The Young Pope Recap: Lady Madonna

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Ludivine Sagnier as Esther, Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII. Photo: HBO
The Young Pope

The Young Pope

Episode 4 Season 1 Episode 4
Editor's Rating 3 stars

We open in the Italian countryside, where a high-strung man with apparent stigmata clutches his bloody hands onto a sheep he proclaims is the Madonna. A small crowd of disabled people and their caregivers are present. This should go great. Our boy Pius loves to share the spotlight almost as much as he loves the laity!

In a briefly jarring turn, we see the Young Pope giving Communion to a nun; this is the first time we’ve seen him perform any of the sacraments. This particular nun, Sister Suree, a convert from Sri Lanka, is weeping over her dying sister. Later in the episode, the sister will die, and when our nun asks to go to the funeral, Pius will say “Don’t go chasing …” and I TRULY THOUGHT he was going to say “waterfalls” but instead he went with “the dead,” which seems harsh for just proposing to attend your own sister’s funeral. But what do I know? I’m not the pope.

Cardinal Voiello, having first begged God to stop his vengeful and vindictive hand (yo, Voiello, don’t blame God for lurking among a man’s stuffed animals in order to blackmail him for his secret drinking!) has now summoned our weird-ass beloved Esther to him. Esther, as per usual, looks like she’s 20 seconds away from having a vision of the Blessed Virgin OR ripping her shirt off, and it seems like the latter is what Voiello is hoping for. He tells her that he knows she was humping Valente. We don’t see what exactly he demands, but you don’t need to be Saint Augustine of Hippo to know he wants her to fuck the pope.

Cut to the papal gardens, where things seem to be moving along on that front. (I do not actually think Pius has any interest in sealing the deal with Esther, for the record, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t well aware of the majority of Voiello’s irons in the fire before Voiello himself was.) As a card-carrying member of the Beautiful People, Pius has some advice for his fellow beautiful person about how it’s not our fault we’re so beautiful, etc., etc. We get it, Young Pope. You’re hot. He swiftly transitions to the subject of her inability to conceive, and she LITERALLY says, “You’re so profound.”

Across the garden, it transpires that Voiello’s lil’ Wormtongue dude Father Amatucci can read lips, and is translating the pope’s highly G-rated advice to “pray to Mary about it” to a VERY disappointed Voiello. Did he think the Pope was gonna say, “I got the baby juice you need right here, mama?”

The high-comedy mark of this episode is the parade of babies set to be grudgingly baptized by a clearly bored and annoyed Pius, who dutifully mutters, “(s)he takes after you” to each mother, however obviously inaccurate the sentiment may be. While Gutierrez smiles beatifically at each infant as though seeing the Christ Child incarnated afresh in every baby, Pius looks like he wants to dropkick them through the windows of St. Peter’s.

We’re getting a real good madonna-whore contrast going with Esther and Sofia, the latter having invaded the pope’s private bathroom to freshen her lipstick. The former could DESPERATELY use some lipstick, for the record, and I hope they get a Sandy-Rizzo friendship happening. It’s a mystery to me as to why Sofia is around at all, since Pius has made it clear that no marketing will be forthcoming. Doesn’t she have plates to sell? With her breathy air of confidence, Sofia clues Pius in to the presence of both the prime minister of Greenland AND her rather dishy, openly gay aide, who is constantly surrounded by a small herd of entranced priests and cardinals.

Pius opens his audience with the prime minister with a real showstopper: “I know, I’m incredibly handsome. But please, let’s try to forget about that.” She has brought him a large halibut, which is not really up there with a kangaroo, but I guess it’s a sparsely populated country and we can’t expect that caliber of gift. He gets RIGHT into it, comparing the lackluster number of Catholics in Greenland to Native Americans in North America. “Confined to reservations,” the man says! SHE’S GONNA TAKE BACK YOUR HALIBUT IF YOU DON’T WATCH YOUR MOUTH, SON.

Moving on. In keeping with the show’s nod to actual religiosity, Pius’s mini-prayer lesson for Esther is … actually pretty good? It’s some good prayer advice! It’s also mostly an excuse for Esther to look all doe-eyed and sanctified in his general direction. This is not a woman who seems like a prayer novice, but if you’re looking to beef up your prayer life — and obviously you’re watching The Young Pope with an eye to beefing up your prayer life — it’s a decent place to start. Of course, Esther IMMEDIATELY starts saying, “There’s someone I would really like to give my beauty to” and Pius is like, “Yeah, keep that part between you and the Blessed Virgin, sweetheart.” Then she’s praying topless in the next scene. You know, #JustEstherThings.

In one of his weird gestures that might be sweet or might be a way to twist the knife, Pius has shipped the body of our nun’s sister from Sri Lanka so that she might be buried at the Vatican. It gives him an opening to bitch the poor woman out for crying. THERE’S NO CRYING IN CATHOLICISM, YOU WEAK-ASS EXCUSE FOR A NUN.

Voiello, still hoping against hope that Pius will eventually get around to his address to the cardinals, asks about the Kurtwell investigation. The response he gets is … interesting: “Let’s root out all the homosexuals and expel them.” I guess you could do that! I’m sure there’ll be someone left to turn the lights on! Voiello, being the voice of reason, is like, “Uh, pedophilia and homosexuality are two very different things,” which is pretty much How Things Work 101, and follows it up with, “Do you know how many corpses will litter the ground if you pick this fight?”

Pius, coolly: “Two-thirds of the clergy.”

“No homo!” Voiello hastens to assure him. He ain’t gonna be a corpse littered on the ground, not our scheming mole boy. In short order, this little exchange will result in Tomasso hearing a great number of very, very butch confessions from priests who are definitely not gay, not at all, not ever, not once, and are all about having sex with women. Hypothetically.

Back at Casa Esther, Voiello has just straight-up broken into her apartment, offering her A+ seduction material like “act like the Virgin Mary.” (Note: This is not good advice.) He’s like, “No, no, it’s cool, this Young Pope is a slut, it’s fine,” to her protestations.

Meanwhile, our stigmata hustler from the opening scene, Tonino Pettola, is doing a TV interview with a very peppy presenter. He sweetly, gently, and pointedly calls out the Vatican for ignoring him. We’ll see how Pius chooses to respond. Obviously, he’ll respond. He’s the responding kind.

My favorite Pius is “wandering the papal gardens at night while wearing a skintight white sweatsuit” Pius, so BOY am I in for a treat. We get another kangaroo sighting (“Jump! Jump!” orders Pius) and he spies Esther getting pile-driven by her husband against the window, at which point he uses a similarly commanding tone to order the Virgin Mary to put a baby in her.

This is, of course, an episode completely and utterly devoted to the Madonna, a theme which peaks as Gutierrez, shit-scared by Pius’s decision to send him to New York to oversee the Kurtwell investigation, has a new vision of the same incarnation of Mary who visited him as a child and sparked his calling. It lands 60 percent of the time, and 40 percent of the time it’s like a neon sign blaring, “WOMEN ARE BOTH MADONNAS AND WHORES AND PIUS LIKES BOTH OF THESE THINGS AND ALSO NUNS ARE MADONNAS AND WIVES NEED TO BE WHORES.”

Utterly without flaw, however, is the final image of the episode: The prime minister of Greenland exuberantly dancing in Pius’s fantasies as facts about Greenland play over the screen.

The Young Pope Recap: Lady Madonna