Vinnie: Pope kangaroo! Pope got a kangaroo! Australia sent the Pope a kangaroo! Sorry, The Young Pope is a rich, textured drama set in the halls of Vatican City and all I want to talk about is the kangaroo. Yes, a lot happened here — Lenny showed up as the literal Shadow Pope and gave one doozy of a first address that maybe possibly ended with God himself striking St. Peter’s Basilica with lightning because He disapproves of laser pointers, but…nope. The Kangaroo. It’s not up to me to prove the kangaroo is the most important part, it’s up to you to prove it isn’t. Can you prove the kangaroo isn’t the most important part?
Drew: No, in fact…I’ll PROVE that the kangaroo is the most important part. Because Sister Mary–who is not, in fact, just Jessica Lange without the Boston accent, but might, in fact, be a slightly decent human (jury is still out)–confronts Lenny over dinner after he gets the kangaroo, which she takes as…some sort of ominous omen?
“That incident today, with the Kangaroo,” she says, clearly worried.
“It was nothing, just chance,” says Lenny aka Pope Banksy.
So what’s THAT about, huh? Clearly, something is going on. And it’s weird for a Pope to chalk things up to chance, instead of, you know…God. But that’s just Lenny! Always contrary, even when it doesn’t actually make sense! What a fun character!
Vinnie: Just to get it out of the way, I’ll present, in order, why the sudden appearance of a kangaroo in a show titled The Young Pope starring Jude Law is, unequivocally, amazing:
2) The kangaroo was sent to the Vatican as a present from Australia. This doesn’t even surprise me. From my limited knowledge of Australia, I assume there are so many spare kangaroos lying around they use those things as gifts for everything.
3) Lenny says “You can come out, sweetie” to the kangaroo, and the kangaroo listens, suggesting an immediate spiritual, possibly mental connection between the Pope and the kangaroo.
4) Lenny then orders the kangaroo set free in the gardens, which means there is currently a full grown kangaroo roaming free, unsupervised, in Vatican City. That’s so dangerous! Do you know what kangaroos look like in real life? Kangaroo-related deaths are going to increase, at the minimum, ten-fold inside the holiest place on Earth.
Drew: Yeah, I was SO hoping that kangaroo was just going to pop one right in Lenny’s face, which is what they do in all the cartoons I’ve ever seen. But apparently, the Pope is also a kangaroo whisperer, which we can add to the list of “Pope Powers” along with “looking fantastic in hats,” “sending people to Alaska for not washing their feet enough” and “ability to make it rain when he’s mad.” God, give this guy Fire, and Lenny will officially have ALL the Captain Planet Planeteers’ superpowers.
Vinnie: So, that speech. Lenny spends the entirety of the episode fretting over his first public appearance as Pope, a worry we eventually find out is over making sure that appearance is similar enough to your basic dystopian YA villain. Actually, in a cool bit of mirroring, this speech is the exact opposite of the dream-sequence speech that began the season. Instead of the day in St. Peter’s Basilica, it is the blackest of nights, and Lenny appears as a faceless shadow (as requested. We’ll get to that) not to promote masturbation, unless you want to masturbate while looking God directly in the eyes at all times.
Drew: Yes! Though both start out exactly the same. “What have we forgotten?” Except in Lenny’s IRL speech, the answer isn’t “all the abortions.” It’s like “the wrath of God, plus one child’s open letter to the Pope.”
Vinnie: “I want to be very clear with you. You have to be closer to God than to each other. I am closer to God than I am to you,” Lenny intones, and then only gets more terrifyingly overbearing from there. A member of the assembled crowd asks to see his face.”You want to look me in my face? Go see God first!”
Another crowd member decides, rationally, that he’ll just flash a green laser pointer at God’s face instead. “How dare you shine a light on your Pope,” Lenny screams, and rushes off the stage. Immediately, a flash of lightning opens up the sky, and now it is my official headcanon that Lenny can control not only wild Australian animals but also the weather.
Drew: He’s our hero, gonna take pollution* down to zero.
*Note: Pollution = Financial holdings of the entire Catholic Church.
Vinnie: My favorite scene in this episode not involving a kangaroo is Lenny’s meeting with the Vatican’s marketing director, Sofia, because I’m a simple man who finds simple joys in Jude Law snidely dismissing Harvard University while praising the careers of Stanley Kubrick, Banksy, and Daft Punk. I assume it was cut for time, but I know there’s a scene where the Pope writes a 4-star review of Random Access Memories and sends it to Vice.
Drew: I wonder what the Pope’s Top Ten High School Albums are?! Also, I DID love this scene, because it’s just so ludicrous. I mean, to be fair, TYP doesn’t say he LIKES Banksy or Daft Punk. He just says they are influential because they never show their face. But I did find a giant hole in his Pope logic because the first person on his list of reclusive artists is…Salinger?
No! Come on! Pynchon, dude! THE ANSWER IS CLEARLY THOMAS PYNCHON!
Vinnie: Really, though, it’s just interesting on a story-level that the Vatican, the holiest of holy places we assume runs on optimism, rainbows and spirituality, is as dependent on merchandising the same way Disney or the NFL would be. Luckily for Sofia, the new Pope’s face is handsome AF and practically tailor-made to be put on artisanal €45 plates. Unluckily for Sofia, Lenny Belardo has extensive training in the House of Black and White from Game of Thrones.
Drew: Right, and that’s a little….weird. Because Lenny’s whole speech here is about how he’s worth nothing, and only Christ exists. And that’s not the same argument as “Let’s keep me as unreachable as a rock star or a celebrity without a verified twitter account, for marketing purposes.” Lenny’s inner mind is still an oblique mystery to us, which, TBF, he DID say was another Pope Power he had in the first episode. But that lends itself to frustration: we can support an anti-hero, but it’d be nice to know what KIND of anti-hero we’re dealing with. First episode of House of Cards, we know what motivates Frank Underwood, because he tells us, directly, while staring straight into the camera. But Lenny…not so much! All we get are bizarre dream sequences that don’t reveal much yet. (Besides a baby fascination.)
Here are some questions I have, still, after this episode: Did Lenny WANT to become Pope, or is he mad that his mentor, Cardinal Spencer, was dicked over for the position because of Papal politics? Is he even religious? IS he a conservative Pope, as the gay Prefect of the Congregation asks? (Lenny’s response: “What do you think?”) Is he out to expose the moral hypocrisy amongst the Vatican’s gossip-mongering Cardinals–and by extension, the whole money-making machine of the Catholic Church– or to gain and retain as much power as possible? Is he a cynic or a True Believer? And, fun bonus question! Which one is more dangerous??
Vinnie: Man, how magnificently pissed is James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer that Lenny became Pope instead of him? Spencer believes in a dirty deal between Lenny and Voiello, a betrayal that resulted in Lenny’s papacy and the end of Spencer’s career. “You destroyed any sense of destiny in my life,” Spencer tells Lenny, in a meeting Spencer specifically requested out of pure, bitter old-priest spite. In fact, Spencer was spitting all over the place here — like, literally, on the floor — but also spitting some genuine white-hot fire at a pretty uncharacteristically insecure Lenny, who asks why Spencer wanted to meet. “To remind you that you’re the Pope now, and that you’re all alone. Just as you’ve always been,” Spencer responds. “And that you’re a nothing. Nothing. Your holiness, Pius XIII.”
I can’t wait until next week, when Cardinal Spencer is found beaten to death by a kangaroo.
Drew: Yeah, but Lenny knows he’s nothing. Also, it’s fun to get some background context: that if Sister Mary was Lenny’s “Ma” (and let’s unpack THAT in a second), then Cardinal Spencer was Lenny’s Pa. We learn from Voiello and his whispering birds that Lenny was nominated by Sister Mary as her ONLY recommendation for Spencer when he was Archbishop of New York, out of her whole orphanage. Cardinal Spencer and Sister Mary…I bet those two have a lot of interesting history there!
Side-note: I cannot believe this is actually a scene from a different show, can you?
Vinnie: So the hot gossip around Vatican City is that Lenny is nothing but a Puppet Pope, and Sister Mary is pulling his Pope strings. Voiello, playing the Littlefinger role (his mole is Varys), stokes this rumor, telling the Pope he overheard some Vatican chatter insinuating that “Lenny will always be a child.”
Unfortunately for everyone, Lenny is not a Puppet Pope, he is a Paranoid Pope, and goes into full on “spies in every confessional booth” mode. He has a mini-falling out with Sister Mary, insisting quite sassily that she refer to him as “your holiness,” and showing up to her room in the middle of the night checking for conspirators. Sister Mary, wearing the “I’m a Virgin But This Is An Old Shirt” tee she bought at the Vatican City Spencers, responds thusly:
Drew: Is it legal to slap a pope? Yeah, the idea that Lenny can be brought down by just the earliest planting of dissent is a bad sign, we can all pretty much agree on that, right? As his going off-script with that homily, after Sister Mary had the audacity to actually LIKE what Voiello wrote for him.
Maybe the worst sign for the incumbent Pope is his dismissal of Sofie’s credits. “Harvard might impress people around here, but to Americans, it means only one thing: decline.”
Oh god. He’s going to make the Vatican great again. Oh no.
Vinnie: What’s up with Andrew Dussolier, another child from Sister Mary’s orphanage that grew up to be a Cardinal? I believe we get a flashback to Andrew arriving at the orphanage, where Sister Mary tells him “Never call me Sister Mary, call me mom,” which is the exact opposite of what she told baby Lenny when he arrived. Follow-up question: Does any of this backstory matter nearly as much as the backstory to this nun with the sick soccer skills?
Drew: Why Lenny would address a nun as “Ma” in the first place is a question that will have to wait for another time. And say what you will about strict nuns, but however Sister Mary raised her two little jewels, they both grew up to be kind of dicks to her. Ungrateful orphans, man. They are the WORST. One calls her old-looking and the other needs a fucking slap in the face? Sister Mary needs to get out her ruler and start whapping some knuckles.
Vinnie: Follow-up follow-up question: Why is The Young Pope not the story of an orphanage that runs out of money, and the only way to save it is for the nuns to enter a soccer tournament, with Jude Law playing the gruff but eventually loveable coach? A lot to think about.
Drew: At the rate Lenny’s NOT selling plates, this show is definitely going to require a Vatican bake sale or car wash by the fifth episode. One final thought: how do we feel about Lenny’s sexual orientation being “the church?” Even if the Church is female-pronouned, which is an A+ Italian humor joke. I mean, I love my job, but if someone was like “What’s your sexual preference?” I wouldn’t be like Observer.com/tv. Or…I mean, MAYBE I’d say that, and we’d all laugh. Because I definitely don’t bring sex to the workplace, and I definitely know what jokes are….right? Right???