It’s pretty impressive that Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, who twisted Gotham into a funhouse mirror image of the comic book source material, got invited to do it a second time with their Epix series Pennyworth, purportedly the origins of Alfred. But which Alfred? And for which version of Batman?
Pennyworth: The Complete Second Season, with Covid-19 interruptions, finally arrived at the end of 2020 and is now available on a two-disc Blu-ray set from Warner Archive. You can decide for yourself if the series needed its connections to the Batman mythos, needed to exist at all or is entertaining. As with Gotham, the chaotic and uneven storytelling continues here in this weird, alternate reality of the world.
While it looks like the 1960s, the politics of England is decided more fascistic, and lots of secret organizations are having a secret war with the kingdom’s fate at stake. In the first season, it was the SAS is battling the Raven Society for control of the country, with the good guys getting help from the No Name Society. We pick up a year later and everyone has received a promotion with the Ravens now the Raven Union and the No Names have taken a new title: the English League which sounds like a soccer club.
Alfred (Jack Bannon) has had father issues in print and onscreen, but here the stakes are higher with his father trying to kill the queen, forcing the son to kill the father. Already unsure of who he is and what he really wants, this act has rattled Alfred, who spends a lot of season two adrift. Things don’t get better when his lover Esme (Emma Corwin, now an Emmy nominated actress for her superior work on The Crown) is killed and he takes up with the wife (one-time Huntress Jessica De Gouw) of his former captain, Gulliver “Gully” Troy (James Purefoy). He, therefore, wants to flee the bleak London future and find the funds to emigrate to Gotham City.
Newly arrived from Gotham to work with the League are Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), bringing us closer to the birth of the Dark Knight and Alfred becoming the noble butler. But first, they have to fight for seven episodes and what could have been entertaining Moonlighting banter, the awkward writing robs us of a good thread. By season’s end, they marry and, surprise, have a baby girl, not baby Bruce.
There’s a lot of aimless plotting going on as if they didn’t know they had eight episodes to work with and carefully plot everything out. By bringing in Thomas, Martha, and Lucius Fox (Simon Manyonda), too much bat-mythos is entering Pennyworth threatening to derail its ability to surprise us. Mostly, the big arc is dealing with Project Stormcloud, a “terror bomb” that smacks of the Scarecrow’s fear gas. It’s mostly Alfred and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) versus Colonel John Salt (Edward Hogg) with the bickering Americans in the background.
As with the wretched Gotham, all sorts of storytelling possibilities are ignored in favor of frenetic pacing and lapses in story logic. In theory, a third season may happen and may find a new home at HBO Max, but no announcements have been made.
The 1080p high-definition transfer is perfectly fine with solid DTS-HD audio. The discs do not have any special features.