Season One, Episodes Five and Six — “The Fifth Episode,” “The Sixth Episode”
By Courtney Ryan. As we round the bend and commence the second half of The Young Pope things are starting to get eerie, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the emotional fatigue caused by this current administration’s hateful policies, but it’s gotten much harder to laugh at a blue-eyed conservative lunatic in power, even if he does look like an arthouse pin-up. What I’m saying is that The Young Pope is mirroring the current political climate in the United States a little too closely.
This week’s double feature takes an even darker turn than the previous few episodes as more hypocrisy within the church’s ranks comes to light and Lenny continues to believe in the divine virtues of his diabolic ambitions. He might be a man of religion, but Pope Pius XIII isn’t a man of faith or theology. (So far I’m uncertain that anyone in this universe is.) Pius constantly doubts his own faith in God, even falling for a silly party trick that’s done to supposedly prove God’s existence within one’s eyes. Naturally, this trick is performed by the token magical prostitute who appears on every TV show that deals with a man’s existential crisis.
Though more time is devoted to his childhood and his relationship with orphan brother, Andrew Dussolier, our understanding of the pope barely deepens. We see that he resents not knowing what happened to his parents and is unable to experience intimacy with other people, but we already knew this about him after the first episode. It would be more enlightening to learn why he detests the church’s humble servants, such as the barefoot monks who wish to continue their mission work.
The pope also demonstrates a cynical understanding of his followers, from the cardinals and bishops down to the repentant sinners at mass. What’s unnerving is how giddily the show affirms the pope’s crude cynicism about people. When he finally addresses the cardinals, he is carried in on a silk-covered throne, wearing shoes adorned with jewels and the tiara he sent for from America, and decrees that the church must do away with evangelizing and become small and exclusive. Not one cardinal resists his “revolution.” I realize priests aren’t usually a rebellious bunch, but it’s hard to believe one or two members of the conclave wouldn’t feel morally obligated to walk away from such a departure from previous teachings.
And then of course there are the Catholic people, who have been missing since his homily. At the beginning of “The Sixth Episode”, Cardinal Voiello mentions that tourism is down and church donations are low, presumably because of the pope’s message of radical ostracization. Yet when the pope meets with the Italian prime minister (to threaten to sic the wrath of God on him if he doesn’t do what he wants), he is certain that his cold and removed demeanor won’t inhibit his ability to prevent Catholics from voting in an upcoming election.
Though the question that truly stumps me week after week is why does Lenny call himself the young pope anyway? It’s out of character for someone as draconian as he is to think of himself as young, and at 47 he’s not even notably young. Sure, we haven’t seen any child popes for about a thousand years, so he’s still on the younger side (as demonstrated in the scene with the dying priest). But Pius XIII is only 11 years younger than John Paul II was when he ascended to the papacy, so that hardly makes Pius’ pre-AARP status a novelty.
“I am a priest, I have renounced my fellow man, my fellow women, because I don’t want to suffer, because I’m incapable of withstanding the heartbreak of love, because I’m unhappy, like all priests.” – Pius, to Esther.
“Have you ever seen two priests wearing tracksuits?” – Pius, to the magical prostitute. She has.
“You haven’t figured out that your old methods only work on the old popes, who were afraid of losing consensus. They don’t work with me. I am the young pope. I put no stock in consensus.” – Pius, to Voiello.
“What is it about that statuette that you find so sensual?” Pius, to Voiello as he looks at the Venus of Willendorf.
“Pius XIII appears and so do his beautiful blue eyes… and this soft, round mouth. A dazzling image, so dazzling it blinds people.” Pius, talking about himself to the Prime Minister of Italy, who is actually hotter.
BEST MOMENT: Captain Becchi visits Voiello, who is sitting on a throne reading a biography about himself. The captain is investigating the disappearance of the stigmata guy, Tonino Pettola, and finds Voiello unwilling to cooperate. As he’s leaving he tells the cardinal that he has heard from a colleague that Maradona is still using drugs. Being a super fan, Voiello is defeated, asking Becchi why he wants to hurt him, to which Becchi replies, “Because I’m a fan of Inter, Your Eminence.”
EPISODE’S MVP: Cardinal Voiello deserves a kiss on the ring this week. Not only does he use Pius XIII’s line about priests being sad cowards to hit on Sister Mary (she thinks he sounds wise), but I love his continued efforts to weasel his way back in control even now that Pius plainly sees it. I laughed when he says to the pope, “Don’t you find it a burden to take on the responsibility of such risky and unpopular decisions?” when that is literally all the pope wants to do.
– Jude Law’s American accent doesn’t offend me, but his Latin does.
– Where is the vatican’s marketing director? She hasn’t appeared in two episodes and the show is weaker for it.
6 out of 10
Next: “The Seventh Episode,” “The Eighth Episode”, soon.
Before: “The Third Episode”, “The Fourth Episode”, here.