Oscar-nominee Jude Law plays Pope Pius XIII, the American young pope. The pope-tasctic insanity only starts there with this acclaimed limited series.
HBO’s incredible limited series The Young Pope stars Jude Law as the first and youngest American pope – Pope Pius XIII. Elected to the position by scheming Vatican cardinals, Law’s Pius ascends to the position without the slightest hint of decorum or respect for the post. The series, directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino (Youth), explores faith, tradition, modern Catholicism, and the politics of the Catholic Church in a remarkably fresh and urgent manner. In fact, it feels a little (a lot) like another political situation of note. More on that later…
I am neither Catholic nor a remotely religious person. I’ve been to the Vatican, and it’s incredibly difficult not to feel insignificant amidst the pageantry of the institution. So, while I do have respect for the Catholic faith, it wasn’t something that particularly resonated with me. The greatest asset of The Young Pope is its ability to inspire deep conversations about topics on which you’ve already formed solid opinions. Like religion itself, everyone takes away different things from the series. If you’re looking for a discussion of those themes, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Reading this piece, you’ll likely accuse me of having the most superficial reaction to The Young Pope possible. And maybe that’s true. Well, it probably is. Just because I want to focus on the craziest aspects of the series doesn’t mean I don’t ruminate on the deeper topics. It’s just much more fun to talk about shock value. So here are 7 crazy things I found memorable over all 10 episodes. The series wraps Monday, February 13, at 9pm ET. Be warned, spoilers follow for those uninitiated.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned…
7. The 3-way sex scene.
Given my pubescent obsession with sex on TV, you’d think this ranked higher on the list. However, given a show starring Jude Law as a young pope, you’d think the titular pope would be getting SOMETHING on the side. Turns out, he’s completely dedicated to the task of celibacy. It’s not for lack of opportunity – many woman and men have cast a longing look at this pope. No, one of the biggest surprises of the series is that Jude Law remains clothed and chaste for nearly all 10 hours. Well, except the gratuitous ass shot in the first five minutes.
The same cannot be said for his best friend Cardinal Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd). As Chapter 6 begins, Dussolier returned to his flock in Hondouras after accepting a Vatican post. How does he say goodbye? An extremely active 3-way with a very attractive married woman and a young stud. And there’s little doubt as to who’s a top, bottom, sideways, voyeur… You get the picture.
So, while this feels kind of shocking and crazy, it doesn’t achieve the same sense of insanity we’d anticipated. Way to play it chaste, The Young Pope.
6. Sister Mary’s Nighttime Gear
Diane Keaton playing a nun is almost as surprising as Jude Law playing a pope. Almost. She gives (likely was directed to give) a very subdued performance as Sister Mary. In several scenes, she just stands in the background, placed here and there for emphasis on the foreground or to reference pieces of art. But her most memorable scenes take place out of her habit and in her nighty. It’s not the lacy nighty variety of course. What did you think this was, Black Habit Diaries? No, she sports a well-worn t-shirt with an amusing, did-I-just-read-that catchphrase. See for yourself below.
5. Cardinal Voiello And The Booby Statue
You know something’s up in the pilot episode when Cardinal Angelo Voiello (Silvio Orlando) stares longingly at a statue in Pope Pius XIII’s office. It’s not a tiny little Virgin Mary, which would seem setting appropriate. Instead, do you remember The Witches of Eastwick? Do you remember Cher making all those tiny little booby statues with tiny little vulvas? Well, The Young Pope recycled some props because the booby doll makes a grand return right here. They just glammed it up with a fancy little rope hat, as one does. And Cardinal Voiello harbors impure thoughts for it. Openly. Like, there’s definitely cardinal wood springing up under that robe. Which is sort of reassuring given how much time he spends at night with a mentally handicapped boy.
4. Pope Pius’s Crazy Ass First Homily
Remember Pope Benedict XVI? Nazi ties aside, poor fella couldn’t take a picture without looking like the Emperor from Star Wars. Homeboy ain’t got shit on Lenny Belardo, better known as Pope Pius XIII. After postponing his first homily for days (two episodes), he finally delivers the utterly insane, completely batshit address we always wanted. “I don’t know if you deserve me,” he proclaims a crowd of increasingly disenchanted followers in St. Peter’s Square. He rants and raves while dramatically backlit to enhance the terror. My favorite part? Someone, some dumb ass kid probably, has a laser pointer and shines it on Lenny’s shrouded face. And like a feral cat in heat, Lenny becomes enraged, all but flipping his congregation the bird.
3. Even Being Married To God Himself Cannot Help Sister Mary’s Free Throw
Sister Mary/Diane Keaton – sometimes it’s hard to separate the two – does not excel at basketball. It’s often shown but never fully explored exactly why she loves the sport so much. She seems to understand the object of the game – put the round ball in the circular hoop. It’s just that she’s completely devoid of skill. If ever there were a nun’s league, poor Sister Mary would be consigned to the bench, warming it with her lovely black habit and presumably high-top Converses up under there. Not even all the holy water in all the Vatican could deliver us from this shitty form.
2. The Goddamn Kangaroo
In Episode 2, Pope Pius XIII pays a visit to his gift barn, the building dedicated to housing all his swag. Here, he finds and frees an actual, real-live kangaroo. Now, this kangaroo was given to him as a gift, of course, but it was stashed in the gift barn with a giant cloth draped over it. Like it was a bird. Like someone had no idea what the hell to do with an actual, real-live kangaroo and decided it would go to sleep if they draped a giant cloth over it.
Lenny, sorry Pope Pius XIII, frees the kangaroo and commands him to run in the Papal Gardens. And run he does. He pops up every so often, day or night. No one seems to be feeding this poor creature, but it just majestically hops around. Well, except when Pius tried to Force command the mammal to jump. This bitch was having none of that.
1. And This Came Before Trump?
I kid you not, The Young Pope aired in Europe in October 2016. This was, of course, well before Donald Trump would become our 45th President. But the allusions are uncanny. So uncanny, in fact, that you’d be wise to snag Lotto numbers from Paolo Sorrentino. Pope Pius XIII ascends to the papacy as the pawn of scheming cardinals who foolishly thought they could control him. Pius then initiates his legacy with the promise of Making Catholicism Great Again.
How is this achieved? By reversing every single socially liberal policy the church tentatively enacted, including imitating a witch hunt for non-practicing (save Dussolier) homosexual priests and kicking them out of the church. Pius effectively closes the church and the image of the Pope off to the world in attempts to govern with fear. He threatens world leaders with ridicule. He brings in unqualified toadies to serve as his underlings, and he tortures those who know what they’re doing.
Granted, it’s not an exact match: Trump is obsessed with his public image and popularity while Pius gets pissed when there are more than 17 people in St. Peter’s Square at any given time. By the end of the series (perhaps its most crazy feat), Pius learns to put aside his insecurities and embrace a doctrine of love, making him incredibly popular and beloved. Is this Trump’s fate? Ask Paolo Sorrentino. I swear he knows.
But Wait There’s More!
These are hardly the most insane moments of the series, and I’m holding some back from the finale because you need to discover them for yourself. But the thing I love most about The Young Pope is its willingness to balance deeply felt theology with utterly batshit side notes. Leaving the audience half marveling at the brilliance and half befuddled wondering if what they’d seen was some Lynchian fever dream. The “Sexy and I Know It” dressing sequence. The thrusting of Cardinal Voiello onto Pius’s shoe for kissing. Pius dropping a baby on its head. Pius and Dussolier sneaking out for cigs in track suits. And the Cherry Coke. The papal diva’s Cherry Coke. I won’t revisit The Young Pope for a while, but I’ll never look at a Cherry Coke the same way again.