Lenny prepares for his first public appearance as Pope Pius XIII

By Joe McGovern
January 16, 2017 at 10:28 PM EST
Gianni Fiorito/HBO

Welcome to Inauguration Day at the Vatican. After fever dreaming in The Young Pope‘s premiere episode about his debut speech to the world, Jude Law’s Lenny/Pius XIII spends much of this second chapter rehearsing and obsessing over what he’s going to say. Ultimately, it’s not so much the words (boilerplate “Surrender to God” and “Only Christ exists” rhetoric) as the dark, malevolent tone and menacing silhouette he adopts for the occasion.

But camera shyness, we learn, isn’t really new. For years, Lenny has forbidden his photo to be taken or his likeness to be depicted. Flashes of this quirk emerge in a scene between Sister Mary and a cardinal named Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd, another ironic name for a show about Catholicism), a childhood friend of Lenny’s. (Sister Mary delivers a funny line here about not having gotten any plastic surgery — another reason to be thankful for Diane Keaton and her real face.) Lenny later asks her if she’s seen Andrew. She says no.

Then there’s the new pope’s meeting with Sofia (Cécile de France), the Vatican’s marketing director, whom he tells to forget about producing any merchandise with his face on it. The conversation extends to other figures of mystery in their respective fields (Banksy, J.D. Salinger, Daft Punk, Stanley Kubrick). Lenny also takes a dig at Harvard University (“It means one thing only: Decline”), which doesn’t really have anything to do with academia. Harvard represents the establishment and fits perfectly within Lenny’s conservative wheelhouse as a target of attack.

Five conversation points from “Second Episode,” a fine follow-up to the series premiere, even if it flounders somewhat in the pacing.

1. Morning delights

As the opening credits roll, the episode begins with a delightful sequence of scenes from the morning. That includes nuns playing soccer, Cardinal Caltanissetta alternating between oxygen and nicotine, and images of various cardinals and bishops eating breakfast — including one who looks uncannily like Joseph Ratzinger a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned nearly four years ago but still lives in Vatican City.

2. Kangaroo Jude

In the episode’s most beguiling scene, Lenny visits the storage unit where all the gifts sent to him are piling up. In a tarp-covered cage is a special gift from the Australian ambassador:

The moment is magical, as Lenny gracefully communes with the animal and leads it out of the cage. Mary is looking on in astonishment. Later at dinner, she mentions the incident to Lenny, along with another similar incident from the past she only begins to speak about before he abruptly shuts her up. We already know she thinks he a literal saint. She obviously believes he’s capable of performing miracles.

3. Vatican Radio

Series creator Paolo Sorrentino is such a trusted DJ. He hasn’t made a movie yet, including ones that don’t quite succeed narratively, that lack whatsoever in great music choices. Later in the season, Sorrentino syncs a scene of Lenny getting dressed to “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO; here he favors electronic tunes. Here are three of the best from this hour:

4. Voiello’s oath of office

When Lenny finally walks away from the microphone during his address (and after the skies open up to a furious storm), the episode’s most haunting moment — and its last — features the Vatican secretary of state (Silvio Orlando). He’s embracing a disabled child (his child?) and pleading,”Help me. Help me atone for all the wrong I’ll have done in order to save the church.” We, along with Sister Mary, witnessed Voiello interact with this youngster earlier.

5. Best line

I could just as easily give it to the T-shirt Sister Mary is wearing when Lenny asks about his parents, who abandoned him when he was 7 and flew to Venice. One imagines Sorrentino giggling at the mere thought of having a Catholic nun wear this. To bed, no less.

But two conversations between Sister Mary and Cardinal Voiello feature the episode’s best writing — and an evolving relationship between those two characters that will be fascinating to watch. Her genuinely heartfelt praise of his address (“A balance of love, which is exactly what love should be when its full and resolved”) was touching, but I preferred this viperish exchange as the two discuss papal policy in the garden and Voiello claims not to understand her:

“I’m afraid I don’t follow you.”
“You will one day.”