Season One, Episodes Seven and Eight – “The Seventh Episode,” “The Eighth Episode”
By Courtney Ryan. With Paolo Sorrentino at its helm, The Young Pope has achieved some truly beautiful moments. But with only two episodes left, I’m beginning to wonder if the show’s dramatic visuals were what Sorrentino based his plot around rather than any substantial character development. When I think about the first eight episodes it’s easy to recall the vivid pictorials: Pius XIII addressing the cardinals, nuns harvesting the orange grove, Sister Mary playing basketball, young Lenny praying at the mouth of a waterfall.
It’s harder to recall why Michael and Pius are so chummy these days, when Sister Mary began calling Pius Lenny again, or even the whole backstory with that pipe. This is why when a central character dies the scene of his body being rolled out of a car leaves a more lasting impression than anything that explains his death.
The show is clearly heading toward some sort of resolution regarding Lenny’s absentee parents, but will anyone care if he is or isn’t reunited with them? Lenny’s happiest memory is the smell of his mother’s hair rather than anything that tells us what his parents were like. Even Andrew Dussolier’s arc rings hollow. It’s certainly fair that he would feel guilty about a young man killing himself after the church denied him the priesthood because of questions about his sexual orientation. But is this really the episode that would cause Dussolier—a white American who has spent much of his life as a priest in a poor Honduran town where he’s been bedding the local drug lord’s wife—to spiral into a guilt-fueled grief he cannot overcome? His murder is even more pointless since all we’ve glimpsed of his connection with the wife was a grainy threesome.
The show’s complete disregard of substance in the face of style was on full display in “The Eighth Episode” when Pius drops in on an ambiguous African nation that has been devastated by government corruption and an endless civil war. The country’s black citizens are filmed like statues in Vatican City, which they might as well be since they are denied any speaking parts and used as props to fill Sorrentino’s landscape. With a single note from one local priest, Pius is confident he understands the nuances of the unnamed country’s strife and gives a rudimentary homily that asks the humble masses to “be guilty of peace” instead of war. Yeah, somehow this is a hit with folks.
The trip to Africa also gave the show a chance to sprinkle in some exposition, presumably to add tension to the impending finale. Throughout the season we’ve heard murmurings of an investigation into Deacon Kurtwell of New York for sexual abuse. It’s mostly been used as window dressing to get alcoholic Cardinal Gutierrez to leave the Vatican, but thanks to a journalist on the plane to Africa, the Kurtwell investigation has been thrust into the center of the show. It turns out that Lenny is maybe being blackmailed by Kurtwell. Introducing this as a conflict with only two episodes left feels like a bit of a hail mary.
I’m also growing weary of how often The Young Pope presents a problem and solves it within a single episode. There’s the scene at the top of “The Seventh Episode” where Cardinals Voiello and Caltanissetta discuss how to remove Pius from the papacy now that his old-fashioned ideas are bankrupting the church due to declining membership. When Voiello reveals that he has copies of the photos depicting the young pope caressing Esther’s breasts (in prayer, or whatever), he suggests they release the photos to the press. Caltanissetta doesn’t even have to blackmail Voiello to get him to promise him the papacy instead of Michael or Voiello. (Voiello must be the worst evil mastermind in the Catholic Church’s history.)
Caltanissetta dismisses the idea because the image of the pope with his hands on a woman’s chest (in prayer!) is just too scandalous. He actually says, “It would be the lowest point ever for the church, that no subsequent pope would ever be able to recover from it.” And Voiello buys it!
Somehow, I feel like the revelation of widespread and systemic child sex abuse by thousands of Roman Catholic priests would be a little tougher to overcome. But none of this, or Sister Mary’s cruel plan to hire fake parents to distract Pius, matters because it turns out the death of Dussolier is what causes Pius to soften on some of his rigid stances. Still, it doesn’t even matter how Lenny comes to change his mind. The show’s panoramic point of view makes it hard to actually care about anything that happens.
“A priest never grows up, because he can never become a father.” – Pius, to Dussolier. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show ends with Lenny becoming a dad.
Sister Mary, to Pius: “You’ve healed the sick. You’ve made a hopelessly sterile woman pregnant. You are a saint—a beautiful saint. You are the sweet Christ come back to Earth.” The Young Pope: “Thank you.”
“I don’t want to talk about people who strip naked in order to protest against something.” – Pius, to Sister Mary.
“We are never scandalized, no profession has to deal with sin on such a continual basis as ours.” – Pius, to author Elmore Coen.
“I’m the pope and I’m going to remain pope until the day I die because I’m curious to see how it all turns out.” – Pius, to Michael.
BEST MOMENT: Pius in his underwear at the bottom of a swimming pool, praying for Dussolier’s soul.
EPISODE’S MVP: Sofia is back! I was worried that she and her breathy “hhhhhollly fahhhther” were gone for good. She manages to humanize every scene she’s in and brings out the pope’s sensitive side in a way that isn’t creepy like it is with Esther.
– For weeks I’ve been trying to figure out who American Jude Law sounds like. Finally, I heard the pope’s voice during the Super Bowl and looked up: it was Jimmy Kimmel!
– We know that Cardinal Dussolier speaks fluent Spanish so why does Ugly Betty’s dad speak English in Honduras during the narco dialogue?
– RIP kangaroo. Maybe he really was better off at the zoo.
– I can’t tell if Sister Mary is reciprocating Voiello’s crush. I think she is?
6 out of 10
Next: “The Ninth Episode”, “The Tenth Episode”, soon.
Before: “The Fifth Episode”, “The Sixth Episode”, here.