The Young Pope S01E04 Recap: 'Fourth Episode'

With its "Fourth Episode", The Young Pope felt, for the first time, somewhat normal. Don't get wrong, it's still one of the weirdest, most unpredictable shows in recent memory, but as we approach the halfway point of the new HBO drama's first season, we should all know what we're getting, and that sense of familiarity seems to be reflected in certain aspects of Paolo Sorrentino's writing.

The bulk of this episode focuses on the intrigue set up in the last episode between Ester and Pope Lenny, as their relationship continues to flourish. A wrench is quickly thrown in the works when Cardinal Voiello quickly pounces on Ester and recruits her to seduce the Pope, using her affair with Valente as leverage. Of course it doesn't work, but it might have forced Ester to get closer to Lenny when she wouldn't have, as she spends more time in this episode and even asks him to teach her how to pray, before it culminates with Lenny stumbling upon her house as she attempts fornication with her husband, with Lenny outside praying for the sterile couple to conceive a baby.

It's a powerful scene perfectly befitting the weird tone of this show, blending the shocking imagery of what Ester is thinking about while her husband unceremoniously bangs her against the window, with Lenny forcefully praying mere feet from them, on his need and to the point of tears. In fact it's worth the contrivance of what this arc is trying to sell us, that anyone would believe Lenny would so easily give in to this kind of temptation. It's not Voiello temping the Pope, it's Sorrentino mocking his audience fairly blatantly. Which is especially interesting considering how out of its way the show went in episode three to have Voiello set up Gutierrez by blackmailing him to do his bidding with the Pope as well, a twist that doesn't bear fruit in this episode.

All that begs an interesting question; who is the bigger mystery on this show, Lenny or Voiello? Lenny puts up a rugged exterior, presents extreme conservative views and opens up to almost no one, but it's fairly clear that he's simply a conflicted man. One who learned to be tough from his time with Cardinal Spencer, but had a loving upbringing from his more upbeat Sister Mary. He struggles with the identity of being a young pope and of satisfying the legacy of a father figure in Spencer who wants nothing to do with him and even openly resents him. We don't know what Lenny actually wants, but I don't know if it's that hard to figure out who he might be.

Voiello, however, confounds me to a more extreme degree. Unlike how it is with Lenny, we know what he wants; he wants power and maintained order within the church. But for a powerful character in what's supposed to be a smart show, his methods are questionable. He's good at getting into people's apartments, sure, but once in he uses very basic blackmail to manipulate them, and forces the most inane, contrived plots onto Lenny. There's no way he couldn't know that Lenny wouldn't give in to Ester, not this way and this early. And what is Gutierrez really going to tell him? Does he really think that Lenny isn't going to find out about all of this.

It makes me wonder if Voiello is a smart-sounding idiot, or if he's playing 4D underwater chess underneath all our noses. What really set me off is Lenny's outrageous suggestion that, under his regime, they should excommunicate every gay person from the church in order to indiscriminately prevent any future cases of pedophilia, like the one he winds up sending a frightened and reticent Gutierrez to New York to investigate. Voiello is the person in the room, and the same night Lenny receives word from his buddy at the confessional that many priests are suddenly sharing their (heterosexual) exploits with him in great detail. Obviously Voiello spread the rumour, but the question is whether Lenny shared this plan with him to test him, or if Voiello knows he has the confessional's ear and is doing this to taunt him.

The reason this all feels regular, or familiar, for lack of a better term, may be because it feels as if the show is now settling in to this idea of a cat and mouse game between the Cardinal and the Pope. The central premise of this show is, after all, the Cardinal trying to maintain order over an unpredictable leader. This sense of familiarity doesn't come without its fair share of weird twists and turns, culminating in a completely out of place scene where the Prime Minister of Greenland dances to a song underscored by facts about her country. So The Young Pope is keeping us on our toes, it's just a matter of deciphering what's supposed to be the misdirect.

This Fourth Episode is somewhat of a step back into a more familiar pace, and for that, it gets 8 meniscus problems out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • I don't know if I'm smart enough to make a point out of this on the fly, but I found it interesting that this episode gave us several stages of life: birth (the baptism scene), death (the Sister's sister funeral) and even the aforementioned conception.
  • Speaking of the Sister, there's a scene early on that might be the weirdest one of the show so far, as she shares a conversation with the pope in a series of closeups mixed oddly because of the Sister's malfunctioning hearing aid.
  • Another scene that's seemingly setup for the future: a local man with stigmata heals people and tries to get the Pope's attention in a TV interview, under threat of starting his own church.
  • The baptism scene is almost like something out of the sitcom. Lenny has a very standard reply to each child's parents, saying "she takes after you", until he happens across an adopted black child to white parents and has to make excuses.
  • "I know I'm incredibly handsome, but please try and forget about that."
  • "Sorry, I was about to laugh but i stopped myself because I have a certain class."