So, it’s finally here. I have to say, I wasn’t anticipating a show entirely focused on Bruce Wayne’s butler, the titular Alfred Pennyworth. Some recent Batman comics have touched on his espionage and war-time origins but I didn’t think any of that was worth translating into television or film.
Instead of the posh servant we’re so used to seeing in most Batman adaptations, the Pennyworth version of the character is more working class, more of a man with military experience who desires to seek salvation. Or, at the very least, some quiet. He wants to start his own private security firm and in the meantime is working as a bouncer in a club, where he meets his future employer: Thomas Wayne. Let’s dive in, shall we?
“Now, don’t be giving me any trouble. Or I’ll be vexed.”
The pilot episode opens with men on horses chasing some dogs, for a reason I’m not entirely sure about. Maybe they’re leading them to some food, as the dogs are later seen tearing apart a fox. The horse-riding scene is set to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” which really helps sell the imagery on display, as well as the accompanying slow motion bits. One of the riders leaves the group to confront a woman and a man about them trespassing on his land. He demands they leave but the man, a burly one, yanks the rider off his horse. The rider asks the trespassers if they know who he is, to which the woman replies that they do. They take him away and we’re off to the opening credits.
“When I go, save me a drop of the good stuff, eh? None of this cheap shite.”
Some war-time imagery wakes up our protagonist, Alfred Pennyworth. He gets up, revealing some serious scarring on his back. We then see him at a military funeral procession, wearing a mask to assumedly hide his identity. The reason as to why this is will be revealed later. Alfred and his war buddies are standing over their friend’s casket, looking solemn and sad. Alfred learns that this man, along with someone else who died earlier in the year, both committed suicide. He reveals to his friends his intentions of starting up a security company, and is laughed off as they say he doesn’t have the stomach for it.
“We open the door like so… with extreme panache.”
Alfred is acting as a bouncer for this posh dancing club, and doesn’t seem to be the right man for the job. He’s reminded twice to open the door for guests as he seems to be thinking about something else entirely. He is asked to come inside to deal with a kerfuffle between the just-introduced Thomas Wayne, his sister Patricia, and two men who wish to take advantage of the woman in her state of drunkenness. He deftly deals with the hooligans and Thomas offers to pay for any medical expenses on account of Patricia accidentally punching Alfred in the face. They exchange contact information and Alfred heads inside, who flirts and apparently manages to procure a date with one of the dancers that he runs into.
This scene was a great introduction to this version of Alfred. He’s physically capable of defending himself and is a smooth talker; he manages to talk up a storm to this dancer, Esme, and she obviously is attracted to him on some level.
“Some hidden springs are winding… dark wheels are turning.”
The kidnapped man from the beginning of the episode is Rupert Longbrass, a friend of the Prime Minister who we meet in this scene. What we get here is pure exposition; the PM explains to his lady companion that Longbrass is a banker who does some business with the Raven Society, a fascist organisation that wants to overthrow the government. On the other hand, the No Name League are socialists who also want to overthrow the government. The Society’s kidnapping of Longbrass is problematic because the PM was willing to let the organisation operate as long as they didn’t make any noise, but they now are and the PM is clearly very stressed about it.
“Who did you talk to? Give me a name.”
A man with a cape (!) and a walking stick (!) enters a bunker and confronts a tied-up, half naked Longbrass. Honestly, I didn’t need any more indication that this man is a devious son of a bitch. The cape, the stick… no sane man would don this attire. Longbrass was afraid of what the Raven Society is capable of and what it can do to the country, so he told someone about their existence. Who did he tell? We will find out soon…
“Nobody’s their own man, son. Not me. Not you. Not nobody”
We’re treated to a full-on flashback scene of Alfred and his friends in the war. It’s not clear what war this is given the show takes place sometime in the 1960s, but we witness the death of a man named Spanish. Alfred kills a few enemy soldiers in especially brutal fashion.
He wakes up and goes downstairs, greeting his parents. His father, Mr. Pennyworth, isn’t at all happy about the direction Alfred is taking his life in. He claims Alfred’s slacking and isn’t serious about his business as he has no capital or employees. He’d prefer if Alfred worked for a home and became a butler.
“I like a good play… what’s that one with the pirate and the crocodile?
Esme didn’t exactly confirm Alfred’s suggestion of meeting in the park, so imagine his surprise when she actually does show up. They get to know each other as they stroll, and Alfred reveals he was in the army for ten years. She’s taken aback by this news, as she happens to be against violence. Despite the brief hiccup, they manage to have a pretty fun time together. I like the chemistry between Jack Bannon and Emma Corrin, as it’s light and fun. It seemed they liked each other just as much as I did, because next they’re makin’ love.
“Hello, love. Would you like a boiled sweet?”
Remember the burly man who assisted in the kidnapping of Longbrass? He begins following a child right after his dismissal from school, and he walks right into the lady from the beginning; she is named Sykes. We then cut to Longbrass, cut and bloody. Sykes and the interrogator use Longbrass’ son as leverage to get the information they need out of Longbrass. It works: the man he revealed secret information to is Thomas Wayne.
“Go and tell those useless buggers they missed.”
Thomas Wayne is working in his residence when bullets start firing wildly into his room. He collects his belongings and manages to escape without any injuries. Sykes enters the room and finds the card that Alfred gave Thomas when they first met.
“Sometimes I don’t feel very alive. You bring me back to life.”
Two weeks have now passed, and Alfred and Esme have gotten a bit more serious; she’s about to meet his parents. They discuss what they like about each other. This scene really serves as a kind of fast forward button; they need to be closer and in love so the rest of the story can make sense. It’s a little gripe but I like seeing them together anyway. The meal between the couple and the Pennyworths doesn’t go as well as they would like. Alfred’s dad, Mr. Pennyworth, is a complete jackass, making fun of Esme’s father’s occupation and poking at Esme’s professional dreams. They leave and Esme drops the L-bomb on Alfred, which took me by surprise more than it did him. Alfred’s dad got Esme thinking about their future together. She wants a normal, stable life (which doesn’t seem to jive with her aspirations of becoming an actor) and she feels Alfred won’t be able to provide this for her. It’s a little bit heartbreaking and it couldn’t have come at a worse time; Sykes kidnaps Esme after telling Alfred that they are over. Alfred gives chase and Sykes yells at him to contact them when he has Thomas Wayne, and throws a note with her number on it.
“Bring us the Yank.”
Alfred dashes to the police station and attempts to report Esme’s kidnapping. Upon producing the note that Sykes left, featuring the symbol of the Raven Society, the officer Alfred was speaking to leaves the room and doesn’t come back. A telephone rings and Alfred answers after realising it may be for him; it’s Sykes on the line, telling him to bring Thomas Wayne to them or else Esme will be harmed.
“I’m gonna say a name, and you’re gonna tell us everything you know about that name.”
Alfred tries calling the number Thomas left him but the phone won’t go through. Upon flipping the card, he sees the name of an electrical contractor. Alfred and his friends go to the man’s house and threatens them for information on Wayne, which the man gladly gives them.
“If you’re thinking of any skullduggery, think on.”
Thomas is holed up at a farm, and Alfred barges in with his buds Bazza and Dave Boy. He sets a meet with Sykes over Thomas’ phone. Alfred isn’t really keen on just handing Thomas over to Sykes. He’s trying to formulate a plan to make everyone happy, except Sykes.
“Your boyfriend, he’s a right character, ain’t he?
Sykes is watching over Esme, and seems to be a bit more caring than her other appearances let on. She may even be attracted to Esme, since she touches her leg very softly.
“Which one of you grizzly bastards wants to live?”
Alfred and Thomas are waiting for the Raven men to arrive. They properly introduce themselves and get to know each other before they’re ordered to exit the car by men in suits. Bazza and Dave Boy reveal themselves and open fire on these men, with Alfred giving out some knee shots. He’s clearly a bit more careful to preserve life than his army buddies. Alfred calls Sykes and tells her he got rid of her men. Dave Boy employs some brutal tactics to the survivors to get Esme’s location out of them.
“My work for the country is honourable, and necessary. Sometimes ugly.”
Esme and Sykes are… slow dancing? This is a pretty uncomfortable scene. Esme looks like she wants to get the hell out of there but Sykes is having the time of her life, resting her head on Esme with her eyes closed, soft music playing in the background and all that. Esme hits Sykes when she gets the chance and runs away, only to stumble upon some sort of high society dinner party. Sykes drags her back to her basement cell while the man we previously saw interrogating Longbrass cuts short his dinner party.
“The Raven Society. Just our bloody luck.”
Back at the scene where Alfred and his friends shot up a bunch of Raven men, a man working for the police named Aziz and his associate discover the Raven Society’s involvement. This Aziz character looks like a really sly dude with a great voice.
“Unless you have a battalion of colleagues, I rather fancy that we’ll survive.”
Alfred, Dave Boy, Bazza, and Thomas are in a car near where Esme is being held. Alfred barks some orders, telling them to take Thomas to the American Embassy if he isn’t back within the hour. If he sends the signal, then they help him storm the place. Meanwhile, Esme is introduced to another Raven. He comes laden with instruments of torture. Alfred finds his way into the mansion but is knocked out and brought before the man who wore that awful, no-good cape. His name is Lord Harwood. He glances at Alfred’s military records, which state that he was a quartermaster in the Catering Core. We all know that isn’t true based on the flashbacks he’s been experiencing, so Alfred has been up to some shady stuff. Harwood reveals his plans to overthrow the government, even the Queen if she doesn’t agree. Alfred is offered a position in the organisation due to his knack for violence.
Back in the car, the hour is up. Bazza is prepared to drive away but Dave Boy chooses to go in after Alfred despite his orders. Alfred declines Harwood’s offer to joint the Raven Society, but Dave Boy starts shooting up the guards outside, buying Alfred some time to set himself free. Bazza joins the fun and provides back-up to Dave Boy, who was shot by an old woman holding an automatic weapon. Alfred is forced to kill Esme’s captor in front of her, which I believe might mark the first time he’s killed anyone since leaving the army.
“I hate snobby cows like you. All the same. Show ’em a bit of kindness, and they treat you like dirt.”
Detective Inspector Aziz introduces himself to Alfred and the rest as the police arrive. Later, Alfred heads home, only to discover that Sykes and her henchman are holding his parents hostage. Sykes is demanding to know Esme’s location because she was viciously embarrassed in front of Harwood during Esme’s escape. Well, imagine Alfred’s luck when Esme shows up at his door wanting to talk. Here, Sykes is really demonstrating how unstable she is. I chalked her up as a little bit strange but here she’s letting her ego get in the way, and that’s what defeats her. Esme attacks Sykes, giving Alfred an opening at the henchman. Alfred’s dad ends up saving the day, breaking a bottle over the brute’s head. Alfred’s mom and dad then have a jolly good time kicking the hell out of their downed foe.
“I thought perhaps you and I could come to some kind of arrangement.”
Thomas is visiting Alfred and Esme, asking Alfred if he would want to provide security for him now that he has been promoted and is staying in England permanently. Alfred deduces that Thomas is some sort of foreign intelligence officer, which Thomas denies. Despite Alfred’s refusal, Thomas says that he isn’t discouraged and will be back for Alfred’s security.
“You must never tell a soul what you did for your country.”
Alfred has been awarded a medal from the Queen of England. This really brings things full circle for him. He justified his time in the army, justified killing people, by saying he was doing it for the Queen. His gun was the Queen’s, and so were the bullets. He was serving her, and now she’s commending him. The episode ends with Harwood being dragged to a prison cell, yelling that he will be back.
There you have it! The recap of the very first episode of Pennyworth. Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. It was paced just right and the characters and their dynamics were all very well done. I was pretty engrossed throughout, and I’m genuinely curious to see where the story goes from here.
I’ll be here next week to recap the next episode in the series, “The Landlord’s Daughter.”