The ‘New Pope’ Season Finale Popedown: The Popes Are Not So Different After All

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. Say what you will about this show, it can give the heck out of a speech

It’s easy to forget amid all the hubbub of the show, all the disco nuns writhing under a pulsing neon cross, all the slow-motion shots of Jude Law strolling down the beach in his tiny papal Speedo, but The New Pope can really deliver when it’s time to bring it all home with a big speech. There were no fewer than three of them this week, one by The New Pope and two by The Young Pope, each of them telling us something important about the man delivering them.

The one by The New Pope, Sir John Brannox, Malkovich himself, was probably the most powerful in its actual content. He spent most of the season shrinking from the moment, hiding or fleeing, panicking on live television as he goes through heroin withdrawal. Here, he took the stage and boomed out a powerful and inclusive speech that described an open church, one where everyone is welcomed with arms spread wide. It was… I mean, it was kind of beautiful. And it was yet another reminder that this show is very much saying something between all the chaos it creates.


The Young Pope’s speeches were as different as any two speeches can be. The first was all pomp and bluster, opening with a dramatic entrance atop a throne and proceeding to delve into the nature of power. It was Lenny Belardo at his most unhinged, fully believing his own legend and using it to pound reality into his own vision. It was shot like a few of the scenes from earlier in the season, with the camera spinning around the room as he spoke, zooming in tight on the Cardinals as they listened to him really get after it, then circling back to his face and his bullet hat as he thundered away. It was a lot. And made more interesting by the third speech. Which we’ll get to in a minute. I can’t wait to talk about the crowd-surfing.

4. The ballad of the Vaping Assassin


I can’t write a wrap-up of this episode or the season as a whole without one last tribute to my beloved Vaping Assassin, whose name is Bauer, but whatever. What a great episode for him. Highlights include:

  • Threatened to assassinate Voiello
  • Showed up at Voiello’s door with the Caliph’s advisor to explain that the acts of terrorism were not, in fact, carried out by Muslim extremists
  • Held a meeting with Voiello and a bumbling American general who was not allowed to talk and was very distracted by the seductive lounging of a woman we later learned to be a Dutch prostitution named Amber who travels everywhere with Bauer and will be running off to Korea with him next
  • Had a sweet goodbye with Voiello, a man he threatened to kill just days earlier
  • Ripped away on his naked lady vape about 50 times with the intensity of a man who believes the Holy Spirit can be found somewhere inside a sick cloud

God, I’ll miss him.

3. A mystery solved


The big thing driving the plot in the finale was a hostage situation. Six schoolchildren and a priest were taken hostage by masked extremists and Lenny and Brannox set out to figure a way to end it. The screencap above is from their first chat about it. I would like to tell you that Lenny followed this up with a rousing speech about how the two of them needed to arm themselves to the teeth and bust in guns blazing on a two-pope suicide mission to save the children, possibly involving a helicopter, but I can’t. He said “It’s a job for the Church.” Which makes more sense. But still.

It did get pretty dicey in there for a moment. Brannox and Lenny let themselves get all hyped up — Lenny’s fault, mostly, the result of drinking his own Kool-Aid and overestimating his power — and more or less declared war on Islam like we were up and in the Crusades all over again. Lenny was really into this theory that he could mobilize Catholics to steal the thunder of the competing fanaticists, which really blew up in his face when whoooooops we found out the masked gunmen in the school were actually the cult that had been worshipping him all season — Esther included — and whooooooooops they had been behind all the terroristic acts of the season. So there was that. Real gut-check moment for Lenny Belardo.

The thing it drove home hardest, after the thing about how fanaticism reaches across the aisle, was something we’ve discussed before: that the two popes on this show were flip sides of the same coin. They were both constantly trying to fill a void caused by loneliness and feelings of inadequacy. Brannox dealt with it by retreating and sulking and doing a little heroin at bedtime, as a treat. Lenny dealt with it by turning up the charisma and intoxicating the people around him through sheer force of personality. They’re both, at their most basic level, broken little boys who were stunted by a traumatic event from their youth. They both needed the church as much as it needed them. They both found a home there, in very different ways.

What I’m saying, and it seems especially fitting since I opened this section with a hypothetical action movie cliche, is that these two popes weren’t so different after all.



I’m sorry for the all-caps up there. I got a little excited. I still am a little excited. I’ll explain in a second. But first…

Brannox resigned and disappeared back into his castle, with Sofia along for the ride, as she is now single and untethered due in large part to her snitching to the Italian police about her husband and his powerful cronies having those coke-fueled orgies with an underage schoolgirl. Brannox seemed happy. His parents even welcomed him home, which was nice. He kept his fancy golden heroin box, though, just in case, which is somehow both very sad and very funny. Like, everyone learned important lessons about life and acceptance and how to deal, in general, but also yes, the Emo Pope would like you to pack his emergency dope box, just to be safe. Iconic. But it does raise an interesting question: If he’s not the pope, then who is?

Surprise! It’s Lenny Belardo again. We saw this a little during his Power Speech and a little more during the hostage standoff when he made his first real public appearance, but we had it confirmed for certain when he gave a big and uncharacteristically warm speech at the Vatican, the aforementioned third one of the episode. This one displayed growth like we’d never seen from him. This was a guy who refused to even be seen when he first took the gig, insisting on a separation and remove that drove home the mysticism of religion. He was conservative and exacting and of the belief that people had to come to religion through a narrow door. Now, he was out here smiling and embracing progress and going on and on about Brannox’s Middle Way theology. It was a new, sweeter, softer Lenny, who then walked out into the crowd to embrace the people.

And then he started crowd surfing.

And then, at some point, he died.


There is a message here beyond the one I shouted. It’s about how Lenny finally found peace and acceptance in the arms of the people he realized he needed and was ready to go be with God. You saw it as he was carried inside and placed lovingly on the altar. It was beautiful and moving and symbolic more than literal, as so many things on this show have been. But that doesn’t change the literal interpretation, though. The Young Pope died while crowd surfing. It’s kind of perfect. As was the shot of him walking off into the ocean in his little white Speedo, which was also symbolism and also a wild thing to see on television.

But wait. If Brannox is retired and Lenny is dead, then… who is the pope now?









It should be noted, just for academic reasons, that this brings our total number of popes in this season to four, one of whom was technically assassinated by Voiello and one of whom, again, died while crowd surfing. Lots going on in Rome.

It should also be noted that, as the credits were rolling and Voiello was revealed in the Papal Whites, Esther’s son, Pius was screaming around the Vatican on his big wheel and bumped into Pope Voiello, which resulted in this…


… which itself resulted in this.


I’m not exactly sure what to make of any of this. I’m assuming that Esther is in prison after her role in the hostage situation, and I guess that means Voiello just, like, adopted her son? I don’t know what the rules are related to if and when the Pope wants to adopt the child of a religious zealot felon who was obsessed with his predecessor. All I do know is that I would 100 percent watch another season of this show about Voiello trying to raise a toddler while navigating Vatican politics as the head of the Catholic Church.

Do it, Paolo Sorrentino.

Do it for me.