The Young Pope Popedown is a list of the five craziest and/or most notable things that happened in each episode of HBO’s The Young Pope, ranked from least to most crazy and/or notable. Like a countdown, but with popes.
5. The game is afoot
Yes yes, Jude Law berating members of the clergy and saying crazy things about soft drinks and pop culture is great, but as of last night my favorite part of the show is the cat-and-mouse between Cardinal Voiello and Sister Mary. You’ve got Voiello and his giggly henchman snooping around the Vatican in trench coats and digging into the new pope’s background to look for dirt, the latter of which is notable because it gives us a clear antagonist going forward and because we learned that Voiello discusses matters of subterfuge while playing billiards with a dog sitting on the table. He’s like 3/5 of a Bond villain, gratuitous mole and all, and I love him.
And then you’ve also got Sister Mary snooping around following him, going all Jason Bourne in the streets of the Vatican, scurrying up multiple levels of a parking garage ramp so she can peek into the window of an apartment where Voiello visited a young disabled man (his son???) who he cares for very much. I’m sure it’s fairly normal to see nuns running around at night like this in the Vatican, but please do imagine your reaction if you were returning to your car after dinner and you saw an old nun creeping in the shadows of the garage to peep into windows across the street. I wish she had pulled out a tiny telescope.
Anyway, my working theory is that these two fall in love, leave the church, and get married.
After dealing with a range of marketing issues and professing his love of EDM (more on this in a moment), Lenny finally gets his wish and has a meeting with the head of the clergy. There’s a little tense back and forth about who voted for who and why, but then Lenny gets to the point: He straight-up asks the prefect if he’s gay, and the prefect says yes after a legit five-second shot of the prefect’s face falling as the reality of it all hits him, which felt so long and drawn out that I was starting to wonder if the skin would slide right off his head and onto the floor.
(If anyone thinks The Young Pope is not occasionally in on the joke, please note the callback to the buzzer under his desk, which is supposed to send an aide in with an important excuse to get out of the meeting, and this time resulted in a nun rushing in to say it was time for the pope’s snack. Jude Law’s brief reaction to the word “snack” was funnier than entire seasons of some network sitcoms.)
Because Lenny, a conservative, finds this unacceptable, he uses it as an opportunity to visit his old mentor, Cardinal Spencer, and offer him the job. It does not go well. Cardinal Spencer gives him the old “dismissive and furious authority figure” routine (including more spitting than I think any of us expected to see), which is great here because Cardinal Spencer is played by James Cromwell, the undisputed king of the dismissive and furious authority figure routine. It’s perfect. I bet when creator Paolo Sorrentino was writing this script he penciled in “a James Cromwell-type” for Cardinal Spencer and then jumped with glee when they actually got him.
3. This is a screencap of Diane Keaton, in character as a high-ranking nun inside the Vatican, wearing a t-shirt that says “I’m a virgin, but this is an old shirt”
Between this, the snooping, and the thing where she blows off steam by shooting hoops in a full nun habit, Sister Mary seems pretty cool.
2. THE INVISIBLE POPE
You know, the running plot in this episode about the pope’s first speech really gave us the full Young Pope experience. You can split it into three parts.
THE SILLY: The pope loves EDM. Because he is young, you see. The rest of the meeting with the marketing director was pretty straightforward, and I started giggling like a lunatic when they referred to their strategy of mystery as “the invisible pope” (spinoff?!), but I do love that they couldn’t help themselves with this. I can’t wait to find out what other young people things he does. I hope there’s a Twitter scandal at some point.
THE BEAUTIFUL: The lighting and staging of Lenny’s big speech — a fear-mongering, hyper-conservative one, basically the flip side of the “We have forgotten to masturbate” one he gave in his dream at the beginning of the premiere — was really pretty cool. Sorrentino can make some very pretty images. As strange and goofy as the rest of this can get at times. you have to give him that.
THE CAMPY: Lenny’s speech causes a storm to break out in the Vatican. A literal storm. Rain, thunder, lightning bolts shooting throughout the night sky within moments of his laser-pointer-induced early conclusion, etc. Do you get it? Because it also caused a storm metaphorically. There are two kinds of storms, you see. Please email me if you need this explained further.
1. The Papal Kangaroo
Let’s talk logistics. Australia, to celebrate the new pope’s election, sent him a kangaroo. Unsolicited. They just mailed him a kangaroo. I don’t know much about high-level papal diplomacy, but… is this normal? Does Australia often send kangaroos to newly elected world leaders and heads of state? Do… do you think Bill Clinton has a 30-year-old kangaroo hanging around in his Harlem office, possibly who wears glasses and helps to file paperwork? I’m going to go ahead and assume the answer to both is yes.
More importantly, if I have this correct, after receiving a full live caged kangaroo as a gift from Australia, the people in the pope’s gift warehouse just threw a sheet over and apparently forgot about it. (“What’s this one, Larry? A kangaroo? Yeah okay, put it over there by the scooters.”) Like, the pope showed up to look at his gifts, and everyone was standing around looking at letters from dumb kids, and not one person thought to mention the living, breathing kangaroo? Let me be incredibly clear about something: if you ever have a list of things to discuss with me and one of the items on the list is “The Australian government mailed you a kangaroo,” you lead with that. I don’t care what else is on the list. You always lead with the free kangaroo.
Anyway, as you can see in that GIF, the pope is now apparently a kangaroo whisperer and can maybe communicate with animals. Also, he released the kangaroo into the Vatican’s garden to let it wander around freely, because we all signed up for this loopy show, and it’s gonna give us exactly what we asked for, whether we knew we were asking for a papal kangaroo or not.