The Young Pope Recap: Series Premiere


 Have a Cherry Coke Zero on hand for this one

There long-awaited series premiere of The Young Pope begins with a baby crawling over piles of other, non-moving babies. Eventually, a fully clothed adult Lenny crawls out. He is now Pope. And as Pope, he gives an address to the people on masturbation, pre-martial sex, and abortion. This, it turns out, is all a dream. But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of what watching The Young Pope is like, and is destined to immediately turn off certain people.

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That is to say, this show ain’t for everyone. The Young Pope carries no subtlety; characters speak their minds and have secret, soap opera-esque meetings. Lenny is so obviously “the devil,” as a Cardinal puts it, that it’s incredible that he has become Pope in the first place. This first episode does not show us just how that happened, but it’s full of enough campy intrigue that it is easily forgotten. For now.

And, oh, is it so beautiful. The cinematography has a dreamy quality to it that only adds to the surrealism of the situation. In an early scene, Lenny is prevented with a breakfast feast that he declines because he only drinks Cherry Coke Zero in the morning. The way in which he enunciates “Cherry Coke Zero” creates a wonderful juxtaposition to, well, just about everything going on. The Young Pope is very much about juxtapositions. This first episodes also introduces us to the lives of the Cardinals, people who come off as power-hungry politicians. Again, not subtle. But effective.

This is a man playing the same game as the Cardinals, only he is in a much better position to do so.

Lenny is a different kind of Pope. He flaunts his power and defies traditions, choosing to smoke in the place after being explicitly told that smoking in the building was not allowed. Lenny is fully aware of his station, and though there are moments that make it seem like he’s going to have to grow into the position (like when Sister Mary tells him that he’ll have to leave his personal pain behind,) they are not convincing. This is a man playing the same game as the Cardinals, only he is in a much better position to do so.

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Sister Mary raised Lenny after he was orphaned, and for her love and loyalty is made his personal assistant. This, too, flies in the face of tradition, as normally someone more experienced would be given this position. Lenny, unsurprisingly, does not care. In a telling scene, a group of children are forced to flee when the Pope’s helicopter lands to deliver Sister Mary. The children are not told to move ahead of time, and Lenny gives them less attention than he would a fly. It should be said that Jude Law plays the part brilliantly. He exudes power and quiet menace while still being difficult to pin down.

Outside of Sister Mary, Lenny does make a couple of “friends.” Early on, he lets everyone know that friendly relationships are ambiguous, and he therefore prefers formal ones. Hence the quotation marks. These two men are recruits to be used in his own power game, spying on others and reporting gossip from Confessionals. Lenny is a charming and manipulative man, skills that were likely honed sometime in the past, and he uses them with unnerving expertise.

The Young Pope is in your face constantly, but the thoughtful camerawork helps make it work.

The Young Pope is in your face constantly, but the thoughtful camerawork helps make it work. For people who want something new and surreal, this is for you. The Young Pope is campy, gorgeous, and deeply cynical (as well as sinister.) It is far from being a more general crowd pleaser; it’s much too strange for that.

In the final scene of the episode, Lenny tells a Priest that he does not believe in God. The Priest becomes visibly shaken, even on the verge of tears. So Lenny repeats the statement, and then finally reveals it was a joke. He smiles a big smile and nods, as if telling the Priest “I’m telling you it’s a joke and you believe it, so smile now.” He turns away and the smile melts away.

Next: The Deuce is coming later this year.

Maybe he really doesn’t believe in God and he just manipulated his way to the top, or maybe he just wanted to torture the poor man. This is the story about an interesting and conflicting man – not a good man. We’re excited to see what’s next.