The New Pope is here—and as the title would imply, there’s a new pope in town. Don’t worry, Jude Law’s Pius XIII can still lay claim to the title of People’s Sexiest Pontiff Alive, but a challenger to the papacy has emerged in the form of John Malkovich. Every week, we’ll douse ourselves in holy water, dive into Paolo Sorrentino’s sacrilegious world, and come out with scripture (blogs). Our journey continues with the fourth episode.
Verse I. The Most Ambitious Crossover Event in Papal History
Folks, it finally happened: Marilyn Manson met the pope. Even for the standards of Paolo Sorrentino’s creation, this is a uniquely bizarre meeting of the minds—though as we know from last week’s episode, Pope John Paul III admires Manson because he “seems free.” (And, not for nothing, this pope used to be a punk rock musician and kept wearing eyeliner right up until he became pope, so maybe they could vibe?) The only way this could’ve been more epic were if news of Manson’s cameo—as well as the future appearance of Sharon Stone, presumably playing herself since she’s another celebrity this pope is fond of—didn’t come out last year. Still, a pope hanging out with Marilyn Manson is an incredible sight:
What I loved most about this meeting was the initial timidness of both parties—Manson was noticeably subdued in the presence of a holy figure, and our pope was at a relative loss for words. “You look a bit older,” Manson tells the pope, trying to break the ice, “and it might just be the beard.” Whoops. He’s mistaken John Paul III for Pius XIII, unaware that the latter is in a coma. (Manson’s excuse for his Vatican-related ignorance is solid: He’s been in the studio for months cooking up some new music.)
What’s also great is that their exchange isn’t just a vehicle for new New Pope memes: Manson convinces John Paul III that he should pay a visit to Pius XIII at the hospital. It’d be a nice gesture, and the universe probably won’t collapse if two (technically) living popes were in the same room; hell, it happened with Popes Francis and Benedict XVI. The Manson meeting took place before the show’s opening credits, leading to this blessed accompaniment of image and text:
Please hang this in the Louvre.
Verse II. His Holiness Pope Influencer II
John Paul III has an ulterior motive for visiting Pius XIII: He wants to give himself more public exposure. “Every Marilyn in the world should know reflexively who the pope is,” he explains. “It’s not vanity, it’s necessity.” Forgive me, father, but I think it’s a bit of both? This pope’s well-documented fragility extends to his ego, and he wants the same sort of idolatry Pius XIII receives from some of his most impassioned followers. (The same zealots who, if you’ll recall from the premiere, have dope hoodies with Jude Law’s face on them.)
A fascinating through line between The Young Pope and The New Pope is the understanding that a modern pope is as much an influencer as he is a holy figure. Pius XIII sought to mystify his image by hiding his face from the public and going for the same type of intrigue as Banksy or the members of Daft Punk. It was surprisingly effective, and perhaps the best weaponization of Law’s good looks since The Talented Mr. Ripley. John Paul III wants everyone to know who he is and what he looks like to achieve the same goal. In Venice, on the way to Pius XIII’s hospital, he can’t resist showing himself to the pursuant press. With all the iconic music drops we’ve been blessed with in the New/Young Pope Extended Universe, I was legitimately surprised that this moment wasn’t scored to The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat.”
Is one approach to achieving papal virality more effective than the other? It’s hard to say; we haven’t seen John Paul III interact that much with the public outside of his first address. One thing’s for sure: No matter what this pope does, he’ll have a hard time getting Pius XIII’s most devoted stans from abandoning his side, irreversible coma be damned.
Verse III. Nuns Be Protesting
Today in “crisis that was completely avoidable,” we have the nuns at the Vatican staging a mass protest after the church refused to give a cloistered nun 200 euros so she could reunite with his ailing mother, who has Stage IV cancer. (That same nun, Sister Lisette, tatted herself up at the end of the previous episode with the image of a nun raising her first in the air.) Now the nuns are demonstrating inside the Sistine Chapel, which is quite the holy flex:
Cardinal Voiello hopes paying the 200 euros will satisfy the nuns’ demands, but Sister Lisette is now using the moment to advocate for other rights the nuns are denied. “We now understand the difference between charity and rights,” she tells him. The nuns want “social, moral, and economic” recognition of the many duties they provide to the church; they want to administer sacraments; they want a more active ministry; they want some of the male clergy to stop being so damn creepy. All reasonable demands, in my opinion, but Voiello is unmoved. He concedes Sister Lisette seems like a formidable opponent, but he’s confident the protest won’t amount to anything of consequence.
Unfortunately, he may be right. In the Young/New Pope universe, Voiello is basically Varys crossed with Littlefinger: a well-connected cardinal with progressive values who nevertheless (quite likely!) had a hand in assassinating the last pope for being too woke. He orders the protesting nuns to be surveilled—and by the end of the episode he’s got dirt on several of them. A couple of nuns are fooling around with each other; one is a kleptomaniac; a few are harassing a younger nun; and he even finds out the abbess is concerned about a lump under her breast. The only thing he has on Sister Lisette, though, is that she’s using social media to keep people apprised to their cause.
It would be more entertaining if Sister Lisette eventually gained the upper hand in this Vatican shadow war. First, Silvio Orlando is an awesome actor—a lovely discovery for those unfamiliar with Italian cinema—but I think he’s at his most entertaining when Voiello is overwhelmed to the point that it looks like his prosthetic mole might pop off his face. (Or when he’s obsessing about his beloved soccer club, Napoli, and we got plenty of those moments this week.) Second and more importantly, as my Greek relatives are wont to say: It’s a really bad idea to piss off a nun.
Verse IV. Confessionally Horny
After expressing my curiosity last week about the possibility that this pope maybe fucks, the flames were stoked even further this week when our pontiff got all hot and bothered in the confessional. (Please don’t condemn the messenger!) It sure looks like John Paul III is crushing on Sofia, the Vatican’s director of marketing, and it probably doesn’t help that they work so closely together. It’s a beguiling, playful performance by Cecile de France; it’s clear Sofia gets some pleasure from using her beauty to manipulate impressionable men. But, to the pope’s credit, she looks ensorcelled by him as well.
I don’t expect the pope and Sofia to jump into bed together or anything—for one, Sofia and her husband Thomas have [clears throat] a very active and inspired sex life. (I will not throw in a GIF and risk termination, but let’s just say this week’s episode involved a glory hole ... I can’t believe this is an actual show.) Anyway, when Cardinal Gutierrez confesses to the pope that he had a hotel room tryst with Freddy—the young man who helped him expose Archbishop Kurtwell as a sexual predator in The Young Pope’s penultimate episode—John Paul III’s mind can’t help but wander back to Sofia. For about two seconds—just two!—I thought to myself, “Is the pope going to jerk off during confession?” but the moment subsided and I poured myself a glass of holy water.
“It’s as if there was a wall between us,” Gutierrez confides, “but it wasn’t an obstacle.” Juxtaposing this confession with Sofia and the event at the aforementioned glory hole is unbelievable, and should require Sorrentino to say five Hail Marys as penance. But on a more serious note, for a pope who preached to the cardinals in the last episode that they should lead with tenderness instead of passion, John Paul III seems to have a hard time following his own edict.
By the pope’s own admission, “passion is the eternal enemy of humility,” and thereby clouds sound judgment. Yet he harbors strong feelings of negativity toward his (admittedly mean) parents, and lets passion guide his actions in the early days of his papacy. John Paul III’s weaknesses aren’t as outwardly obvious as Pius XIII’s early conversative, Trump-y extremism, but the Vatican has nevertheless swapped out one troublesome man-child for a different one.
Verse V. Pulling Papal Strings
We knew from the second episode that John Paul III’s papacy would likely be fraught with drama, as a handful of conspirators—Sofia’s husband Thomas, the Italian minister of economy and finance, and Cardinal Spalletta—sought to control the pope because the cardinal knows of his “unspeakable secret.” And while we still don’t know what that secret is, the beginnings of this pope-related power play have begun to take shape.
For one, Spalletta ingratiates himself to the pope—first by gifting him a Bentley (nice), and then getting appointed his personal secretary. Then the Italian minister informs John Paul III that the government plans to repeal a tax the Italians pay to the Vatican, one that gives them the financial resources to maintain the clergy. Without that tax, the Vatican would go broke. What to do? Well, Spalletta convinces John Paul III the church can find the necessary funds through their own “financial organization,” and that Thomas should be appointed in charge of it.
What’s all this for? Are these three plotting to get rich through some government/church backchanneling? That’s TBD, but Voiello is smart enough to know the Italians wouldn’t risk pissing off Catholics by draining funds from the Vatican. So the Italian minister shows him a folder—presumably with that pope dirt in it. We don’t see the contents, but it’s enough for Voiello to realize he’s kind of fucked and that these conspirators have all the leverage:
You hate to see it. Worse yet, John Paul III’s own confession to Gutierrez—this was after the pope got a ‘lil aroused—implies that he knows he’s being manipulated. “I have taken the first step in the everlasting garden of sin,” he says. “And, coward that I am, I pretended not to see, not to understand, and not to know. But I do see. I do understand. I know.” C’mon dude, really?! Stab me in the heart with a crucifix while you’re at it, John Malkovich.
It’s fascinating to watch Malkovich play such a neutered, despondent pontiff—the only time he’s broken out into a rage so far on the series is when he excoriates his parents for never loving him—especially when Sorrentino was so adamant that Malkovich was one of the only actors who’d work in the role. I expect we’ll see a bit more fire from this pope in the coming weeks. The latest trailer for The New Pope featured more chaotic Malkovich energy. Perhaps the thing that will finally break John Paul III out of his sullen, coma-like state is another pontiff to breaking out of his own; there is still some life in the body of Pius XIII:
Like Thanos, the young pope waking up is inevitable. Not only would it be refreshing to see two very different popes have a verbal sparring match—or, as I pray for every night, a single-take sword fight with crosses—but it’s probably better for the health of the church if we went back from new to young. Just make sure someone keeps Marilyn Manson in the loop.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.