This episode of The Young Pope on HBO begins with Cardinal Spencer, The Pope’s Mentor, intoning, “you’re wrong about abortion. You’re spreading a sorrow you don’t even understand.” This is in response to The Pope’s decree that abortion be made an unforgivable sin. They go back and forth debating passages and precedents on that matter. They share all manner of fun facts, such as how until the mid-19th century abortion was considered a sin only after the ensoulment of the fetus, which was said to occur in the third month of pregnancy! It’s a fascinating, talky scene, especially if you’re interested in the history of this issue. It’s not an unpredictable scene though, as the Pope does not turn to Spencer and exclaim, “maybe I am being overly harsh.”
That pretty much never happens on this show.
But this episode is not about the Pope. It’s about Cardinal Gutierrez, who is in Queens, New York, attempting to resolve the Kurtwell child abuse case.
The case is not going well. No one wants to press charges. Gutierrez drinking, and, oh, it seems he’s a homosexual. We find out as much when he tries to convince a young male clerk in the local liquor store to seduce Kurtwell so he has some proof, and the clerk declares that he’s not attracted to Kurtwell. He’s attracted to Gutierrez.
When Kurtwell comes to the liquor shop, he asks the clerk what he wants. The clerk tells him he wants to be a great tennis player, and then, in a refreshingly candid moment for this show, tells him “get out of here, asshole!”
Gutierrez meanwhile goes to visit a massively overweight woman who tells him that everyone deserves a chance to start over. Gutierrez does not seem to feel that this will be possible for him.
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Meanwhile, back at the Vatican, Sophie wishes to assure the press that there is no truth in the rumors that the Pope is being blackmailed by Kurtwell. The Pope seems to feel this shouldn’t be necessary as he is “un-blackmailable”.
However, he seems distressed. Dining alone, he rings a bell to call the staff in.
He then declares that he loves them all, a stark contrast to his attempt to remain completely formal relationships with the staff in the first episode. This seems more than anything like a reaction to the fact that Esther, her husband, and baby have left Rome and relocated to Austria.
The Pope skypes with Gutierrez. He asks to see where Gutierrez lives, and Gutierrez shows him his squalid room, littered with papers and liquor bottles. The Pope tells him to come home, that it doesn’t matter that he’s accomplished nothing with Kurtwell. It seems a genuinely compassionate moment on his part.
Meanwhile, Kurtwell is hear on the radio promising that his diocese will help fund sports for local youth, especially tennis. Seemingly, this is in an attempt to help bring him closer to the teenaged liquor store clerk. Soon after the clerk is seen playing tennis in front of Kurtwell on a tennis court Kurtwell presumably funded. The clerk is a terrible tennis player. It’s a tragic little moment – that the clerk might have sold his soul, or at least his body, for something he appears to have no talent at, none at all. Kurtwell looks both delighted and lecherous. One wonders if the Pope can do the same murder-magic he did with Sister Antonia and just convince God to give this man a heart attack.
Finally, Gutierrez meets with Kurtwell in a dingy bar. Kurtwell asks, “why are you and the Pope so determined to get me?” Gutierrez replies, “Because for years you were so determined to get those young children.” It’s a reminder that Gutierrez is, whatever his failings, a good man. Kurtwell says that Gutierrez and the Pope will never be able to prosecute him. But it seems that Gutierrez has found someone who may make a difference.
A man who has been following Gutierrez confesses that he is Kurtwell’s son. He says he’ll do this because he sees that Gutierrez is a good man, and that their suffering is the same. He confesses, he says, because of “the horror.”
Meanwhile, back at the apolstolic palace, Cardinal Spencer is dying. He begs the Pope to give him some proof of God. And, finally, we flash back to the miracle that has made Sister Mary continually proclaim that the Pope is a Saint. In The Pope’s youth, his friend Billy’s mother was dying. Sister Mary, the Pope and Andrew went to visit Billy. The Pope stood before the woman’s deathbed and announced to God that “we must talk about Billy’s mother.”
This is exactly the same way he addressed God regarding Sister Antonia before she died.
Except in this case, Billy’s mother rose up from her deathbed, cured. Billy’s mother is still alive today.
It’s dreadful, as a 21st century humanist, to realize that the Pope does appear to be the only person who can talk to God, and he hates most of the things we like.
In response to his story, Cardinal Spencer promises the Pope that the Pope’s mother is still alive, and one day, the Pope will find her.
And back in New York, Gutierrez returns to meet with Kurtwell, triumphant. Not only does he have Kurtwell’s son willing to testify, he’s snagged some photos of Kurtwell receiving a blowjob from the teenage clerk in the liquor store.
Kurtwell calls the Pope to say that he’ll release everything he has on the Pope. The Pope says that’s fine and that “the world would probably like it. The world is always ready for love.”
As it turns out, the Pope has written letters to the girlfriend of his youth over the years. However, when Kurtwell shows these to a journalist, the journalist points out that in the last letter the Pope writes that he will never send these letters, because he is married to God. It seems the Pope is correct. He is un-blackmailable, after all.
That said, his love letters do end up in The New Yorker. Though, as the editor says, strictly as literature. The screen fades out on the girlfriend from The Pope’s youth reading the letters, before going out to juggled oranges in front of her children, just as, so many years ago, The Pope did for her.
Jennifer Wright is the author of It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Break-Ups in History and Get Well Soon: The Worst Plagues in History. Follow her on twitter