Lenny makes a quiet confession

You don’t have to believe in the supernatural to wonder if someone over at HBO has powers of the clairvoyant. Tonight’s third episode of The Young Pope focuses — in a markedly more serious vein — on the fallout over Lenny’s (a.k.a. His Holiness Pius XIII’s) nightmarish introduction to the world. His inaugural papal address, which was the climax of episode 2, was an ugly rant about the carnage of the human race, underlined by a belief that that only he, the pope, could fix it. Unsupported, of course, by any actual evidence or ideas.

“They chose a pope they didn’t know,” Lenny says to his confessor Tomasso, in a chilling monologue at the beginning of this episode. “And today they began to understand.”

In an expertly scripted scene midway through the episode, Lenny bullies his Secretary of State, Cardinal Voiello, into betraying what exactly occurred during the conclave of Cardinals that elected him. Lenny promises “a macabre banquet that will bring on the ruin of the Church” if Voiello doesn’t pony up the details.

“Are you telling me you are behaving irrationally with the faithful, the Vatican, and the mass media,” Voiello asks, “because you were kept out of the loop on the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to your election?” Lenny, it seems, as Voiello goes onto explain, was elected thanks the the misguided assistance of special forces, which believed they were putting in place a puppet. For Voiello’s subsequent insubordination (including dropping the F-bomb, which Lenny is also prone to do), the pope threatens to depose him. That might have been Lenny’s biggest mistake yet.

Here are the five main takeaways from “Third Episode.”

1. Lenny’s lady problem

Late in the hour, Lenny tells his adviser, Monsignor Gutierrez (Javier Cámara, the star of Pedro Almodovar’s great Talk to Her), that as a young man he took a vacation to California, where he met and spent a week with a young woman. Something like this:


Lenny hadn’t entered the seminary yet, so the relationship wouldn’t really rise to the level of a retroactive celibacy sin. Though we know how religious nuts feel about sex, so when Voiello blackmails Gutierrez (a closet alcoholic) into telling him this information, you can bet it’ll come back into play.

2. Sister Mary explains it all

Lenny’s most trusted adviser is tasked with holding the pope’s first press conference, which naturally consists only of a monotone statement and no media availability for questions. But Sister Mary is also dealing with the realpolitik of the Vatican and Diane Keaton’s complex, layered performance gets more fascinating every week. In this episode she once again consults with Voiello about Lenny’s sanity and judgment. And also with Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell), Lenny’s bitter old mentor.

Keaton, interestingly, 16 years ago starred in a Showtime adaption of Christopher Durang’s satirical play Sister Mary Explains It All, in which she played a demagogical nun. And in 1975, in one of the Oscar-winning actress’s most dazzling comic performances, she costarred with Woody Allen as a Russian country girl who stridently defends the existence of God. I’ll make up any excuse to rewatch this:

3. All Along the Watchtower

Kudos to Paolo Sorrentino & Co. for the cosmic fireball that is the opening credits. Lenny walks left to right in front of a wall filled with Renaissance art, all while a blazing meteor smokes its way through all the paintings. In an otherwise rather muted hour in terms of kinky comedic winks, this sequence provides enough fuel for the whole episode.


On the soundtrack is “Watchtower,” British rapper Devlin’s instrumental riff on Bob Dylan’s classic Bible-quoting “All Along the Watchtower.”

4. Follow the dear leader

The show hasn’t fully invested in her yet, but something is obviously brewing with Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the blonde wife of a Swiss Guardsman, who has completely fallen for the pope’s come-to-Jesus rhetoric. In her appearance this week, she is granted access to Lenny, who faints in her arms.


One imagines the many various routes that this character will take in the next seven episodes. She doesn’t appear, like every other person in the story, to be alarmed by the new pope in the slightest. Once all has been lost, he might still need someone to mix the Kool-Aid.

5. Hard to believe

The episode ends not with a big bang but the quiet whisper of Lenny admitting to Gutierrez, “I don’t believe.” Notably, in a show rightfully famed and praised for its music, Sorrentino makes the decision to close with just the sounds of a Vatican garden. It’s a sign of respect for what Lenny has confessed. Beautifully, in fact, especially given his tendency to screech.


And it’s a topic — faith, belief, doubt — that everyone in the world has a deep relationship with, whether they care to grapple with it or not. Lenny, similar to another revered real-life Catholic figure who, wouldn’t you know, did not believe in God, humbles himself in the presence of the universe — and this week’s audience.