Season One, Episode Two — “Second Episode”
By Courtney Ryan. Now that we’re used to the dramatic surrealism and comic exposition of The Young Pope, we’re left to evaluate this ornate cast of characters and determine if any of these people are actually worth rooting for. By the end of the second installment, it’s still unclear what we should make of Pius XIII (Jude Law) and his ascension to the papacy, but one thing is certain: despite citing Daft Punk and Banksy in his personal branding credo, this young pope is no fun.
From the start, Cardinal Voiello appeared primed for the arch nemesis role, having rigged the Conclave to elect Pius XIII to serve his master plan. But I’m beginning to have my doubts about Voiello as a foe, at least, as a formidable one. When the Vatican’s marketing director Sofia (Cécile de France) pitches new merchandise designs to the pope, he claims he never allowed photos of himself as a cardinal or bishop. How did this go unnoticed by Voiello, who supposedly chose the young pope for his telegenic image?
Then there’s Cardinal Michael Spencer (played by a surly James Cromwell), who boasts that he’s the originator of Vatican corruption (heh) and the rightful pope. He’s also Pius XIII’s mentor and quite bitter about how the whole Conclave thing turned out. So assuming Voiello always intended to cross Spencer by installing a puppet pope, why in God’s name (forgive me) would he opt for noted conservative Spencer’s freakishly camera-shy protégé? Let’s hope this is leading to a really unexpected twist.
Much of this episode serves as a distorted mirror of the pilot, opening similarly to how the previous episode closed with heretical humor. This time Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) visits with her other adoptive son, Cardinal Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd), and jokes about stealing from the alms box to buy plastic surgery. We see how Andrew came into Sister Mary’s care in a flashback that is nearly identical to the one that revealed a young Lenny meeting Sister Mary. It’s possible that this second mother-son bond is stronger, or at least more down-to-earth, than the one between Sister Mary and Lenny/Pius XIII since she allows Andrew to call her “Ma” and doesn’t place him on as high of a pedestal as she does her saintly son. In fact, throughout the episode, her reverential devotion to the young pope cloys at Pius XIII, leading to friction in his strongest relationship.
Where the first episode demonstrated his efforts to build a forceful alliance with Sister Mary, this episode sees the threads between his closest allies loosen, leading to a climactic public address that espouses isolation and is antithetical to the pro-masturbation, free-love spouting sermon he gave in his dream at the start of the series.
Meanwhile, we do get a few more details about Pius XIII’s childhood and relationship with Sister Mary. It turns out my hunch that she might be his real mother was off and he is indeed an orphan. We do learn why he was so keen on looking north toward Venice, though: Sister Mary explains that his hippie parents left a young Lenny in her care because they had to go to Venice, though they didn’t give her their real names.
(Please, God, please don’t let this series turn into a story about an American kid who grows up to become the pope just so he can at last find his long-lost parents. Who supposedly live in Venice.)
It’s clear that Pius XIII is wrestling with some internal demons and using his holy platform to resolve why he feels so alone in the world. What doesn’t quite connect yet is what is the extraordinary source of these extraordinary circumstances. Lenny isn’t the first ambitious man to seek the priesthood because he believes God is punishing him. So why is he the young pope?
“This place smells like incense and death. I prefer the smell of shit and life.” Cardinal Dussolier, to Sister Mary.
Cardinal Voiello: “And what do you think his sexual orientation is?” Cardinal Guiterrez: “None. He only cares about the church.” Cardinal Voiello: “And the church is female.”
BEST MOMENT: A kangaroo is gifted to the young pope from Australia and, exhibiting his first signs of grace, Pius XIII refuses to send it to the zoo. Instead, he gently draws the animal out of its cage by simply raising his hand. Everyone, including Sister Mary, looks on as if witnessing a miracle.
EPISODE’S MVP: James Cromwell is that cranky uncle that you’re afraid will rant about gay marriage at Thanksgiving dinner. He sits in his dim living room, wearing honey-tinted glasses and eating grapes off the vine as he spits the pits onto the floor and whines about not getting to be pope. Hopefully his tantrum doesn’t prevent Pius XIII from visiting again because this scene was terrific.
– In Voiello’s investigation it’s revealed that Sister Mary’s orphanage has ties to Cardinal Spencer’s university and that she only recommended Lenny to Spencer. Since Spencer clearly didn’t expect Lenny to become pope and Sister Mary did, will there eventually be a confrontation between the two?
– Sister Mary insists that young Lenny call her “Sister Mary” but that young Andrew call her “Ma,” possibly providing Lenny with a motherless and fatherless narrative to bolster his ascent to the papacy. But if she already saw potential in him and knew he needed to feel alone in the world to be a pope, then doesn’t she probably also know more about his parents than she is letting on?
– Sister Mary sleeps in a shirt that says “I’m a virgin, but this is an old shirt.”
6.5 out of 10
Next: “Third Episode” & “Fourth Episode”, soon.
Before: “First Episode”, here.