HBO’s The Young Pope is without a doubt one of the best new shows in a young 2017. It’s thought provoking and witty and redefining what we’ve come to expect from an HBO drama. That being said, every show has those episodes that are crucial to the story but still seem to lack excitement. Episodes three and four of The Young Pope were just that, crucial and interesting but still a bit boring.
Sunday’s episode spent most its time examining the means of Lenny’s rise to the papacy. During a scene in which Sister Mary is reading a statement to the media on behalf of the pope, one reporter asks, “Is the pope claiming divine status?” On the surface, this may seem like an absurd thought, but when you look at how unorthodox Lenny becoming pope is (never mind his ultra conservative beliefs), it might not be that far-fetched. Both Spencer and Lenny approach Voiello about the details of the conclave but he can’t seem to keep his stories straight, at first saying Lenny was a compromise and then later admitting he had no control over the outcome. In reality, though, we still don’t know how Lenny became the pope or at least what the cardinals were thinking when they elected him. It will be interesting to see how the show tackles this topic down the road.
What this episode did best, though, was give us a deeper look at Voiello’s character. We already knew he was important and powerful (as well as strange), but this week gave us a better understanding of who he really is. As the secretary of state, his powers and influence have a far reach so it wasn’t surprising when he started looking into Lenny and his past. Even his quirky moments told us a lot about his character, like when he berated a kid for playing with toys on his expensive rug or his obsession with watching soccer videos on YouTube. But his best moment came when Sister Mary asked him if he would ever want to be pope and he responded with, “A pope needs to inspire trust. I inspire the opposite.” Voiello is a very interesting character who is stubborn and controlling but who also knows the ins and outs of the Vatican. In a way, he reminds me of Varys from Game of Thrones. He seems to be the only one who capable of challenging Lenny and his papacy (but not to necessarily claim the position for himself).
In fact, he starts this in episode four when he forces Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) to seduce the pope and challenge his faith. In general, though, Lenny always seems to be in control and we have yet to see Voiello pose a real threat. In reality, he seems to be more of a punchline for Lenny at this point like when he gifts Lenny a vape to replace the cigarettes he has in every scene. All Lenny can do is scoff.
And, even after we thought we knew who Lenny was, this week’s episodes gave us a deeper look at his character and how vain he really is. For example, while meeting a delegate from Greenland he bluntly states, “I know, I’m incredibly handsome but please, let’s try to forget about that.” Similarly, his lack of excitement towards baptizing children and his lack of compassion towards a grieving Suree makes you wonder if Lenny is the one who lacks the ability to inspire trust. Will this be his ultimate downfall? An arrogant tyrant isn’t exactly attractive to the people.
Despite its slow pace, The Young Pope continues to show how deep it really is. Whether it’s the variety in shots or the numerous physical symbols, everything means something. For example, Lenny’s constant but weary glances at his garden kangaroo or the close-up framing and quick cuts between people’s faces are wonderful subtleties from director Paolo Sorrentino. One of the best scenes this week showed Lenny as a child, dressed in his papal robe, running through the streets of Italy after his parents who escape on a boat. But, perhaps the most bizarre and not-so-subtle artistic moment from Sorrentino came at the end of the fourth episode when the prime minister of Greenland was dancing while random facts about the country are displayed across the screen. I can’t help but think of a Tarantino film at certain points of the show.
While episodes three and four of The Young Pope weren’t the most exciting, they were still great follow-ups to the first two. There is still so much to this story that still needs to be discovered and I can’t help but be excited about how deep this story will go.