‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 7: Peter Pope Complex

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo and Scott Shepherd as Cardinal Dussolier.

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo and Scott Shepherd as Cardinal Dussolier. Gianni Fiorito/HBO

Vinnie: Holy sweet Christ come back to Earth, Drew, where to even BEGIN with The Young Pope’s seventh chapter? This episode was so dour, violent and occasionally super unpleasant that even Pope Pius XIII had to interrupt his daily afternoon Power Stroll through the Vatican to gaze longingly off-screen and–based on those sweet-ass shades–directly into the sun:

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I guess it’s a good idea to start with Andrew Dussolier who, as it turns out, orgied his last orgy last week and ends this episode dead on the side of a Honduran road. I assume he’ll be there until Pedro Pascal discovers his corpse and acts all sexy about it, or whatever it is Narcos is about.

Drew: Hmm, don’t think our boy is dead. I checked out the frames in that final scene a couple times, and he’s definitely blinking and breathing. Plus, you don’t shoot someone in the side-gut because it’s necessarily fatal, you do it because it’s super painful and it’s a slooooooow death of bleeding out. (How do I know this? How do I know anything, Vinnie. God told me in a dream.)

Vinnie: Before Andrew ends up back in Hondura being murdered by Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, he’s busy having the WORST time as a Cardinal in Vatican City. Here, listed in no particular order, is every awful thing that happened to Andrew since he took Lenny’s job offer:

1) Orgy scene in Vatican City weak AF.

2) Lenny forced his childhood friend to out gay priests using male prostitutes

3) A young priest committed very public suicide because of aforementioned male prostitute scheme.

3) The Roman party conversation centers around the death of “cocktail culture,” and not sweaty threesomes.

4) Countess Emma Meraviglia will NOT stop trying to have sex with him.

5) Countess Emma Meraviglia’s son will ALSO not stop trying to have sex with him, but in a far more disturbing way. Seriously, that scene was one of those things you see coming–that Paolo Sorrentino dragged out sloooowly–but is still horrifying, not the least of which has to do with it taking place in a shadowy parked car while lightning flashes in the distance.

Drew: And there we go, right? Although Lenny is the supposed earthly saint here, it’s really Andrew who is going through all the trials that we associate with the mortal sins…or whatever. (Again, I’m Jewish, so half this show is Greek to me. Or…Latin? I guess it’s literally Latin to me.) If Lenny represents the righteous, violent, “working miracles in mysterious ways” God of the old testament–the “Heeb Bible,” if you will– than Andrew is the long-suffering, Christ on the Cross figure. He is dying for our sins right now, out in the countryside, with nary a Virgin Mary sheep to comfort him. And yes, Andrew has sinned, and his sins take on the form of the very obvious “bad priest” imagery: he’s had sex with both men and women (simultaneously!); he’s a drunk; his will is weak and he sits by while Lenny drives the Catholic Church off a spire in the Vatican just because he can’t tell his orphan-bro to fucking get over his Peter Pope-Pan complex.

And yes, that scene with him in the car was brutal, especially since, despite his failings as a man of the cloth, Andrew seems to be coming from a place of love and tolerance. He’s the light to Lenny’s darkness, and if he’s ACTUALLY dead? God save us all from the wrath of Pope Pius the Gonna Fuck You Up.

Vinnie: Either way, Andrew makes his decision, and heads back to Honduras disguised as the Nerdy Outcast Who Finds His Self-Worth at the end of a John Hughes movie.

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Drew: Hmmm, I was going to go with “Freddie Miles’ beleaguered uncle” or “a giant pedo, but pronounced how the British say it, ‘peeee-do.’” But yours works.

Vinnie: Meanwhile, this episode really plays with the idea that The Young Pope is in actuality The Very Sad Baby Pope and has never really progressed past the point of wanting his parents to climb out from under the Baby Body Pile and love him again. Sister Mary, who somehow never learned to dribble a basketball in 30 years, takes full advantage of this. She is, presumably, still super loyal to Lenny, but is also aware that priests are throwing themselves off towers and the LGBTQ community is ready to storm the Vatican walls like history’s best-tailored milita. So, to take Lenny off his game, she orchestrates an elaborate scheme to make him think his parents are coming home.

Drew: And yo, by the way? That plan only didn’t work because she took it TOO FAR. If she stopped at “sending Lenny creepy mail to keep him distracted by the thought of his parents playing a I Know What You Did Last Summer, and it was a Miracle, Right? Cat-and-mouse game, Viollelo and Sister Mary could have kept Lenny under control…indefinitely?

Vinnie: It starts with Sister Mary returning a piece of Lenny’s father’s pipe, which Lenny reacts to like Julia Roberts opening a ring box in Pretty Woman:

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Things so slightly awry when, in possibly my favorite Young Pope scene since the premiere, Sister Mary hires two actors to portray Lenny’s parents. Jude Law runs through roughly a dozen different emotions from start to finish, from giddy excitement like a kid on Christmas Eve, to the beginnings of pure, disgusted disappointment at the sight of the actors, to Oh my God is he sniffing them like a dog?

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“Expel these impostors from my home immediately,” Lenny says, begging the question of how many elderly women Lenny Belardo has sniffed since childhood to make sure they’re not his mother.

Drew: Yeah, so Sister Mary made one. Fatal. Mistake. *Flourishes cape* She underestimated (or maybe never learned, because remember, Lenny just revealed this information at Esther’s hospital bed) the Pope’s super-ish ability to remember what his parents smelled like. I mean, I would have just hazarded a guess with “patchouli and weed,” but Sister Mary took a gamble in the opposite direction, hiring two actors that look like they belonged in a really uptight British crime procedural to play Lenny’s former hippie parents.

See, if I was in charge of this stunt, I would have taken my working knowledge of how counter-culture parents age by having them arrive separately, refusing to make eye contact with each other before addressing the Pope like the other parent wasn’t in the room.

“You know, your father never really used that pipe…”

“Of course your mother would say that, she has a mood disorder.”

“Honey, want to go shopping in Rome? We can buy you a new tracksuit and I can tell you about all the affairs your father had while you were still breastfeeding.”

“JESUS CHRIST RACHEL!”

Etc.

Oh, and like, both parents DEFINITELY would have brought their new significant others and plethora of adult step-siblings to this reunion. “Lenny, meet your brother David. He graduated from FIT with a degree in costume design, and he’s…well, he’s interning right now at Buzzfeed, but his REAL passion is dance.”

“Apparently, that’s the son your mother just had to keep.”

“GODDAMNIT, JOSEPH. I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO KEEP THIS CIVIL.”

Etc.

Vinnie: Meanwhile, the Priest Squad Plot is back on! Voiello, who tbh would rather be watching soccer in his adorably personalized jersey, has a backup copy of those Lenny/Esther photos, and is fully prepared to start Boobgate 2017. In fact, he’ll go one further: Voiello wants to insinuate that Lenny is the father of Esther’s baby, which would at least explain why he tried to spike it to the ground last week like the game-winning football. “In 15 days we’ll have a new Pope,” Voiello tells Cardinal Caltanissetta. “An adult one.”

Drew: Ugh, yeah. So much for Voiello’s change of heart about Lenny. Once a giant mole parasitically attached to the face of a man and controlling his brain via alien technology, always a giant mole parasitically attached to the face of a man and controlling his brain via alien technology. AmIright?

Vinnie: But who? Can’t be Caltanissetta, because Caltanissetta is older than the Sistine Chapel and would probably die putting the hat on. It is truly hilarious that every time we check in on Caltanissetta, he looks a little closer to dying. In episode 8 he’s going to be hooked up to an iron lung, and in the finale he’s going to emerge from a cryo-chamber wearing a full Darth Vader suit. (Voiello’s gonna be like “Pius is still Pope” and Caltanissetta’s gonna be like “Nooooooooooo”)

Voiello goes with the logical choice, Cardinal Spencer, which results in a scene that is both kind of adorable and soul-crushingly sad all at once: Spencer, practicing his first Papal address in front of a mirror like a nervous high-schooler running lines before the big talent show.

Drew: I did love the scene where the mechanical breathing makes you THINK Voiello and Spencer are in the room with Girolamo, the special-needs boy that hangs out at Voiello’s place in a totally platonic, non-creepy way; but then the shot pans out to show that it’s actually Cardinal Caltanissetta with that permanent sleep apnea mask. (Dude, Caltanissetta is way more Palpatine than Vader. Lenny is a total Vader. Come on.)

Vinnie: One of The Young Pope’s greatest miracles is how it can take long, static conversations and turn them into absolute, must-see drama. Example: Lenny and Andrew’s meeting on the roof, which is your standard “what happened to you, man” talk between old friends except the entire fate of the Holy Catholic Church hangs in the balance. “When are you going to grow up?” Andrew asks, saying what the world is thinking.

“Never,” Lenny answers. “A priest never grows up because he can never become a father. He’ll always be a son. That is why we imposed the vow of celibacy on ourselves 13 centuries ago.”

“Oh, is THAT why?” scream entire generations of priests, who all conspicuously have carpal tunnel in their wrists.

Drew: Mmm-hmm.

Vinnie: My favorite, though, is the dinner-table standoff between Lenny and Voiello, in which Lenny casually switches plates with Voiello because he’s afraid of being poisoned, “among other things.” Law is great, as he’s been the whole dang time, but what work from Angelo Silvio, pulling stellar performances out from underneath the Armageddon meteor attached to his cheek. It’s small things, too; Voiello notes his methods are way above simple poisoning, and Lenny responds “I have to give you that.” The look on Voiello’s face is priceless. It just, like, screams “you’re goddamn right.”

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Vinnie: My favorite, though, is the dinner-table standoff between Lenny and Voiello, in which Lenny casually switches plates with Voiello because he’s afraid of being poisoned, “among other things.” Law is great, as he’s been the whole dang time, but what work from Angelo Silvio, pulling stellar performances out from underneath the Armageddon meteor attached to his cheek. It’s small things, too; Voiello notes his methods are way above simple poisoning, and Lenny responds “I have to give you that.” The look on Voiello’s face is priceless. It just, like, screams “you’re goddamn right.”

Drew: Wait, I thought that line was about Lenny’s fake parents? And Voiello is like “LOL, that kind of chicanery is not really my steeze.” But let’s not forget whose fault this episode’s worth of trouble belong to: Father Tomasso, who is sick of hearing about how God is moving into smaller and smaller sublets he finds on Heaven’s Craigslist. It’s Tomasso who is going around spreading the rumors that Lenny doesn’t believe in God. Which…a) way to not be able to take a joke, dude; b) way to spend nine months sitting on a bombshell that this guy told you before his first homily and c) is totally absurd. If there is one thing that Lenny does kind of, sort of, believe in (besides himself), it’s God. Okay, so maybe Lenny’s version of God exists sort of like a senile grandparent, just kind of showing up and giving you gifts but not necessarily remembering your name or anything, but yes, Lenny definitely has faith. Otherwise, what would be the endgame here? See, Lenny isn’t trying to mine power just for power’s sake, nor is he trying to be popular, or even influential. He’s trying to weed out the grain from the chaff, and separate the “true believers” from the heretics who have swapped out the bibles in the Catholic Church for second issue copies of Free to Be You and Me.

His ONLY goal–well, besides “make mom and dad so proud that I can quit being pope and go smell some babies”–is to tap into that God-juice that he got a swig of when he was a kid (and then later, whilst chilling with Cardinal Pouches and Esther on the Lawn). Maybe Lenny only believes in God as a weapon; an actual force to be weilded against his enemies and to make miracles for his friends. (The Vader metaphor works here as well.) Or maybe he believes God is his hippie dad, waiting for him in the sky. But he definitely believes in SOMETHING, because lord knows it’s not like Pope Pius is here to make friends.

Speaking of which: what’s going on with that straight-up OPEN INVESTIGATION INTO A MURDER CASE that developed last week? Did one kid’s suicide somehow cancel it out, like some Italian double-jeopardy law I don’t know about? (Yeah, I know how double jeopardy works.)

Vinnie: But the bombs don’t really drop until Lenny asks if Voiello, truthfully, believes they caused Angelo Sanchez’s suicide. “We didn’t kill him,” Voiello says. “You killed him.”

Well, well, look who finally found balls in a Pope-less place.

Drew: How much Power does the Pope actually have, though? I mean, most of it is theoretical power, like how he strong-armed the Italian prime minister with his impression of Nate Silver’s blog. But outside of the Vatican, isn’t the Pope kind of like Tinkerbell? Like, if you don’t believe in his power to talk to God, Lenny starts looking a lot like Bojack Horseman in that episode where he goes to Santa Fe and tries to insert himself in his ex-girlfriend’s life. (Side-note: LOVED that look between Esther and Peter when Lenny rushes into the other room to change Pius’ diaper. Like “Oh sweet God, what did we get ourselves into?” “Let’s just keep watching Italy’s Got Talent and not talk about it.” “Okay, but do you think they’ll have someone singing a cover of ‘Hallelujah’ this week?” “Honey, that’s ALL THIS SHOW IS.” “Right, how silly of me. I forgot.” )

Vinnie: So, in a rare moment of self-awareness, Lenny acknowledges Pope Pius XIII was a failure and decides to resign as Pope. (Note: This is a rare thing. After Pope Gregory XII in 1415, the next Pope to resign was Benedict XVI in 2013, and that was only because he got so old he could only consecrate wine into V8 tomato juice). Sister Mary certainly tries to stop him–”the most beloved Pope of them all” is a bit of a stretch–but how genuine is she being there?

Drew: I mean, Cardinal Spencer was originally thought to be the dangerous choice because he was too conservative. No way he’s actually more conservative than Lenny, though. BUT, if we’re judging Popes on their ability to perform miracles and not their social skills…well, I guess it just depends on what your criteria is for this position. Like, will Lenny still be a “saint” if he can perform miracles but isn’t the head of the Catholic Church anymore? Also, I do like that he has a built-in exit strategy, where he could literally vacate the post at anytime and abscond with Esther like they were Batman and Catwoman in the end of The Dark Knight Rises, and no one would be any wiser.

Vinnie: Unfortunately, at the same time Lenny is weighing momentous life decisions, his best friend’s body is being shoved out of a drug lord’s SUV. Sorrentino brilliantly chooses to manifest the sheer scope, power and drama of these two events through an aggressively close-up shot of Pope Pius XIII’s sexy, sexy mouth.

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Drew: Chilling, right? Especially since, taken to its logical conclusion– after the Pope finds out about his orphan-bro getting 86’d by a rough draft member of a Breaking Bad villain –I can totally see Lenny taking the Church back to its medieval roots. Think: Inquisition2.0. Now who are you gonna call Big Poppa?

‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 7: Peter Pope Complex