When Ken asked me to participate with him in coverage of The Churchmen, (his review of episode 1 here) a French drama about five first year seminarians, I was instantly intrigued, because like Ken, I am usually disappointed in American television’s handling of religious themed drama, but find foreign handling of religious themes to be more rewarding and more realistic.
After watching the second episode of The Churchmen, my initial opinion based on the first episode seems confirmed. There are a few too many characters for a one hour show; all the characters are compelling, and I’d like to spend more time with all of them; all the characters are consistent and believable; and while quite dramatic at times, all of the drama comes across as natural and not unbelievably heightened.
The second episode opens with a flashback recap of the first, and then it continues by introducing a new character and conflict. Christian, a senior seminarian briefly seen in the first episode — he led the party which upset Yann —is volunteering at a charity shelter in Paris for prostitutes with Emmanuel, the freshman who has a history of mental illness. On Emmanuel’s first night, a prostitute named Clemence violently attacks Christian and wrests the keys to the building from him, insisting that she is going to leave. The incident so upsets Christian that he repeatedly plays the encounter in his mind, and he even suffers a crisis of faith.
That crisis leads to him committing an unthinkable act of vandalism, for which the newcomer Jose, who has recently been released from prison, is naturally blamed by the students. Father Fromenger is convinced that Jose is innocent and lectures the student body for their animosity toward whomever committed the act, saying that the perpetrator needs prayers and compassion, not condemnation. However, when his refusal to deal with the incident leads to Jose becoming a scapegoat, he recognizes that he has been blinded by the pride he places in the seminary and the students. I thought blaming Jose was too predictable an outcome, but I did appreciate where the show went with it.
The conflict between Father Fromenger and Cardinal Roman, which appears to be the overarching conflict for the season, takes a back seat for this episode until the last fifteen minutes. Once Fromenger recognizes his pride, he apologizes for the argument between the cardinal and himself from the first episode, but by that point the cardinal, with the help of another cardinal in Rome, has already launched an investigation into the Capuchin seminary to force Fromenger into an early retirement. The episodes concludes with a cliffhanger as the officials from the Vatican arrive at the seminary. Again, I found that outcome to be a predictable ending, but it was effective at making me look forward to the next episode.
Meanwhile, the backgrounds of the five freshmen are all further explored. Raph comes from a very, very wealthy family, and his father is not pleased that Raph is leaving the family business to become a priest. At an awkward party scene, Raph’s father makes Raph’s brother the chief share holder, forcing Raph to renounce all his shares. Claire, an old friend of Raph’s, seeks him out afterward to offer her sympathy, and if this were an American show, I’d feel confident in saying the two of them will have an affair — Claire, by the way, is married to another old friend of Raph’s. I hope The Churchmen finds a more interesting direction to go.
Guillaume continues to lecture his mother for her frequent drinking and licentious lifestyle, but when he realizes she’s becoming depressed, he relents and tells her to go to India with her boyfriend, which is what she badly wants. Yann continues to be a sunny optimist who is almost in denial of how terrible the world can be, and I predict it will only be a matter of time before he suffers a crisis of faith similar to Christian.
For all the various subplots, the show managed to tie them together nicely, especially by connecting the two main conflicts of this episode at the end. Despite a few small complaints, The Churchmen has, so far, been compelling religious themed drama.