The Young Pope: Season 1
HBO has built a reputation for pushing the envelope, taking entertainment to a level previously unimagined by the audience. From a Mafia Don in need of a psychiatrist to a hyper-realistic look at a town devoted to the fulfilling the carnal and alcoholic desires of a gold prospector, this network has earned the myriad of awards and adulations accumulated over the years. Traditionally, the two subjects considered off-topic to prevent a melee it is best to avoid politics and religion. With the 2016 Presidential election undeniably the most unorthodox in history most networks understandably choose to provide programming related to alternate views of the highest echelons of government. HBO continued its propensity blazing their path by creating a series about the highest office in one of the world’s dominant religions, The Pope. The result of this strategy was ‘The Young Pope.' Since the usual vision of The Pope is an elderly man, pious, and supremely devoted to the best interest of his followers. This series takes each point in turn and completely reverses expectations. Admittedly not the best effort by the pioneer in premium tier cable, it does ascend to a level of quality that surpasses a significant portion of their competition. While substantially not as explicit in the use of graphic violence or explicit sexuality but there are enough to warrant the TV-MA rating. The series is net for the faint of heart, specifically those fervent in their religious beliefs. Some detractors have cited the slow pacing as a negative, not accustomed to stories that, by their nature, demand a carefully crafted deployment of exposition and artistic advantage of slowly immersing the viewer into the world created by the writers, directors, and cast. The format selected to present this tale of the covert machinations of the Vatican was the limited series. Unlike the established guideline of the miniseries, the story extends beyond the two or three nights to a full season of ten weekly episodes. This affords a definite freedom to the writers since no consideration for a second season is necessary, the story concludes by the end of its final episode. At least that was the plan. The success of the endeavor did result in the announcement of a second season.
Immediately upon the death of the Pope, the College of Cardinals is convened in Rome. In this instance, a historical first was seen, electing an American, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Lenny Belardo (Jude Law). His election was not without mystery as some held suspicions as to how one so young, still, in his thirties could attain the Thone of Peter. Most felt that his mentor and predecessor as New York’s Archbishop, Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell). His first official act heightened Those suspicions as Pope, the selection of his Papal name. To the shock of the Cardinals, the newly elected Pope chose, Pope Pius XIII. The controversy stemmed from the last use of the name, Pope Pius XII, who served as Pope during World War II. It was subsequently demonstrated that this Pope knew about the Holocaust and negotiated with the Nazi high command. An uproar ensued when the Pope announces that he will not make public appearances, extended that decree to the unimaginable pronouncement that it is forbidden to make any public use of his image. This is especially difficult for Sofia (Cécile de France), in charge of marketing or the Holy See. She advises the Pope against that proclamation since the marketing of items bearing the Papal Likeness accounts for a substantial portion of the income for the Holy See. The first meeting between the Pope and this attractive woman provides one of the initial insights into the psychological makeup of the Pope. The Pope was a frequent smoker who reversed the orders of a processor forbidding smoking in the Pope’s office. He explains this to Sophia as he casually lights a cigarette she asked if she can smoke. He responds "no" in a strongly emphasized fashion. This Pope is not open to debate, yielding or discussion. He is to be obeyed with unquestioned loyalty.
To the chagrin of the Cardinals, their new Pontiff completely rejects the liberal changes made to the Church. Ecumenicalism, the willingness to embrace other variations of Christendom. The Catholic Church is to stand as the sole means to approach God. He calls for unswerving loyalty to the Church, that is to the unquestioned authority of the Pope. The changes he plans included the complete rejection of homosexuality, a plot point that is expanded through the personal effects on a supplicant for the priesthood, Ángelo Sanchez (Marcos Franz). Nearly every decision becomes growing concern of the Cardinals who swiftly conclude that this new Pope poses a clear and realistic danger to the Church. At the center of the concerned scarlet-clad clerics is Cardinal Angelo Voiello (Silvio Orlando), holding the exalted positions of Camerlengo and Cardinal Secretary of State. This makes him the second most powerful man in the Vatican both within the Church and on the global political stage. The Cardinals plot with Cardinal Voiello to find some way to force the Pope to step down. One abortive attempt involved placing a beautiful young woman, Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the wife of Peter (Biagio Forestieri), a member of the elite Pontifical Swiss Guard. The Cardinals conspire to induce a relationship between the Pope and young woman. At one point the ruse goes far as to secretly photographic the Pontiff as she tricks him into touching her breast. The photographic equipment would insight envy in a paparazzi. Ultimately doubts manifested by Cardinal Voiello deter such blatantly odious machinations.
When the Pope makes his first official public address, it is at night, rather than the bright daylight. The Pope is shrouded in robes standing back in the shadows of the terrace. The repercussions are immediate and felt global. The reason for the mystery given by the Pope was his vision of returning the Church to its mysterious and unquestioned status. The Pope continues to explain that those weak in faith will fall away leaving only the zealots. Every action made by the Pope is carefully crafted to shock the hidebound hierarchy of the Church and cement his position as its unchallenged ruler. One of the most dramatic scenes involves the Pope’s entrance to a conclave of Cardinals. The process of the Pope selecting his official garb and adornments is shown in exquisite detail. From the selection of the undergarments to the layers of robes multiple choices are provided. Finally, the Pape crown is the last item to select. He rejects each held in the Vatican having a large create brought from the Vatican treasury. It holds a crown of pure gold embellished with an astounding number of precious gems. The outer robe, a rich brocade forms a cocoon around the pontiff. He enters the chamber on a platform carried by many strong men. The Pope stands before the throne, arms held out, palms facing upward. This was one of the most impressive and shockingly dramatic visuals I have ever seen, in encapsulates the Pope’s insistence that he is the spokesman of God, ruling above the common throng. Adding to the humiliation of those opposing them he moves his foot forward, his red shoe poking out from the heavy robes. The Cardinals are expected to bend and kiss his foot in a symbol of subjugation. When it is time for Cardinal Voiello to perform the act of obeisance, the Pope pushed his face down, holding it there with his other foot.
One of the main strengths of this limited series is the way the writers achieved a balance between Pope Pious XIII and Lenny Belardo. He was left as a young boy at a Catholic orphanage by his parents, raised by a nun, Sister Mary (Diane Keaton). As Pope, he made Sister Mary his official personal secretary. One of Lenny’s closest friends was another orphan, Cardinal Andrew Dissolver (Scott Shepherd), who was like his brother. Both regarded Sister Mary as a maternal figure. Many trials and tribulation are brought to bear including a sexual scandal with an Archbishop Kurt Weill (Guy Boyd), political uproar between the Pope and the Prime Minister of Italy. Also, there is a Shepard, Tonino Pettola (Franco Pinelli), who claims he can see the Virgin Mary among his flock of sheep. He has been gaining a sizable flowing. Despite the fact that the pacing is so carefully measured there is an incredible number of subplots, twists, and nuances woven into the fabric of this memorizing story.