The sixth installment of The New Pope sets up a major clash in future weeks, settling some debts along the way.
This recap of The New Pope Season 1, Episode 6 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
In a change from the previous two episodes, The New Pope Episode 6 opens up on Sofia Dubois (Cécile de France) as she’s eating lunch. A priest with an eyepatch walks up to her, dressed in all black and speaking in an American Southern accent, far from the usual voice heard in Paolo Sorrentino’s Italy-based fantastical drama. He explains that he’s “the second most intelligent man in the world” and that his name is Leopold Essence (J. David Hinze). To top it off, a cockroach crawls out and back into his papal gown. Gross? Scary? Weird? All of the above.
The sequestered nuns continue kicking off the opening credits, dancing as a group with the mother smoking a cigar and jamming out on her own. One small change though: the music turns instrumental in the last few seconds, tuning down as the nuns fall on the floor, lying in heaps on one another. As expected, this became a big episode for these nuns as well as Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), the other important female player in this papal game.
Esther begins running her own business, one circling the line of prostitution as she works with more and more disfigured boys with rich mothers. She’s raking in the dough, earning 15,000 per visit per man. Though she resigns herself and calls herself “a *****,” the mother reminds her that there’s no difference between a ***** and a saint. She regularly persists with this business until the tail end of The New Pope Episode 6, when the mother decides to fire her, as Esther has grown too emotionally attached to her son, Attanasio. In response, Esther chokes her until near-death, though she sees Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) who is presumed to save her through spirit. The old pope certainly still is in favor with the big man upstairs.
In the Vatican walls, Voiello learns of the indiscretion by Cardinal Spalletta (Massimo Ghini) and Sofia’s husband Thomas Altbruck (Tomas Arana). He promptly tells holy father Pope John Paul III (John Malkovich) who in turn tells Spalletta, who in turn tells the pope to get rid of Voiello. Clearly, this secret Spalletta knows is far superior to any secret Voiello can drum up. Poor Voiello proceeds to get fired by the pope, leading to Cardinal Assente taking the post of Secretary of State. Along with Pope Voiello, Sofia learns of her husband’s underage indiscretion, which cannot feel good either. Oh, and she finds a cockroach on her car dashboard, so she’s not in a great spot.
As part of his final decisions, Voiello sends his lookalike Cardinal Hernandez to Kabul and pays a visit to the sequestered nuns. He then rights several wrongs, including setting up a system to care for Nun Caterina’s baby, setting up an appointment for the mother nun to get her breast lump checked out, and transfers a sexually harassed nun into the papal care. It’s quite a turn from the usual ruthless Voiello we’ve seen in episodes and seasons past. Maybe he’s softening up, or maybe he’s just waiting to use his anger and iron fist for those involved in more scandalous behavior. Most of us hope it’s the latter.
The final ten minutes are reserved for the pope’s live interview with a prominent reporter. He chats about his twin Adam’s early death and his priority to rid the church of evil. The reporter clearly had a mission in mind, and it was for Pope John Paul III to address those evils, including the sex abuse scandals. PJP had little answer, leaving the interview early, and causing Cardinal Spalletta to say that “he’s in withdrawal, damn it.” It seems we finally have an answer to the content of the pope’s bedside box.
As is now customary with episodes of The New Pope, the end focuses on Lenny Belardo, the comatose pope. He is still sighing every 150 or so breaths. He still has ardent followers, who have now been joined by Esther. And finally, we see a candle burn out, the lights shut off, and Pope Pius XIII looks to be waking up, setting up an epic clash in the next episode. The New Pope Season 1, Episode 6 moved the show forward, taking serious strides in showing us the minor characters in the major stories, focusing instead on those growing weaker as the season goes on. It was a welcome change from the centralized Malkovich, as we saw the lives of those surrounding the papacy. The rest of the season is sure to bring back Jude Law’s papal magic, and I for one cannot wait to see the miracle-working, shade-wearing, game-changing Pope Pius XIII back in action.
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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.