The Young Pope S01E06 Recap: 'Sixth Episode'

After an episode that seemed to want to go to great lengths to humanize Pope Lenny, The Young Pope's "Sixth Episode" found a way to swing in the entirely opposite direction. Providing us with a time jump and a drastic change in both tone and subject matter, this sixth episode gives us Pope Lenny and the church at their most isolated and dogmatic so far.

Through the first half of this show's first season, Pope Pius XIII has been making promises that have concerned those in his immediate surroundings, most notably his desire to return the church to a different time by stressing devotion as opposed to inclusion. This change in policy included strict measures against any kind of behaviour that may be considered depraved, from homosexuality to abortions and even divorce. But our own uncertainty with who Lenny Belardo was as a person, no less a pope, made us question what he actually wanted to go through with. With the question of his character mostly answered with the most recent episode, it was time for him to show us that he truly does mean business.

This sixth episode makes a couple of bold choices, not the least of which is a nine month time jump after only the opening scene, which is itself prophetic of what may have been happening over those nine months. While the cardinals are having breakfast, one of them dies at the table. Instead of rushing to his aid, the cardinals question what he died of, and one of them responds by suggesting that it was the same thing that's slowly killing the church: old age. But instead of injecting the church with the youth that many would argue it needs, Lenny spends those nine months keeping his promises and keeping the church old. And not only is it old, it's bleeding supporters and money. But Lenny insists on doing things his way, and that the tide will eventually turn.

This passage of time allows for the show to set up what seems to be its next big conflict, as a long scene in the middle of the episode has Lenny meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy. Lenny delivers a drastic list of draconian demands, likely serving the purpose of merely antagonizing the progressive PM, as the two spend most of their meeting insulting each other and trying to one up each other. Lenny's coup de grace is threatening to invoke an old statute which forbids Catholic Italians to vote in an election, all while wooing them over with his first public appearance in nearly a year, all in a spiteful bid to cost the PM his election if he doesn't play nice. The PM leaves the meeting and tells the press otherwise, but Lenny thinks that he's bluffing.

This is one of those moments like ones we've discussed before, where Pope Pius XIII is suddenly reminiscent of a certain American politician who rose to power with draconian policies and a certain amount of demagoguery and gaslighting. Of course Lenny differs from trump in that he doesn't like the public eye, and that he actually seems to have a semblance of an intelligence and proficiency for the job that he's doing, but the state of the church after this nine month period makes you wonder if he's truly up for the task, or if we're being wooed by the young pope's bright blue eyes, as he suggests might be the case with the masses themselves.

The other thread this episode follows is the status of that prophet Tonino, who in the nine months since we saw him confronted by the pope and other cardinals at the end of the last episode, has gone missing as he was preparing to found his own church, obsessed with what happened in that meeting. The police meets with Voiello but he'll provide no clear answer as to his whereabouts or if he's had contact with him.

While those were interesting developments, it felt like a lot of setup for a show that's only been on for a handful of weeks. Sorrentino is constantly moving on to different things, and while that certainly should be praised to a certain extent, it also stripped us of some of the things we had become accustomed to with his show. Lenny doesn't really have his usual spats or pow pows with the various priests around the Vatican, Voiello only gets one scene to be peak Voiello, and while we get some off-the-wall things like the pope wearing sunglasses or his he drops a baby (yes, that happened), other than the scene with the PM it even seems like an episode light on Lenny himself.

In fact the most interesting scene of the episode only involves Lenny tangentially, as his ceremony to award the cardinalship to Gutierrez is interspliced with an almost alarmingly graphic three-way bisexual sex scene that his best friend Andrew takes part in, right before Lenny forces Andrew to enforce a strict no-homosexuals policy in recruiting new priests, a policy which directly leads to the death of a young man who was denied.

So Lenny is facing the demise of the church because of his policies, policies that may also incriminate his best friend. And the threats only keep piling up against him. After the time jump, and the shifting of plots, it still seems unclear if he has a grasp on what he's doing. Maybe that's by design, but this is an episode that spent most of its time setting up new threats to a papacy we're still uncertain of, which made for kind of a boring hour, at least by Young Pope terms. That's why this Sixth Episode gets 7.5 dropped babies out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Gutierrez takes one step outside the Vatican and almost gets run over by a Vespa, which seems appropriate.
  • "Don't you find it a burden to take on the responsibility of such risky and unpopular decisions?" "No."
  • "Why do you want to hurt me, captain?" "Because I'm a fan of Inter, your Eminence."