The Young Pope Recap: Love Thyself

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Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII. Photo: HBO
The Young Pope

The Young Pope

Episode 3 Season 1 Episode 3
Editor's Rating 3 stars

We begin with Pius chilling on the Basilica roof, as he continues to torment his confessor by unburdening his soul. Poor Tommaso, the Piglet of the Vatican, always hoping for the best in his new pontiff. He’s all, “Oh, you prayed during the conclave, that’s good! That’s something!” mere moments before Pius blurts out, “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT. I DON’T CARE ABOUT LOVING MY NEIGHBOR. I just said, ‘GOD, NOT THEM, ME! NOT THEM, ME!’ And now I’m the pope.”

I need a second. I just need a second to regroup.

Just to keep us on our toes, this lil’ speech is a bridge too far even for our boy Lenny, and we will shortly see him on his knees beside his bed, smoking and asking God to forgive him for being such a shit, for being THE WORST. He’s begging God to say something, anything. The dreadful silence of God is a real problem, man! Mother Teresa, after claiming to experience the very tangible presence and voice of God in her youth, spent 50 years phoning it in without hearing anything back from the big guy. I’m not sure how Pius would do with 50 years of being ghosted by the divine.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Spencer roams around his home like a jungle cat, yelling at Voiello for having allowed Pius to happen. Voiello, however, has some terrifying and/or hopeful news, which I do not buy for a SECOND: Despite rumors to the contrary, he had nothing to do with Young Lenny winning votes during the conclave. It was the Holy Spirit in the library with the candlestick! Spencer is like, “Listen, buddy, are you crazy? Do you believe in that stuff?” which leads me to think he might not have been such a great pope himself, had things gone that way. On the flip side, Voiello is starting to seem pretty endearing. I, too, have watched Maradona supercuts on YouTube to soothe myself during times of strain. The other cardinals think he should resign as a Big Statement, to which Voiello agrees sweetly and immediately and then proceeds to say absolutely nothing about to Pius.

We also get to enjoy our latest rendition of “Pius hauls a cardinal offstage with a giant hook” as he LITERALLY SPINS A GLOBE and banishes Cardinal Ozolins to a charming town in rural Alaska. “I … I think we actually landed on San Francisco?” the unfortunate Ozolins pleads after blindly pointing a finger near the Bay Area.

Nah. Go buy a parka, buddy. You’re Sarah Palin’s problem now.

From there, Pius decides to tap a very reluctant Sister Mary to hold a press conference, which further bolsters her uneasy alliance with Voiello. The two of them aren’t united against Pius — not by any means, to be frank — but both want to translate his actions to each other, and by extension, to the faithful. Compare that chilliness to Mary’s meeting with Spencer, with whom she is far more candid: His wallowing is childish bullshit, she says. If he wants to influence Lenny, he has to talk to him. James Cromwell’s performance has been pretty one note so far (that note being “petulant”) and we’ll see if he blossoms in the role or not.

Sister Mary’s press conference opens with the fullest possible litany of the Young Pope’s new titles, just in case you were concerned he might want to roll back his desire to be less accessible to the body of the Church. Moreover, he reaffirms his “total indifference to your doubts and criticism.” No delays. No compromises. He’s got a plan, he’s moving forward with it. “What plan?” a reporters asks. SISTER MARY OUT. SISTER MARY IS NOT HERE FOR YOUR QUESTIONS.

Spencer, having listened to Sister Mary, extends Pius an invitation to call on him that evening. The fact that Pius is willing to show up to be yelled at really does demonstrate he has Daddy Issues, which is the first step toward being a real live boy. IT HEARTENS ME. Because Spencer is the only person to whom Pius feels it necessary to explain himself, we also start to get little glimpses of his murky plan to return his people to God. “Absence is presence.” Suffering is the conduit to faith. Etc., etc. Spencer is like, “Yeah, but not all Catholics are tiny whiny babies who miss their hippie loser parents, you need to get your ass in gear.” Also, he’s drunk. Lenny is visibly deflated by this audience, which is a first.

Esther, the wife of the Swiss Guard we met in the second episode, has a brief encounter with Father Valente (the most doe-eyed of the papal assistants), who grabs her boobs longingly while she stares at him with the stony indifference I’ve already come to love about her. He’s come to bring her to Pius, who saw her standing like a Weeping Angel in St. Peter’s Square, filled with adoration. If there’s one thing Pius is running short on right now, it’s adoration, so when Esther says, “I loved your homily,” it’s like he’s seeing a sunrise for the first time … except he immediately transitions into BUT WHAT DID YOU LOVE ABOUT IT SPECIFICALLY and then collapses backwards into her arms, like a glorious Pietà tableau.

The ensuing dream sequence has Pius chasing his hippie parents as they hop a riverboat out of town. Okay Sorrentino, we get it. It’s a thing. Happily, he’s back on his feet and demanding to know the whereabouts of his papal tiara in a matter of seconds. Less interesting is the prospect of baptizing 90 kids (“Must I subject myself to such torture?”) and appointing someone to oversee the investigation of Archbishop Kurtwell, who has been accused of child sexual abuse.

Voiello’s “Holy Father, the Church tends to extend a certain amount of importance to baptism” response is one of the best gentle bitch-outs of his tenure thus far, followed up shortly by “Holy Father, you are as handsome as Jesus, but you are not actually Jesus.” Pius gonna Pius, so of course he says he’s probably MORE handsome, which is perfectly in keeping with early Church teachings that Jesus was kind of an uggo. (See also: the Prophet Isaiah’s “no beauty that we should desire Him.”) And there you have it: Jude Law is cuter than Jesus.

Having established our hotness pecking order, Pius is like “Okay, Voiello, tell me RIGHT NOW how you made me pope or I’ll punt you to someplace so bad you’ll beg me for rural Alaska.” Voiello starts off with his patented “Well, the Holy Spirit … ” line, but crumples like a paper bag and offers, “Look, it was meant to be a compromise.” He says Pius was supposed to be a bridge between the liberal and conservative voices in the College of Cardinals. You can just imagine how well that’s been going so far.

“FUCK!” Voiello yells, his mole popping with indignation. “YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO LISTEN TO MY ADVICE AND SPENCER’S! NOT LIKE THIS!” Pius lets Voiello think he’s about to be deposed and excommunicated and set on fire, so the poor wobbly man wanders off to seek advice from Spencer, of all people, where he finds the suddenly magical realist Cardinal Caltanissetta holding up the weight of God with one quavering hand. FIX IT, VOIELLO.

In what I must admit is a satisfying turn of events, Spencer shows up to beg Pius for 1) his forgiveness, and 2) the position of Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy that got yanked out from under Cardinal Assente in the previous episode. Unfortunately, no amount of groveling will suffice now. Spencer is lucky Pius didn’t stub a cigarette out on him.

As Pius and Gutierrez stroll through the gardens of the Papal Palace, enjoying orange juice freshly squeezed by white-clad nuns, Pius turns the conversation back to Gutierrez’s moment of divine revelation, wishing aloud that this had been his experience. The young Belardo had become a priest “for lack of a better alternative,” words that ring very true as he delivers them. He tells a story of winning over a “homely girl” on the beach in California a week before he entered the seminary, and when Gutierrez asks how he managed it, he demonstrates by juggling oranges. It’s possible that he believes it was the oranges that did it, and not looking like the Archangel Michael on a particularly good day.

What Pius seems to like about Gutierrez, as much as his piety, is his unflappability. Where Tomasso squawks in horror, Gutierrez simply absorbs with patience. It’s a singular treat to see him return to his small room, utterly filled with stuffed animals, where Voiello is lying in wait, stroking a toy fawn as though it were Mr. Bigglesworth. Voiello, who immediately falls down nine rungs in my affection, has ferreted out Guttierez’s quiet alcoholism, with which he will blackmail him for information about the pope. If I were Gutierrez, I would immediately sell out Voiello to Pius, but that’s not his way, it seems. The blackmail certainly adds a lot of pathos to their next conversation, as Guttierez’s basic love and respect for the office contends with his fear and need to extract valuable information for Voiello.

It’s an uncharacteristically soft moment to end on, and I almost felt bad for Pius, so alone while ostensibly surrounded by the body of the Church. Almost. He did just send that guy to Alaska, after all.

The Meditations of Pope Pius XIII:

  • “I’ve always been suspicious of wisdom.”
  • “I was praying so hard I nearly shit my pants.”
  • “I love myself more than my neighbor, more than God.”
  • “Dictate to me, O Lord! I’ve always been good at taking notes! You know that! You know that.”
  • “The only interviews WE give … are to God.”

The Young Pope Recap: Love Thyself