The Young Pope S01E05 Recap: 'Fifth Episode'

For much of The Young Pope's "Fifth Episode", I got the impression that we were seeing a different kind of show. It seemed as if Paolo Sorrentino had suddenly decided to shed much of the show's style in favour of a more grounded, familiar kind of character study. For much of this episode, and frankly more than any episode prior, it felt as if we were finally getting to the bottom of what makes Lenny Belardo, now Pius XIII, tick. Not that this really seemed like a complicated question to answer at this point, considering that we already knew his parents had abandoned him and that he grew up instead with a couple of questionable father figure in the curmudgeonly, jealous Cardinal Spencer, but considering that his actions so far in the series have been shrouded in a certain layer of mystery, settling down and telling the story of Lenny Belardo the main may help to contextualize his mindset as Pius XIII, the pope.

To be honest, I'm not sure if we actually learned anything new, or whether or not Lenny's actions as pope are even supposed to line up with who he used to be as a man. As Pius XIII, he is insistent about his intentions to close the public off from the church and to focus on creating a devoted base of subjects open completely to God's love, regardless of whether or not it dwindles the its numbers. You can possibly surmise that his views on how to manage a church stem from how he was raised (and subsequently abandoned) as a child, but I don't think they necessarily have to be correlated. Lenny appears to be a completely different man at different times, depending on who he's with and what he's doing. The Lenny you see scolding Cardinal Voiello is not the same Lenny you see hanging out with his friend Andrew, or seeking council from Sister Mary, or seeking the approval of Cardinal Spencer, or spending time with Gutierrez or Ester. He appears to be someone who can adapt to any given situation, someone who never actually shows his entire hand.

Lenny does actually reveal something about himself in this episode, something which has a profound effect on it, more than any time we spend with him or any flashback to when he was abandoned by his parents. Early in the episode, he tells Ester that he's incapable of loving anyone other than God, because he doesn't see people as worthy of love, but also because he's afraid of what happens when love isn't reciprocal. He's disenfranchised because of his abandonment issues, and that facilitated his devotion to God and the church, and possibly even shaped his opinion on how an entire faith should be governed. That's a deep moment and a great scene, as he casually explains this to Ester while she forces herself on him at Voiello's insistence, but it also serves a practical purpose, as it inspires Voiello to stop his draconian crusade to catch Lenny in a compromising act and shows him that Lenny is truly devoted, even if he may question his methods.

It saves the viewers from too much of something we've already seen before. Voiello's a cool character and his crusade has led to some great scenes, but I don't think I want to see that for an entire season or longer. It was already starting to feel satirical in certain instances. This way he abandons his plans, allows the show to turn and focus on other things, but that tension between him and the pope remains. Lenny already had little reason to trust Voiello, now he resents him for trying to take him down with petty political ploys. As he explains to the Cardinal, Voiello underestimated how savvy a politician Lenny himself was, and how his status as a young pope puts him several steps ahead.

Not only is the drama with Voiello more or less thrust to the side, so are pretty much all of Lenny's conflicts. He forgives Gutierrez for his alcoholism, he tells Ester he isn't interested... it allows the show to move on to something else, as we see in the final scene the Pope and his Cardinals in full regalia confront the man from last week's episode who threatened to start his own church if the pope didn't acknowledge what he was doing. It was a great, hilarious moment to end the episode and a taste of how the show might move on to the next phase. Sorrentino uses this episode as a transition.

But not before one final, loud, bright, brazen display of the style that made us fall in love with this show in the first place. Lenny finally decides to address his cardinals, and he does so exactly in the same manner in which he addressed the people in the square earlier in the season; loudly, angrily, and reiterating his views on his his church should be run. I'm not sure what my favourite part here was; the fact that he gets carried in, the tiny prop gold door, the long, uncomfortable stretch of time it takes for everyone to kiss his feet, and how he forces Voiello to do it, or how he gets ready to an LMFAO song. Either way, it's all delightful, and a nice break from what seemed to be a fairly normal episode up to the point where he receives his tiara.

Honestly, up to the point where that LMFAO song hits this episode was kind of boring, even if it seemed necessary in some regards. Everything after lifts it back up to the levels we've come to expect from the show. The Young Pope's fifth episode gets 8 papal tiaras out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • A high class escort gets the pope's picture while he's off gallivanting with Andrew. That's bound to become a thing, isn't it?
  • The scene where Lenny fucking wrecks Voiello and tells him he knows about the blackmail is maybe the most uncomfortable thing I've seen on TV in a while.
  • "Ecumenicalism. Been there, done that."
  • "The reason for this visit is that you have been busting our balls."