The Young Pope Recap Episode 8: Out of Africa

Photo: Gianni Fiorito/HBO.
After the disjointed mess that was "Episode 7," it looks as though The Young Pope is back on track with "Episode 8" — or at least as back on track as this crazy show is going to get. But at least the storyline has some cohesion, with Lenny's (Jude Law) grief over Andrew's (Scott Shepherd) death mingling with him finally trying to get some peace over his parents, and finally admitting that he needs to actually focus on the church, for once. It all begins with the reappearance of Sophie (Cecile de France), the woman overseeing public relations and marketing for the Vatican. She suggests Pius take a trip to Africa to meet one Sister Antonia, and visit one of her Villages of Goodness, a large charity organization. At first, Pius doesn't want to go, but he goes to see Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) and Spencer calls him out on his crisis of faith. It seems many of the cardinals are aware Pius is struggling with his belief in God. But Spencer, in one of the nicest things we've seen him do for Lenny, doesn't lecture or berate the man. Instead, Spencer simply tells him that he also once had a midlife crisis of faith. It's very common in priests, and it's now that Lenny must be the strongest so that he can find his second calling. It also wouldn't hurt if Lenny could metaphorically bury his parents and try to move on from all that baggage. In what seems like a sincere gesture, Lenny agrees and asks Spencer to help him get the church back on track. So, it's off to Africa they go, to visit this missionary nun and so Lenny can give his first public address as pope. Of course, Lenny is still Lenny — a cunning, calculating and highly observant man. So, when an African priest slips him a note revealing that Sister Antonia is actually hoarding water from the sick people and her fellow nuns, Lenny sets out to expose her. He is also appalled by what he sees taking place in Africa: Dead bodies lying in the street, hunger and thirst, soldiers beating up children for trying to get some water. So, Pius pulls a Pius, and skips out on his first public appearance, insteading choosing to speak to the audience over the public address system — like the voice of God himself — lecturing them on choosing peace instead of war. Pius says he won't talk to them about God until they have peace and love, because God is peace and love. It's quite the speech and boy, wouldn't it be nice if that were enough to stop the dictators and warlords of the world? Beyoncé's "Halo" as the musical cue over this scene is also a nice touch — The Young Pope is nothing if not great at doling out musical surprises.
The scene also shows a different side to Lenny, juxtaposed with flashbacks to his time at the river with his parents, when he last felt true peace and love. Maybe he is finally moving on from their abandonment, though the more we see of them with young Lenny, the more we wonder why they ever abandoned him in the first place. They seemed to love him, which makes it all the sadder to watch. Whatever the reason, present-day Lenny is perhaps turning over a new leaf as pope and is maybe being rewarded for it by God himself. In two separate instances it sort of seems like a higher power steps in to thwart an enemy of Lenny's — the reporter on the plane asking about the Kurtwell scandal is neatly interrupted by some major turbulence, and later Sister Antonia is killed by her own water stash. Was it poisoned? Did God strike her down? It is purposely vague. But even with God on his side, the Kurtwell scandal is unlikely to go away on its own, and we're very curious what the reporter meant when she mentioned that Kurtwell is blackmailing Pius into not investigating the scandal. Hopefully that is something the last two episodes in the season will address. Via a passing mention by Lenny, we also learned that Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) and her husband and new baby have left the Vatican. They abruptly departed, didn't say goodbye to Pius and left him a photo of him with the baby to remember them by. This episode doesn't get into it much, but it seems like that might have the effect of exacerbating Lenny's feelings of abandonment. It felt a little weird for that to be glossed over so quickly, though Pius does confess to the African priest that he thinks he sinned by getting too close to Esther and her family, so perhaps this is all we're going to get in regards to closing that plotline. There are also mentions made of Lenny's one-time girlfriend, and a young woman, Juana Fernandez, in South America who is credited with healing sick children through her stories, so she's being put up for consideration for canonization. It feels as though there is more to Esther, the girlfriend and this Juana Fernandez, since so much in Lenny's life has been dictated by his relationships with women. But really, you never can tell if something is going to come full circle on this show. Only two episodes to go!

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