever tied to Battlestar Galactica in my mind. Lenny ends the sequence with an enigmatic wink, fitting for a show about kangaroos and a pope that could very well be the Antichrist. That we’re given an opening shows that The Young Pope is comfortable in its routine. Lenny is going to mock a cardinal at some point – he’s sent two Cardinals to Alaska already. Something weird will happen, like a moment with the Pope juggling oranges, or Voiello yelling at his kids not to play with their toys on his expensive rugs. Gutierrez has a hundred stuffed animals in his chamber. Why? Because this is The Young Pope. Get used to it.
There are hints of bigger plot points to come. Pius XIII is finally ready to take Voiello down, and Voiello is not as weak as he seems. There is a mention of a Kurtwell Case, the first admission from The Young Pope about the horrible abuse scandal that’s dominated the Church for decades now. We don’t see much of it, but I’m certain this will be a major plot point soon. Bigger things are coming.
And what are those bigger things? Nobody knows. Pius is talking about a vague plan. “What plan?” is the question on everybody’s lips. Lenny acts like he’s thirty moves ahead. But secretly he might be just as lost as everybody else.
By now we also know the scale of the world of The Young Pope. It’s unfortunately insular and might remain that way. Except for Lenny’s girlfriends, everybody is a priest or nun. The Vatican of Episode Three seems full of mysterious priests standing in the shadows, watching. Whose spies even are these? Lenny’s or Voiello’s?
The Young Pope still won’t tell us if things are moving in a supernatural direction. And it’s in no hurry to tear the walls of the Vatican down just yet. But there’s plenty to like while it takes its time.