The New Pope Popedown is a list of the five craziest and/or most notable things that happened in each episode of HBO’s ‘The New Pope,’ ranked from least to most crazy and/or notable. Like a countdown, but with popes.
5. Welcome back, sweet blasphemous program
Three things are important to know right off the jump. The first is that Pope Pius — aka Lenny Belardo aka The Young Pope, as played by Jude Law — is in a coma as a result of the heart attack he suffered at the end of the first season, which aired over three years ago and, no, there will be no slow-walking this to bring you back up to speed. You just have to hop on this jet ski as it’s whizzing by the pier. Pope Lenny has had three heart transplants and none of them have taken and so he’s being cared for in a makeshift ICU inside the Vatican that is guarded by a glowing neon cross.
The second thing you need to know is that people are freaking out about the first thing. Crowds outside and around the world holding vigils and chanting his name and starting to turn him into an idol. The nun who is taking care of him in the neon ICU is also a bit… bothered about it. I’m sorry. Maybe bothered isn’t the right word. Perhaps you can help me. I’m looking for a word to represent “after she got done bathing him, she laid down next to his bed, held three fingers in the air, and then used those three fingers to pleasure herself to climax next to the comatose pope.” Horny. Maybe the word I’m looking for is horny.
The third thing you need to know is that all of that happened before the opening credits, which were set to a pounding techno Billie Eilish soundalike song and featured over a dozen nuns writhing in sultry harmony under a flashing and glowing second neon cross.
Welcome back, television show. I missed you dearly.
4. A bird stole the pope’s big speech!
This will be easier to cover via bullet points. Please try to follow me here.
- With Pope Lenny in a coma, a new pope must be chosen to fulfill his duties
- The vote is a threeway struggle between Voiello (the powerful Vatican Secretary of State with the glorious mole), Hernandez (more on this shortly), and the unseen Sir John Brannox
- The vote goes round and round with no one getting a majority until Voiello pulls a sneaky move and throws all his power behind a meek and docile guy named Vignetti, who he hopes will become a puppet
- Instead, Vignetti goes mad with power, demanding Easter cake at non-Easter times and enacting plans to empty the church’s bank to help the poor and open the Vatican to refugees and ban masturbation and put cameras in toilets to enforce it
- The moment he realized he had power was, you guessed it, when a bird swooped in while he was giving his first address and flew off with the speech Voiello had written for him, at which point he started winging it with these ideas
- At one point, he had the friars sneak into the Vatican at night with lights strapped to their heads to change the bank passwords so no one could stop him
Vignetti kind of ruled. Giving money away, sending friars on night missions, blowing up the establishment. Everything but the thing about cameras in the toilets. That was… that was probably too far.
3. Something I probably should have mentioned earlier
Voiello and Hernandez, the two leading vote-getters in the first runoff election, are both being played by the same actor, Silvio Orlando, in a kind of Parent Trap split-screen situation. The only differences are Hernandez’s thicker glasses and lack of a fake mole. You can’t possibly imagine how much I love this, in large part because there’s no reason to do it other than to be awesome and hilarious. Creator Paolo Sorrentino does lots of cool stuff in the premiere — long single shots that sweep around ornate rooms, lots of spinning cameras, directorial flourishes that remind you there’s an artist at work in all of this — but also, yes, there is a silly lookalike ruse, too. There’s a reason this is my favorite show in the whole world. This is that reason.
Anyway, Voiello and Hernandez met to discuss the Vignetti problem and they came up with a solution…
2. Assassins with flip phones
Their solution? They assassinated the replacement pope with poison blood pressure medicine! In the first episode! They assassinated a pope in the first episode! Because he wanted cake and chaos!
The murder was apparently carried out by an evil-looking ambassador Voiello met with earlier in the episode, on a boat, where the ambassador/assassin vaped from a pen that looked like this.
He is my new favorite character on this show, in part because I’m a sucker for vaping assassins and in part because the image at the top of this section is thumbs up emoji text he received on his flip phone when the assassination was complete. It’s the best murder-related text I’ve seen on television since Noho Hank texted Barry a Bitmoji and a “Hang in there, kitty” meme on Barry. I don’t think you realize how high this praise is coming from me. I love Noho Hank like the friendly tatted-up Chechen brother I never had. This is very serious business.
But I hear you. You’re saying, “Brian, I get all of this, but it feels like something else should happen here. Something really wild. Something like, say, Pope Lenny wiggling his pinky finger at the exact moment the assassination takes place, almost as though the act itself has started the process of bringing him back to life. Is something like that happening, too?”
Baby, you know it is.
1. Enter Malkovich
Two notes in closing.
NOTE NUMBER ONE: The death of the replacement pope opens the door for another pope, and with Voiello and Hernandez deadlocked, the next candidate up is the as-yet-unseen Sir John Brannox. This show really went the entire episode without showing Malkovich even once, until the very end, while the credits were rolling, when it revealed him after a long and slow pan across a room — set to the driving “All Along the Watchtower” guitars — staring out a window like a friggin boss. This was so cool. I whooped a little when his head popped up on the screen. I have, in a way, been waiting for Pope Malkovich my entire life. The time has come.
NOTE NUMBER TWO: It is profoundly funny that all of this — Vignetti getting confidence, going mad with power, getting assassinated, Malkovich coming in — is the result of a bird flying off with the Pope’s speech. What a wonderful television program.