In The Young Pope’s third episode, Lenny—who remains both 2 blessed and 2 stressed—reveals that he has “always been suspicious of wisdom.” That’s an understandable sentiment from a man whose behavior as the new pope all but obliterated conventional wisdom regarding what the papacy even is, and one that reinforced my hunches from the show’s first two episodes: This show doesn’t have much to say, but—like the stunning Italian pop song that plays twice during Episode 4—it’s a lot of fun to listen to.
Though self-indulgence that is message-based can lead to misguided and ultimately ineffective attempts at profundity (have you seen The OA?), self-indulgence stripped of wisdom—perceived or otherwise—appears to be working here. In Episodes 3 and 4, this fictional Vatican once again escapes the weight of its real-life inspiration and acts as nothing more than a gilded loom on which writer/director Paolo Sorrentino can weave his many whimsical (and frequently unpleasant) tapestries.
The first tapestry I’d like to discuss is Lenny’s athleisure. This is a pope who knows the importance of transitioning from day to night, even when night involves nothing but long chats on Vatican balconies and solitary garden walks with your personal kangaroo. When he’s working, he’s got on his best Italian silks. His jewels. His blinding wide-brimmed preacher’s hat. But at night, he drapes himself in thin, comfortable cotton. He wears a hoodie over a t-shirt and zips it all the way up. It’s an inarguably chaste and professional afterhours look (the only skin showing is on his head), but playful enough to suggest that the person underneath is far less divine than he appears during the day. An outfit that whispers, “I know exactly how to make you a believer.”
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This pope is hot, and he knows it. “I know I’m incredibly handsome,” Lenny tells the blushing Prime Minister of Greenland as their strange meeting/gift exchange begins. He gives her a beautiful antique cross, while she gives him a record of Nada singing “Senza Un Perché.” Why? She says it’s a popular song in Greenland, but—like most of this show’s creative decisions—I suspect it’s just because Sorrentino liked the track and felt like using it somewhere. The final shot of Episode 4, in which Lenny imagines the Prime Minister dancing alone to the song, a stunning example of the show’s shallow, auteur-driven whimsy. (It means nothing, but it looks so good.)
But beyond the show’s aesthetics—which, again, are reason enough to watch—we’re finally beginning to dig into the lives of other characters, from their sexual relationships to their devious plans for destroying the Holy Father. The most substantial subplot thus far involves James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, the unhappy old white man whose favorite pastime is growling about how he should have been pope, and Cardinal Angelo, another old white man with a huge mole on his face and a lifetime of guilt in his heart. Angelo eventually reveals that Lenny’s election was meant to be a “compromise”—some middle ground between conservative and progressive ideas. They thought he could be controlled—steered toward whatever direction they saw fit for the church. Whoops!
Because Lenny has proven himself to be both unpredictable and unflappable, Angelo hatches a plot to have him ousted from the church. He confronts Esther, the wife of a Vatican guard who’s cheating on him with a sexy Cardinal, and tells her that A.) he knows she’s committing adultery, and B.) she’d better try to seduce the pope, so he can be outed due to a sex scandal. So far... this doesn’t seem to be working, as Esther is pretty convinced this Lenny is the real deal, and would in no way feel comfortable fucking God’s #1 human, regardless of how hot he may be. I am enjoying this subplot.
Meanwhile, Diane Keaton (who plays Sister Mary, though I’d prefer to just call her Diane Keaton), has been tasked with being Lenny’s press secretary. She’s been tasked with providing little to no information about Lenny to the press, and offering no explanations for his actions when asked for them. In other words, she’s a more intimidating version of Sean Spicer. When a confused member of the press corps says, “We don’t understand who you are,” Diane Keaton narrows her eyes and responds, “I’m Sister Mary.” Though she spent the first two episodes wading uncomfortably in the Vatican waters, Diane Keaton is starting to enjoy this proximity to power. It’s about time.
Oh, did I mention the stigmata? There’s some old Italian man who claims to be afflicted with stigmata, that “miracle” where your palms bleed as though you’ve been crucified even though you definitely haven’t been crucified. He goes on national television asking Lenny to reach out, but Lenny just stares at his TV, takes a long drag of his cigarette and is like, “Yeah... maybe.”
After all, he has better things to do, like act monstrously to everyone on his staff. Papa Zaddy spent the bulk of this week’s episodes doing awful things like expressing a desire to have all homosexuals booted from the church leadership (whether or not they’re celibate), scolding a young nun for mourning the death of her sister (“Believers don’t cry!”), and belittling Cardinal Spencer, who—despite his own shitty attitude—is partly responsible for Lenny’s ascendence. This guy, our young pope, sucks. Whether he’ll transition from anti-hero to full-blown villain is to be determined, but for now he’s toeing the line in captivating fashion.