The Churchmen – Season 1, Episode 2

index2When 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 ā€” he led the party which upset Yann ā€”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 ā€” 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.

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  1. #1 by Rick on December 17, 2016 - 8:10 pm

    But as you continue to watch, by episode 5 it naturally becomes anti-Catholic. Emmanuel & Guillaume are both gay & Guillaume takes his teenaged sister to get an abortion, telling her “Don’t worry, you won’t go to hell for this!” No need to continue watching this series. Naturally, a similar series on Rabbis or Imams would NEVER be created!

    • #2 by M.A. Mayer on June 19, 2017 - 7:23 pm

      I watched the entire series on Netflix and I, too, was disappointed with the way it handled issues of importance to the Catholic Church. They raised some good topics for consideration but their handling of it made it seem that Catholic principles must give way to those of the world, especially since Emmanuel and Guillaume continue their relationship after Guillaume is ordained and Emmanuel leaves the seminary; the youngest seminarian has a sexual relationship with his former sweetheart after he is ordained and assigned to a parish, other seminarians give way to greed and power after they are ordained, and the upper echelons of the church were presented as corrupt, ambitious and self-serving. Other issues looked at that warrant consideration were loneliness that priests often face, pedophilia, difficulties junior priests might have in acclimating and establishing themselves in a rectory or in a parish, handling economic issues of a diocese.

      • #3 by Evan on June 19, 2017 - 11:14 pm

        Rick and M.A. – When I was writing these reviews, I deliberately made sure not to watch future episodes until I had finished writing the review of the current one. I addressed some of those concerns in my review of episode 8 (and of 4 and 6 for that matter).

  1. The Churchmen – Season 1, Episode 4 | Catholic Cinephile
  2. The Churchmen – Season 1, Episode 6 | Catholic Cinephile
  3. The Churchmen – Season 1, Episode 8 | Catholic Cinephile
  4. The Churchmen — Season 1, Episode 5 Recap | 1More Film Blog | Inconspicuously Christian
  5. The Churchmen — Season 1, Episode 7 Recap | 1More Film Blog | Inconspicuously Christian
  6. The Churchmen — Season 1, Episode 3 Recap | 1More Film Blog | Inconspicuously Christian

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