‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 8: Uganda Be Kidding Me

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo.

Jude Law as Lenny Belardo. Gianni Fiorito/HBO

Vinnie: Look, if you weren’t a believer before, The Young Pope’s eighth episode basically confirms that Pope Pius XIII aka Lenny Belardo aka The Notorious P.O.P.E pretty much has super powers. He’s basically the one and only member of the Vatican City Avengers. He’s Thor with a crucifix instead of a hammer. He’s Aquaman with a somehow more flamboyant costume. Homeboy started this episode sitting underwater for two minutes and 40 seconds (I counted), proceeded to force a plane out of the sky (wasn’t a coincidence), took a hot second to end all war in Africa through the power of love (it was implied), and, finally, enacted heavenly vengeance upon a corrupt nun from across the Earth, kneeling amid an elaborate setup of SUVs and 18-wheelers. You best believe I’m assuming those trucks were Transformers.

With that said, any comic book fan knows most superheroes don’t realize their grand potential until they suffer great loss. Batman lost his parents. Superman lost his entire home planet. So too must Lenny Belardo mourn, after the death of his closest friend. His most trusted confidante. His source of strength in trying times. I speak, of course, of Cardinal Pouches.

.

Oh I’m sorry, did you think I mean Cardinal Dussolier? Did you expect me to care about Andrew’s death from last week? Did you expect me to care about anything, other than the passing of this show’s finest character, just because it happened to be an unspeaking kangaroo with roughly 2 total minutes of screentime? Well, congrats, you’re a heathen and I think also a racist. Rest easy, you Australian marvel. You’re hopping around the Papal Garden in the sky now.

Drew: I know you tried to prepare me for this, Vinnie. In a way, you were like my own Cardinal Spencer, except not just apparently dying all of a sudden. Legit, this was just a transcript of our gchat conversation on Friday.

Vincent Mancuso: okay but the episode airing Monday is emotionally devastating and I can’t even tell you why
Drew Grant: fuck
Vincent Mancuso: you’ll know though
you’ll know

And then today, just in case I had forgotten:

Vincent Mancuso: this really is my favorite Young Pope episode
it’s just hit after hit
except for one major thing

So, to recap: this was Vinnie’s favorite episode of The Young Pope ever, and I am REALLY BAD at taking hints. I was like “What could possibly happen that would make me sad when this is essentially a supervillain origin story?”

This was actually so upsetting. I am calling for fucking heads to roll at the empty Vatican, Vinnie. What, is there like ZERO SECURITY at this place that people can just show up and jump off of buildings or flash the Pope or murder just the world’s most beautiful, exotic animal and throw it on the front steps? Where are the policia? (JK, probably still investigating that missing dude the Pope had murdered a couple eps back.)

Vinnie:  So…right. Cardinal Dussollier is also dead, because inviting the wife of Honduras’ biggest drug lord into your sweaty threesome den has its consequences. This leaves Lenny in deep, deep mourning. Well, he’s also super tired. Actually, he’s mostly just tired, so he heads off to Papal Vacation Bungalow in Castel Gandolfo, where the pools are as infinite as God’s wisdom, and the exercise is unexplainably homoerotic.

.

Drew: I do like that this episode–which wasn’t my favorite, by the way– does introduce the concept that even Popes need vacations from being really, really irritated for no good reason in their big God palace. I feel you, Lenny! Treat yo’self! You…well…you don’t deserve it, necessarily, but it will be good for you! You know what they say in the BIBLE*: “And lo, on the seventh day, God decided to take some ‘me time.’”

*Someone fact-check this.

Vinnie: We learn a lot before Lenny returns to Rome from his post-BFF-death siesta. It’s revealed that the crying little girl at the conclusion of last week’s episode is that of Juana Fernandez, a canonized saint that healed terminally ill children with bedtime stories. It’s a sweet, inspiring tale, one that Lenny immediately dismisses as #FakeViews. “Beautiful,” Lenny says. “If only it were true.”

Drew: Haha, Lenny’s skepticism is actually breathtaking, when you think about it. In the face of pretty unshakable truths that miracles happen all the time, and not even to good people, just like, if you demand them hard enough…he’s still acting like a trial lawyer cross-examining a witness. I have to think Lenny works purely off of gut instinct, which has done him well so far. (Well that, and his magical sense of smell.) “But I don’t remember ordering any children to get healed via bedtime stories,” you can imagine Lenny thinking in his head. “Also, I’m still not sold on this whole ‘God’ thing yet. But look, I’m only almost fifty. Come back to me when there is more evidence.”

Vinnie: We also get an update on the abortion front: the Pope has officially ruled it “unforgivable,” and women across the globe are protesting. This is interesting for numerous reasons, not the least of which are A) It proves Paolo Sorrentino legit invented time-travel to base his show on American politics that wouldn’t happen for another 6 months, and B) It gives Lenny yet another clue that his Papacy is doing nothing but enraging the entire world, which becomes key later. But first, some protesters pull off an incredibly well-coordinated stunt to let Lenny know he’s a B A S T A R D. Lenny reacts to this by not giving a single solitary fuck.

.

Drew: Look, I don’t want to just fall into the trap of making everything in this show analogous to our current political climate. For instance, the current president has never had a pet kangaroo, as far as I can tell, and I don’t think he just stops at “leg stuff.” Nor does this show have the best track-record with its women characters: they are all Madonnas on this show; no whores, except for the ones who show up naked and kill your marsupials. Sorry, that’s a little problematic.

But then I see shots like this, and I’m like “For real though Paolo Sorrentino has a Time Turner and THIS is what he does with it???”

.

Vinnie: Back in Vatican City, Lenny has business to attend to. First, he meets with Elmore Coen, America’s oldest and horniest novelist, who is only a writer through the combination of old man boners and I’m assuming childhood neglect. Lenny can get onboard with one of those things, and offers up his priestly thoughts on un-priestly things: “Laymen always think we priests are scandalized by the slightest thing…we’re never scandalized,” he says. “Confessional is our operating room. Surgeons have no fear of blood, and we priests are no longer afraid of scandal and sin.”

This turns out to be suuuuper untrue later, though.

Drew: Ugh, and what a joke, right? Like this is all part of this show’s woman problem, which is distinct from Lenny’s own woman problem. Because of course, Lenny actively courts the attention of some Philip Roth type, while, sight-unseen, he just abhors a nun in Africa because he’s heard her breath smells bad. That tracks.

But why we have to focus on this encounter in the episode eludes me. What great revelation comes from this conversation? Lenny’s a leg man. Older male writers wank off not to their memories of attractive girls they’ve boned, but what they did to those girls. Yawn. Over it. Pope’noy’s Complaint, am I right?

And not to jump ahead, but out of all the supposed to misdeeds of Sister Antonia, of course, we don’t KNOW if she actually did anything besides “hold hands with another lady in church.” But that’s enough! THE DEFENSE RESTS, YOUR HONOR! Hell it is! (Well, a hell that’s somehow worse than trying to be a missionary in Africa.) (Maybe she’s sent to an afterlife version of Alaska.)

Vinnie: So, as it turns out, outlawing homosexuality, abortion and overall happiness while appearing only as a faceless shadow monster is slightly off-putting, and ends with your Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square having such low attendance Sean Spicer’s cranium would explode trying to spin the numbers.

At this point, Lenny’s boxed in. The Church’s faith in him is plummeting. The media doesn’t even care about him anymore. His best friend is dead. Andrew is also dead. Cardinal Spencer is probs about to die and spouting off about the ways being a Pope is a fun water slide, or something, and Sofia is begging him to, at the very least, show the world his face. So, he makes a big decision: he’s going to Africa, in his first public trip and appearance as Pope, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sister Antonia’s “Village of Goodness. Or, that’s what he says. I’m going to go right ahead and assume someone gave Lenny some terrible information, and he thinks kangaroos come from Africa.

Drew: As fun as the whole “Pope goes to Africa!” is as a concept, I still think this decision wasn’t earned and probably could have been saved for a second season. No way that Lenny, who hates travel, does not give a fuck about the “masses” and quite literally just got back from a trip would hop on a fucking press plane. Nope, no dice.

And again, not to be nit-picky about a program that more resembles God Cop than any actual news event, but there’s no fucking way that with their zero-security policy at the Vatican, someone hasn’t taken a photo of Lenny yet. Half the time, dude just turns away from the crowd and assumes that this means they can’t see him. Really, what a fucking child he is. I know our young pope was an orphan, but he’s also an adult man who at least ostensibly knows that the world doesn’t disappear when you play peekaboo.

Vinnie: The Young Pope almost crashed a plane! My good God, I took my headphones out and applauded at this moment. Lenny, being Lenny, refuses to interact with the assembled press on the plane to Africa, until one particularly enterprising journalist starts hurling accusations about the ongoing Curtwell child-molestation case. She accuses Gutierrez of being a terrible choice to speak on behalf of the Vatican (accurate, tbh), and suggests Curtwell has blackmail-worthy info on Lenny. And, okay, there’s no proof that Lenny channeled God himself to bring that plane down in his infinite anger but…nope. That’s what happened. Lenny is basically Magneto but replace literal magnetism with sexual magnetism.

Drew: I did like that the one effective counterforce to a Pope that refuses to take questions is just YELLING LOUDLY, as that lady in coach does on Lenny’s flight. Uh-oh, but now Lenny is getting sky-mad. You can’t accuse the Pope of covering up a massive gay scandal because he’s being blackmailed without the scenario turning into that actual New Yorker cartoon from the other week.

.

Oh, what? You think the argument is a little more nuanced than that? Not on this show, it’s not. Because here’s the thing: Lenny gives none of the fucks. Last week he was going to resign as Pope, just because. Then both his friends died, and he was like “Mmm, nevermind. I’ll keep being Pope.” First hard press question? Lenny is willing to go down with that plane. The Young Pope is straight up: “God is my copilot, and he’s drunk.”

Vinnie: Having struck the fear of spooky turbulence into the hearts of journalists everywhere, Lenny touches down in Africa dressed like Sia’s personal bee-keeper.

.

Drew: LOL. At this point, is it even hard to GUESS which one of the people in the traveling Vatican entourage is the Pope? Like I imagine this is 90 percent of the press pool’s conversation:

Press guy 1: “Oh, maybe the Pope is that mole-face guy?”
Press guy 2: “No, that’s Voiello.”
Press guy 1: “Oh right, he’s the man on the cover of every book we own.
Press guy 2: “Yeah. Let’s keep brainstorming.”
Press guy 1: “Hmm…maybe the Pope is that lady?”
Press guy 2:  “No, that’s a nun.”
Press guy 1: “This is hard! Maybe the Pope is that other lady?”
Press guy 2: “No, that’s a publicist.”
Press guy 1: “Oh, is it that very attractive, aloof looking man with a perpetual sneer on his lips, trying to light a cigarette the second after touchdown?”
Press guy 2: “Look these are all good guesses. But let’s not overthink this. The Pope is probably a magical man who can turn invisible whenever he wants and is probably listening to this very conversation as we speak.”
Press guy 1: “Good point. I’ll shut up.”
Press guy 2: “Thanks.”

Vinnie: As expected, Lenny spends 99.9 percent of his goodwill trip being the absolute worst, sauntering around impoverished villages in his admittedly-baller-as-hell red slippers, demanding Sister Antonia give up her iPhone so she can’t snap a selfie of his precious baby-face and, worst of all, becoming infatuated with impure thoughts of Californian legs from 30 years ago.

Lenny rushing past actual corpses to confess his sinful thoughts to a priest that doesn’t even speak English is pretty much The Young Pope in a nutshell. Even more so is Lenny blaming his sudden influx of sinfulness on an author he met like two weeks ago, and Esther not saying goodbye before nope-ing the fuck out of the shitstorm Vatican City has become. “I can’t seem to sleep at night because of the photo they left behind,” Lenny yells, pretty much to himself. “At times like this I should be thinking about my only true friend, dead because of me, and yet I’ve always stopped feeling guilty about it.”

Drew: Lenny’s distaste for Africa is almost comical, if it wasn’t exactly how I imagine most people from first-world countries act when they go to Africa. “Ugh, everything smells bad here.” “Why doesn’t anyone speak English????”

“Blah blah blah warlords, blah blah blah, clean drinking water…seriously though, where can I buy some smokes around here?”

Vinnie: But then, a twist! The African priest, instead of being like “who the fuck is Dussolier and wait did you say you had a kangaroo??” just slips the Pope a message on a scroll, revealing that Sister Antonia is hella corrupt, hiding precious water from the locals and doling it out in exchange for “obscene acts and filth.” MUCH worse, though, she also slyly touches pinkies with other nuns, which Lenny finds through TV history’s least-subtle detective work.

.

Drew: And THIS is where the show lost me. Because Lenny should not be trying to help out in Africa. Best-case scenario, this episode posits that Lenny’s got a ‘Ryan Gosling in La La Land’ thing going on: he just shows up for a day or two, looks at his reflection in a cup, stares at the sky, gives a speech, and then is like “Yes, I am ready to fix this problem that I entirely understand the scope of.” You are starting to get the sense of how cloistered Lenny’s entire life has been: from the time he was a child, he’s lived in this bubble of the Catholic Church, surrounded by doctrine and red velvet and high, high walls. His knowledge of how the world works beyond the internal politicking of high-ranking Catholic officials is zilch.

Lenny’s like the church’s version of Little Lord Fauntleroy, just chasing that little hoop with a stick all around the gardens and having temper tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his way. And God, being guilty, single-dad living above an auto-repair shop that he is, usually caves and just gets Lenny whatever he wants.

Wait, holy kangaroo dang, Vinnie! I think I figured it out. In the world of The Young Pope, the lord almighty exists, but–as one of my favorite speeches in movie history goes— “God is an absentee landlord.”

Vinnie: I have to quickly interrupt the Detective Belardo Does Africa storyline to point out how Voiello not-so-low-key wants to smash with Sister Mary, and will 100 percent gift her a basketball jersey with her name embroidered on the back by the end of this season.

Drew: God, those two really had a magical vacation. It turns out that the real hero’s journey in The Young Pope belongs not to Lenny, but to Voiello, who seems to be having a real awakening about the powers of love. (As opposed to, I assume, his previous power of stigmatism.)

Vinnie: Okay! Back to Lenny, who interrupts dinnertime by transforming into “Angry and Intense Jude Law,” backed by the priest from before who I guess can speak English now? “There seems to be some kind of misunderstanding concerning the meaning of my visit here,” Lenny tells Sister Antonia. “You think I’m here to honor you? In fact, I’m here to ascertain your sins.”

Drew: And that’s the OTHER problem with this episode: Africa might have been a great place for Lenny to go to get humbled…to realize just how much he DOESN’T know about the world. But that’s not what this story in this episode, right? Lenny’s the judge, jury, and prayer-executioner; ready to cast down judgment based on so little information. “See, a guy broke a water jug. DIE BITCH!”

Vinnie: Instead of making his first public appearance, Lenny instead decides to…do the complete opposite of that. He projects his voice onto an empty stage like Voldemort demanding Harry Potter meet him outside Hogwarts by midnight, introducing himself as “The Vicar of Christ,” and scolds the entire continent of Africa to a cover of “Halo” by Beyonce. “I’ve visited your country and I’ve seen dead bodies lying on the ground. Hunger, blood, thirst, and poverty. All these things are the offspring of the war and violence that has clutched your land for 12 years.”

“We are all guilty, all guilty of war and death. All of us. In the same way, we can all be guilty of peace.” Because you see, Lenny has seen peace. It was in a Colorado river, and it was his naked hippie parents, question mark question mark question mark, Africa is saved.

Drew: That cover of “Halo” immediately pushed out Westworld’s player piano for “best TV cover song in the last six months.” Sorry, Ramin Djawadi. Feel free to play yourself off.

But like, here’s another question: does Lenny actually BELIEVE this speech about love? Or, actually, let’s back it up: DOES Lenny believe in God? Yesterday I said “for sure,” but watching him waffle between impetuous and desperate in his conversation with Cardinal Spencer made me think that Lenny’s thing is he’s constantly questioning his faith, despite having these VERY clear correlations between “praying for something to happen” and “it happening immediately.” Without the G-word, Lenny could just have Legion-like superpowers. We don’t know!

Because if God was truly omnipotent, wouldn’t he be like “Dude, Lenny, sure thing about Sister Antonia? But maybe you could also wish that warlord was dead? And also, hot tip, next time you are in Africa, PRAY FOR RAIN.”

Vinnie: Back home, Lenny still has capital letter Unfinished Business with Sister Antonia. He stops his motorcade at the nearest truck stop, spends what I have to assume is several hours convincing the local truck drivers to line their eighteen-wheelers in an aesthetically pleasing formation, and kneels perfectly between them in The Young Pope’s biggest, action blockbuster-est shot to date.

.

“We can no longer put off this matter,” Lenny says, to GOD, who LISTENS. “We now need to speak about Sister Antonia.”

Drew: Which is weird because when I imagine the two places where God is LEAST LIKELY to listen to your prayers, it’s Africa and “on your knees, at a truck stop.”

Vinnie: Sister Antonia, all the way across the world, collapses in her bedroom. So I guess the takeaway this week is: Pope Pius XIII might be homophobic, Islamophobic, and genuinely insane but God is…on his side, and will straight up strike you down if you disagree. I mean, we didn’t even see what happened to the pilot who wouldn’t let Lenny touch the shiny airplane buttons, but based on the Pope’s face, that pilot became a lightning rod like ten minutes later.

.

Drew: Was really hoping we’d pan back to the pilot of that plane and see the pilot replaced by, l dunno, a penguin or something.

Ooh, and then the Penguin could be Lenny’s new buddy!  #PopePenguintheXIII.

‘The Young Pope’ Recap, Episode 8: Uganda Be Kidding Me