Halfway through the season, The Young Pope seems on the verge of some acceleration. The Cardinals have all been stuck in the Vatican, waiting for Pius XIII to address them directly, which he is almost ready to do. But first we have some of the most melancholy, contemplative material the series has offered yet, and some teasing insights into Lenny Belardo’s past.
We start inside Pius’ dream of his parents in Venice again. This time he stands as an adult at the dock as his parents’ boat drifts away. In his apartment, Pius lays back on his bed, his head hanging off the edge. The dream turns upside-down as the boat disappears into the distance. The sad strings continue through the opening sequence, replacing the normal theme, and into a view of the stars over St. Peter’s.
Pius and Don Tommaso sit on the roof. Pius tells him that God no longer lives somewhere in the big dipper, but has, in protest of the state of humanity, moved to a filthy studio apartment upstairs from a tire repair shop on the outskirts of town. Tommaso tells the Pope that people have noticed his attentions to Esther. The gossip is that they’re having an affair. Pius tells him that he intends to start a revolution in the Church.
Another crate bearing the Vatican emblem is loaded onto another container ship.
Pius and Msgr. Gutierrez visit one of the Vatican museums, paying special attention to images of children.
Esther finds Pius in the gardens. She tells him that people say he’s a saint, capable of performing miracles. She unbuttons the bottom of her blouse to place his hand on her belly and prays the Hail Mary, her face nearly ecstatic. Pius’ face wanders from curiosity to beneficence, and even to a flash of alarm. She unbuttons the rest of her blouse and moves his hand upwards.
“Bingo,” says Cardinal Voiello, and his photographer’s telephoto camera snaps shot after shot. Fr. Amatucci is perched with his telescope to read Pius’ lips, and somehow Esther’s despite her position turned mostly away from them. Esther continues to follow Voiello’s directions, but Pius stops her, telling her that he became a priest because it’s so painful to love other people and, like all men and women religious, he is a coward at heart. He cannot love her the way she wants to be loved.
As Amatucci relates this respose, Voiello tells the photographer to stop. He seems to recognize something in the Pope’s words.
We cut to the young Lenny and Andrew running across the orphanage grounds, throwing their packs through the gates, and then climbing through themselves, running off across the road. The young Sister Mary finds the pipe-stem that Lenny dropped just inside the gate.
The two boys carefully make their way past the custodian sleeping outside his house, and peek through the windows to see his son, Billy, inside theing to his mother in bed. They continue down the dirt road away from the orphanage: Lenny eager and bright; Andrew nervous about the transgression. Lenny cleans up a cigarette butt from the side of the road. After a while, Andrew asks if they’re still going on. Lenny doesn’t care if Sister Mary is upset; he wants to find his mom and dad. Andrew stops and apologizes; he’s going back.
In the present, Mary again has the pipe-stem. Pius visits Cardinal Dussolier in his room, and they reminisce about when they were kids. Dussolier asks when the Pope will address the cardinals, but he demurs.
The Pope’s butler comes to Mary’s apartment at 3 A.M., telling her that the Pope and the Cardinal Secretary of State are both missing from the Apostolic Palace. She says she’ll take care of it, and not to say a word to anyone.
Voiello, naturally enough, is with Girolamo, dozing on the couch, but roused when Mary rings the bell. He invites her in, telling her she is beautiful at night, and introducing her to his friend. She tells him that the Pope is missing, but he reassures her that all popes sneak out from time to time. He reiterates his comment on her beauty, and then repeats Pius’ words about priests being unhappy. Mary finds the sentiment beautiful and true, and Voiello reveals his source.
He goes on to admit that he had planned to entrap the Pope in a scandal, but he has had a change of heart. He hands her a USB stick containing, he says, all the evidence that he collected, telling her that it’s safer in her hands than in his. She was right: Pius really is a saint.
Pius and Dussolier, dressed in track suits, walk into a Roman hotel and ask the night concierge if he can sell them any cigarettes. When he goes to look for some, they notice a woman walking into the empty bar and follow her. She says they look like a couple of priests. After some nervous laughter they deny it: “have you ever seen priests in track suits?” “I’ve seen everything,” she replies with a smile. She says she has clients who insist she is proof of the existence of God. She denies being such proof — they only say as much because they cannot see very far — but she has seen far and has proof. Pius begs her to show him. She takes out her phone and takes his picture, zooming in on his eyes. They, she says, prove God’s existence. Pius and Dussolier leave, slightly shaken.
Again in flashback, Billy brings a cool washcloth to his mother’s brow. Dussolier asks Pius if he remembers the time that Mary took them to see the custodian’s wife on her deathbed, but Pius doesn’t want to talk about it. Dussolier pushes back, telling him it’s pointless to pretend that nothing extraordinary happened. Pius only wants to talk about things he understands, like asking Dussolier to become Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy. But that doesn’t seem to be the sort of position that would interest the missionary cardinal.
On a bridge, looking at the Vatican in the distance, Andrew confesses that he was watching when Lenny first came to the orphanage. He remembers seeing his mother, thinking that she looked sad. He never told his friend, because he thought it would cause too much pain when they were boys. It still causes the Pope too much pain to remember. They walk away through the early morning streets.
Sister Mary is waiting inside the Vatican gates, seeing her prodigal charges from a long way off.
Sister Mary is waiting on the steps of the orphanage with Andrew as Lenny returns. “Did you want to run away?” she asks. He offers a confused mixture of a nod and shake of his head before she hugs him close and brings him back inside.
Mary tells the Pope and Cardinal Dussolier that she hasn’t said anything to the Cardinal Secretary of State, and they thank her.
Workmen in the Vatican assemble a chair, as wimpled nuns play volleyball in the gardens. Pius tells Gutierrez he is forgiven for talking about their conversations to Voiello, and for his alcoholism, and for anything else he might think he’s keeping secret. Which is a heavy hint that there’s something else we don’t yet know about Gutierrez.
At dinner, Pius tells Sister Mary he’s not interested in the miracle she says he performed, but in the miracle of seeing his parents again. He’s getting old, and they’re getting even older. He’s not interested in seeing them dead; he’s only interested in the living.
Pius and Voiello watch the crate land on the helipad. Voiello asks the Pope not to send Gutierrez to handle the Kurtwell case, first arguing the monsignor’s inexperience, and then revealing his alcoholism, which Pius already knew about. He also reveals that he knows about Voiello’s plot against him.
As the two walk back towards the palace, Pius reads Voiello the riot act, as the cardinal sinks lower and lower in his shame. He confesses his plot, and begs forgiveness, telling the Pope he has already destroyed all the evidence. Esther watches them from across the lawn.
A messenger arrives to tell them that the papal tiara has arrived. Pius tells Voiello to prepare the Sistine Chapel, where he will finally address the College of Cardinals.
And then, in the midst of an overall very serious episode, we get a much-needed hit of pure levity. The cardinals gather, and Pius dresses in his most ornate vestments, all set to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It”. He enters the chapel on a litter, resplendent in the full glory of his office, and prepares to begin his address.
In flashback, his parents walk him up the road to the orphanage, hanging well back from the gates. He tells himself that they’re still behind him, and if he turns around they’ll still be there waiting for him. He turns around. They’re gone. Andrew and Sister Mary are watching.
Pius tells the assembled cardinals that the Church will close itself off. Evangelization and ecumenical outreach have been tried and rejected. Tolerance has been evicted in favor of “a new tenant, who has diametrically opposite tastes in decoration.” The Church will be a closed, fixed point, never looking to the outside world. If this is a Church for the few, so be it. He’d rather have a few fanatics in love with the Church than a great many mere hangers-on. The Church alone possesses the divinely-ordained charisma of truth, and those who truly love the truth will come to it without being sought out and pandered to.
He presents them with a small golden door; the only way in is through this uncomfortably tight passage. The Church, he says, must be inaccessible to those who are unwilling to subordinate themselves to their strict requirements. What profit is there for a Church to gain the love and friendship of the whole world, if it lose its soul? The “liturgy” — literally, the public work — will be work again, and not a mere social engagement. Forgiveness will not come freely any more.
Pius does not expect this order to be met with applause, but merely obedience. There is nothing outside that obedience but Hell, which he has spent the last few days building just outside that golden door. He tells them that he does not negotiate, and cannot be blackmailed, looking pointedly at Voiello.
He puts forward his bejewelled, crimson slippers. Cardinal Spencer stands, removes his biretta, and approaches, kneeling to kiss the Pope’s foot. He is followed by Dussolier, and then Voiello, who hesitates until Pius pushes his shoulder down with the other foot.
Pius sits out on the lawn, Esther behind him, and spies the kangaroo. He commands it to jump, and this time it does. He seems to revel in this, coincidence or not. Esther tries to confess her complicity with Voiello’s plot, but he stops her, telling her that only God needs to hear it. All he can do is forgive her, always, as he told Gutierrez. Even though that flies in the face of his assertions to the cardinals.
A nearby lily opens in the sun, and a breeze picks up. “Holy Father, I feel it,” Esther says. “Yes,” he responds, “I feel it too.” Voiello walks by and gives a small wave. Pius nods in response. Détente has been reached.
Late at night, Tonino Pettola, the self-proclaimed stigmatic, returns to his house, lit by dozens of votive candles, only to find the Pope and four cardinals waiting for him, tired of him “busting their balls”.