Call it a Catholic thing, but Catholics are always guilty of something. The religion either preaches all-loving rhetoric or bothers parishioners with the constant worry of sin.
Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), the leader of the Roman Catholic church in The Young Pope, is no exception.
Lenny’s insecurities come out in “Episode Eight.” He takes responsibility for Dussolier’s death and like a child, he does not know how to handle grief and guilt.
In the opening, Lenny is in a swimming pool. His young lungs help him pray for Dussolier for extended periods of time underwater. Apparently, when Lenny feels guilty and grieves, he swims, wrestles with a Sumo wrestler, gets a massage and plays tennis with himself.
Sofia is summoned by the pope and he asks her what the church is doing wrong — as in, why is his weird Vatican-door-closing initiative actually driving people away. She gives him the public relations answer that he should give a speech on love and take a pastoral voyage.
This is the story of a girl
The last scene in “Episode Seven” is of a frizzy-haired girl. That girl is St. Juana Fernandez of Guatemala who lived from 1962-1980. There is a statue of her in the garden and Lenny asks how she was canonized at such a young age.
A cardinal tells Lenny that she told stories to the sick children about the Madonna and the next day the children were cured from illness. The children were asked why they were cured and they said it was because the Madonna made them laugh. The pope loves the story, but he doesn’t believe it. The scene is charming, but the relevance is unknown. As writers have power over what actors do, The Young Pope has thrived on leading the series through beautiful scenes and imagery.
Lenny’s favorite author, Elmore Coen, is in Rome and is invited to the Vatican. While walking through the gardens, the two men have very odd conversations. The author enjoys talking vices and then apologizes for talking about such scandalous matters in front such a chaste person. Lenny actually embraces this subject of conversation and defends that priests are not prude and are never scandalized because they deal with their own scandalizing sins on a daily basis.
Coen asks if the pope has ever had a girlfriend and Lenny tells him about his old girlfriend we already knew about. Jokingly, he says he remembers everything about his one and only girlfriend while Coen has probably had “thousands” and doesn’t remember anything about them.
The pope finds himself in the garden at night afterward. Because Lenny wants to abolish all types of abortion, there are women protesting naked in the streets of Rome and all over Europe. Women are popping up in the garden at night, naked, spelling out the word “bastard.” He stares at them, indifferent. However, the pope is scarred from finding his kangaroo murdered. It is most likely from the abortion activists.
The most intense scenes in the series all have James Cromwell’s Cardinal Mike Spencer in them. He brings out every vulnerability in Lenny and has a sizable presence over him.
Spencer asks the pope if he is going to resign. Lenny finally vocalizes his thoughts and says he will continue to be pope until the day he dies. “That makes me feel worse,” he says. The pope, gently and tiredly, says to Spencer that he’s never going to be pope.
Spencer implicates that he knows Lenny does not believe in God. Lenny acts surprised he would say such a thing. But, very sweetly, Spencer explains that he was in his 50s at one time too and that everyone has a “crisis of faith.” The second calling back to God is the hardest because priests don’t have the momentum they did when they were young. “There is still another path even if you can’t see it,” Spencer says.
It’s clear Lenny does not want to live with his uncertainty or disbelief anymore. Spencer urges him to take the journey himself.
Lenny’s relationship with Spencer is very similar to a father/son. They fight, but when times get tough, Lenny values Spencer’s opinion and craves his affection.
Take a trip
With his back turned to St. Peter’s square on the balcony of the Vatican, Lenny conducts mass into a microphone. No one is in the square and the press are about to fall asleep. After the mass, he announces he won’t be giving mass next week for he will be visiting Africa and Sister Antonia to celebrate 30 years of her “Village of Goodness.” Members of the Vatican are shocked and pleased.
The trip is a start. Lenny is slowly caving in his disconnect to those who follow Roman Catholicism. He still refuses to be seen to the public, including the press.
Excluding the press, the Vatican party in Africa is Sophie, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) Valente, Voiello (Silvio Orlando) and the pope. The apparel from our Roman visitors in Africa is wonderful. The pope wears a crimson red outfit over his white robe. The rest of the party wears white with accents of red. When Lenny exits the plane he is wearing a veil and he bypasses the dancing welcome committee. The village is depressing and the country is corrupt and under military rule.
Sister Antonia wants a picture with the pope and is offended when Voiello asks her to give up her phone. It’s quite the ordeal, like a five-minute conversation.
Sister Antonia tells the pope that soldiers and gangs have a monopoly on clean water. The problem in the country is clean water is hard to come by. The river near the village makes people sick and can give people kidney failure. They have a turbine that creates clean water that was donated by the Dutch.
The pope goes into a confessional with an African priest. He tells the story how he met Coen and since then he can stop thinking about his own lust. He says he sinned with Esther, but it’s not clear how. Esther, Peter and Pius apparently left Rome without saying goodbye to Lenny. A photo of him and Pius is all they left behind.
He also admits he should be grieving over Andrew, but he has stopped feeling guilty for a while. He struggles wondering if he is cruel even though he does everything for the love of God. Lenny asks for penitence and the priest says nothing. The pope is pissed finding out he doesn’t speak English. However, the priest does hand him a note. It says: Sister Antonia hides water and uses it to control the sick and the nuns. In exchange for a few glasses of water, she demands sexual favors.
While the pope leads mass later that day, Sister Antonia and another nun are flirting during communion and hold hands, touch knees. Sofia notices and the pope sees from the reflection of his chalice.
A dinner follows and Lenny asks Sister Antonia multiple times what it means to be a good person. The sister has no answer.
Lenny gives a speech through the speakers for all to hear but he does not sit in the seat he is given next to the country’s military leader.
He takes Sofia’s advice and gives a speech on love and peace and it turns out Lenny is a good speaker when he’s not terrifying. He talks about how the country is guilty of war, but can change in being guilty of peace. Everyone is captivated.
When everyone is back on the plane, the pope steps in coach and looks over the press corps sleeping. One reporter is awake and simply says “it was beautiful.” Lenny reflects and agrees that the dancers were gracious. The reporter corrects him that he was talking about the speech he gave.
On the way back to Rome, Lenny needs to stop at the next gas station. Everyone is waiting in their town cars while Lenny is kneeling outside in the semi truck parking lot. He asks God to punish Sister Antonia. Conveniently, the cameras show Sister Antonia in her kitchen at night drinking a bottle of water. She falls to the ground choking and crawling to her lover/nun/friend. “We can no longer put off this matter,” Lenny prays.
From the speech to the journey back to Italy, an acoustic version of Beyonce’s “Halo” is playing softly in the background.
Sister Mary has called Lenny a saint from the beginning. At first it seemed like an endearing mother calling her child special. But now it appears Lenny may actually be able to speak to God and heal people.
- Is Lenny being blackmailed by Kurtwell and it is a result of a delayed investigation from Gutierrez? A reporter asked him about it and the plane had severe turbulence as a result.
- Does Lenny have healing abilities?
- Are Voiello and Sister Mary going to get together?
- After the trip to Africa, it’s unclear who Lenny’s enemies are
The Young Pope airs Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.