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TV Review: 'The Young Pope' series is a visual and symbolic masterpiece

The Vatican dwellers face their fate in the season one finale of The Young Pope. Throughout the 10 episodes, our boy pope has become a man. And though Lenny’s claim of maturing is at the beginning of “Episode 10,” the entire episode spends time on walking us through Lenny’s symbolic journey to adulthood.

Growing up

All of the pope’s interactions in the episode are meaningful, even the visual ones. The Patriarch of Moscow visits the Vatican, and he and the pope sit in silence. The man looks over his shoulder and stares at the Venus Of Willendorf, the statue that Voiello has impure thoughts about. Lenny buzzes the button under his desk and Suree effectively gives the pope a great excuse to get out of the meeting, unlike his first episode where she said it was “time for his snack.”

In the evening, Lenny (Jude Law) watches Rome’s first snow while a man on the radio talks about how news miraculously isn’t about the bad and evil in the world anymore — and the pope’s love letters are a result of that. It’s still unclear if the pope had anything to do with the publication or if he’s upset at all.

The fate of Gutierrez

Cardinal Gutierrez is the best friend Lenny could ever have. They make each other better people and their friendship is enviable. Gutierrez is a different person after coming back from New York and Lenny has noticed.

The pope is dismissing Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) as his personal assistant. He asks Gutierrez to replace her, but Gutierrez turns it down. Gutierrez confesses he is gay and immediately starts urging the pope to change his opinion that homosexuals are pedophiles. Though hypocritical, Lenny wants to make an exception for Gutierrez’s sexuality and wants him to accept the offer. “If I ask you to be my personal secretary, am I not already revising my own beliefs about homosexuality?” he asks Gutierrez.

Lenny knows how Gutierrez was apparently abused as a child and has known about his sexual preference for a while. Lenny confesses that he paired Gutierrez to the Kurtwell case because of the abuse in his youth.

Speaking of Kurtwell, he’s in the Vatican. Gutierrez gives info on how Kurtwell had an affair with a woman and she had his son (the guy with the orange wig).

Sister Mary

Like God, Lenny apparently knows everything — including Sister Mary’s secret that she is an orphan. All she’s wanted to do is be with children and, because of that, he sends her to Africa to take over Sister Antonia’s position. While they converse, Lenny’s wearing a classic black priest outfit. Even with all the elaborate outfits he’s worn this season, it’s the most chilling and symbolic of them all. Also, is it weird to say Jude Law looks fine in all-black priest attire?

One of the most heart-wrenching dialogue-free scenes is Voiello’s face while he’s watching Sister Mary fly away in a helicopter. She presses her hands against the glass to dramatize their separation even further.

Lenny’s childlike fate

The pope has to give a tour for a third grade field trip, and he is dreading it. Lenny’s apparent “joke” is that when it’s raining, they are the tears of Jesus, which means the children must have done something wrong. The children start crying and Sofia ushers them away for lunch.

In the museum at the Vatican, Lenny sits on the bench staring at a painting of a woman with a beard nursing a baby. Lenny frequently returns to the odd painting from in previous episodes. A child is next to him and they have a discussion about how we “all settle for what we get.” Even when Lenny claims he thinks children are disappointing, he bonds with the third-grade class.

The fate of Kurtwell

Cardinal Ozolins returns from Ketchikan, Alaska, where Lenny had sent him at the beginning of the series. His hands are frostbitten and scarred from the outdoor masses.

Kurtwell states his “case” to Lenny about his abuse and why he has done the things he has done. Kurtwell’s case is pathetic, but Lenny says to Kurtwell he may return to New York City if his finger can land on Long Island on the globe in Lenny’s office. He puts his finger, which is shaking, on the globe and lands in, you guessed it, Ketchikan. “Your disease has deceived you,” Lenny says. Regardless of if Kurtwell should have had an actual trial, like say in a real court, his banishment was satisfying.


So, Lenny decides to spend Christmas in Venice. It’s his last attempt to find his hippie parents, which Voiello points out possibly haven’t been seeking out Lenny because of their differing ideologies.

He speaks in contradictory pairs to make his point about how God is complicated. Fortunately, he makes the case that all we have to do is smile. The crowd cheers, and he looks at the smiles of the crowd through a tiny telescope that Gutierrez gave him. He actually sees his parents in the absurdly large crowd and, like in his youth, they walk away from him.

He collapses behind the podium — it looks like he is having a heart attack of some kind. The clouds above him suspiciously look like the outline of the Virgin Mary. It’s hard to tell if this is the end of our young pope and if he’s embracing death.

Season two?

So, will there be a season two? Regardless, the first season feels complete and will be considered one of the most notable series of 2017.

Critics — and social media users — definitely threw a few jabs at the series before it premiered in the United States, such as calling Pope Pius XIII the Frank Underwood of Catholicism or commenting on how only a network like HBO would cram sex (of which there was seldom) and the Catholic Church into a series.

Writer and director Paolo Sorrentino had a vision, and his vision didn’t include provoking emotion through shallow shock value. The series challenged ideas and views through its wonderful visuals and characters.

Plot doesn’t have to be the only avenue for a great show. Like film, TV also deserves great lighting, symbolism in costume design and attention to visual detail. The Young Pope told us to stop asking what everything means and to simply reflect on what’s happening in front of us — kind of like religion, in a way.

The series had a $45 million budget, making The Young Pope Italy’s most expensive TV production ever. As a limited series, The Young Pope was an experiment with only a one-season contract to see if it was deemed a success by the network’s standards. Fear not, for HBO, Sky and Canal Plus are all locked in for a second season, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The news was announced in October when the show premiered in Europe.

Stuff worth mentioning

  • Lenny has a vision in a room full of past popes. They are all dressed in their garb from their historical time periods. Lenny asks all the men in the room for wisdom. A man, who may or may not be St. Peter, the first pope in Roman Catholicism, raises his hand and says the cheesiest thing: “In the end it is necessary to believe in yourself more than God.” Lenny is incredulous about the answer.
  • Voiello won’t even tell Girolamo about what happened with Tonino Pettula.
  • The Italian Prime Minister is postponing legislation on removing the taxes from the Vatican. Sofia is fascinated how the pope made him change his mind.

Rating: 4.5/5


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