Plot: A year after the explosive events of last season, England finds itself embroiled in a devastating civil war, with the powerful, neo-fascist Raven Union, led by Lord Harwood threatening to control the entire country. Alfred, with his SAS mates, is now in search of a way out – before London, and his country, burns itself to the ground. And he’s got his eye on America.
Review: Summer 2018 seems like such a long time ago. I was at San Diego Comic-Con, braving crowds of thousands of people where social distancing meant only grazing a fellow sweaty nerd. It was there that I attended a premiere party for Epix’s upcoming DC prequel series Pennyworth with stars Jack Bannon and Paloma Faith. It was a fun night and a nice intro to a fun show, unlike any other DC property on the small screen. A violent and sexy series that gave us the answer to the question of what a Batman series could look like if directed by Guy Ritchie, Pennyworth did a solid job of not falling back on over-using DC Comics characters. By the end of the first season, the show had shown us civil war in England with the Queen on one side and Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng) on the other. Season two picks up in that warzone and continues to amp up the action and the intrigue while still being its own tale rather than the origin of Batman.
If you enjoyed the first season of Pennyworth, you are probably going to like this run as well. Not a whole lot has changed since we last saw these characters aside from the war being in full swing. Alfred (Jack Bannon) now runs a nightclub but has aspirations to leave England with his mother and pals and head for America. Bet Sykes is a Captain in the Raven Union led by Lord Harwood who is giving Queen Elizabeth a run for her money. Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane continue their roles with the CIA and No Name League, respectively, as the battles rage around them. There is still a Cockney swagger to the proceedings but as the story further diverges from history, the narrative becomes a bit more muddled. Essentially, the show is fun but the motivation for audiences seems to lag.
In the four episodes made available for this review, the narrative focus shifts more to Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane and their involvement with the war effort. This is certainly an interesting story that echoes Marvel’s own Agent Carter. The will they/won’t they romantic tension between the future Gotham socialites makes great use of the chemistry between actors Ben Aldridge and Emma Paetz. Their involvement in both active battles raging in England as well as orchestrating events behind the scenes is the stuff of all good spycraft stories, but the amount of time they spend on screen is limited. A lot is going on this season and it all seems tenuously connected over these episodes. While Martha and Thomas play spy, Lord Harwood commands from the highest level. Bet Sykes goes on a side quest with a prisoner that plays out as if the writers were not sure what to do with her character this season. Paloma Faith sinks her teeth into the crazy Bet but there doesn’t seem to be a purpose behind her scenes.
So what about Alfred? While the first season put Jack Bannon center stage, he spends the first half of season two trying to get to America while not directly taking sides in the war itself. Haunted by the death of his father in the first season finale, Alfred here continues to work with Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) but their storylines primarily tread water. The introduction of James Purefoy as the trio’s former SAS commander adds another dynamic to Alfred’s backstory, but it is thin. Without giving any spoilers away, Pennyworth’s second season feels like it is continuing the storyline from the first season but without direct involvement from the main character.
The problem with Pennyworth is the connection, or lack thereof, to the DC Universe. I said the same about the first season and my mind is not changed. Had this series bore no connection to Batman, it would be an entertaining and under the radar crime and spy story that evokes a retro feel while remaining contemporary. At the same time, many people may only watch this show to see how Pennyworth becomes Alfred and that does not seem like the end goal of the show. Where Gotham ended with Bruce Wayne donning his iconic cowl, Pennyworth doesn’t have the same stakes leading it to a similar conclusion. Creator Bruno Heller deviates so far from comic book canon that as I watched these episodes I never really thought about Batman or Gotham despite the familiar names in this cast of characters.
Pennyworth remains a decent show with a solid cast of characters. This second season still balances on the line between cheesy and serious that Gotham teetered on before going fully off the rails. There is some fun to be had here but over four episodes I found less progress in developing these characters and this story than I did in the first episode of season one. Pennyworth remains a comic book show for non-comic book fans and would have been better had it never claimed to be connected to Batman in any way. If you plan to watch this try to enjoy it for what it is. There is nothing wrong with Pennyworth but it feels far less interesting this time around than it thinks it is.
Pennyworth premieres December 13th on Epix.