This article contains spoilers for the season finale of HBO's The Young Pope. It also contains many photos of Jude Law wearing pope garb. Proceed with caution.
HBO's The Young Pope is not a "mystery-box" show. Unlike Westworld, Stranger Things, or The OA, the Jude Law starring papal melodrama from Italian writer and director Paolo Sorrentino isn't the type of series that sends amateur sleuths scrambling to message boards after each episode to dissect clues, swap theories, and untangle plot threads. The Young Pope is full of divine mystery, but its larger puzzles are existential. There are no missing pieces.
But this is still The Young Pope, a show where nuns play basketball and kangaroos roam free, so we still have questions after watching the final two episodes. To unpack all the divine mysteries of the show -- and prepare for a rumored season two -- let's take a look at what the season left lingering.
Did Lenny die?
In case you forgot, the opening of the first episode of The Young Pope showed Lenny crawling out from underneath a giant pile of babies. Seriously, there were so many CG infants. So, it only makes sense that the show would flip that twisted birth imagery on its head at the very end of the last episode by killing off Lenny -- or, at the very least, providing an image of him in a death-like pose. Instead of emerging from a pile of babies, he's clutching his heart and struggling to breathe, swarmed by his advisors here as the camera pulls back, a bizarre mirror of the pilot's provocative opening. Having finally revealed himself to the public, Pope Pius ascends into heaven.
But did Sorrentino actually pull the trigger on killing off the pontiff? There's certainly contextual evidence in Lenny's speech to the crowd ("One day I will die," he tells his adoring fans, "and I will finally be able to embrace you all one by one. Yes, I will. I have faith that I will"), but the larger realities of TV production remain. If there's really going to be a second season, HBO will want Jude Law back unless this becomes a True Detective-like anthology series with a different, younger pope each season. (I'm going to make a humble suggestion for the next one: John Cena.)
What's the possible solution? There's also the distinct possibility that Lenny did actually die, but that he'll be back because of divine providence. Sorrentino could take a page from the Bible for this one: every sequel needs a good resurrection. The Lord works in mysterious ways -- and he loves Jude Law.
Did Lenny see his parents in the crowd?
Never forget: Lenny Belardo is an orphan. That biographical detail provides most of the psychological insight we got into his character throughout the first season of the show, and his tragic upbringing directly informed his views on abortion, divorce, and homosexuality within the Church. It's the defining quality of his papacy. As Sister Mary told him during the finale, he's never actually searched for his parents before. Instead, he's embraced his life in the Church, letting his anger towards his parents fuel his ambition.
But, after receiving a telescope from Cardinal Bernardo, Lenny is now ready to seek them out. After his big speech, he gazes out into the crowd and spies two Deadhead-looking senior citizens gazing up at him. Are those actually his parents? Or are they just two hippies who love Catholicism? Or is it just another hopeful vision?
Is Lenny actually a saint?
This might be the trickiest question. Ever since the first few episodes, Sorrentino has been playfully messing with audience expectations by suggesting that Lenny's whole persona might be an act -- it's implied he doesn't even believe in God at various points -- but during the season's back half we learned that Lenny might have genuine divine powers. Here are his big three supernatural acts: curing a friend's bedridden mother of her sickness, killing Sister Antonia with the power of prayer, and curing Esther of her infertility. An impressive resume, for sure.
The way the childhood miracle is presented -- as a flashback on Cardinal Spencer's deathbed -- hints that it might just be a story. As with many things on this show, the question of "what" exactly happened isn't especially important. The creators have clearly resisted providing simple answers to these questions. "To be a saint is a mystery," said Sorrentino in a making of vignette that aired after the finale. "I prefer that the audience decides if Lenny's a saint or not."
Is Lenny as conservative as he used to be?
After the events of the ninth episode, Cardinal Bernardo Gutierrez (Javier Cámara) has emerged as the true hero of the show. Besides bringing down the corrupt Archbishop Kurtwell, he's managed to stand up for himself, get a promotion, and push back against Lenny's ideological purity in profound ways. When Lenny offers Bernardo the role of personal secretary, taking over for Diane Keaton's departing Sister Mary, the Cardinal attacks the Pope for his homophobia. "How many things I accept that no one notices," sneers Lenny.
Judging from the final speech he delivers in Venice, Lenny has changed, but he's still far from the Woke Pope that was briefly shown in a dream sequence back in episode one. It's implied that the Prime Minister of Italy has implemented some of Lenny's hard-line political views because of the pressure the Vatican put on him. Even though Lenny accepts Bernardo's homosexuality and he seems to have let some love into his heart, he remains a man of contradictions. He still sticks his tongue out at children. He still takes gleeful pleasure in dismissing boring dignitaries. He's still the Young Pope, basically.
How exactly was the Kurtwell case resolved?
While episode nine mostly focused on the thrilling resolution of the Kurtwell case, with Cardinal Bernardo heading to Queens to track down witnesses who could testify against the abusive Archbishop, the season finale was not devoted to a big courtroom showdown. Instead, there was a tearful speech from Kurtwell where he detailed his own childhood sexual abuse. "I was 12 years old," he pleads to Lenny, who ends up sending the Archbishop to his favorite exile location: Alaska.
Again, this suggests that Lenny is still preserving the secretive system of justice that has allowed the Catholic Church to hide cases of abuse for centuries. We see a quick image of Kurtwell freezing in the snow towards the end of the episode, and while he appears to be suffering, he has not stood trial. He's not going to jail. He's not bringing increased public scrutiny on the Church. Instead, Lenny chose to deal out justice in a way that preserves the corruption of the institution he's so loyal to.
What happened to Tonio Pettola?
Poor Tonio Pettola. The farmer with the stigmata from back in episode four didn't get to make a big comeback in the last episode. It was implied halfway through the season that Lenny and the rest of the Cardinals took care of him -- basically the papal equivalent of having someone "whacked" on The Sopranos -- but the details, or more specifically the body, never emerged.
During the finale, Cardinal Voiello almost reveals Pettola's fate to his wheelchair-bound friend Girolamo, but, in what feels like a nod to audience members seeking answers, the weary Cardinal stops himself. "Forgive me," he says. "But I can't even tell you and you're my best friend. There are certain secrets so important that only one person should know them." Case closed, I guess.
Is everything OK with Baby Pius?
In a season filled with jaw-dropping moments, the scene where Lenny fumbled newborn baby Pius was definitely the most surprising -- and the funniest. What other TV show could pull off something like that? It was a mix of shocking, strange, and absurd that I haven't seen since the famous bloody lawnmower scene in the third season of Mad Men. And, after Esther and her husband left the Vatican, we only got hints of what happened to Baby Pius. Did he recover from getting dropped? How did he grow up so fast during that brief beach scene in episode nine? Will he become the new Baby Pope?
What's going on with Greenland?
Every show has plotlines that go nowhere. But what was the deal with Greenland? We spent so much time learning about Greenland! And the Pope never even went there!
Who killed the kangaroo?
Not cool. Hopefully this injustice will be the driving force of season two. Send the killer to kangaroo court.
Will the Young Pope get a book deal?
At the end of episode nine, Lenny revealed his hidden talent: our boy is a writer. We heard some of his gooey prose as the episode drew to a close, but we also saw the cover of The New Yorker trumpeting the Pope's literary love letters. That's a good look for the pope, and can only mean one thing: book deal. Pope Francis might have an album, but I bet Pope Lenny gets a bestseller soon enough.
Is "the end" really the end?
The last image of the finale felt pretty definitive -- the words "the end" appeared on screen as the camera pulled back to reveal our little blue dot of a planet floating in space -- but Sorrentino has already indicated that he's hard at work on the scripts for a second season. How long will we have to wait? Will he direct all the episodes again? And will Jude Law still be rocking the Pope hat? It's hard to say.
There are a few different factors at play here. Like last year's hit The Night Of, The Young Pope feels like the type of smart, conversation-starting show that's important for HBO to have alongside its genre-based mega-hits like Game of Thrones and Westworld. Also, as Vulture points out, The Young Pope was not a huge investment for HBO because it had international co-producers carrying some of the financial burden. If they can keep a similar arrangement for season two -- and as long as the show remains a hit abroad -- it should stay on the air for as long as Sorrentino wants to keep making them. All praise Pope Lenny! May your search for the Kangaroo Killer continue!
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