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TV Review: Have Jude Law’s ‘The Young Pope’ be your valentine

Lenny Belardo’s hardened persona is cracking. And the only thing to say is thank God, because it’s for the better. Love, an emotion Lenny tries so hard to portray, is creeping back into his world, and The Young Pope’s supporting characters are to thank for that.

The Young Pope has impeccable dry humor. The series evokes smirks, looks of confusion and a few gasps. Viewers are led down a shaky path involving Lenny’s tough struggle to let go and love. For that journey alone, “Episode Nine” is now in the lead for being one of the most powerful and emotional episodes of the season.

Choosing life

The episode opens with Cardinal Mike Spencer (James Cromwell) in a wheelchair debating abortion and discussing female orgasms with Lenny in the Sistine Chapel. Spencer’s health has been declining, but he still has time to tell Lenny (Jude Law) he is wrong. Lenny starts quoting Exodus in defense for abortion’s illegality. Spencer, though conservative, defends that humans are to not pass judgement on each other. The scene, beautifully shot, challenges the public’s perception of Catholic values. As for why they were talking about female orgasms, Spencer says Catholic conservatism is to blame for women not having them anymore.

It’s going down

Hands down, Bernardo Gutierrez’s (Javier Camara) character arch is the best in the show so far. Lenny had faith in Gutierrez’s trip to New York City when no one else did. Lenny did start to doubt his decision during a FaceTime with him, but he was proven wrong.

In his hotel room in New York City, he seems like a hopeless mess with empty liquor bottles and newspaper clippings of Archbishop Kurtwell (Guy Boyd) everywhere. The archbishop knows Gutierrez is investigating his diocese in Queens, but they pay him no mind because he’s perceived as a drunk.

Kurtwell, who appears to have Parkinson’s disease, is a powerful man in Queens. All of the victims of his sexual assault and harassment refuse to press charges, making Gutierrez’s job difficult.

The audience is pretty omniscient in the series. But in this episode Kurtwell acts like he has dirt on Lenny that viewers don’t know about and it’s causing tension. It turns out Kurtwell’s reputation-damaging material on Lenny were love letters to his former California girlfriend. He didn’t read “the steamier ones” but he tells a journalist he guarantees Lenny would be ruined if they were published. The journalist reads them and decides Kurtwell’s leverage is compromised because the end of the letter series notes that he never sent the letters because he’s married to God, not her. The power Kurtwell thinks he has over Lenny is pathetic and shows how much of a sleaze he really is.

A new character, Freddy, is a cashier at a liquor store and is Kurtwell’s boy toy for Gutierrez’s attempted sting operation. Even though Freddy apparently has the hots for Guttierez, he doesn’t want any part in helping Gutierrez take down Kurtwell. Side note: Kurtwell tries to bring athletic programs to the diocese, especially tennis, because it is Freddy’s dream to be a tennis star. There is some underlying psychological complexity there.

Gutierrez is truly a functioning alcoholic. All this time he has slowly compiled a case for taking down Kurtwell: A testimony from Kurtwell’s supposed bastard son — who wears an orange wig — and sexually graphic images from the liquor store security camera of Kurtwell and Freddy. Gutierrez puts Kurtwell on the next flight to Rome to be put on trial.


Spencer graduated from wheelchair to death bed. He asks the cardinals to leave and Lenny to stay. He asks Lenny for comfort that God exists by asking him to tell the event in his life he never wants to share — the miracle he performed on the gardener’s wife at the orphanage.

It’s finally shown that he cured her by directly talking to God. He did the arms-stretched-while-kneeling bit, and we see again why many would call him a saint. No one can pray or demand for God to do something — Lenny himself said to Esther once that praying is not a list of requests. But here we are seeing something unexplainable and extraordinary from a complex man.

When he’s done telling Spencer the story, Spencer dies in peace. At first, Lenny’s sobs are breathy, and then it’s full-fledged sobbing. The room’s lighting is an orangey glow and Lenny’s sobs fill the room while Sister Mary creepily watches through the window. Lenny finally doesn’t hold back his love for his only father figure. He even rings his dinner bell at dinner to let all his helpers and colleagues know he loves them.

Mystery woman

So the pope’s letters to his former girlfriend are published in The New Yorker. We're not certain who published them, but Lenny’s reading them aloud while the camera shows a woman reading them, realizing she is the California girlfriend. The words he wrote to her are so swooning the young pope we thought we knew seems foreign.

We finally have a face to the girlfriend that Lenny has never stopped fantasizing about. Her hair is brown, and she and Esther are supposed to look similar. She may have died her hair. Her introduction is late, so it’s uncertain if anything will come of it in the finale.

“Episode Nine” raised the bar for the finale on Monday.

It’s clear the highlight of the finale will be Kurtwell, and the interactions between him and the pope need to be drama-filled.

Weird plot stuff that’s worth mentioning

  • Rose is the owner of the hotel that Gutierrez is staying in and apparently has the hots for him, too. Her obesity is life-threatening, and she needs weight loss surgery. The only way they can get her to the hospital is if they knock her wall out of the tall building and take a crane to her bed.
  • Esther, Peter and Pius are apparently in Austria and have a beach house. Tommaso tells Lenny they left because life in the Vatican is not much fun for young people. Look who you’re talking to, Tommaso.
  • Also, the pope apparently figured out where they lived and placed a picture of him and Pius near one of Pius’ sandcastles. Esther finds it and only sees a white helicopter flying away.

Rating: 4.5/5

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


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