The Young Pope S01E03 Recap: 'Third Episode'

The degree to which The Young Pope has turned out to be prescient in its first three weeks is somewhat alarming. It's a show about a mysterious outsider's unlikely and nearly inexplicable rise to power, and his dizzying display of seemingly random actions and decisions made in the early days of his papacy. If that weren't reminiscent enough of this past presidential election in the United States, there are even more bizarre and specific ways which the show lines up with what Americans are currently facing at the beginnings of a trump presidency.

For example, Pope Lenny's first address at the end of last week's episode was downright prophetic in mimicking trump's dreary, stormy inaugural address which spoke of such things as "American carnage". This week, Pope Lenny had his right-hand woman, Sister Mary, deliver a confrontational statement at a press conference while taking no questions, which was reminiscent of trump's press secretary Sean Spicer's first address to the White House press corps this past Saturday. On a more thematic level, Silvio Orlando's character Cardinal Voiello (AKA Cardinal Moleman) reminds me of a Paul Ryan type, the establishment politician used to running things his way, now faced with a new, unpredictable and uncontrollable superior and the decision of either going to extreme lengths to undermine his boss or bow to his petulance.

Never mind the idea that Pope Lenny is a young man who inexplicably holds extreme conservative views about how the Catholic Church should operate, views which haven't been seen in literal centuries in the Papacy, all while the church itself has been steering itself to a more liberal place. Lenny's character on a more general level is mystifying, contradicting himself from one scene to another, unsure of his own beliefs and enigmatic to the very core. In one of the first scenes in this week's episode, Lenny confides in Monsignor Gutierrez that he believes himself to be divine and doesn't feel like he needs to even live by the ten commandments, that he believed he would become the pope, only to beg for forgiveness in the next scene. Similar to how Lenny acts differently in front of everyone than he does to James Cromwell's Cardinal Spencer, nearly groveling at his feet in a previous episode (although by the end of this week's edition he regains his confidence and rejects him). This unpredictable, child-like behaviour is most certainly reminiscent of the current American president as much as anything else is on this show (although, ironically, Lenny abhors the limelight and wishes to avoid public appearances).

These things may just be bizarre coincidences, but considering the revelation in this "Third Episode" from Cardinal Moleman that Lenny's ascension to the papacy was not a political machination or an effort to spite Spencer, but instead the "breath" of the Holy Spirit, I'm more inclined to use this as an opportunity to applaud the show's writer/creator/director Paolo Sorrentino. The Young Pope has been in development since at least 2014, and was likely conceived of before that (while the show itself has already aired in full in Europe). While that doesn't make a connection to trump impossible, it does make it unlikely. trump has been at the forefront of an "alt-right" political movement for eight years, ever since he got into a public fight with President Obama over his birth certificate. And such extreme right wing movements have been brewing in many European countries for years now. In all likelihood, Sorrentino is making a commentary about these kinds of movements, these kinds of backwards beliefs that often hide in plain sight and wind up gaining pervasiveness in a surprising fashion, and these shockingly accurate parallels to trump's presidency are nothing more than divine coincidences, coincidences that unfortunately came to pass to late on this side of the Atlantic.

And I don't really know if it makes it better or worse that the whole thing is stylized to an almost satirical degree. Between the unorthodox cinematography, the use of both electronic and rock music in scenes that don't seem as if they need it, or the general, not-so-subtle winks at the camera that pop up in every episode, The Young Pope winds up being just as surreal as real life has become, making it even harder to distinguish between Sorrentino's intent and mere coincidence.

All I can really say is that, somehow, The Young Pope has become the most relevant show of 2017, despite a ridiculous and seemingly outdated concept. Similar to how The People Vs. OJ Simpson swept the nation around this time last year, examining a 20-year-old case and extracting from it the aspects most relevant to today's society. The Catholic Church isn't the power that it once was, the show itself is willing to admit that. Where it extracts relevance is in its commentary on power structures, politics, and the dangers of demagoguery, gaslighting and other such mind games in the name of power or a divine entity, or in its prescience in speaking to the rejection of liberalism and the norm, for the sake of change.

These things become especially clear in the third episode, as, among other things, Lenny uses the threat of self-destruction in order to gain information from Cardinal Moleman as well as to drive him to the brink, as he breaks down and swears at the pope for his actions. Voiello's intentions to keep things the way they are also become clearer, as he meets with other Cardinals and sets into motion a plan to extort information out of Gutierrez as well (arguably the most traditional aspects of this show's storytelling). And we get more of Cardinal Spencer's inner battle between his broken ambition and jealousy, and his innate desire to service God.

I can't really explain the prescience and importance of The Young Pope any better than that. But I can say that, after three episodes, it continues to be compelling and delightful for many more reasons than just the memes that have come out of it, or its ridiculous premise. Whether or no that has anything to do with trump or some other kind of political commentary is debatable. The show's ability to be entertaining isn't, so "Third Episode" gets 9 expensive carpets out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • In what seems to be table setting for future episodes, Esther (the guard's wife) meets with Lenny (who faints in his arms, inexplicably), and we find out she had an affair with Valente.
  • I love the use of different title sequences each episode, and this one is arguably the best one yet, with Lenny walking along a string of old paintings as a star crashes through all of them before a meteor knocks down an old pope (to the tune of "Watchtower" by Devlin). Because there's a young pope now.
  • Voiello scolding a child while he watches clips of Maradonna on Youtube: "Do you know how much that carpet costs? Twice the GDP of your entire country."
  • "All you had to do was smile and greet the crowd." "I don't smile and I don't greet."