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Spoilers are ahead for the premiere episode of HBO’s The Young Pope, so if you aren’t caught up yet, feel free to take care of that now. I’m fine waiting – I can use the time to polish off this can of Cherry Coke Zero.

Now that The Young Pope has finally debuted stateside, it’s clear why the show was such a hit in Europe – especially among Catholics – when it began airing back in October. The Young Pope has all the makings of a hit television show here in America as well: there’s political and religious intrigue; beautiful photography and production design; compelling (if at times rather stiff) dialogue; top-rate acting; and, of course, a megalomaniac new leader at the center of it all – one whose agenda seems to be driven by unapologetic self-interest rather than providing divine guidance through humility and acts of faith. If HBO wanted to take a gamble on co-producing a show that has something as potentially divisive as religion as its focal point, then it seems the network made the right call with choosing The Young Pope.

Series creator Paulo Sorrentino – who also wrote most of the season and directs all of it – seems to want his audience to think hard about the title of the show. Sure, Jude Law’s Pope Pius XIII is young in age, at least when compared to the elderly Holy Fathers who most recently held his post before him. But historically, Pius XIII isn’t uniquely young among his predecessors. The youngest pope to ever serve was likely John XII, who was only 18 when he rose to the papacy over 1,000 years ago, and there were a handful of others throughout the centuries who were still in their twenties when they became pope.

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

No, I think Sorrentino had something else in mind when he chose the title for the show. Pius XIII is young not because he is still on the greener side of fifty, but rather because he still has some growing up to do. I’m not quite willing to say that Sorrentino is asking his audience to be Pius’ moral arbiter as we watch him break with church tradition on everything from appointing personal advisors from within the Vatican to smoking cigarettes in the Papal suite (or anywhere else, for that matter). Instead, I think Sorrentino simply wants us to join Pius as he navigates the realities of his newfound power and come to our own conclusions on Pius’ inexperience, his shortcomings – his young-ness. Whether or not Sorrentino is being a bit too on-the-nose with his usage of “young” is certainly up for debate, but I certainly found myself enjoying the spectacle of watching a self-interested holy man in the early stages of stacking the ecumenical deck in his favor.

We don’t yet quite know what Pope Pius XIII desires most, or what his end game is, but one thing is certainly clear: Pius is no demagogue. He’s in this for himself, and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him, whether they be the devout followers he refuses to address with his first homily at St. Peter’s Square, or the many holy folks who oversee the spiritual and administrative functions of the Vatican and, by extension, the billion-strong Catholic faith. The premiere episode (unceremoniously titled “Episode 1.1”) did a fine job of setting up the plot points and conflicts that will come to serve as the series’ story engines, all of which will certainly coalesce around the machinations of Pius XIII.

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

One of Pius’ defining traits is that, for most of his life, he wasn’t Pope Pius XIII, but Lenny Belardo, a Catholic priest who was raised from age seven in an orphanage under the guidance of Diane Keaton’s Sister Mary. If nothing else, the premiere episode serves to inform the audience that Mary is perhaps the only human being that has any sway over Pius, whom she still personally refers to as Lenny, which shows how strong – if not potentially unhealthy – their bond is to one another.

For her part, Keaton brings the same degree of grace and aplomb that she’s brought to all her roles over her storied career, but at the same time, I had difficulty connecting with her character in the premiere. When she finally showed up in the episode, it was without any preamble or context; she simply breezed in from on high and situated herself upon Pius’ shoulder as his guide and his conscience – a Jiminy Cricket for a more aged demographic. I’m interested in seeing where this character goes as the season moves forward, but as far as the pilot was concerned, Sister Mary was the one character who felt out of place. Part of my disconnect was just how other-worldly Sister Mary felt in all of her scenes, particularly in the one in which she admonishes Pius in her new chambers, reminding him of the importance of his position and responsibility to his followers, all while bright white curtains blow and glow behind her, imbuing her with an angelic ambiance that was just a bit too much.

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

At the same time, I have to remember just how tightly sutured we the audience are to Pius’ subjective experience; nearly every scene we saw in the premiere was through his own lens of reality, which might explain why Sister Mary appeared so god-like in the aforementioned scene – we see her that way because Pius sees her that way. I’m sure we’re in for a few shocking revelations about their history and relationship as the series continues, but for now, it seems that Pius counts her second to no one in both his public and private life.

But let’s talk a bit more about the subjectivity of the narrative, and think about the ways we’re being asked to respond to seeing the world as Pius sees it. For instance, what in the bloody hell are we to make of the opening shot, in which we behold what can only be described as an alien ocean comprised of infants. As the camera slowly pans across the babies – mostly motionless (dead?!?) save a few infantile twitches, here and there – we eventually see Pius himself crawl out from underneath them, dust himself off, and stand to face what I can only guess to be a vanguard of his perceived enemies.

Image: HBO

Image: HBO

This sequence was quite horrific and evocative, especially since it was with zero context, being the first scene of the episode. But after learning that Lenny’s parents essentially abandoned him at age seven, it might be worth speculating to think that Pius sees himself as unique among his orphaned brethren. While so many others were left to disregard, destitution, and young death, Lenny emerged, somehow victorious, and rose to the highest religious office in the world. Perhaps this means that Pius believes himself as truly chosen by God – an idea that becomes quickly problematic when we take into account Pius’ last words of the episode, in which he tells Don Tommaso (Marcello Romolo) that he does not believe in God. Sure, Pius quickly retracts the statement, but his actions throughout the episode reinforce it; for Pius, he himself is God enough for his millions upon millions of followers.

And it’s this idea that adds to my personal investment in episodes to come. A pope that sees himself as infallible, the final word of the power behind the Church. It’s a fascinating concept sure to be marked by lurid fantasy and indulgences in proscribed behavior. But we can’t forget the challenges Pius will face along the way – challenges that may serve to bolster our connection to our antihero protagonist, or perhaps serve to sour that connection and leave us reveling in his downfall. We know that Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) has ordered a private inquest into the exact nature of Pius’ past transgressions as a means to gain leverage, and we know that Pius’ former mentor (and disgraced almost-pope) Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) will play a prominent role in coming episodes. These men and others may lead to Pius’s downfall, or maybe Pius comes to melt his own wings when flying too close to the sun, but either way, I’m in.

 

4/5 stars: Though the premiere was great on the whole, I had trouble connecting with key characters, and there was never a single scene or moment that truly wowed me. I’ll wait to make any judgments on these issues after a few more episodes, but as it stands, I’m all-in with The Young Pope.

 

 

 

 

Entertainment

Donald Trump as Seen by Google’s Deep Dream

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THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Last Summer, Google unleashed Deep Dream, their neural network that takes pictures and tries to identify patterns and overwrite them, on an unsuspecting public. When you put an image into Deep Dream, what you get when it “wakes up” is often nightmarish. Dogs, birds, insects, pagodas are inserted at random places in the image, giving it a surreal and sometimes beautiful–if terrifying–aspect.

So, since this election season is already off-the-charts surreal, I thought to myself, “What would it look like if we ran some candidates through Deep Dream?” Well, now I know.  I started with Donald Trump, who is already deeply weird and unsettling. The results are spectacular.

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Satire

From the MRA Evidence Archives: The Journal of a Normal, Average Feminist

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

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barbie doll head being gripped by dirty hands
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

 Tuesday July 5, 2016

Awoke and whispered to my boobs, Bea Arthur and Jackie O, “It’s Tuesday. You know what that means, ladies? Time to oppress some dudes.”

Walked to work wearing my plunging crop top that says, “This is what a feminist looks like,” hot pants, and six-inch heels. Tossed my hair a lot and sexily chewed my lower lip. Dropped change so I could slowly bend over and pick it up. It took me about an hour to walk five blocks, which is standard.

Exceeded my catcall goal by seven, a personal best. Super flattering, of course, but will pretend to be terrified and make men feel bad about it with a bunch of tweets. That’ll show them.

Some dowdy librarian tried to help me with the change I kept dropping, and she got catcalled too! No one invades my catcalling turf. Slapped the books right out of her hands. Mostly by Hemingway, whom I both hate and would totally do if he were alive.

Arrived late per usual, but the boss didn’t say anything, just stared at my tits and gave me a pass. I had buttressed Bea Arthur and Jackie O in a push-up bra stuffed with the hard-earned cash of some beta male I cheated on. Good thinking.

By Friday I hope to a) screw my way to executive assistant, b) replace some poor slob who works really hard, or c) file a sexual harassment lawsuit. We’ll just see what the week brings, like whether or not the boss is a lesbian. Fingers crossed!

Spent the rest of the workday playing Candy Crush and convincing Dale from accounting to do everything for me. Stringing Dale along is why I keep coming in. It makes all the pretending to work worth it. I might boink him someday, but I want to see how low he’ll stoop for a bit of action.

I don’t get off on it per se, in so much that I don’t get off. Ever. At all. But I pretend that I could, just to make all the guys I’ve ever been with feel like losers. Watching them fumble and feel emasculated without pants is like Christmas – if I were to sleep with Santa and watch him fumble and feel emasculated without pants.

mens-rights-venn-diagram

Went to happy hour after work and didn’t pay a dime. Cosmos just appeared in front of me. Dumb guys just handed me cash for being hot, and I filled my bra until Bea Arthur and Jackie O ballooned up like the boobs of evil women on TV. My role models, natch.

Some dude wearing a huge, purple hat came up to me and said I looked like an uglier Angelina Jolie. He lifted his shirt to show that his torso was hard, rippling, and embroidered with diamonds so he had every right to tell me that. I hooked up with him in the men’s room. That’ll show him.

Went home and let loose a series of drunken, liar tweets about how hard my life is and how I want equality. Even inebriated, it’s important to keep my stilettoed foot on the neck of men everywhere. Those tweets and opinion pieces just skewer them. More powerful than the laws of God or man are the messages I hastily type with my thumbs.

A good Tuesday over all, but did not receive free coffee by sexily slow jamming my order. The barista must’ve taken the red pill.

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Food

Woman begs city council to bring back McRib

The McRib Shortage of ’15. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.” #mcrib #sheslovinit

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mcrib-woman

Well over a year ago a tragic event occurred: In the fall of 2015, the executives of McDonald’s made a grave decision, the consequences of which are still felt to this day. They decided that when the McRib was released that year it would… it would allow the regional managers to decide whether or not they would offer the McRib. As a result, a staggering 45 percent of McDonald’s locations elected not to offer the McRib. It was the single greatest tragedy this country has ever endured. But one woman, one brave voice, said, “No. This will not do.”

First off, shout out to Reader James from Lake Elsinore, CA for alerting us to the tale of hardship and heroism. You see, when Xanthe Pajarillo, a “McRib activist,” realized that none of the ten McDonald’s locations in her hometown of Santa Clarita would be offering the McRib, she did what any reasonable red-blooded American citizen would do. She brought the issue before the city council.

Now it is no secret that the McRib Shortage of ’15 nearly brought the nation to a standstill. In fact, if it weren’t for the release of a special McRib locator app, experts speculate that America would have ceased to exist as it does today. But amidst all of the rolling blackouts, the deaths, and the riots, we overlooked all of the smaller, personal tragedies that took place because of the cruel decision made by nearly half of McDonald’s regional managers.

In her impassioned plea to the Santa Clarita city council, Pajarillo explained just why the McRib meant so much to her and her family, and why the city council had to act in order to bring it back.

“The removal of the McRib from the menu has affected my family, because every Thanksgiving, my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget and like, 10 McRibs. It was like, a tradition in our family, and now it’s like—well, like my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken.”

Recently Pajarillo heroic speech before the city council has gone viral, gaining attention at the national stage across social media. Since that dramatic event, Pajarillo has continued to fight for the return of the McRib, even going so far as to release a song dubbed “The McRib Blues.” In it, she lays bare her soul and the souls of those like her to whom the McRib is more than just a barbecue pork sandwich, but is instead, a way of life.

There are those out there, deplorables who hardly deserve mention, that call her bravery nothing more than a stunt. Performance art holding up a mirror to America’s consumerism and obsession. However, others stand by the truth. Pajarillo is a hero, fighting for both a sandwich, but also for something more. Something ephemeral. That little piece of Americana that brings us all together. The McRib.

Fight on, brave warrior, fight on.

♪ Cause we have right to eat what we like, McRib is worth the fight ♪

Still can’t get enough of the McRib? Learn how a McRib is made, courtesy of BuzzFeed.

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