A measured, emotional man takes center stage as The New Pope remains one of the most interesting shows on TV.
This recap of The New Pope Season 1, Episode 2 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
When Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope was announced with John Malkovich playing this new pope, anticipation grew for those inside and outside of Vatican City. Fans of Malkovich, Sorrentino, Jude Law, and papal content could finally be in agreeance. Unfortunately, the showrunner decided to hold his cards during the first episode, only showing the famed character actor in the closing credits. Other than that, John Malkovich stayed absent while the church fell into chaos.
The New Pope Episode 2 provided the same gorgeous visuals and mesmerizing opening credits as its predecessor. Needless to say, the nuns continued dancing and the music continued pulsing. Still, no Malkovich at the start, with a crew of cardinals and Vatican players headed to see Sir John Brannox at his parents’ mansion. Brannox missed the last conclave because his parents are quite sick, and they’re also quite sick of him being in their presence.
The crew consists of Sofia (Vatican marketing head Cécile de France), Cardinal Voiello, Cardinal Gutierrez, Cardinal Mario Assente, and Cardinal Aguirre. When they arrive, Brannox has already gone to bed, as he’s a man who sticks to his habits. They chat about haste and how that is the cause of the church’s problems. During the night, each member of the group has visions of Pope Pius XIII, as he guides them through their decisions and experiences. Pius sits beside Sofia during an intimate conversation turned sexual encounter with her on-the-phone husband, pushes Gutierrez to stay in his room when Assente comes knocking, and help Voiello light a match to start his fire. His presence has not been lost just yet.
After all the anticipation though, Voiello, and all of us, meet Brannox the next morning, and he’s worth the wait. Malkovich plays the Cardinal with a measured sort of difficulty, sporting black eyeliner and a purple suit to match his brooding personality. Brannox speaks in metaphors, preaches peace, and never looks to get too rattled, sitting on decisions rather than rashly pushing forward unlike Voiello. He knows why they’ve come yet forces Voiello to tell him in short bursts of information, and the cat-and-mouse game has already begun.
“They are only doing what every human does. Blame everything on each other. At least us Catholics can blame everything on God.”
If the above line doesn’t tell you all you need to know about Sir John Brannox, here’s the background. Brannox grew up rich with a twin brother, who died about 40 years prior, and his parents believe it was Brannox’s fault. Every day, his parents go and sit out in front of his brother Adam’s grave for nine hours, then get wheeled inside and sit in front of a shrine of the young man, with pictures featuring John Brannox’s face cut out. What a sight.
Brannox and his guests study each other and we assume that he’s going to lead the church, favoring his middle road and his loving heart, for now at least. The dialogue by Sorrentino continues to be striking, teetering between faith-based, heartfelt fascination and government intricacies with those balancing power. This dialogue combined with the continued incredible visuals in The New Pope Season 1, Episode 2 allows the show remain one of the most interesting on HBO and currently on television.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.