This Pennyworth review contains spoilers.
Pennyworth Season 1 Episode 2
In its second episode, Pennyworth does much to build its alternate universe Great Britain by tweaking Victorian-era elements for the version of the 1960s, and introducing more eccentric characters into the mix for a compelling, thrilling, scary, and funny story that feels like Guy Ritchie’s Gotham By Gaslight.
In an exclusive Den of Geek preview for the episode, titled “The Landlord’s Daughter,” it appeared that Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) would play a large part this week. Not so. Thomas does indeed offer Alfie an “honorable” job, but it thoroughly rebuffed, and exits for the remainder of the story. Though his presence hangs over the proceedings when Scotland Yard’s Aziz (Ramon Tikaram) warns Pennyworth that “someone” may try to recruit the former SAS operative for a secret society.
Nice misdirect, Pennyworth publicity team!
But I digress. At first glance, it seemed the opening scene of a gang of top-hatted figures pursuing a man could have been mistaken for late 19th Century England, were it not for the cars. Instead this is the introduction to Mr. John Ripper, a.k.a. the Man from Whitechapel, the apparently cannibalistic leader of the East End criminal organization.
Played by Danny Webb, Ripper oozes a Peter Cushing level of cold malevolence. One can understand why no one wants to interfere with him, and at first, it seemed that was why Alfie didn’t want to assist Sid, and daughter Sandra. But whether it’s stupid of clever, his actual move is exciting.
I quite enjoyed the verbal beatdown Alfred gave to “Jason Jason Ripper,” the dim, but violent nephew of Mr. Ripper. He deflates the boy before Dave Boy and Bazza break him, in a tense scene where the supporting good guys act convincingly bad. Seriously, though the two don’t physically torture their captive, their scene reducing him to “Weasel” (Apparently Reek was taken) is scary even if he deserves it.
These two are capable of nasty work – but so is Alfred.
In the pilot, we learned that Alfred was still willing to kill if it meant saving Esme, but it’s fascinating to see our pre-Batman Butler figure actively dance with the devil in the pale moonlight in order to secure some business. In a show that keeps its colors dark, it’s satisfying to see our heroes play in the gray. And Mr. Ripper gets a taste of Alfred’s “good trick” of appearing in the shadows, which will no doubt be taught to a young Master Wayne in the future.
Of course, it’s foolhardy to think the Pennyworth/Ripper arrangement doesn’t come with some bloody strings attached.
But Pennyworth’s Jack Bannon delivers as Alfred, and is incredibly believable standing against weak villains like Jason, or opposite monsters such as Ripper. He casually shifts between kindness, wit, and violence. He doesn’t flinch as Ripper removes organs from his victim, and yet his proposal to Esme is darling. As much as he wishes to leave behind his SAS past, I think Alfie is coming to the realization of how much use it is in this new life. Nor is he entirely altruistic; yes, I think he sincerely wanted to help Sid, and Sandra, but the boy needs to get paid to afford that ring.
As Alfred is making pacts with Satan, Bet Sykes is doing what she seems very good at: Surviving. Locked away in the London Tower, and marked for death (in a Victorian-era public hanging/disembowelment televised, but live for entertainment), Sykes is cunning enough to manipulate a prison guard. She offers up her charms, and body, but does so to get what she needs. Paloma Faith is so damn good in this role with her chilling, yet sympathetic, portrayal of this crazed villainess. I found it intriguing her two letters were to her sister (delivered by a man in leather mask, and women’s undergarments), and to Esme. It will be curious to see whether her path leads her back to the Raven Society, or directly to Alfred’s actress girlfriend.
Speaking of Esme (Emma Corrin), I applaud the show for not having her fall into the arms of another man as soon as Alfred misses her second performance on stage. But she has a right to be shaken when she receives the letter from Sykes, and it seems likely that Alfie’s work will endanger her.
Meanwhile, as Sykes awaits hanging, Harwood is on the other end of the torturous inquiry. Of course, because he’s a notable figure, he can’t just be hanged along with Sykes or common criminals. Instead, the Prime Minister sends him to “The Barbers” to be broken. And if that doesn’t sound like a setup for a gruesome cabal of Brit baddies, I don’t know what does.
Already I am delighting in watching Pennyworth, and the universe, and character building, that happens in this episode is great stuff. There is the threat of violence and conspiracy all around, and the show nails the mood.
Pennyworth airs on Epix on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Find out more about Pennyworth here.
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