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set of "The young Pope" by Paolo Sorrentino. 09/18/2015 sc.443 - ep 4 in the picture Jude Law. Photo by Gianni Fiorito

TV Review: 'The Young Pope' viewers spent the Lord's day at a papal fashion show — and it was sexy and we knew it

We’re caught between two different men, both played by Jude Law, and it’s honestly hard to pick which one is better.

Is Lenny Belardo so saint-like and good that he’s evil? Part of us wants to believe it, but there’s a power-hungry side of Lenny that wants to watch the Roman Catholic doors close — theoretically and physically. It’s as if the writers are leaving clues to Lenny’s agenda in “Episode Five,” each one weirder than the next.

Why so many scenes?

The first 10 minutes of the show has five scenes. The audience is taken in a well-paced manner from each scene with different times of day, past and present, and different characters and their storylines. I think Game of Thrones has prepared us well.

The show opens with Lenny on his bed envisioning his parents abandoning him on a boat to Venice. The score of Lele Marchitelli plays. The paintings and the pope’s wink at the camera is still the same, all the more unsettling.

Lenny is having his nightly talk with Tommaso on the roof. He warns the pope about gossip on Esther, the Swiss Guard’s wife, and her relationship with Lenny. The pope says the only way to fix it is to start a revolution. The foreshadowing is understandable, but it was forced.

Two very short scenes follow, and it’s difficult to see their purposes. The first is Lenny and Gutierrez staring at odd Renaissance paintings, like these ones. The second is a large wooden crate, clearly labeled to be delivered to the Vatican.

Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) shows up at Lenny’s side when he’s outside either sleeping or reflecting. He opens his eyes to her asking if he is a saint. She unbuttons the lower half of her shirt and takes Lenny’s hand and puts it on her stomach. She begins praying the “Hail Mary” while Lenny stares at her in confusion. She then unbuttons her shirt further, revealing a cross necklace, and she moves his hand to her breast. He does not pull away, even though nothing is happening sexually.

A few hundred yards away is Voiello (Silvio Orlando), his henchman Amatucci and a photographer. The camera clicks away while Amatucci reads Lenny’s lips: “I love God because it’s so painful to love human beings,” Lenny says. “I am incapable of withstanding the heartbreak of love. It would be wonderful to love you, Esther, but I can’t. I am not a man but a coward, like all priests.”

Lenny’s words are painful for Voiello — so much so that he stops the pictures and ends up having second thoughts on revealing the scandal he spent so much time creating.

Overall, the scene is shocking. All season, Lenny has asked priests about their callings. We finally know his — to cut himself off from humanity so he does not know what it’s like to be heartbroken. Voiello’s spying is unknown to Lenny but ironically proves Lenny has a true calling to be a priest instead of the politician Voiello. And it’s here we see the end of an era for Voiello, unable to defeat the pope even with something as hefty as adultery. Voiello later learns Lenny knows all of his secrets — the blackmail on him, on Esther and on Gutierrez. The fear Voiello instilled is gone, and so is his leverage. He stands at the pope’s feet, having a panic attack and groveling. The camera looks up at Lenny from the base of his feet, where Voiello is kneeling and the symbolism of his power is shuddering.

Sister, sister

Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) returns after her silent role in the previous two episodes. Despite her return, it’s hard to see if she is the reason Lenny knows about Voiello and his success in blackmailing Lenny. Her purpose is still vacant in the Vatican. She’s supposed to be the eyes and ears for Lenny, but there has not been any exchange of evidence to the audience.

Sister Mary’s character is mainly shown in the episode through the flashbacks with young Lenny and young Cardinal Doussolier. The boys run away from the orphanage to find their parents. Young Sister Mary sees them leave and waits for their return. When they do return, she does not scold them. 

Fast forward to the present, when the two men see each other and “run away” from the Vatican — in track suits — to get cigarettes. They find a hotel lobby and ask if the concierge can get them some. They see a woman dressed in a black gown, clearly an escort, and they follow her to her table. She says they look like a couple of priests and Lenny lies to her, saying they are not. She takes a picture of Lenny and says God exists in his eyes. He is startled and leaves. Here we get the idea from Dussolier that Lenny has healed someone or performed some kind of miracle — hence why Sister Mary calls Lenny a saint.

Girl look at that body

Lenny calls the cardinals to the Sistine Chapel and finally addresses them. But before we get to that mess, let us acknowledge that there was a 4-minute montage of a papal fashion show to the LMFAO song, “Sexy and I Know It.” Beautiful golds, reds and greens are laid out. Fringe, cloaks, capes, hats, rings, beaded shoes — we’re assuming every priest’s dream? Almost like getting ready for prom, the young pope tries on every outfit as cardinals wait in anticipation for their papal leader.

The gist of the pope’s address is that the theoretical Roman Catholic door is now closed. The religion will be inaccessible and will include much suffering to those who are in it. He wants the church to have a few, devoted followers, rather than many half-hearted ones. Think of a club so exclusive there are only a few people in it and no one knows how to join. The most intense scene of the season is when Cardinal Michael Spencer stands up, takes off his hat and approaches the pope. For a second, we think he’s going to abandon his faith. Instead, he kisses the pope’s red velvet, gold-threaded slipper.

The end scene is the pope and a few cardinals in the home of stigmatic Tonino Pettola, with the only reason being that he has “busted (the church’s) balls.”

If there is one idea viewers can agree on, it's that The Young Pope is dense. The entire show is with each scene and each time the young pope barks at the cardinals. It’s twisted and complicated, just like Jude Law’s character sets out to be. If there is one idea that makes sense, it's "is there is sympathy for the orphan who is Lenny Belardo?"

Questions we're all asking

  • Where are all the other wives of the Swiss Guards?
  • What kind of orphanage is Lenny and Cardinal Dussolier from? Is it a coincidence they both became priests or does this orphanage breed them?
  • What is the tube that young Lenny drops at the gates of the orphanage and why does Sister Mary still have it?
  • Is Sister Mary ignorant of Lenny’s old ways of thinking or is she in on it?
  • Is Esther pregnant?
  • I’m asking this question way too early, but will Lenny’s mommy and daddy issues be resolved by him finding them? The fate of the church kind of depends on it, so I’m not sorry for asking.

The Young Pope airs every Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. on HBO 

Rating: 4/5


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