The Young Pope, episodes 6-10: Lenny becomes likeable
So, when we were at the midway point of The Young Pope, there were a handful of ways the show could have ended. Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law), also known as Lenny Belardo, asserted himself as an infallible figure isolated in the Vatican. This all changes in the last five episodes.
At the halfway point, it’s clear that his plan for the Catholic Church is not working. In his speech to the College of Cardinals, he calls for fanaticism and isolationism. He believes his absence from the public spotlight would bring a sense of intrigue and mystery to the Church, and the people would return to the Church in masses. But, to none of the Cardinals’ surprise, his plan is failing miserably.
We begin to see a different side of Belardo as the show progresses into the latter half of the series. As I said before, he is seen as an impenetrable force -- somebody who can’t be reasoned with, and somebody who can’t be swayed.
Belardo’s strongman facade cracks when he experiences loss. Cardinal Dussollier, his childhood friend who grew up with him, is murdered in Honduras, and Cardinal Spencer, his mentor in the Vatican, passes away.
We begin to see the humanity of the young Pope. The first half of the show revealed that Belardo had plenty of demons -- the second half showed how he dealt with them, and the man he became because of it.
The dialogue shifts in the second half of the series. Instead of Belardo embarrassing priests, lecturing politicians and causing general confusion throughout the Vatican, his discussions becomes much more substantial. From arguing about abortion to discussing why priests don’t marry, you begin to see the method behind his madness. You begin to see the reasoning behind his decisions, and along the way, Belardo becomes extremely likeable.
The fact that Belardo becomes likeable seemed completely out of reach at the beginning of the series. Sure, his dominating presence is enjoyable on screen, and watching him destroy the Vatican order is awesome, but he isn’t a character that you could find yourself rooting for.
His character transformation really takes shape when he makes his first trip to Africa. In typical Lenny “Hands of God” Belardo fashion, he is not going there for humanitarian reasons -- he is there to expose a corrupt nun who is stealing fresh water from the villages that she runs. But in the meantime, he gives a speech to the faithful of the villages. Although he is not visible, his words ring loud and clear. It feels like the voice of God is directly addressing the crowd, and he gives a loving, profound speech that may be the highlight of the show for me personally.
“Think about all the things you like. That is God.”
“Now look at whoever is next to you. Look at them with eyes of joy, and remember what St. Augustine said: If you want to see God, you have the means to do it. God is love.”
“I, on the other hand, won’t speak to you about God until there is peace. Because God is peace, and peace is God. Give me peace, and I’ll give you God.”
That’s some powerful stuff.
Pope Pius XIII seals his likeability in the ninth episode, when it is shown that he is a miracle worker. At a young age, he’s shown curing a terminally ill woman. He becomes a Christ-like figure, and it becomes clear why he is so difficult at the beginning of the series -- he doesn’t understand who he is.
He sends his friend, Cardinal Gutierrez, to New York to investigate pedaphilia in New York City. Gutierrez is an alcoholic, and is seen as unfit to investigate this serious matter. However, Belardo’s choice pays off and the investigation comes to fruition. In the process, the archbishop they are prosecuting releases a series of love letters that Belardo wrote to a girl he met for a week when he was vacationing in California. His Holiness hits us with more profound words about finding and losing love.
“And you, shining gleam of my misspent youth, did you lose or did you find? I don't know. And I will never know. I can't even remember your name, my love. And I don't have the answer. But this is how I like to imagine it, the answer. In the end, my love, we have no choice. We have to find.”
Bring out the tissues -- that’s beautiful. His words are simple, yet powerful. In a separate scene, he sits across from old Popes in a dream, and they tell him that sometimes banal platitudes can be the most powerful way to communicate. This theme prevails throughout the entire series -- most of the time, when Belardo speaks, he does not speak in long, complex sentences. He speaks in banal platitudes.
The story culminates with the Pope giving his first address to the public. He tells the story about a little girl who’s a miracle worker just like him. He passes out at the end of the speech, and the camera zooms all the way out into space, ending the miniseries.
The ending to the show wasn’t just anti-climatic, it was underwhelming. Although it is unclear if Belardo is dead or alive, it feels like the show left something on the table. There are rumors that a second season is in the works, which makes sense. The ending could also signify that Lenny’s soul is ascending to heaven. But if there’s a second season, that means that Lenny just passed out because he was overwhelmed by the crowd.
All in all, The Young Pope is a fascinating watch. The score and cinematography are top-notch, Jude Law is incredible and the storyline is powerful. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth, but some scenes were legitimately moving. The pace of the show makes you feel like you grow up with Lenny, and see his transformation as he becomes a powerful, thoughtful leader driven by faith.
First half grade: A+
Second half grade: A
Final grade: A
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