The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII wakes up in the morning and decides what to wear. He greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.
In what is an inevitable dream sequence, he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc. For Pius, it’s actually the stuff of nightmares.
Jude Law’s American accent and booming oratory caught me off guard (to my British tin ear he briefly sounded like Obama).
(Read also: Why The Young Pope is worth sticking with..)
So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??
…well, he’s young
Pius, AKA Lenny Belardo, is the former Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is mighty angry at being passed over.
…but not as young as scheming cardinals might hope
“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he explains to one old relic. Lenny was dropped at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, and Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him. She seems devoted to him, although heavens know why.
…he is not a nice man
More a bullying, chain-smoking CEO than a man of God. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.” He viciously abuses an elderly nun (not Sister Mary) for daring to smother him in kisses.
…he’s an arch-conservative
At first nobody knows his views or tastes on anything, let alone those whose job it is to prepare his first breakfast as Pope. “Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t eat much? Hardly anything, in fact. All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.
But would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”
In what was irritatingly part of a bizarre, inevitable dream sequence, he exhorts the faithful to have abortions, to divorce, to have fun. But when he finally gives his first papal address, it’s more fire and brimstone.
…his marketing strategy is just divine
He wants to be the invisible Pope, he tells Cécile De France’s Vatican City marketing boss Sofia. The poor, confused woman wants to discuss a photo shoot in order to plaster Pius’s handsome face over new plates, postcards and ashtrays.
Instead he orders her to fire the Vatican’s official photographer. He never allows his picture to be taken, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.
“That’s media suicide,” she gasps.
…is he entirely of this planet?!
He apparently has a bizarre affinity with animals, as we see in the first episode with a kangaroo (don’t ask).
Later he points at the stars. “That’s where God’s house is,” he says. “Half of a duplex, with a private swimming pool.” And why oh why must he keep messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist?
…is he worth the time?
If you ask Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the secretary of state, absolutely not. He’s clearly formulating a plan to take the new pontiff down, in a scheme that may involve the devout Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the wife of a Swiss Guard.
Paolo Sorrentino’s series is surreal and slow-moving. It’s TV to savour – if you can – but not devour, and I wonder if the initial black humour seems to be vanishing like a puff of smoke from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
Let’s have faith.
For now, I really must get back to my good works…