The Young Pope S01E02 Recap: 'Second Episode'

In the future, when your grandchildren ask you what the most memorable moment of the "Second Episode" of The Young Pope was, you'll probably fall onto one of any number of answers. The one that seems the most obvious is the part where he miraculously commands a kangaroo to do his bidding. Or Pope Lenny's bitter and damning first mass, during which he hides his face and scolds people for not being immersed in God. Even the scenes with the Vatican marketing executive or the cardinal who admits he's gay are viable candidates. The Young Pope, in many respects, is a show about flair, about such big water-cooler moments, and Paolo Sorrentino makes no attempt not to dive head first into that kind of panache. As discussed in our review of the first episode, it's almost as if he was able to anticipate all the memes and Twitter jokes that wound up coming out of the show's premise in recent weeks.

But Sorrentino is proving himself to be a more three-dimensional filmmaker than that. He may play into the comedy, into the outrageousness and the satire, but The Young Pope is about so much more than that. There's a story that's slowly unfurling here, a layered tale about a complicated man who probably shouldn't be pope, but is trying to make the most of his time as the Catholic Church's new leader by being different, even daring in this role. Lenny is a balance between someone who understands the intricacies of papal politics enough to make calculated maneuvers to ensure his position as he finds himself in a sea of people who want to control him, but also someone who never grew out of the stage he was in as a nervous, unloved orphan.

That double-sided nature of its titular character is part of what makes The Young Pope so fascinating. In one fell swoop the show can go from portraying Lenny as this badass who uncovers homosexual cardinals and upheaves decades of marketing strategy to someone who all but grovels at the feet of his mentors in a desperate plea for attention and love. Not only with Sister Mary, as he struggles in this episode to find the right balance of what she is to be to him as his special assistant and winds up being unfortunately callous to her, but also his mentor Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell). Last week we saw that he wasn't taking his pupil's ascension too well, and this week he follows it up by being a complete dick to the pope when he pays him a visit. While Sister Mary adheres to Lenny's wishes to call him your Holiness and be less close to him (after Lenny finds out that people are questioning if Sister Mary is actually the one running th eshow), Spencer doesn't even put up an appearance of respect. He resents Lenny for taking his job from him, even accuses him of playing politics ot undermine him. He refuses to call him any official name and even insults him and calls him out as a petulant child. Lenny denies none of this and doesn't even get angry at Spencer, in fact he even offers him the gay cardinal's job.

And as far as I'm concerned, all of that serves as table setting for those tumultuous final moments. This complex and conflicted individual that has become Pope Pius XIII is dealing with inner demons, with a struggle to find his voice as pope and to be authoritative, with suppressing his need for affection, and the solution he comes up with is to insult pretty much everywhere, inspired by, of all things, a child's drawing. That's sort of brilliant storytelling that transcends any of those so-called badass moments.

So while the aforementioned kangaroo interactions or rousing speeches might be what we all remember, in the quieter parts of this second episode that really stood out to me. Such as Sister Mary welcoming Lenny's childhood friend Andrew, a fellow Cardinal, in a much different way than he did Lenny, as we saw last week. Or the way Lenny practices a very small part of his speech in the mirror. Or the opening montage of everyone's mundane yet still somewhat surreal start to the day, complete with nun soccer.

The fact that this show is about to strike a balance between those two very different kinds of moments is probably what impresses me most about it. The second episode of The Young Pope gets 9 gifted kangaroos out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Also in this episode Sister Mary follows the cardinal to an apartment where he seems to be taking care of a disabled child. His own, perhaps. Later on he admits that he's gong to do some badst.
  • "Time for your snack, Holy Father."