What do you think a Pope shoe tastes like? What do you think it feels like when you take off your pointy cardinal hat and press your lips to it? I’m not only talking about the feeling of the embellished velvet, but also what it feels like on the inside.
Other questions: What was Cardinal Spencer thinking when he got up after Pope Lenny’s long and lashing speech about closing the doors of the Church and opening the gates of hell? And when he got up and actually kissed the shoe as the Pope’s literal wingmen held his robes open for a procession of cardinals?
As Spencer first rose and took off his hat, I waited for him to walk out in protest; Lenny would finally receive the comeuppance, handed down from on high, that we’ve been waiting five episodes for. As he approached, I figured he was going to spit on the shoe or give him some sort of Julia Sugarbaker soliloquy about the night the lights went out in Georgia. But no, Spencer kissed that shoe—as did Cardinal Voiello and Lenny’s ginger “brother” Cardinal Andrew Dussolier. And just like that the opposition to Pope Pius XIII’s reign fell in line.
It’s going to be a scary reign indeed. While the audience is made to laugh as the cardinals assemble to the strains of “I’m Sexy and I Know It," Lenny is putting on his splendid regalia and being carried into the Sistine Chapel on the Papal litter, his eyes aloft to god. He continues his message about closing the Church off from the outside world and fair-weather devotees. “From this day forward everything that was wide open is going to be closed,” he growls at the cardinals. “Evangelization, we’ve already done it. Ecumenicalism, been there done that. Tolerance doesn’t live here anymore. It’s been evicted.”
A church that welcomes everyone and all? Nice try. Lenny only wants those who will not compromise their faith. He declares that love for god and the Church cannot be measured in numbers, only in intensity. For him, five bonfires are better than a million votive candles. Of course, Lenny desires—demands—devotion also to himself. It's what he's been seeking all his life, ever since he was left at the door of the orphanage. “There is nothing outside your obedience to Pope Pius XIII except hell,” he says. “A hell you know nothing about. But I do, because I built it. Right behind that door.”
This is the rhetoric of a Bond villain, which is to say Donald Trump, not the leader of one of the world’s largest organized religions. Speaking of supervillains, that’s just what Voiello looked like when he assigned his lip-reading henchman and his papal paparazzo in the Vatican gardens to spy on Lenny as he groped Esther’s breast. I will give Esther credit, she really stepped up her seduction game this episode, but it didn’t do her any good. Lenny gives her a speech about how all priests join the clergy because loving god is easier than the heartbreak of loving another person. It inspires Voiello so much that he gives up his plans to take down Lenny's administration.
But he’s not done with blackmail altogether. When Voiello lobbies to have Gutierrez taken off his trip to America to investigate pedophilia, Lenny shoots back that he knows about Gutierrez’s alcohol problem and Voiello’s plan to try to use it to his advantage. All Lenny is doing is leveraging what he’s learned from Don Tomasso’s confessional against all the other priests, but this is the second time this episode that he’s wielded this insider info like prophecy, as if he god whispered it directly into his ear. Earlier, he surprised Gutierrez with the knowledge of his alcoholism and some other deeper secret of his, which induced in Gutierrez a panic attack as a bunch of nuns did their best impersonation of Misty May-Treanor in a habit.
Now he pulls that trick on Voiello, causing the cardinal throw himself in shame upon the red shoes of the Pope, begging for forgiveness from his holy father. That is not something that the Pope seems inclines to give, but it does seem like he’s vanquished all his adversaries.
This episode wasn’t all conflict, though. The first half was devoted to Lenny and Andrew going on a quest for cigarettes and somehow learning from a prostitute that the proof of the existence of god is in Lenny’s eyes. (How much money do you think that lady of the night is going to get when she sells the only known photo of the Pope to the Daily Mail?) It was nice to see a human moment between Lenny and his oldest (and probably only) friend running around in the middle of the night in their tracksuits, even if this whole excursion seems a convenient plot parallel to their childhood attempt from the orphanage.
On that occasion, the two of them slipped through the fence when Sister Mary wasn’t looking and trudged through forest and field looking for Lenny’s parents. Where exactly is this orphanage supposed to be? Why would there be a Gothic revival house full of Catholic kids without parents amid the flat plains of, what, Iowa? Anyway, Andrew returns to Sister Mary, and Lenny continues on his hunt for his parents.
The story resembles the Parable of the Prodigal Son that is taught in the gospel of Luke, which any child who receives Catholic education (such as myself) learned through a cartoon at some point before his or her ninth birthday. In the story, a rich man has two sons. One stays with his father, the other asks for his inheritance and blows it on wild parties, prostitutes, nice clothes, and all the other fun things in life. When he’s broke, he returns home hoping to be one of his father’s servants, expecting that his father won’t want anything to do with such a wastrel. The father, instead, welcomes him back into the family. The other brother, of course, is pissed because he stayed there being good the whole time, but the father says they must celebrate because the son who likes to party was lost and now is found.
In the story, the father, of course, is meant to be the Lord. The lesson is that god will forgive the sins of those who are faithful as well as those who lose their faith and come back. I always took it as a signal to mean that you should go out and waste all your money on hookers and blow and it will all turn out to be alright. That’s probably why I was a terrible Catholic. Anyway, in this version of the story Andrew is the son that stays with Sister Mary and Lenny is the one out in the wilderness. While he has been welcomed back after his time away, he’s still searching for his parents, hoping that the Lord will visit on him the one miracle that he has yet to make possible. Sister Mary tells him to have faith, but he replies that his patience is running out because he, the Yung Pope, is getting old.
The other purpose of this little crumb from the past is to suggest that Lenny healed the sick woman in the caretaker’s house in a sort of miracle. This is why Sister Mary figures him for a saint, and why Andrew believes that Lenny deserves to be Pope. What comes after that, though, is the real miracle. After praying to the Virgin Mary in an almost ecstatic state for Esther to conceive a child, the two of them are sitting in a garden when they both feel something, as if the Holy Spirit impregnated, a la Mary. At the same time—metaphor!—a lily blossoms. Lilies, if you weren't aware, are commonly used in the Catholic Church during Easter mass and are widely seen as a symbol for Mary, because both are associated with purity and chastity. We all expected Esther to be Lenny’s downfall, but she just might be the miracle that consolidates his autocratic hold over the Church.