Ten things you might have missed in “The Young Pope”

by | Jan 17, 2017 | Pop Culture, Pope Francis, TV

HBO just premiered its sumptuously weird 10-episode miniseries about an American Pope (spoiler alert: he’s young).  Here’s some stuff you might have missed on a first watch-through:

1. Is this who they really think we are?

Why did Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino choose an American to be the brash, insincere, menacing, and generally-odious protagonist?  We wonder if this watermelon-eating, hyperbole-craving, shadow-of-a-human-being is how we Americans might be perceived in the rest of the world.  Oh, wait:

2. His dreamy Urbi et Orbi

Pius XIII presents himself on the papal balcony to deliver an exuberant speech introducing himself to the world.  Celebrating individual freedom with all the earnest enthusiasm of Joel Osteen, he is relishing the moment and eating up the applause from the crowds. He is clearly enjoying his new role, but a bit differently than this  Argentinian fellow:

3. Diane Keaton’s ascendance

Diane Keaton finally gained the control she’s been missing since she was Kay Corleone in The Godfather Part II.  As Sister Mary, she raised Pope Lenny since he was a child and now she is his only confidant.  She’s certainly the only one comfortable lecturing Pius XIII on his grave responsibilities.  


4. Forrest Gump feather

One scene, in which a group of cardinals commiserate over the Holy Spirit’s role in the papal election, opens with a single white feather floating down in the air.  It’s reminiscent of the most-famous-of-all floating white feathers: the one that lead us through the life of Forrest Gump. Irony: Pius XIII is basically the complete opposite of Forrest and perhaps that is the point. The cardinals think it’ll be easy to manipulate the new pope, but they’ll be in for a surprise if they underestimate him.


5. Gossip and Calumny vs. Pope Francis

Pope Lenny is dismissive of the sin of spilling secrets.  Though one Vatican priest calls this prying calumny, to the American it’s just simple gossip.  Pope Francis is of the former opinion, invoking Satan himself when giving his 2014 Christmas address to the actual Vatican’s Curia:  

This is a serious disease that begins simply when people chatter, and it takes over the person, turning the person as a Satan, and in so many cases people are speaking ill about their own colleagues and brothers and sisters. These people haven’t got the courage to speak directly, and they speak about others behind their backs. Dear brothers, let us be aware and guard against the terrorism of gossip.

Piece of evidence #315 Jude Law might be playing Satan?

7) The smell of s— and life

When asked by Sister Mary if he likes his living in the Vatican, Father Andrew answers,  “This place smells like incense and death. I prefer the smell of s— and life.”  This one’s easy to imagine Pope Francis saying.  Our actual Holy Father seems to find more life engaged with the world in all its ambiguity and grace than in the hermetically-sealed Vatican. Also this:

8) Hurt people hurt people.  

Lenny’s life started with his running off to start a new life in Venice and dropping him off at an orphanage on the way.    “No one loves me,” he tells Sister Mary,  “which is why I’m prepared for any kind of violence from everyone.”  This fear makes Lenny vulnerable–he has to protect himself from his embittered mentor, crying “Don’t talk to me like that, you’re hurting me.”  Maybe this bit of 12-step wisdom explains why he gets so much pleasure out of humiliating his entourage.


9) The Young Pope is beautiful, ridiculous, and confusing and leaves you wondering what the point is.  

Okay, you might not have missed that.  But, it is interesting how a such an implausible, surrealistic show can evoke the feeling of daily life suffused by grace–confused beauty searching for meaning amidst a fair share of evil.

10) The symbolism of Jude Law crawling through the infant-built Arc De Triomphe

We certainly didn’t miss the unforgettable open, but we did miss the symbolism.  What do you think it means?  Tell us in the comments below.  


Jason Downer, SJ

jdownersj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Jason