Still unable to reveal the many secrets of the new Pope John Paul III, HBO’s drama finally gives us story progress through a new war and the meeting of two popes, even if one of them continues to be in a coma.
This recap of The New Pope Season 1, Episode 4 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The New Pope continues to surprise its audience, beginning episode four with a meeting between Pope John Paul III (John Malkovich) and Marilyn Manson (playing himself). The nuns continue to move during the opening credits, now dancing in front of the flashing, rave cross. These sequestered nuns continue to become a larger part of the story, and their constant movement shows that they’re making big, big moves within the Vatican walls.
Pope John Paul III begins his new papacy with a gift, a Bentley from Cardinal Spalletta, the man who knows his secret. For most, the choice is between blackmail and benevolence, and it seems John Paul is choosing the latter in this situation. To boost his credibility and image, John Paul decides to visit the comatose Pius XIII, allowing photographers to get on his good side while on a riverboat. His visit is short-lived, but rings off some alarm bells, as he sees first-hand that Pius still has a contingent of fervent supporters unwilling to follow John Paul.
Following this encounter, he reaffirms most of his immediate staff, adding in Spalletta as his personal secretary in creativity, a made-up sounding title for a very real and dangerous man. Brannox’s little bedside box remains closed, but a meeting with Italy’s Minister of Commerce shows that the floodgates are wide open in his papacy. The country has decided to repeal the 8% law, the tax Italians pay to sustain the clergy and the Vatican, the main source of the church’s income. That’s right. The Catholic Church might be poor.
As Cardinal Voiello learns of Brannox’s secret and of his own aging, the pope gets convinced by personal secretary Spalletta to hire marketing manager Sofia’s husband in order to save the church. This leads to a very odd experience for all those watching the show involving Sofia, her husband, and a glory hole. The New Pope was already one of TV’s most surprising shows, but episode four goes above and beyond.
Meanwhile, the sequestered nuns have begun a strike in the Sistine Chapel, with Sister Lisette becoming the biggest adversary to Cardinal Voiello in quite some time. There’s hinting of priests assaulting nuns, and confirmation of cardinals spying on these sequestered women, finding out the secrets of sex, abuse, and social media use throughout the Vatican. These women look to only be increasing in confidence, anger, and power.
Esther remains isolated in her own right, with no money and no lover. We see her local parish priest assault her physically, while another man assaults her verbally. She decides she needs the cash and goes back to the disabled young man from the previous episode, and her story continues to spiral away from the times she had with Pius XIII.
Episode four ends with a meeting between the pope and Cardinal Gutierrez (Javier Cámara), who just had a meet-up with an old flame. They confess to one another. Gutierrez regarding his emptiness, and Brannox about his first step in the “garden of sin,” allowing Spalletta and others to blackmail him into giving them power. For an episode that clearly moves the story forward, it closes on a melancholic note. It trades action for dialogue, and plot for character development. It’s the reason The New Pope remains such a fascinating series.
Oh, and one more thing, Pope Pius XIII, our dear Lenny Belardo, turns his head in the closing moments!
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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.