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Tensions rise in the Vatican as Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) takes Roman Catholicism by force. 

TV Review: "Episode two" of 'The Young Pope' foreshadows a future blow-up in the Vatican

If you want an anti-hero who creates chaos that’s so bad it’s too good to watch, you’ll be disappointed with The Young Pope’s second episode.

Nevertheless, with every swift step Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) takes across the grounds of the church, The Young Pope is preparing us for something. The lack of activity in episode two lays the groundwork for character progression in tension-building ways.

The entire episode is a build-up of the Pope Pius XIII's first homily in front of the entire world (a very scary homily we come to discover). Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) writes Lenny a homily and Sister Mary reluctantly likes it. Lenny refuses to even read it at first. 

The more characters that are introduced in the show, the more we learn about Lenny, his fears and immaturity.

Character introductions

The press secretary for the Vatican, Sofia (Cecile de France) meets Lenny to discuss the rights to put his face on posters, shirts, keychains and plates. Lenny announces he wants to be a faceless leader and that there should be no photos of him. Voiello and Sofia are convinced it’s media suicide only until Lenny makes some reference to the faceless artists Banksy and Daft Punk (yeah, I know, right). They are “unreachable rockstars,” he says. That itself created a buzz and Lenny plans to do the same with a homily in the dark.

Cardinal Assente, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, ordains and trains priests. After a blunt conversation Assente (Maurizio Lombardi) has with Lenny over how they disagree on Roman Catholic fundamentals, Lenny asks Assente if he’s gay. Assente says he is and Lenny is so repulsed he ends the meeting.

We saw Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) in the first episode, but only a muted scene of him attempting suicide with a razor blade — apparently he was supposed to be elected pope. He is Lenny’s mentor and father figure. He asks to have a meeting with Lenny and we learn that Spencer believes he should have been elected pope and that Lenny made a deal with Voiello to shut him out. Lenny denies this and is hurt he would accuse him of such an action. Up until this point, Lenny Belardo has been cruel and cold. With Cardinal Spencer, he is almost childlike and vulnerable. He wants Spencer’s love and is shut out.

Lenny also asks Cardinal Spencer to take over Cardinal Assente’s role as prefect. He wants nothing to do with a gay man training priests and offers it to Spencer to make up for him becoming pope. Spencer refuses and also refuses Lenny’s request to help him write his homily for his first appearance. Lenny leaves torn and unloved.

Power struggle

As a viewer, it’s hard to trust in Lenny Belardo and believe he has a plan. It’s also hard to figure out if he’s creating chaos in the church simply because, or if his fundamentals are legitimate. He only confides in two people: Sister Mary and Tomasso the priest, but it’s a reluctant relationship.

As special assistant to the pope and “big brother” to the cardinals, Sister Mary has become as powerful as the pope himself. Sister Mary describes the pope’s agenda using the word “we” and Voiello takes advantage to confide this change of pronouns to Lenny to try and create a conflict between him and Sister Mary. It works, and Sister Mary now has to call him “your holiness” instead of Lenny.

It’s safe to say Diane Keaton’s character is basically a nun spy (who also has a night shirt that says, "I'm a virgin, but this is an old shirt"). She finds out about Voiello’s regular visit to a disabled boy and is a shadow in the walls of the Vatican. Even though she is a follower of the developing anti-hero, she appears good. Sister Mary has faith in someone.

Unresolved parishioners 

When Lenny addresses the world and the people in Vatican square, he uses his own speech. It's fear-driven and a disappointment to any modern Roman Catholic, proving Lenny is a walking contradiction — a young man with ancient views. 

The episode served our healthy appetites — we had to eat our greens in order to appreciate something more sugary and scandalous down the road. We’ll have to wait for another episode to feed our cheat-day appetites. Still confused about the kangaroo, though.

Storylines with holes. Here’s what we know:

  • Esther is the wife of a Swiss Guard from the opening scene. She’s caught crying tears of enlightenment during the pope’s homily.
  • Cardinal Voiello visits a boy who seems to have ALS or cerebral palsy. Unknown relation, but one can hope for an illegitimate son.
  • Cardinal Assente’s job is in jeopardy, unbeknownst to him.
  • Tomasso hears all the confessions of everyone in the Vatican. Lenny convinces him to tell him everyone’s sins each day in exchange for Cardinalship. No one knows about this … yet.
  • Cardinal Michael Spencer refuses to have anything to do with Lenny. Sounds finite, but that’s too easy.
  • Cardinal Dussolier currently lives in the Vatican. Grew up with Lenny in the orphanage and was under the care of Sister Mary. Was coddled more than Lenny. There is a disconnect between the two men.


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