The pieces now laid out, the game starts in earnest. Pius XIII and Cardinal Voiello both say a lot of things to some characters that they contradict to others. Can we pick out which are the truth, and which are stated for effect? And what effects are the lies meant to have?
Pius and his confessor, Don Tommaso sit on the roof of St. Peter’s, gazing up at the big dipper, where Pius claimed that God lives. The pope thinks back over the conclave that elected him, confessing his ego. As the voting progressed, he began to pray that he be elected, looking at the other candidates and thinking “not them; me”. But then he denies believing that God had anything to do with the election. The Holy Spirit did not illumine him, or even the other cardinals. Lenny Belardo illumined himself, and believes only in himself.
We cut to, for the first time, the opening sequence, skipped in the first two episodes. Pius XIII walks past a sequence of paintings, depicting the two-thousand year history of the Church. But as he passes, a shooting star moves through the images behind him, and the figures in them react in shock. The star blazes on, wreaking destruction on the Church. In close-up, Pius turns and winks at the camera, passing out of frame as the star, now a meteor, crashes into a statue resembling Pope John Paul II. All of this is set to an instrumental version of British rapped Devlin’s “Watchtower”, from his album A Moving Picture.
Now Voiello is in Cardinal Spencer’s manse, looking up patiently as Spencer berates him for breaking their deal. Spencer was to be the new pope, and he would have reappointed Voiello as Cardinal Secretary of State. An alliance between Voiello’s progressive inclinations and Spencer’s conservatism. Spencer paces back and forth on the upper level of his library, pausing where the ceiling timbers form an upside-down cross over his right shoulder.
Spencer thinks, as we have been led to believe, that Voiello switched his influence to Belardo so that he could more easily exert control. He calls this foolish, reminding his former conspirator that the young are always more extreme than the old. But Voiello denies that he switched his influence at all. Sure, that’s what he let people believe in the aftermath, but he’s as mystified as anyone, and really believes this was the breath of the Holy Spirit at work.
The next morning, Pius kneels at his bedside and prays for forgiveness. He did not illumine himself, and he tricked Tommaso by telling him that. He begs for God to dictate to him, so he will know what to say; he’s always been good at taking notes. But God remains silent.
Voiello meets with the chorus -- Aguirre, Ozolins, and Caltanissetta -- around a table stacked with Voiello's latest biography. They decide they need a dramatic gesture to take back the momentum, and ask Voiello to resign his post immediately.
The Pope’s homily is front-page news in every paper around the world. Voiello and Sofia confront him about the growing media firestorm, but he remains adamant that he will not make any public appearances, and neither will anyone on his behalf. They also raise the issue of Archbishop Kurtwell, accused of child abuse in a very high-profile case, complicated by his stewardship over a large number of seminaries that train nearly half the priests in North America.
Pius calls Ozolins into the meeting and brings him to the globe. Since the cardinal’s previous role was to make travel arrangements, and since the new Pope will not be traveling nearly as much, he asks Ozolins to close his eyes and point at his new diocese. Ozolins aims somewhere near San Francisco, but Pius declares it Ketchikan, Alaska. The Pope is freezing out his detractors.
Outside, in a seemingly tropical garden, Cardinal Caltanissetta approaches Pius, offering a gift: a large, sturdy safety pin. It’s an object which can be quite useful, but only if it’s opened. Pius responds by bending the pin, stretching it out into a loop, which he slides onto his wrist, illustrating that it can still be useful, even closed. Every approach made against him, he repurposes and redirects. Caltanissetta persists, criticizing the Pope’s homily. The question is no longer whether God exists, he says, but why we depend on Him. The cardinal is surprised that such a young pope holds such old ideas, but Pius explains that, as an orphan, he was never young.
Pius calls Sister Mary into his chambers, telling her that there will be a press conference after all, and she will deliver it, reading only a statement he dictates to her. She, as usual under stress, takes to the basketball court, where she meets Voiello. They discuss the press conference, still guarded around each other, but starting to lower their defenses. Voiello raises his qualms about the Pope, and whether or not he has a plan. Mary points out Voiello’s own contradictions, living irritably in luxury and yet babysitting a disabled boy by nights. He tells her she seems "unbeatable," but she says no one is unbeatable. It's a matter of time and patience, which she asks him for.
Mary then turns to Spencer and asks him to accept Pius’ offer and advise him again. He may be the Holy Father, but Spencer is still his father figure, and he can still withhold his approval, “what all good fathers do with their sons”.
As Mary prepares for the press conference, she flashes back to her days in the orphanage with Lenny and Andrew. The conference raises more questions than it answers. She reads a statement alluding to a plan, but this hardly satisfies the assembled world press.
That evening, Spencer takes Mary’s advice and meets with Pius to scold him for his regressive homily. “All you had to do was smile and greet the crowd,” he says. “I don’t smile, and I don’t greet.” Pius again alludes to his plan. “Absence is presence.” But Spencer knows Lenny Belardo, and knows his history. It may be dime-store psychology, but he understands that Pius is acting out his childhood traumas, modeling an absent God on his own absent parents, no matter whether that applies to a billion other Catholics or not. Theological mystery is not just a marketing strategy, and Spencer won’t spend the last of his life abetting the vengeance of an emotional child.
Walking back through the gardens, Pius notices the kangaroo again, a creature as alien in these surroundings as he is.
From his office window, he sees Esther, still standing motionless in the square, where she stood during his homily. He summons her to meet him, asking why she was standing there. She says she loved his homily, but he tells her that is not enough; she must perceive it. She says she thinks she did, and besides that, respect. He faints into her arms on the floor of his office, the Pietà over again.
In a dream, Pius sees his parents at an intersection in Venice, where they’d gone after abandoning him. They flee in opposite directions down the alley, replaced by two altarboys. The boy chases his parents across a canal, losing them as they board a boat, calling out after them. “What’s your name?” The next day, Pius’ lighter with the image of Piazza San Marco stops working.
Frustrated at Voiello’s persistence on his address to the College of Cardinals, and on the Kurtwell case, Pius demands the cardinal come clean about the machinations at work within the conclave that elected him. Voiello reiterates the story of compromise, that Belardo was seen as a bridge between his factions and Spencer’s. He was seen as a prudent cardinal, in great contrast to his imprudence as Pope. But Pius points out that cardinals work within a college, while a pope is an absolute sovereign, so naturally his behavior would change.
Pushed to a breaking point, Voiello snaps that Belardo was supposed to share his sovereignty with his advice and Spencer’s, not so independently as he has. Finally having pushed Voiello off his diplomatic stance, Pius asks Mary to go look up the procedure for deposing a cardinal. In private, Pius tells Voiello that they both know it’s not true that the cardinal was instrumental in the last conclave, echoing Voiello’s statements to Spencer at the start of the episode. But even if he is deposed, the former Cardinal Secretary of State wields vast influence both inside and outside the walls of the Vatican.
Voiello returns to Spencer, this time with Caltanissetta, who is shaping up as a venerable, near-mystical source of wisdom. The aged cardinal raises his hand slowly, raising the weight of God. Spencer understands just how fragile a weight it is, but he has lost his faith in the ability of the Church to fortify God against the world. Caltanissetta reminds him that this is exactly the job of a priest, which he cannot abdicate.
Spencer leaves his manse for the first time, coming to Pius to beg forgiveness and accept the Pope’s offer, but he is rejected. There is no longer a position available for him.
The bishops of Italy bring their concerns to the Pope. His homily has sown doubt and fear among the faithful. But Pius looks back; when was the Church great? when it was feared, or when it became reassuring and accommodating?
Walking in the orange groves with Msgr. Gutierrez, Pius tells him that he never felt a strong calling to the ministry. He joined the priesthood for lack of anything better to do, heading straight from Mary’s orphanage to Spencer’s seminary, with only a week off in between. But during that week, he traveled to California, where he met a girl at the beach — echoing Jep Gambardella’s youthful romance by the sea in The Great Beauty.
When Gutierrez returns to his own chamber, he finds Voiello waiting for him. The cardinal pulls out a bottle of gin from the stuffed animals covering the Monsignor’s bed. That alone might not make him an alcoholic, but the liquor store under his bed might. Voiello pressures him to use his position at the Pope’s ear to turn up ammunition against him. The story of the girlfriend might not seem like much, but it tells the cardinal that the Pope was once tempted by a woman, and he might be again.
But does it really indicate temptation? Catholic dogma sees a reflection of the love of a man for his wife in the love of Christ for his Church. Was Lenny tempted by his girlfriend, or inspired, seeing how she could go from love to disappointment? He has seen the faithful disappointed in their Church lately, and he wants them to love it again.
Pius confesses to Gutierrez that he has doubts in his belief, and that he worries it might be better to leave things in the hands of Voiello, who knows how to get things done and seems to maintain his faith. Gutierrez is heartened by this, and pushes back: Voiello is just a politician; Pius is the Pope.