In the penultimate episode of The Young Pope, the format is changed up considerably. Outside of a few significant scenes, hardly any time is spent with Lenny in the Vatican. Instead, we get treated — and that is an accurate use of the word — to what Gutierrez has been up to in New York. Gutierrez is the priest that Lenny sent to investigate the accusations of child and sexual abuse against a prominent priest, Kurtwell.
The episode begins with Gutierrez in the middle of his mission, but it feels like a very complete story. It also feels very different, and it would arguably make a much more interesting and engaging series than the story focused on Lenny.
Home Alone 5: Gutierrez Lost in New York
Since Gutierrez has been in New York for quite a while — in the world of the show, anyway — his own cast of characters has already been established. Though we are meeting all of these people for the first time, including Kurtwell, who has only ever really been talked about on The Young Pope, everyone feels genuinely interesting and fully formed. They don’t need a gimmick like Voiello’s distracting face mole or the way that Spencer seems to yell his every other line. Gutierrez’s gang in New York, specifically Queens, is weird, but it is in the good kind of weird that The Young Pope has been able to pull off.
There’s the landlady of the building in which Guiterrez has been staying, a morbidly obese woman who is afraid that she will one day be taken out of her building lifted by a crane. There is Freddy, the young guy who wants to be a tennis pro (and apparently to sleep with Gutierrez) but is also being manipulated and used sexually by Kurtwell. Then there is Kurtwell himself, who is actually quite terrifying and, in a way, the most traditional character The Young Pope has created up to this point. Kurtwell is a priest styling himself as a mob boss, and he’s fantastic.
The fact that Kurtwell has as much power as he does — Freddy describes him as the most powerful man in Queens — is insane. Yet most things on The Young Pope are insane, and actor Guy Boyd does such a wonderful job playing this utterly despicable character that it hardly matters that he doesn’t make sense. Kurtwell is so immediately hateable, with his arrogance and pedophilia, but also magnetic. He is what Lenny should be, a character that you love to hate. After almost a full season of Lenny waffling between two extremes of saint and sinner, it is nice to have a character who is clearly defined and we know exactly how to feel about him.
It’s Not Over Until the Orange-Haired Man Sings
It is because of Kurtwell’s power, though, that Gutierrez, who is a far more sympathetic and interesting lead than Lenny, has trouble getting any evidence on him. Gutierrez can’t get Freddy to testify or work with Gutierrez against Kurtwell. Freddy is too scared. Any victim Gutierrez tries to get to come forward bails on him or is paid off by Kurtwell. It’s not until Guiterrez begins to be followed by a man in an orange wig that things start to come together.
The orange wig man starts off as the standard Young Pope strangeness, but there is an actual reason for it. The man, whose name is David, is genuinely disturbed, and that has to do with his upbringing or lack thereof. After following Gutierrez for days, in very alarming ways, David confesses that he is Kurtwell’s secret love child. It is because of this secret that David’s life has pretty much fallen apart, and he’s gone a little crazy, hence the wig.
Gutierrez finally has the evidence he needs to send Kurtwell to the Vatican for trial. Gutierrez isn’t just taking David’s word for it, however. While Gutierrez couldn’t get Freddy to work with him, he did manage to get footage from the security camera at the liquor store where Freddy works. It’s the same liquor store where Kurtwell forces Freddy to “perform” on him, all of which has been caught on camera.
Knowing that he is cornered, Kurtwell panics and phones Lenny in the Vatican. Kurtwell tells the pope that he is going to blackmail him with secret information he has uncovered. Lenny just tells Kurtwell to do it; it will only make the world love him more.
This isn’t just typical Lenny bluster either. Kurtwell’s blackmail is love letters that Lenny wrote to his first girlfriend for years after he became a priest. This would be a smoking gun, but Kurtwell never read all the letters and didn’t discover that Lenny never actually sent any of them. The letters aren’t a scandal but rather a lovely remembrance of young love. Kurtwell is ruined. The fact that The Young Pope has teased Kurtwell’s blackmail over Lenny for episodes and this is the conclusion is rather anticlimactic. The sight of someone as gross as Kurtwell getting his comeuppance is rather brilliant.
The Young Pope has even more (semi-satisfying) reveals in store with Lenny. Spencer’s illness has progressed seriously, and the man is dying. Spencer is on his deathbed when he asks Lenny to tell the story of that first miracle he performed as a child. Evidently, when Lenny was just a teenager, his friend’s mother was dying. Sister Mary took Lenny (and Andrew) to their friend’s home, where the mother was in her last moments of life. Lenny prayed over her, in the typical melodramatic fashion he has during the entire series, and the mother was healed completely within seconds and lives to this day.
It’s actually quite a powerful scene, and it does serve as a reminder that Lenny has done some extraordinary things. This scene probably would have been better served showing up earlier in the series. Obviously, the point of Lenny’s character is that he is an enigma. He does have this seemingly very strong connection to God and can heal people, but he is also terribly selfish and demeaning. In practice, though, Lenny’s characterization has been all over the place. He’s either disgusting or too holy for description. If we had gotten more examples of Lenny being a good person earlier on in the series rather than being bunched up all together at the end, things probably wouldn’t feel so haphazard. This is better late than never but is far from ideal.
What do you think? How do you feel about Lenny as the show wraps up? Is he a good person? Is he a bad person? Is he a bad person who can do amazing things? Is Lenny really even doing any of the miracles he has performed?
The Young Pope airs Sundays and Mondays at 9/8c on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)(Source)