The Young Pope Episode 9: Fathers & Sons

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
The Young Pope is such a weird show. So many random things happen that don't seem to make any sense or have any connection to each other. Later, viewers can kind of start to see how they're connected, but... not always. Sometimes things still just leave you going, "WTF just happened?"

Such is the case with episode 9. Some of it gels together cohesively by the end, but it also leaves such a feeling of confusion.

The main plot of the episode involves Monsignor Gutierrez (Javier Camara) in New York City investigating Archbishop Kurtwell (Guy Boyd) and the sex scandal. We are never given very many details, but suffice to say that Gutierrez describes Kurtwell as "a monster," so that probably tells us all we need to know about Kurtwell.

The problem is, Gutierrez is having trouble finding any victims who will come forward to press charges. It sounds like several victims took money in exchange for keeping quiet, while another who didn't take the money in order to maintain his dignity just wants to be left alone, which is understandable.

But a strange man is following Gutierrez and he finally decides to tell the priest why. His name is David Tanistone (Troy Ruptash) and he's Archbishop Kurtwell's secret son.

Now, things get a little murky here because hardly any details are given, but it's seems implied, by David's odd behavior and obvious emotional problems, that Kurtwell not only fathered him but also molested him. Again, it’s not made explicitly clear that that’s what happened, but it would be odd if David’s behavior was solely to be explained by being a priest’s secret son — that can’t be all there is to it. And The Young Pope isn’t a show to beat viewers over the head with something, so we’re going to lean into the idea that Kurtwell molested his own son. It doesn’t seem that farfetched, knowing what we know about him.

But as Kurtwell points out to Gutierrez, this is not grounds for a trial because David seems like a thoroughly unreliable witness. However, it turns out David doesn't matter that much — they have photos and video footage of Kurtwell receiving sexual favors from a young man who works at the local convenience store, Freddy (Alex Esola). That's pretty damning, so Lenny (Jude Law) orders Kurtwell to come to the Vatican to stand trial.

At this point, Kurtwell threatens to go public with what he "has" on Lenny, but when he tries to do so, it turns out what he “has” is a whole lot of nothing. Apparently Lenny used to write letters to his one and only serious relationship — a woman whose name he can't even remember — and while the letters do get published, they were never sent to said woman, so they're hardly scandalous. No one can be overly surprised a priest may have had relationships before entering the priesthood and Lenny's letters — what we hear of them — sound very sweet. They definitely put a smile on the face of said girlfriend (Delaina Mitchell), shown reading the letters in The New Yorker and then going outside to play with her two children.

The only other big thing that happens in the episode is that Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) dies. Before he goes, he asks Lenny to reassure his faith in God by telling him the story of curing the woman when he was a young man at the orphanage.

The flashback lends more weight to the idea that Lenny can actually speak with God, and sometimes gets God to do what he asks.

But the real lesson of the episode is the extent to which Lenny has changed from the first episode to now.

He's brokenhearted at losing Spencer, his spiritual father, which comes on the heels of losing his de facto brother, Andrew (Scott Shepherd). These losses of metaphorical family seem to be helping Lenny move on from the loss of his parents, even though Spencer assures Lenny that his mother is still alive and he'll meet her someday. We aren't so sure that's true, and we'd be willing to bet Lenny isn't either.

It wasn't long ago that he would have clung to that notion desperately, but it feels like he has actually moved on. He also makes a surprise trip to see Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), and leave her the photo of himself with baby Pius, another way of letting go and saying goodbye.

Lenny is finally growing up, as displayed by his willingness to confront the Kurtwell scandal head on, even bringing the scandal right to the Vatican's gates. Lenny previously said that priests never become fathers, they're perpetually sons of God — but Lenny has lost his spiritual father and seems ready to be a spiritual father himself. We would not be surprised if he gives his first public address in the season finale, ready to assume the role of leader to his followers.

All of this growth doesn't make episode 9 any less weird — what is up with the woman running the hotel Gutierrez is staying in? She is bedridden, panicking when the paramedics try to take her out of her hotel with a crane through a hole in the wall. It's things like that that make this show so odd at times.

But by episode's end, Kurtwell is on his way to the Vatican for what promises to be an interesting season finale for The Young Pope. No Beyoncé this time, but we'll live with that.

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