Season One, Episodes Three & Four — “The Third Episode”, “The Fourth Episode”
By Courtney Ryan. “This pope is strange and contradictory,” Cardinal Voiello says halfway through “The Third Episode”. For a show so enamored by its own enigma, The Young Pope sure likes to state the obvious. Nevertheless, things started to finally heat up during this week’s double feature as the church reacted to the young pope’s troubling homily, and Voiello attempted to undermine Pius XIII’s vow to remove all homosexuals from the clergy.
In the third episode, our young papa waffled between fearing God and doubting God’s existence, going so far as to tell Don Tommaso that he loves himself more than his neighbor and certainly more than God, going so far as to call himself the “lord omnipotent.” Later Lenny is seen alone on his knees begging God’s forgiveness for his self-illumination, but as it turns out he’s not the only one to feel a divine presence during his appointment to the papacy.
Cardinal Voiello swore to Cardinal Spencer on Sunday night that he never rigged the conclave in favor of Lenny/Pius XIII, that it was “the breath of the Holy Spirit” that won him the votes. He probably doesn’t believe this, but if anyone knows how to claim the will of the Holy Spirit in order to forge political allies it’s the Vatican’s secretary of state.
With reports that members of the faith are skipping mass thanks to the pope’s message of exclusion and regress, Voiello needs Spencer to restore his close relationship with Pius if they’re going to prevent him from making any more angry sermons. Problem is, not even Spencer can reach the pope now because of his bubbling daddy issues. As his onetime mentor, Spencer has struck at little orphan Lenny’s trust issues by turning away from him when he asked for guidance. Now he’s seemingly unable to resurrect his paternal bond.
Creator Paolo Sorrentino wants to make it painfully clear that the “father” is stern and unflinching. Even as Sister Mary instructed Spencer to reconnect with their shared adoptive son, she points out the fallacy of paternal intimacy. “Summon him and withhold your approval. That’s what all good fathers do with their sons,” she says. As the church’s new father, Pius now mirrors the fatherly relationships already demonstrated to him and holds stiff indifference towards his faithful followers. Jude Law’s performance parodies another young leader and product of patriarchal cultism, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. He even tacks a surplus of titles and honorifics onto his name for a press release that’s reminiscent of the hermit kingdom’s state-run newspapers.
Adversely, Monday night’s episode was all about motherhood and exploring Pius’ relationship with women. Unlike the father, the mother is compassionate, gentle, and willing to sacrifice her body. Pius appropriately donned a soft, white hoodie and trackpants for the occasion of expressing Sorrentino’s statement on maternal virtue. He watched nuns sleep peacefully, comforted a Sri Lankan sister whose family member has died, mused about an ex-lover he met before seminary school, and prayed for an infertile woman who longs to have a child.
In The Young Pope, the “mother” is also fragile. Voiello attempted to break Pius’ moral resolve by exploiting such vulnerability. He blackmailed Esther, the infertile wife of the Swiss guard, to seduce Pius by confiding in him about her marital woes and dangling her carnal charms before him. Voiello is certain that Pius will fall for it because, as he says, “The church is a woman.”
The irony here is that the young pope’s sin, in Voiello’s eyes, is pledging to expel all homosexuals from the church. He estimates that two-thirds of the clergy are gay and can’t allow for the chaos that would follow if Pius were successful. Both men have dedicated their lives to an institution whose leaders are forbidden from marriage and procreation even though its dogma does not recognize individuals who live outside the rigid parameters of “mother” and “father.” It’s strange and contradictory indeed, but will The Young Pope elevate itself beyond simply pointing out the Catholic Church’s many contradictions?
“I was praying so hard I nearly shit my pants.” — The young pope, describing the conclave to Father Tommaso.
“I’ve always been good at taking notes. You know that!” — The young pope, praying to God. Seriously.
“You were so fearful of my extremism that you forgot the most obvious truth: the young are always more extreme than the old.” — Cardinal Spencer, to Cardinal Voiello.
Cardinal Voiello: “You know something, Holy Father? You are as handsome as Jesus, but you are not actually Jesus.” The young pope: “I may actually be more handsome, but keep that to yourself.”
“I know that young people go crazy over cane sugar.” — Cardinal Voiello, to Esther. He must have taken Cardinal Spencer’s statement about the extremism of young people to heart.
“Believers don’t cry! That’s not right!” — The young pope, to a nun in mourning.
BEST MOMENT: The prime minister of Greenland visits and has an exceptionally awkward time with the the young pontiff. Before he suggests that God might be hiding under Greenland’s ice caps, he takes a moment to rant about how the Catholics arrived in Greenland before the Lutherans and that they have been unfairly treated like Native Americans. The group then listens to a song by Italian singer Nada. Later, we see the prime minister dance to Nada and captions inform us that Greenlanders are renowned the world over for their dancing.
*It’s worth noting that the most famous dance from Greenland is the inuit drum dance, which has been in Greenland longer than both Catholics and Lutherans.
EPISODE’S MVP: Diego Maradona. Voiello watches a video of the Argentine soccer star dribbling with untied shoelaces when he played for Napoli. Maradona of course is famous for his “hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup that was clearly illegal, something Voiello no doubt admired.
– I’m done making predictions about the significance of certain relationships. Last week I wondered if Sister Mary and Cardinal Spencer would have it out over Lenny becoming the pope instead of Spencer, but instead they talked like an amicably divorced couple that wants the same for their son.
– The tagline of the show (“His religion is revolution”) is so disparate from the rest of the show that I wonder if a writer at HBO just slapped it on after hearing they bought a show from Italy about a young pope.
– The kangaroo is back! But this time the young pope can’t miraculously make him jump.
– So the pope admitted that if he prays too hard he might make himself shit. Let’s hope that’s what happened when he prayed while Esther had sex.
6.5 out of 10
Next: “The Fifth Episode”, “The Sixth Episode”, soon.
Before: “The Second Episode”, here.