'The New Pope' Episode 3: Despite ‘tenderness’ talk, 2 vulnerable Vatican women left to fend for themselves
Spoilers ahead for Episode 3 of 'The New Pope'
Sir John Brannox (John Malkovich), in episode 2, had spoken about how he was "fragile as porcelain". So no wonder, after he becomes Pope John Paul III, his address to the people is all about equating Christianity with fragility. As the first languorous half of episode 3 is at pains to reveal, Sir Brannox has lived his life forsaking himself to replace his dead brother Adam and his parents still can't forgive him for surviving when their more perfect child (who was destined to be Pope) died.
There is more than a hint of petulance as Sir Brannox contemplates becoming Pope and Lenny makes a sly appearance telling him that God didn't love him either and that God's love has to be earned. And that would require Sir Brannox to grow up. It's a tall order -- one that Sir Brannox, with his dependence on his box (that holds some form of nightly addiction) is not prepared for. But, with a little deft psychological manipulation by Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), Sir Brannox accepts the position and task.
Later as he addresses his "brother cardinals", he speaks of the Islamic terror threats against the Vatican, the sexual misconduct of priests, and other ills of the world as "distortions of love". He exhorts the cardinals to show tenderness but without passion. Passion, he rues, is what makes "abstract love" into something "concrete" and therefore dangerous.
Unfortunately, abstract love can also be aloof. Paulo Sorrentino seems to be setting up the abstract love of Pope John Paul III in contrast with the story of two women -- one a nun, the other is Esther, who Lenny cured of infertility in Season 1. Both women have very concrete material needs that need to be met by concrete material forms of love. The nun, whose mother is dying of cancer, asks the cardinal supervising the cloistered nuns, for 200 euros to fly her mother to the Vatican so that she can die in the arms of her daughter.
But the cardinal dismisses her plea, not even bringing it up with Voiello. Helpless and enraged, she gets the other nuns to tattoo a nun with her fist raised on her back. The cardinal's indifference is neither Christian nor tender but it is aloof and his cruelty is abstract.
Similarly, Esther (Ludivine Sagnier) needs a roof over her and her "miracle" child's head. Interviews about Lenny's miracle are already drying up and she can't get a proper job because it would mean leaving her child alone with no one to care for him. Her priest introduces her to a widower who, at first, seems the answer to her prayers.
They sleep together and when she brings up her sorry financial situation, he essentially asks her to prostitute herself out to the deformed boy of a rich mother who has never had sex. When she goes to her priest for advice, he says it is another "miracle" that she should be grateful for.
It is a sickening sequence when she goes up the stairs to sell her body but she flees just after she is touched. A single tear rolls down comatose Lenny's face. Is he crying for Esther? Is he crying for the deformed boy, forever denied the "tenderness" of a woman? It isn't clear.
What is clear is that the Church and the cardinals have forsaken these two women, whose fates are so closely linked to the Vatican.
'The New Pope' episodes air on Mondays at 9 p.m. on HBO.