'The Young Pope' Recap: The Parent Trap

Fake moms and dads, Vatican snitches, honey-pot seductions and murder – HBO's hit show starts going for broke

Fake moms and dads, honey-pot seductions and murder – 'The Young Pope' is going for broke. Our recap of tonight's action-packed parent trap episode. Credit: Gianni Fiorito/HBO

"Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" This was the incredulous question Jesus posed to Judas in the garden of Gesthemane, the night His follower-slash-frenemy ratted him out with a telltale smooch. After tonight's episode of The Young Pope, we've got a feeling Pope Pius XIII knows how the Good Lord felt. No, Sister Mary didn't lock lips with her former ward – even for a show this Oedipally fixated, that would be a bridge too far. But her desperate attempt to end his disastrous reign was no less intimate.

Using a piece of the tobacco pipe that the elder deadbeat Belardo left with his son Lenny on the day the boy was deserted at her orphanage, the nun hired actors to impersonate the Holy Father's mom and pop. Her hope was that the fulfillment of his lifelong dream of reuniting with his parents would leave him so shaken that he could be bamboozled by his cardinals into resigning his office. O she of little faith! As we learn throughout the hour, Lenny was already well on his way to arriving at that decision all on his own.

We're now deep into the Pius XIII era, and his tyrannical tactics have backfired spectacularly. The reclusive Pope's pitiless fundamentalism is driving the faithful from the flock and his stringent guidelines for ordaining new priests has cut off their supply of shepherds. His estranged mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer sums it all up nicely, as you might expect from the guy who taught him everything he knows: "To close himself off, to deny himself, to make himself inaccessible and mysterious – sacrifice and suffering to get closer to God." His Eminence then goes on to explain his protégé's goals, noting that "in his convoluted logic, this strategy is supposed to stimulate the world's curiosity and dedication, so that everyone will want to come back to discover the mystery." "Fine," retorts Cardinal Voiello. "But none of this is happening."

Here's where our in-house enemy's shrewdness as a politician comes into play. Yes, Voiello appeared to surrender to the Pope's superior skill in the Vatican's game of thrones, going so far as to abandon his plan to blackmail him with misleading photographs of him and his adoring fan Ester. However, he'd kept a copy of the files all along, and is only dissuaded from using them after all when elderly Cardinal Caltanissetta convinces him that the scandal would taint the entire Church. But when Sister Mary tips him off that Pius is distracted – by the fake parents she herself manufactured – the Secretary of State at last has an opening. He offers to fill the vacant papacy with Spencer should he succeed, straight-up kneeling to kiss the power-hungry American's ring as a sign of loyalty.

But in the end, he can't go through with the plan. While he does get the Pope to absent-mindedly authorize documents that reverse some of his diktats regarding the priesthood, he doesn't pull the trigger on the magic bullet and have the man unwittingly sign his own resignation. By now, Pius has uncovered the ruse; he literally sniffs out the impostors' deception by smelling his "mother," a sensory test she fails. But it's his conscience that makes the Cardinal call it off, whether or not the man in charge smells a rat. Voiello may play hardball – or should that be "football," given the soccer superfan's fantasy of playing for his beloved Napoli? But even he has his limits.

Unfortunately, so does everyone else around him, including his allies. While Sister Mary schemes to oust him using his most closely guarded hopes and fears, his in-over-his-head spymaster Don Tommaso is now snitching to his rivals. He also tells the Pope point-blank that he'll no longer spill the secrets of the confessional to a pontiff who doesn't believe in God. This is the irony of the Mary/Voiello/Caltanissetta/Spencer conspiracy: Pius knows full well that neither his global congregation nor his closest associates are with him anymore. He confides to Michael as they lounge stylishly in the sun that he wants to resign – just one scene after the Secretary gives up on forcing his hand.

Yet the biggest, saddest defection is that of Lenny Belardo's childhood friend, Cardinal Andrew Dussolier. Summoned to Rome to head up the Congregation of the Clergy, the handsome young holy man is visibly tormented by his order to enforce the great gay purge of the priesthood; "You're a murderer," he says to himself in the mirror. Of course, that mirror is in the bathroom of a mansion where a swanky socialite swingers' party is taking place, because our man Andrew can't avoid the sins of the flesh for too long. He gives it the old college try, rejecting a double-barreled seduction attempt by the party's hostess and drunkenly fending off the advances of her son as well. The sleazebag dumps Dussolier out into the street in his underwear, leading to a series of shots of the Pope in his underwear and his (real) parents in their underwear – all of which ratchet up the tension between the sacred and the profane to an excruciating degree.

So the cardinal departs the Vatican for his home turf of Honduras, clad in sunglasses and faded jeans and looking every inch the dashing "Father What-a-waste" archetype. But he's walking into a trap far more lethal than the one Sister Mary sprang on his old friend. Waiting to greet Dussolier at the airport is his mistress … and her husband, a powerful narco who murders the man for the crime of "disrespect."

Even as anthemic rock music plays and Mary and Pius reconcile (he thanks her for fulfilling his dream, fake or otherwise; she praises him as no less than "the sweet Christ come back to Earth"), their beloved Andrew's body is getting dumped on the side of the road. The fact that the bullethole in his side echoes the spear that pierced Jesus is almost assuredly not coincidental. The hour ends with a distraught pope gazing at a statue of the Madonna and Child, and the mysterious image of a crying girl staring right back at him. Perhaps they've sensed that someone else was just betrayed with a kiss.

Previously: Menage a Trinity