‘The Young Pope’ Season Finale Recap: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Sebastian Roché as Cardinal Michel Marivaux and Jude Law as Lenny Belardo.

Sebastian Roché as Cardinal Michel Marivaux and Jude Law as Lenny Belardo. Gianni Fiorito/HBO

Drew: Italian radio has either started getting real hyperbolic, or the Vatican has a #fakenews problem, because we open on Lenny listening to an announcer claim “the world has stopped turning” because of Lenny’s love letters.

No like, ACTUALLY stopped turning. Or…..yeah? What do we make of this, Vinnie? HAS the world stopped turning?

Vinnie: I actually LOVE that, in the end, Lenny Belardo turned out to basically be the giant fake octopus alien from Watchmen. Sure, he’s a destructive monster, who may or may not be from outer space, and who most assuredly has slimy tentacles for arms, but he’s also just so undeniably attention grabbing that the entire world put aside war and hate and fear to collectively say “Ha, it IS kind of weird that the Pope wrote love letters. Give us a hug then, North Korea.”

Drew: In talking about The Young Pope with my dad last week, I pointed out the absurdity of the miracles Lenny performed on the show  (like the miracle of being a turbulence terrorist, for example) and dad responded: “Not in the least. Joshua  prayed for the sun to stand still so he could defeat Jericho.”

And his point was, I guess, was “if you’re going to pray for something, make sure it’s an outside the box idea so your wish is distinguished from all the other wishes in God’s Inbox right now.” But Joshua stopping the sun from spinning on purpose has a different moral takeaway than Lenny violating all the known laws of physics that govern us AS A SIDE-EFFECT OF BEING IN THE NEW YORKER.

Vinnie: That’s funny, because in talking with my father about the Young Pope, he told me he never remembers any of the plot because it always puts him to sleep. The lesson there, as in the montage of faces that ends this Young Pope finale, is that it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round. Or to make it stop turning. Or…something. Onward to the recap!

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Drew: Gutierrez is going to be the new personal secretary to the Pope because sister Mary is “moving on.” The former Master of Ceremonies at the Holy See and recent private dick defers, saying it would be hypocritical. Because dun-dun-dun: Gutierrez is himself gay! AND MAN, DOES HE HAVE SOME WORDS FOR LENNY when the Pope offers him a gay loophole clause he’ll just make up right there.

“I don’t subscribe to the exceptions you’d make for me because I don’t subscribe to the rule,” Gutierrez says. “It’s a huge mistake not to accept homosexuals. It’s a huge mistake to compare them to pedophiles the way you do. An unacceptable generalization. How can you, holy father, fail to see? You, the author of those heartbreaking love letters? In pedophilia there is nothing but violence; in homosexuality, there is nothing but love.”

Gutierrez OUT! Mic drop! And then shatters, probably, since it’s not a microphone at all but a commemorative “Caliente Margarita” mug stolen from Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square.

Vinnie: I adore the fact that Gutierrez found the nerve to stand up to Lenny and the bravery to tell the Pope he’s gay, just as much as I find it hilarious that he did so by spending a semester abroad in New York City. It’s like one of those early straight-to-VHS Olsen twin movies was written by Lena Dunham. Gutierrez should write an essay about it–working headline, ‘Gay: Priest in the City’–and submit THAT to The New Yorker. I mean, it won’t get accepted, Gutierrez doesn’t have the same credentials Lenny does, but I do think he’d learn a lot about himself in the process.

Drew: “It Happened to Me: My Homophobic Boss Wanted to Keep Me in the Closet (Where All My Alcohol is).” Lenny, however, isn’t ready to let Gutierrez go. He’s like “duh you are gay, also I know you were molested as a child, that’s why you needed to handle Kurtwell yourself. And now for some of my NEW POPE material: the right motivations can change the world!”

Vinnie: I think at some point, someone in this show should have called Lenny out on his incredible intuition for people’s secrets / possible mind-reading abilities. I mean, just because he’s right, doesn’t mean it isn’t super insensitive that Lenny’s mental flowchart goes from “Is Gay” —-> “Was Sexually Molested as a Child” —-> “Will Be An Effective Pawn in Bringing Down Kurtwell.”

Drew: Right! Who, himself, was molested as a child! So it’s not like you can fix the cycle of abuse by just praying for one dead nun…this is a MUCH thornier dilemma than, you know, deciding who gets clean drinking water in Africa. Oy, Vinnie. I don’t even know. This is the last episode and I still do not know how invested Lenny is in being The Young Pope, or if he believes in god, or if he’ll ever stop sniffing old women to see if they’re his mommy. But maybe it ultimately doesn’t matter if Lenny has been reformed by love (somehow?) or only fake-reformed. Maybe Lenny’s imperiousness and casual cruelty–basically, his most defining character trait after “good juggler” and “walking Oedipal complex”– was ALWAYS a ruse, and he wanted to be the Love Pope THIS WHOLE TIME (as evidenced by his second dream sequence in the pilot, right after the Baby Mountain). Maybe Lenny was only PRETENDING to be a #proudboy and this was part of his master plan all along? Lenny certainly goes full reverse-Yoda on Gutierrez in this scene, encouraging his backbone and telling him “You came back transformed. You learned how to turn your fear into anger. That’s good.”

Vinnie: Yeah, actually, *pushes up glasses, unbuttons suspenders, places $50 eBay bid on lock of Mark Hamill’s hair* that line is basically what you say to someone after they lightsaber the shit out of the Jedi kindergarten class. Which kind of puts this scene into a different, darker light; is Gutierrez the field-mouse really becoming a field-man, or is Lenny sitting there making excellent finger-steeples because he knows Gutierrez is going to come out of this more faithful to him as ever, just like he planned?

Drew: LOL to the Cardinals and Santa Claus taking Lenny up on a “the wisest thing you’ve ever learned” contest. Especially because the resulting admission from a guy I’m 99 percent is St. Nick was “More so than anything, more so than God, you must believe in yourself.”

That’s of course of (a Cherry Coke) Zero help to Lenny, the orphan boy in the school of hard knocks who legit uses the power of prayer to murder people. Telling Lenny to believe in himself is like telling Frank Underwood he should be president, or Walter White that he’s wasted as a high-school teacher: it’s somehow the kind of advice that’s at once terrible AND terribly obvious. These are characters with entitlement issues so intense they border on schizophrenic (and hey, as an observer, can you really tell the difference between the person on the street ranting to God and the person ranting on the street because he’s broke through the fourth wall?They’d both seem cray!), superiority complexes big enough to fill a Trump cabinet meeting, and narcisistic streaks so big Lenny is thinking of wearing it as a new hat. “Believe in yourself” might be good advice for some people, but at least Lenny is self-aware enough to acknowledge the irony of the situation.

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Vinnie: Oh man, I LOVED this, mostly because from the second Cardinal Sandy Claws opened his mouth to offer advice you just knew Lenny was going to toss that shit aside like a newborn baby bearing his name.

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That’s part of what makes Pope Pius XIII one of the most frustrating and fascinating characters on TV right now. Because what could any of those priests said as advice that stubborn-ass Lenny Belardo would have accepted? Other than, like, “swimming naked with your hippy parents is not only normal, but totally A-Okay with Jesus.”

Drew: This one priest, the one in charge of making new saints, I think, is laying it on real thick for Lenny about all the miracles he’s performed. But then makes the grave mistake of also mentioning some good deeds by someone who was NOT Lenny (but also had a thing with smells), leading Lenny to scoff, “That story teaches us that goodness, unless combined with imagination, runs the risk of being mere exhibitionism.” Um…okay? It’s not even clear what he’s saying here; it’s more like one of those flip responses which sounds catchy enough to be an idiom, but is not necessarily true or right or sensical. You know, like a Max Landis tweet.

Vinnie: You know, Max Landis and the Catholic Church have a lot in common, in that they’re both trying to live up to a much more beloved Father while trying to top the one successful thing they wrote a long, long time ago.

But I digress: I’d really like to talk about how Lenny’s biggest accomplishment that warrants sainthood is murdering a woman through prayer. I mean, Sister Antonia totally (maybe) deserved it, but it’s still…murder, correct? This little bit, combined with the way Lenny later deals with Kurtwell, established this idea that is strange but also a FANTASTIC idea for a screenplay, that sometimes the Vatican doles out its own unique brand of Church Justice™. Murder a nun with your bare hands? Probably gonna’ have to answer some questions. Murder a nun halfway across the world by kneeling in a truck-stop parking lot and asking God to do it for you? Saint this man!

Drew: Pope Pius has this inability to comprehend why people do good acts for any other reason than he, arbitrary, has decided to do become a good guy: because it’s good press.

“How true,” says the priest though. “How true.” But then he also convinces Lenny to go to Guatemala to hang out with sick kids who have been miracle-cured, and Lenny’s like “fuck it, I’m already giving this Vatican tour to a bunch of eight-year-olds at noon anyway, so…”

Vinnie: It’s scenes like these where I question what kind of Young Pope fan I am; I can appreciate Paolo Sorrentino’s eye for unique framing and near-perfect lighting. But damn me if I don’t get pure, undiluted joy from watching Jude Law make a room full of schoolchildren cry. It’s the Cardinal Pouches effect: Characters like Esther or Dussolier had intriguing layers and depth, but the kangaroo was a kangaroo, you know?

Drew: Side-note: The Young Pope would be a terrible docent. Instead of taking them around, he makes them stare at the rain and tells them that they’ve been bad for making Jesus cry. Haha, got to hand this one to Lenny, when those kids start crying he pulls out his A+ excuse for everything: “I was joking. Have a sense of humor!” Though he does find that one kid who embodies his youth like that early host prototype of Robert Ford in Westworld.

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Vinnie: “I don’t want to settle for anything anymore, either,” Lenny says to a child, who is definitely just referring to his mother not letting him buy the good Lunchables. 

Fun fact: That painting, The Bearded Woman by Jusepe de Ribera, is real and actually depicts a 17th-century lady who, for reasons unknown, grew a beard. Another fun fact: the Vatican is FILLED with art you’re going to have a hard time explaining to young children. I mean, hell, the priests themselves can’t look at the statues without falling down a lust-hole.

young pope statue The Young Pope Season Finale Recap: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Drew: Lenny’s rainbow campaign even takes the form of his generously putting that exiled-to-Alaska Cardinal back in the fold, saying that his practically gangrene ooze stumps are “like Christ’s hands.” Man, now EVERYONE wants in on this sweet, sweet, Lamb Lenny action.

Vinnie: Of all the people Lenny visits on his Bieber-esque apology tour, THIS guy had the best reason to tell the Pope he can go fuck himself. “Sorry I sent you to an Arctic hellhole because I thought you were boring. I replaced you with a child molester, though, so it’s fine. No, no, Father, I vomited because I don’t feel well, not because your hands look like Freddie Krueger’s nutsack.”

Drew: But Lenny isn’t finished with his like…whatever he’s doing in this episode, “transforming” or what have you…until he deals with Kurtwell. Who, just real quick, gives up the fight and admits that he’s been molesting children ever since he himself was molested at age 12. Lenny seems like he might be merciful, but then asks for a show of faith from the Archibishop: he needs to take his shaking hands and point to New York City on a map.

Guess where he lands instead?

Vinnie: Oh man, this interaction was, as the kids are Tweeting these days, “savage AF.” Dude straight used Kurtwell’s Parkinson’s tremors to punish him. I love a good call-back as much as anyone, so the moment Lenny walked to his Punishment Globe™ I knew Kurtwell was headed to what Google tells me is a real place: Ketchikan, Alaska.

Overall, it’s kind of a bummer that Kurtwell was set up as this monumental plot-point but turned out to be simply an awful, awful man who is terrible at blackmail but, admittedly, does a spot-on impression of me having a case of the Mondays.

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Drew: Wait, even BETTER is that he essentially sells his spiritual mother on Sister Antonia’s Africa gig even though it sounds JUST AS HEINOUS, IF NOT MORE SO, THAN LIVING IN ALASKA. And man, I love me some Diane Keaton, but please tell me Lenny doesn’t think that one white lady is going to fix all the problems of a third-world country just because she’s finally allowing you to call her ‘Ma.”

Vinnie: Yeah, for as ruthless and blunt this show has often been, this finale spent a lot of time cutting characters out of Lenny’s life as neatly as possible. “Thank you for reading my mind and deciding my life-long dream was to dance with children in Africa,” Sister Mary says, basically.

“No problem, birth-mother. My life might actually be a little easier if you get eaten by a lion,” Lenny responds, basically.

Drew: Real quick now: we find out Voiello does know what happened to Tonino Pettola, and the answer is probably, you know, Murder by Pope, but he’s also not going to tell anyone, not even his buddy Girolamo. He’s learned his lesson: snitches get stitches. And also, he was totally crushing on Sister Mary. I hope the two of them and his mole end up in Africa, very happy together.

‘I hoped Sister Mary was going to pull off a last-second, rom-com return to whisk Voiello away to Africa with her. Call me a popeless romantic.’ – Vinnie Mancuso

Vinnie: No joke, the way this episode set up the Mary/Voiello dynamic–the tearful helicopter farewell, Voiello’s shadowy, late-night confession of love–I almost expected…okay I hoped Sister Mary was going to pull off a last-second, rom-com return to whisk Voiello away to Africa with her. Call me a popeless romantic. But after everything this show did over 10 episodes, would this really have been the strangest thing?

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Drew: Then, Gutierrez, who at this point has just become the Vatican’s Columbo, finally solves the who-dunnit of Lenny’s conception: counter-culture hippies who hate what their son is preaching, and have thus never revealed themselves to him. “Whoever had the courage to abandon their child also has the courage to refute him,” Gutierrez says, and I’m like 80 percent sure this became a God metaphor again.

Vinnie: Now this, this was plot resolution I could get behind. After hours, weeks of Lenny pondering, wondering and dreaming about the reasons his hippie parents would give him up and leave forever, Gutierrez is just like, “Maybe they just don’t like you.”

Of course, because this is reasonable, Lenny goes back to his “there is no God” fallback, and Gutierrez’s reaction (huge props to actor Javier Cámara) is brilliant. Honestly, Gutierrez’s arc from Timid Priest to The Only Reasonable Person In The Vatican is my favorite part of this show. His face just screams, “Sure, Lenny. If that helps…sure.” 

Drew: Along the way, Lenny claims to not believe in God like eight more times, and then, right before he’s supposed to go to Guatemala to help those miracle children, he pulls a straight “I’ve got to see about a girl”, end of Good Will Hunting move! Yes, he and Gutierrez road-trip it out to Venice with all the Diet Cherry Coke Lenny can drink, just so he can try to get his Pope on with a woman he knew for one day on the beach several decades ago. Sure! She’ll be fine with that, right?

Vinnie: I love that this show assumes a faceless, shadowy Pope could eat in that public restaurant without anyone managing to snap an iPhone picture, when we live in a world where entire SWAT teams were rappelling into Irish airport bathrooms to see if Kit Harington got a haircut prior to Game of Thrones‘ sixth season.

Drew: I also like that Lenny comes THIS CLOSE to showing his face to a crowd waiting in a diner, but still manages to wiggle out of it with a “that would be an exhibition.” Dude, I just watched 10 hours of this show, and one thing I can for SURE about the Vatican is that it’s little MORE than exhibition. But we get it…this whole time, Lenny’s just been CROWD-SHY. That was his whole problem! Because with no warning whatsoever, Lenny is now giving his first forward-facing speech to an assembled crowd, giving the homily he always meant to, which involves a LOT of black and white comparisons that work very well over this montage of every character we’ve grown to care about in this program.

“Are we tired or are we vigorous? Are we healthy or are we sick? Are we good or are we bad? Do we still have time, or has it run out? Are we young or are we old? Are we clean or are we dirty? Are we fools or are we smart? Are we true or are we false? Are we rich or are we poor? Are we kings or are we servants? Are we good or are we beautiful? Are we warm or are we cold? Are we happy or are we blind? Are we disappointed or are we joyful? Are we lost or are we found? Are we men or are we women? It doesn’t matter.”

I mean, that’s the gist of it.

Vinnie: On one hand, this was a classic case of “just because it’s in a montage doesn’t mean it’s meaningful.” I have a hard time believing most, if not all of these people would be watching this address, much less taking any meaning from it. Even the Honduras drug-lord seems to be sharing in the divine understanding, despite the fact he straight up murdered that Pope’s best friend. The only person in the world who isn’t watching is Kurtwell, and that’s only because Ketchikan, Alaska apparently doesn’t have any buildings.

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On the other hand…I was genuinely affected by this, and, like God himself, I can’t even explain it. I didn’t realize how many unique, bizarre, vibrant faces were stuffed into this wacko TV-experiment called The Young Pope until they were all passing by at once, and damn if I hadn’t grown attached. Even to Cardinal Caltanissetta, who 100 percent should be dead. Even to that obese hotel manager, who, uh, also 100 percent should be dead. Even to Esther, who should 100 percent still be alive but with way more questions about why the Pope helicoptered onto a beach just to return a gift.

Drew: Then he tells everyone to fucking smile, and everyone does, and he gets out his little telescope thing that Gutierrez gave him, and he FINDS THE OLD HIPPIES IN THE CROWD. Holy shit, Vinnie! How amazing was that Where’s Waldo moment? Even though, TBH, his parents do NOT look thrilled to be there.

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Vinnie: First of all, if you squint real fast it looks like Lenny’s dad is Jon Hamm wearing old-man makeup, which would at least explain why Lenny grew up to be way sexier than noted-hottie Jesus Christ.

Second of all, I GET the sentiment, but it doesn’t really track, right? Of all the speeches to actually show up for, Lenny’s parents hear the one, single time Lenny is preaching “love,” which, as someone who has heard at least 15 Beatles songs, I understand is what hippies are all about. But still, they -____- right the hell out of there, which means either A) They’re simply projections of the parents Lenny will never impress, no matter what, or B) They are real, but Lenny’s long-winded speech reminded them exactly of why they gave him up as a child in the first place.

Drew: So the takeaway here is that Gutierrez is right; Lenny’s parents were avoiding him, and he can pick them out of a smiling crowd because they’ll be the two grumpy old hippies in the crowd who still can’t stand authority figures and literally turn their back and walk out of the crowd when Lenny spots them. Fun, super fun family.

Having then completed his mission to overcome his anxiety of public speaking, Lenny immediately says a couple more nice words, stumbles off-stage and dies of a heart attack.

‘”The Young Pope” ain’t “The Young Pope” without The Young Pope. Unless Sorrentino wants to go full Ryan Murphy, turn this thing into an anthology show, and drop “Young Pope: Chapter 2″ in a year or so starring Lady Gaga as the Pope who loves spiky dildos, or something.’ – Vinnie Mancuso

Vinnie: Well, we don’t know for sure if he dies. If you believe the rumors, The Young Pope is getting a second season, and The Young Pope ain’t The Young Pope without The Young Pope. Unless Sorrentino wants to go full Ryan Murphy, turn this thing into an anthology show, and drop Young Pope: Chapter 2 in a year or so starring Lady Gaga as the Pope who loves spiky dildos, or something.

Drew: So what do we take away from The Young Pope, Vinnie? Did it hold together for you? For me, this program gets a hardy HELL YES from me, but that’s maybe because I came into this show with no expectations, and it delightfully confounded me every step of the way. And until two seconds ago, when I found out that The Young Pope is indeed getting a second season, I could almost just enjoy this limited series for what it truly was: a preternatural piece of great television written by noted psychic and/or time-traveler Paolo Sorrentino, attempting to warn us all about the dangers of a Donald Trump-like figure, that due to ironical Primer logic, ended up premiering in America just a little too late for us to take heed.

Thanks, Lenny! Bye4Now, have fun in The Good Place (next season on NBC).

Vinnie: I…have no idea. It’s going to take away more than three days to roll away the stone that was The Young Pope. It was certainly a roller-coaster ride, where the flips were kangaroos, the twists were sexy (and they knew it), and the sudden drops were my older relatives reminding me I haven’t been to Mass in several years, which is fine, but something to think about.

I can say this: Whether due to Sorrentino’s singular vision, his European filmmaking sensibilities or a combination of the two, The Young Pope was the type of fascinating, infuriating, ballsy but low-key moving TV we don’t get often, not even in this “Golden Age.” This means high-highs and low-lows, but mostly The Young Pope, much like its title character, did whatever the fuck it wanted. And, if it ends up getting a second season, despite the fact this show was occasionally the weirdest thing ever made, you just tell me to “jump” and like a certain, possibly hallucinated Papal kangaroo, I’ll jump.

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