The ‘New Pope’ Popedown: Guess Who’s Back, Baby!

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. The Young Pope lives

It was always coming to this. One does not bring back Jude Law as a character as dynamic as The Young Pope, Lenny Belardo himself, and then leave him in a coma for an entire season. One does not, probably, even leave him in a coma for six full episodes, but that is why you and I are not Young/New Pope creator Paolo Sorrentino. (Unless… wait. Are you Paolo Sorrentino? Wow. Hi, Paolo. I love your show.)

Still, even with that said, the execution of it all was shocking in the best way.


Lenny Belardo woke up from an irreversible 12-month coma, removed his own oxygen mask, then got right back to business without missing a beat. Did he immediately ask for a Cherry Coke Zero? Naturally. Did he start smoking cigarettes and wearing terrific sweaters and doing that really intense thing he does where he’ll say something very deep and meaningful to a female follower, get real close in a way that makes you think he might kiss her, then walk away? A few times. Was he still a fully-jacked shirtless sex symbol despite lying in a bed for a year and living off of intravenous fluids and maybe an Ensure or two pumped straight into his stomach via feeding tube? Why not!

It was wonderful. I was over here whooping while watching my screener. John Malkovich has been a blast as the very emo and well-dressed New Pope, but Jude Law is freaking magnetic in this role. He spent the rest of the episode holed up in hiding in the home of his doctor, repairing the doctor’s relationship with the wife who had fallen into a deep depression over the health of their unresponsive son, and repeatedly denying that his awakening was in any way “a miracle.” He even tried to cure their son by shouting at God a lot, which doesn’t seem all that productive to me, but I am not now nor have I ever been a Young Pope, so what do I know?

This episode, as much as any over the production’s two seasons, danced across the high-brow/low-brow divide like it never existed at all. There were thoughtful examinations of religion and loss and the confusing nature of being credited with something great that you don’t feel you deserve. There was idolatry and terrorism and parents learning to live again. There was also, I must stress, a depiction of what appeared to be the Virgin Mary fainting at the sight of Jude Law sauntering down the beach in a white Speedo, which we’ll get to shortly.

No other show can pull this off. I’m not sure any other show has or would want to try, to be honest, but still. Credit where credit is due. Next week should be fun, as word has leaked about his recovery and he is planning to return to Rome. The New Pope will not handle it well. I say this because The New Pope is not handling anything particularly well. Which brings us to…

4. John Malkovich’s dog died


It’s very dangerous to be an animal the pope has affection for on this show. Last year, protestors murdered The Young Pope’s kangaroo. (Not a metaphor. The Australian government sent him a kangaroo as a gift and he released it into the Vatican gardens. They were buddies. It was sad.) This year, The New Pope’s beloved dog died, possibly in the terrorist attack that damaged St. Peter’s Basilica and priceless works of art by Michelangelo. The New Pope responded to all of this — the terrorism, yes, of course, but mostly the dog — by retreating to his chambers to sulk and play the harp and do massive amounts of drugs. As one does.

It’s been a rough stretch for this guy, man. His interview went sideways when he started going through withdrawal in the middle of a question about the church’s abuse scandals, he had to cover up an ongoing coke-fueled orgy between high-ranking Vatican officials and an underage schoolgirl, and now his dog died. Things could be going better. They won’t, though, not with the charming and handsome former pope strolling back into town after almost literally rising from the dead. Malkovich might just hole up in his room and stay there until he dies.

3. I’m so proud of everyone who works on this show


I must say, I did not expect this show to use Voiello’s forced resignation and the death of the pope’s dog as an excuse to trot out one of my favorite action movie cliches ever, but sure enough, there it is. The old “a high-ranking official shows up with a problem only a legendary figure can fix, but the legendary figure insists he’s retired, at which point he’s reminded that he’s the best there ever was.” The only thing it was missing was Voiello having a huge beard and chopping wood. Although he was trimming plants. I guess that counts? Yes, let’s go ahead and count it.

Anyway, I suppose it’s on me for being surprised by this. I should know better than to be surprised by anything on this show. Marilyn Manson showed up as himself a few episodes ago and had a private audience with the pope. Sharon Stone did, too, and she gave him her expensive designer heels as a gift. Vin Diesel could show up next week in character as Dominic Toretto from the Fast & Furious franchise and recruit both popes for a mission involving the Goodyear blimp. It’s best to avoid ruling anything out too soon. That’s my point.

2. The New Pope is a fraud


Apologies for skipping over this in the section about Sad Malkovich, but I felt it deserved its own discussion. During his confession to Gutierrez, The New Pope revealed that his book on The Middle Way — a treatise on religion and compromise that is widely regarded as a masterpiece and is the main reason he was tapped to become pope in the first place — was actually, surprise, written by his twin brother Adam before Adam died, and he just passed it off as his own.


This raises a few questions, including “Wait, didn’t Adam die in his teens?” and “Is it more understandable to become a sad junkie if you’ve stolen your dead twin’s work and been received as a genius for it?” and “Damn, Adam kind of ruled, huh?” All valid and reasonable. It also puts both popes in a similar position now for being praised for something they don’t feel they deserve. (Young Pope: miraculous recovery; New Pope: genius philosophy.) Maybe they’ll bond off if it and become friends. Maybe they’ll crack some Cherry Coke Zeros and laugh and laugh.

Probably not.

1. … Excuse me?


Few things about this season of television have brought me as much joy as the opening credits sequence, which features, again, a group of disco nuns writhing and occasionally doing front flips in front of a pulsing neon cross. But if you’re going to take that away, I mean, you could do worse than what the show did this week. After a brief cold open that featured Jude Law strolling to the beach from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit like some sort of Bond girl and pulling a cigarette from a cross necklace that was dangling in the cleavage of Ester, the following things happened:

– Jude Law sauntered down the beach to the driving guitars of “All Along the Watchtower,” a throwback to the season one credits

– He walked through a tunnel of women smacking volleyballs around


– He smirked while gliding in front of women who were both swooning and doing calisthenics

– He winked at the camera, as seen above

– He walked past what appears to the Virgin Mary, which caused her to become so overcome by the vapors that she faints right there on the beach and probably got sand all up in her nice flowy dress


There has never been a show like this in the history of television. It brings me so much joy. I might faint now, too.

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