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The Young Pope: “Episode Two”

By Ellie Wilkin-Smith on Jan 16, 2017 to The Young Pope

In episode two, swiftly following on from the dramatic and alluring season opener for The Young Pope sees the Vatican City doing some major damage control following on from Lenny’s explosive and scornful debut under the cover of darkness. Before I get into the episode, this was the first time I saw and heard the opening credits which is vibrant and heavy version of All Along the Watchtower, which literary scholars have remarked on the lyrics bearing a strong similarity to the Book of Isaiah in the Bible, most notably chapter 21 verses 9 to 12:

Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed. And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

This reference to Babylon, which is considered in the Bible to be the place where life began, and the tower of Babel was created by man to reach up to heaven, suggests an overwhelming reckoning by Lenny as the leader of the Catholic Church, that perhaps my previous questions around his motives might be not in the favour of the people, but in the delusional mind that God has a greater plan for Lenny. It is also a reference to the worship of false idols, something that Lenny himself is keen to avoid by not showing the people what he looks like so that they will only have a vision of Christ when they pray.

Lenny strongly believes that he earned his position by praying “so hard he shit his pants”, and that his prayers were answered by God, almost suggesting that he spoke directly with God which many people believe is a power that the Pope holds. He has made it very clear that he doesn’t care about anything but being of use to God and doing what God wants him to do. He has looked beyond his people and his responsibilities and looked towards God’s will, and that is all he can see. This idea and the remunerations of his job as Pope have been put on the back burner and have highlighted an aggressive side to the church. The side that saw Jesus Christ crucified, that saw Christian persecution all over the world, the side where God doesn’t answer prayers, where famine and terror grip the world. People look to God for an answer but he is not always there. This scornful nature and the idea that followers of God must suffer comes out during Lenny’s speech and is even more prevalent in this second episode. He doesn’t care about baptizing children and babies, he doesn’t want any involvement in such petty duties. He starts to show a major hostility to the unfaithful and continues to remain elusive to the public, sending Sister Mary to do his press conferences.

Lenny discusses his plan, saying that “absence is presence” mirroring the notion of God’s infinite silence as discussed in the episode one review. He wants mystery and intrigue to be at the center of the church and that everyone must learn that it takes suffering and sacrifice to find God. Suggesting it is easy to believe in God when you are looking at beautiful sunsets is true, but they need to be able to find God in the cold and the darkness as well. Something that is not easy to do. I’m still not sure when this story is being set or what else is happening in the world as we have been imprisoned inside the Vatican City and have yet to venture further than the St Peters Square. Any external pressures on the Catholic Church are yet to be identified, maybe that is yet to come.

Lenny begins to question why he was elected and what it meant to those who elected him, which leads Cardinal Voiella to say that he is the only reason why Lenny is Pope, that his influence and interference during the election is the only reason why Lenny is where he is, suggesting it had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. This leads Lenny to begin proceedings to have Voiella permanently removed from the Vatican. Lenny begins to realize that the ideas and values that he has as Pope come from the hedonistic lifestyles of his parents, who abandoned him as an child, resulting in Conservative religious views, which gives some Cardinals another reason to dislike him.

As Lenny’s relationship with Voiella breaks, his friendship with Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Camara) strengthens, resulting in Lenny confiding in him. Voiella is hell bent on finding out something damaging about Lenny, something he can use against him, so he bribes Gutierrez to tell him everything. He threatens to tell Lenny about Gutierrez’ alcohol problem if he doesn’t tell him everything Lenny has confided in him. Voiella wants to know whether or not the Church is a woman, alluding to Lenny’s sexual orientation. I can only presume this is so he can get someone to sleep with Lenny and cause a scandal so huge that Lenny will be removed from the Vatican.

The pacing of this episode was really different to the premiere, it was a little slower and more subdued and in all honesty, it was a struggle to maintain full attention. Sometimes the language and the politics of the Vatican can get quite confusing and I have to Google quite a lot of stuff while I am watching to make sure I understand what is happening. I’m not expecting the kind of explosive, ruckus of other HBO shows but rather a deep, looming and unsettling tension throughout the season which was there in the first episode, but not so much in this one. It’s an interesting story and something I will continue to watch because I feel invested enough now, I do hope it gets a bit better, though.

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