Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 25, 2023)
Due to its seemingly goofy premise, I went into Season One of Pennyworth with some skepticism. However, it managed to turn its “origin story” for Batman’s butler into a lively ride, so I looked forward to more.
The series takes us to London in the 1960s to follow the younger Alfred’s evolution pre-Batman. Aired across 2020-21, this two-Blu-ray set includes all 10 of Season Two’s episodes. The plot synopses come from IMDB.
The Heavy Crown: “Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) tries to profit off a war-torn London that threatens to be overrun by the fascist Raven Union.”
“Crown” opens with a fairly long recap of Season One and then spends much of its time with an orientation toward catching up with the main characters. We find out what changed and developed since the end of S1.
That means “Crown” can feel a little remedial, but it nonetheless pushes along threads old and new. Add some fresh roles and it becomes a pretty decent opener for Season Two.
The Burning Bridge: “Alfred's plans for his departure to America are put on hold when someone close to him is put in danger. Thomas enlists the help of an old foe, Aleister Crowley (Jonjo O'Neill).”
As much as I liked S1, I thought the portions with Crowley offered a misstep. Does his S2 return alter that opinion?
Yeah, sort of. Crowley felt like an odd anomaly in S1, crammed into the series as a gimmick more than anything else.
“Bridge” allows the character to take an unexpected and intriguing path. I still don’t love the Crowley role – maybe because O’Neill’s performance seems self-conscious – but at least he fits “Bridge” better than his S1 shows. Toss in other productive threads – like Alfie’s kidnapped mother Mary (Dorothy Atkinson) - and this becomes a strong episode.
The Belt and Welt: “Alfred, Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) and Daveboy (Ryan Fletcher) look to uncover who stole their money during Alfred's mom's kidnapping. Aleister Crowley's plan against Archbishop Potter (Dermot Crowley) moves forward.”
After the lively events of “Bridge”, “Belt” feels less involving. While it moves along elements in a satisfactory manner, it just doesn’t become as exciting, even if it does come with the demise of a major character.
The Hunted Fox: “Still haunted by tragedy, Alfred agrees to join Gully's (James Purefoy) team on an upcoming job. Pressure begins to take its toll on Harwood (Jason Flemyng) and direct him toward Project Stormcloud.”
“Fox” shows some of the ramifications of the aforementioned death and it moves along other plot points as well. While it doesn’t kick into higher gear, it still manages to evolve the season’s narrative in a largely positive manner – and we find the introduction of a role who fans know from the Bat-universe.
The Bleeding Heart: “While Alfred and Daveboy run one last job for Gully in order to buy tickets to America, tensions ratchet up at Raven Union HQ between Harwood and his lieutenants.”
The first half of S2 wraps with a fairly solid show, as “Thorn” develops aspects of the civil war pretty well. Throw in some personal intrigue for Alfred and this turns into a worthwhile episode.
The Rose and Thorn: “While Alfred is enlisted to help extract Lucius Fox (Simon Manyonda) from Raven headquarters, Prime Minister Aziz (Ramon Tikaram) sets in motion a plan that pits Aleister Crowley against John Ripper (Danny Webb).”
So much for my attempt to hide the identity of the aforementioned important Batman character! Well, if Pennyworth wants to develop roles who we’ll know as older versions, it makes sense to bring Lucius Fox into the fold.
The series introduces Fox in an intriguing manner, though – despite that synopsis - “Thorn” doesn’t add much to his involvement. Nonetheless, I expect Fox will become more prominent down the road, and “Thorn” develops other domains well.
The Bloody Mary: “While Alfred prepares to leave England, Bet (Paloma Faith) and Peggy Sykes (Polly Walker) set out to rescue their old friend.”
Alfred’s desire to head to the US has been the semi-MacGuffin all season. Of course, we know he eventually winds up in Gotham City, but I don’t know if that happens in Season Two – or Season Three, or never as part of this series.
Seven shows into S2, I admit this theme seems tedious, especially because it doesn’t add drama since we know Alfred’s eventual residence. Nonetheless, other aspects of “Mary” fare better and help make it a generally positive program.
The Hangman’s Noose: “Salt (Edward Hogg) sits down with the League to discuss peace and Alfred confronts Gully to do the same. Martha (Emma Paetz) finally comes clean to Thomas (Ben Aldridge) about her dilemma.”
Like most prequel tales, Pennyworth loses some tension because we know certain characters won’t die. Of course, that includes the title role, so even though “Noose” places him in a dire situation, the viewer seems unlikely to encounter much anxiety because we realize he’ll survive.
Despite that inherent problem, “Noose” still ratchets up the drama pretty well. Although the moments of Alfred’s possible demise fail to seem especially impactful, the rest of the episode moves along the season narrative as we near the year’s end.
Paradise Lost: “With less than 48 hours until a potential terror attack, Alfred, Thomas and Martha concoct a plan to infiltrate Raven headquarters with Daveboy and Lucius to steal Project Stormcloud.”
Despite its more blue-collar orientation, Pennyworth often gives off a 1960s spy tale vibe, and “Lost” embraces that more than usual via the gang’s attempts to sneak into the Raven facility. Even though we realize the mission will succeed eventually, we still get enough tension to make it a good lead-in to the season finale.
The Lion and Lamb: “Salt is hell-bent on releasing Project Stormcloud upon London - unless Alfred and his mates can stop it.”
S2 concludes with an awfully ominous threat, as Stormcloud could wipe out all of London. In an interesting twist, the show starts in a way that implies “Lamb” will offer an epilogue and not a climax.
Of course, that would seem like a limp finale, so “Lamb” finds a way to ratchet up the drama. While I can’t claim it delivers anything terribly surprising, it nonetheless caps the season well.
And S2 becomes a pretty good collection of shows. I think it fares a bit less well than S1, but it nonetheless holds its own and makes me eager to dig into Season Three.