This Pennyworth review contains spoilers.
Pennyworth Episode 4
Well, this is a helluva episode. After much of the story is spent with Alfred and Martha Kane exploring the Raven Society infiltrated hamlet, in a rather quirky jaunt, the episode suddenly ends on a dark note that sees the brutal death of Esme.
In retrospect, Esme’s murder was foreshadowed in the opening moments of “Lady Penelope” when an at-first Wayne-esque family of three walks down the wrong alley of this alternate London. However, rather than get mugged, they beat the disfigured beggar (who happens to be Lord Harwood, on his way to becoming a chained pet). Not to mention the silence outside her door finally entered. Similarly, things were looking too suspiciously rosy for Esme, what with her getting on famously with Alfie’s cantankerous pop (Ian Puleston-Davies).
And Alfred’s memories of burying his fellow soldier as a chagrined officer looks on certainly felt foreboding. I expect we’ll learn more about that. However, in the world of Pennyworth, this death sets the tone for our hero’s loss.
Of course, Esme’s apparent murder has overtones of the Women In Refrigerators trope because this will no doubt set Alfred off on a certain path (and maybe it will make Bet Sykes crack up even further, since she is on her way back to London). Still, it is quite the shock, and there are a lot of suspects out there who have a grudge against Alfred these days (which potentially includes the Queen herself, and Scotland Yard). While some want to punish Alfred, Thomas Wayne still wants to recruit him for the oncoming civil war.
Aside from the shocker, much of “Lady Penelope” is a romp as Alfred (Jack Bannon) and Martha (Emma Paetz) head to a small town to learn the name of the new Raven Society leader for the No Name League.
The mission is a good chance for Bannon to stretch a bit as Alfred. We are used to seeing his dry Bond-esque humor as he negotiates tight situations. But he gets to be more direct here, and after he accidentally kills Mrs. Darkness, Alfred switches into his take-no-crap attitude. He is pissed off from running and fighting while he’s just trying to do business. I like this short-tempered Alfie.
Plus the setting allows for our characters to break out of type. After all, this is like a Wicker Man meets Hot Fuzz town where dark forces pull the strings. From the Maypole (“for sex orgies”) to the Raven priests (and the criminals in stocks) the town is full of surreal and anachronistic imagery from this alt-London, and a world where Germany is under the power of a Reich. Yet, as odd as this Great Britain is, it is still utterly British; not even the Raven Society would stoop so low as to poison the tea, and even though Mrs. Darkness tried to blow their heads off, she did serve up the crumpets first (by the way, this show seems to love accidental gun deaths).
Martha is slightly awkward as she moves through this land, slowly revealing a bit of her own mysterious backstory to Alfred, but she isn’t inept. She is capable of action, even if she appears insecure at times. Indeed, when the shit hit the fan, she followed Alfred’s advice and managed to “switch off the fan” – twice, once with the Raven priests, and then with Dr. Gaunt.
Speaking of Gaunt, she’s a delightful villain. Anna Chancellor turns in a tasty performance, first seeming quirky and curious about the French Doors in town, then saying matter-of-factly she’ll be having gin rather than tea. As the tension builds, and we see her malevolent side emerge, she remains downright likable even as presenting the head in a jar dubbed Tanya (“because she looks Russian”).
Alfred and Martha should have been smart enough to mistrust the doctor just outside of town, and she seemed a little off-center from the get-go. Still, it works on an ironic sense that the sexist fascist secret Raven society would select an eccentric doctor to lead them. And it was satisfying seeing Martha take her out with a brick – even if they shouldn’t have let her live.
It is humorous to think that while all this is unfolding – and right before the sexual tension with Martha bubbles over — Mr. P was expounding on the origins of marmalade, and discussing table settings.
The Sykes Sister family quarrel is another highlight to the episode, as Peggy rightly tells Bet she’s not right in the head. Of course, she also beats the crap out of her (those dominatrix skills come in handy when it comes to choking someone out). Out of these two characters, Peggy has a point; she’s just trying to do a job, and was indeed the one who saved Bet’s arse. It isn’t too much to ask her sister to keep the music down. But Bet is more than violent, and mad, she’s also petulant. It will be curious to see how this immature psychopath responds when she learns about what happened to Esme (who, granted, was victimized by Bet, and lived in fear).
While conflicted about Esme’s death – and disappointed if the gifted Emma Corrin is exiting the series – most of “Lady Penelope” represents a fun caper of an episode for Pennyworth.
Pennyworth airs on Epix on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Find out more about Pennyworth here.
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