This week’s Episodes of “The Young Pope” were a pair of mismatched socks. Episode Five was an overly lethargic exploration of Belardo’s friendship with his childhood best friend, Dussolier—a cardinal recently relocated to Vatican City—that culminated in an explosive ending. Episode Six, by contrast, picked up the pace immediately and ran with it until its final moments. The show continues to vacillate in style, and the more episodes that pass, the less cohesive the growth appears. While Episode Six easily ranks as one of the best episodes of the show, Episode Five’s lethargy undoubtedly sinks it to the bottom. Jude Law’s performance is the only consistency that has carried through the show while promising figures like Diane Keaton’s Sister Mary and Scott Shepherd’s Cardinal Dussolier fail to meet expectations.
Episode Five was a gratuitous exploration of Belardo’s abandonment. For the majority of the episode, Belardo and Dussolier jump back and forth in their memories to their time at the orphanage. Belardo is obsessed with finding his parents, a plotline that has begun to wear thin. The arrival of the papal tiara is the final piece that allows Belardo to give his speech to the cardinals. Belardo’s refusal to address the cardinals was a storyline emphasized back in the first episodes that by this time had been stretched so far the urgency was entirely lost. Prior to his speech, the “Young Pope” returns to its stylistic roots with a montage of Belardo gaudily adorning himself to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I know It.”
The episode’s shock factor was built on the same visual tropes that the “Young Pope” defined in its first two episodes. Scenes like the aforementioned montage thus fall a little flat-footed or end up on the contrived side of the line that the show has been toeing. Dussolier and Belardo lack the chemistry of best friends. There is no tangible affection; there is no sense of history. When they wander through Vatican City in their tracksuits, they might as well be two recently met acquaintances rather than two men close enough to be brothers reconnecting after time away.
The episode was built around exploring these emotional attachments. If they had been stronger, the choice to slow down the episode to a glacial pace prior to the ending might have been an interesting change of pace rather than a confounding choice. As is the structure of plot development—most of which occurs in the last five or so minutes. Belardo sits down for a candlelit dinner with a shepherd who has been curing people of disease. The character was introduced earlier in a prior episode as an interesting foil to the Catholic Church—he threatened to start his own church if he went unacknowledged by the Pope. It seems, however, that Belardo has caved here.
Episode Six picks up with a blitzkrieg of events that occur nine months after we last left off. A cardinal dies and face plants into his oatmeal. Esther gives birth to a baby. Belardo drops the baby. The show finally dives into the complex political drama that it has been skirting around for the past episodes. Instead of picking up the storylines that ended Episode Five, Episode Six focuses on the Italian prime minister (Stefano Accorsi) as a rival to Belardo and the Church’s power, and Belardo’s effort to root out all perceived gay clergy in a witch hunt. The Italian Prime Minister and Belardo engage in the most interesting verbal sparring to date. When the Prime Minister rattles off all the things he can do to subjugate the Church, he emerges as one of the first potent adversaries to Belardo that the show has produced. Belardo’s ability to hold his own, however, feels like a wasted opportunity to further his character and watch him in a moment of weakness.
Meanwhile, Belardo has comically misplaced Dussolier to lead his witch hunt against “sexual deviance”—in the first ten minutes of the episode Dussolier is engaged in a threesome with a man and woman. However, Dussolier still carries out Belardo’s wishes. In its conclusion, a young man interested in joining the Church is presumed to be gay and is rejected. He subsequently jumps to his death from the heights of the Vatican. The continued attempts of the “Young Pope” to be topically relevant by tackling the functioning of a highly conservative institution is thematically explored through the political conflicts between the church and the Italian Prime Minister. However, the issue is tackled emotionally in the outcome of the witch hunt.
Like Belardo, after he drops Esther’s baby and exclaims that he only knows how to bless infants, not hold them, it seems that the “Young Pope” only knows how to open stories. Past the halfway point, it will be interesting to see whether the show is able to deftly maneuver and develop its plot lines or whether it will carelessly let some fall to the floor.—Staff writer Kalia D. Firester can be reached at email@example.com.