It’s been 14 months since Pennyworth last graced our screens in the season one finale “Marianne Faithful.” I wondered then if it was the last we’d see of our butler hero. Our prayers have been answered, Batfans. Pennyworth has returned for a season two.
Before we get into the five thoughts I’d like to quickly recap how we left off last season. Alfred shot his father to prevent an assassination of the queen. Thomas and Martha’s relationship turned the corner just in time for Thomas to be shot. Many of the ideas introduced in the season didn’t get a payoff like Jack the Ripper and Aleister Crowley. From the “Previously on” recap it may be safe to say the writers have decided to leave those behind. I think this is a good idea. The first season was an attempt to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Now we’ve got that we can have a tighter, better season two. Krypton was a good example of this. Season two of Krypton doubled down on what was good about the show and it shined. Just in time to be cancelled.
Now some thoughts, spoilers ahead.
1. Different Comics Universe
I’ve heard Stan Lee once said the Marvel Comics universe was “the world outside your window.” The DC Universe is not that. There are several major cities in the DC United States that do not exist in our world including Gotham and Metropolis. Considering how much of our culture is based in New York City having two additional similar cities in the country would create a vastly different world and history. Last season I complained Aleister Crowley had died in 1947, therefore would not have been alive in the assumed time period of the show. This episode we get George Orwell who died in 1950. At this point with the United Kingdom in the midst of a Civil War against fascism, I think it’s time to embrace these anachronisms. This is a different world and history played out differently. Some people may have lived different lives.
Krypton had time-travel as a plot device that allowed it to play fast and loose with what we know. They could break Superman’s history because there was the assumption that time travel would eventually fix it. Pennyworth doesn’t get that out. Like Gotham there is the assumption things will end up with Alfred as the butler of Thomas and Martha Wayne with their little son Bruce. It’s the rest of the world and universe they have to play with.
2. Character expectations
Because we all know where these characters must end, the writers are going to try and throw unexpected wrenches at us. Alfred’s relationship with Esmé was a good example of this last season. This episode introduces two of these. The first is Thomas’ engagement and the second is Alfred’s betrayal.
Thomas returns to England after being informed by his CIA superiors they would not intervene in the fight with the fascists. He ends up at Martha’s flat ostensively to break the news of his engagement. He feels they had a relationship and that he owes her an explanation. The engagement feels a little forced. Relationship drama is easy, it’s more beneficial to the story to keep Thomas and Martha apart. “Lois & Clark” kept the titular couple separate for ages—famously leading to the Death Of Superman. We all know this engagement won’t last and they will end up together in the end. Martha’s reaction to it was great though.
We knew Thomas being shot wasn’t going to be fatal, but it does feel cheap to brush it off with a passing mention. It was the major cliffhanger from the season finale.
The A Plot of this episode has Martha and Detective Inspector Aziz hiring Alfred and his team to kidnap a member of the Raven Union. The Raven Union (neé Raven Society from last season) controls most of England and is preparing to take London.
Alfred and crew kidnap a man named Colonel Salt and deliver him back Aziz. This was reminiscent of the missions of the first season. Alfred’s supporting team Bazza and Dave Boy are strong additions to the mythos and I’m glad they are back. Immediately after taking possession of Salt, Aziz is attacked and Salt is freed. The episode ends with the reveal of Alfred being behind the attack. The season has setup Martha and Aziz as the good guys in a desperate situation. After everything Alfred went through last season it’s no surprise he’d be looking out for himself first, but his sacrifice to save the Queen indicated real growth. It’s too early to tell if he has any deeper motivations, but I’m disappointed to find him back in a moral gray area. I expect to see more of these character expectation surprises this season.Continued below
3. Sykes is still awesome
The other B Plot of the episode catches up to Bet Sykes. Now Captain Sykes, we first see her as a cliché “Nazi” officer in charge of interrogations. Throughout her scenes interrogating an art student we see the Bet Sykes that was the standout from last season. She’s wild and unpredictable. She’d as soon kill you as look you. She proves that when killing her superior officer when he’s about to rape the prisoner while asking her to get the tea. It’s an intense visceral moment and not the only one that earns it the TV-MA rating. Sykes ends the episode running off with the prisoner. Reminiscent of the relationship she developed with Esmé last year after being her captor.
4. Production values are also awesome
Apparently they were able to keep the budget this season. All the sets, locations, and costumes are top notch. I am enjoying the period look and I’m glad they were able to keep the quality from last year. Alfred is back working at The Delaney club which is a fantastic set. I didn’t expect him to be back there considering he makes it clear later in the episode London is too full of bad memories for him, but it would be a shame to lose this location. It sells the period better than most. The war torn London reminds me of Germany being split by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. There are checkpoints to get in and out of the SOHO Neutral Zone—which Dave Boy makes short work of with an RPG.
5. Martha is a Superhero
Makes sense the other Bat in the family is Kate Kane on Martha’s side. Martha working for the No Name League—only called the League in this episode gives us a very Batman moment. She’s interrogating someone in a way that reminded me of Batman ’89 and the “Swear to me” scene from Batman Begins. Yeah she’s using a gun, but the aversion to guns didn’t come until much later. Her escape on a rope out the window is a move that would make Bruce proud. She’s also a lieutenant now, which Thomas seemed to get a kick out of. She also says the least expected word to come out of Martha Kane before we met this version of her.
Bonus thought: fascists are bad.
This season premier might be a bit light on plot, but it puts us back into the world of Pennyworth one year later. I hope the experience of the first season has given the team a clear vision of what they’d like to do this year. I’m optimistic we’ll get a better show. Either way I’m in it for the long haul with you, dear reader. See you next week for “The Burning Bridge.”