“The Young Pope” wants to be everything to everyone — and while much ink has been spilled over whether or not the internet jokes about the show before its debut were warranted or just off-base, the show’s ambitions — and smugness about accomplishing them — would make it a prime target for snark either way.
Episode 3 (Jan. 22) has Pope Lenny (Jude Law) boasting about he’s the best at praying: Nobody prays better than him, he’s a terrific prayer, everybody agrees! Sure, he doesn’t believe in God — as he insists to his favorite confessional stooge, Tommaso (Marcello Romolo) — but he believes in himself!
…Cut to Lenny on his knees, begging God’s forgiveness for all that hot air he was blowing earlier. It’s a clever pairing of scenes that captures the emotional spectrum of a life of faith, and of course indulges the juxtapositional irony that the show relies on most.
This week we turn our attention to the various parties investigating the machinations that helped Lenny rise to power: Lenny wants to know! Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) wants to know!
…And Vioello (Silvio Orlando) seems to sit squarely in the middle in the mystery. Vioello assures Spencer that he did not maneuver against Spencer’s papacy: It was the Holy Spirit! If you’re gonna throw anyone under the bus, might as well be a diaphanous ghost. Once again, we cut to Vioello admitting to Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) why he did maneuver against Spencer, and admitting to his own aspirations in the process.
“A pope needs to inspire trust,” Vioello admits, “…I inspire the opposite.” Exactly the sort of disarming, if labyrinthine, behavior that makes Vioello such an interesting antihero.
Lenny decides to dispatch Sister Mary, not Vioello, to serve as media handler: Mary despises the idea, Vioello is disappointed, and everyone loses — or more specifically, everyone is kept off-balance, which Lenny just loves. Not surprisingly, the too-honest-and-earnest Mary is not a natural spin doctor at the press conference, which is not so conference-y and more dictatorial-ish.
In your face, press! No questions, please. Free press is so 2016!
Lenny meets with Spencer to convince him to take the job he’s offered, but Spencer rails against him: “You’ve never budged from the front gate of that orphanage,” he insists — and the papacy is Lenny’s chance to make the world pay for his personal suffering.
As Lenny lights a cig in the Vatican garden, that rando kangaroo peers at him from the shadows. Just as this non-indigenous ‘roo now finds itself outside its natural habitat — to bounce manically through the restrained and overly-manicured greenery of the Vatican gardens — so too we witness Lenny’s thuggish id, running rampant through the hallowed halls where ingratiating two-facedness has been the norm. Because symbolism, son!
Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), meanwhile, is practically pulling a John Cusack beneath the Pope’s window — until Majordomo Domen shows up, and boy is he handsy! Ah, but those hands were instructed to guide her toward Lenny, whom she assures has a way with homilies. He swoons, landing in her arms, and has a weird dream in which he as a child chases after his hippie wraith parents.
Lenny declares himself more handsome than Jesus. He’s the most handsome, nobody’s more handsome than him, everybody agrees!
He then demands that Vioello tell him exactly how all the political plotting made him Pope, and if Vioello doesn’t fess up, this current unpleasantness will prove to be “nothing but a foretaste of the macabre banquet that will bring on the ruin of the Church.” (Let it not be said that Lenny underpromises.) Vioello eventually buckles, admitting Lenny was expected to be the compromise, the “breach” between the progressives and traditionalists, but Lenny’s not proving to be a dutiful puppet, and so: F this S, essentially.
Lenny now finds himself in a deposing sort of mood, where Vioello is concerned. So it’s Vioello vs. Lenny, and Spencer vs. Lenny… Say, you know who should get together? Vioello and Spencer.
Which they promptly do.
It’s also impossible to ignore how close Gutierrez and Lenny have become: Just ask Vioello, whom Gutierrez discovers sitting on his bed, clutching a Bambi from the ambitious stuffed animal collection behind him. Vioello blackmails him (about the booze stashed under his bed) into singing like a canary about what Lenny has been saying: In this particular song, Gutierrez includes some lyrics about a dalliance in California…
“Well, the Church is female?” Vioello intones, and closes out episode 3 with definite musings.
Monday’s (Jan. 23) installment opens on a shepherd with stigmata-ridden hands named Tonino Pettola (), who has drawn quite a crowd in a field: He declares a sheep to be the Virgin Mary, pastoral devotees scream like fangirls at a boy band concert, it’s a whole thing.
When Vioello’s prayers include supplications like “When will you halt my treacherous and vindictive hand, Lord Jesus?”, you can’t not love him a little bit more for it… Even though his next move is having Esther fetched: “Stay calm,” Vioello oozes at the poor girl, who looks like a mouse staring down the gullet of a snake. “Rest assured we only want what’s best for you. We are your friends!”
Vioello doesn’t want to have to reveal her extramarital affair to everyone — because, Yuck! He hates how awkward knowing that is! So unpleasant! — and as for making it less awkward, well. Ensconced in a Hugh Hefner robe as he is, Vioello has some ideas… Even as later, watching Vioello speak so lovingly to the young handicapped boy he visits, it goes around the other way again. This love-hate-love feeling Vioello inspires as a character is positively whiplash inducing.
As Lenny flirts with a strategically placed Esther on the grounds, Amatucci ( Gianluca Guidi) spies from afar with Vioello, showing off some killer lip reading skills.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Greenland and her personal assistant are on the premises, bearing — yes, really — the largest halibut ever caught. (Pope Lenny’s got quite an ark underway, between the stalking, lurking kangaroo, and this Greenland-sized fish.) Lenny mocks the PM for her agreeability, and then reminds her that the Catholics were in her country first: In your face, Prime Minister! Suck it, diplomacy!
A helicopter arrives, airlifting a crate — surely the velociraptor that will so nicely expand Lenny’s menagerie! Alas, no: Just the remains of Sister Suri’s dead sister. “There’s no crying in baseball at funerals!” Lenny shouts at the grieving Suri, demonstrating his cleverness. And just in case all that shouting at a grieving nun wasn’t enough, Lenny tells Vioello that he wants to hunt down all the homosexuals in the Church. If there were a puppy scampering underfoot, he’d probably be kicking it right about now…
Not long after, Tomasso is surprised by how many confessions now contain the admissions (and emissions, one must suppose) of horny, totally extra-hetero priests… As Vioello is lurking all the way over to Esther’s house: And when she insists there’s nothing going on with Lenny, and that he respects her, the snake shows itself again.
“I was about to laugh but I stopped myself — because I have a certain class,” Vioello giggles.
Tonino (Franco Pinelli), interviewed by an overly enthusiastic entertainment journalist, describes his vision of the Madonna. He has been conducted healings — as he did for that injured footie star who then scored a double — so the Italians can rest assured this is the real deal: Why then won’t the Church recognized his specialness in an official capacity? The perky journalist thinks maybe if the Pope hears, he’ll take note — and sure enough, Lenny is glued to his TV set like the Donald awaiting Alec Baldwin’s weekly ritual mocking on “SNL.” Tonino addresses our Young Pope via the camera — for a simple, miracle-working shepherd, he’s good at veiled threats — offering to form his own church if the Pope doesn’t grant his approval.
Lenny watches Esther and her husband Peter getting it on for a while — but don’t worry, it’s not weird: He’s just looking out for his flock, like a concerned and really involved shepherd, that’s all. Lenny shouts at the Virgin Mary statue that she’d better impregnate Esther, and — given that he’s the best and most terrific at praying — how much do we wanna bet this might actually take?
Wrapping it up, Lenny sends a heartbroken Gutierrez to New York to investigate the Kurtwell case — and none of his words seem to comfort the man. Luckily, the Virgin Mary appears in a vision to do the job, and we have to say… If a hallucination of the Virgin assures you everything’s gonna be okay, then there’s nothing to worry about. Riiiight?
So, which player will emerge triumphant, come finale time? Lenny? Vioello? The ‘roo, whose punching skills could prove fortuitous? Given Lenny’s awfully convincing Tony Montana approaching to pope-ing, can’t you kinda envision a wipeout of an ending in which Sister Mary’s the only (wo)man left standing?
“The Young Pope” continues to appear Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, for three more weeks.