Alfred Pennyworth is best known as Bruce Wayne/Batman’s butler. He’s often seen as an old man who can’t defend himself too well. Sure, we have small hints of his past in comic books, TV series, and even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but it’s not what you might think. DC’s Pennyworth tells the story of Alfred before he was Bruce Wayne’s butler, as well as how he meets Thomas Wayne and other characters we know from Batman’s lore.
The series has already had two seasons, and the first three episodes of season 3 premiered earlier this week on HBO Max. I’ll review those episodes here, after a brief recap of previous seasons.
[Warning: Spoilers from DC’s Pennyworth are below!]
Previously on DC’s Pennyworth…
The series follows the story of 26-year-old Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), who has returned from the army and opened a security company in London with his two comrades – Daveboy (Ryan Fletcher) and Bazza (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett).
In season 1 we met Alfred’s family including his mom Mary (Dorothy Atkinson), and his father Arthur (Ian Puleston-Davies). His father is cynical and arrogant, getting under Alfred’s skin every chance he gets. On the other hand, his mother is a loveable and caring woman that will do anything and everything to protect her son.
When Alfred unexpectedly messes with a cult called the Raven Society, he must use all his connections, both old and new, to survive. That’s when he meets a CIA agent who just arrived in Britain and is willing to help him by the name of Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge).
Thomas, along with his next unexpected partner and future wife Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), is a member of a group called the No Name League. The No Name League is a radical left-wing secret group competing with the Raven Society, but as is the case with secret groups, you never know which is worse.
Working with the police and the Queen, they try to stop the Raven Society from taking control of Britain, but Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng) the leader of their society, kidnaps the Queen and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. Alfred, with the help of his friends, rescues the Queen and stops the Ravens.
However, as we learn at the end of the first season, Alfred’s father backs the Raven Society and commits to killing the Queen and her loyal parliament with a bomb blast. Alfred doesn’t accept this and kills his father, saving the Queen from the explosion.
The second season of Pennyworth takes place a year after the first. England is nearly destroyed by an ongoing civil war. Leading the charge once again is Raven Society leader Lord Harwood. Alfred has lost faith in saving London and wants to leave it and fly off to America before his whole country gets destroyed. His training in the military taught him that it’s better to expect the worst and still believe he can handle it.
However, due to Thomas and Martha’s influence, he decides to stay and do everything in his power to save England from a chemical weapon called Project Stormcloud developed by the Ravens. During the team’s attempt to try to stop him from the inside, we learn that Alred’s father is still alive, but as a part cyborg and part human.
Although Alfred’s father justified and believed in everything the Raven Society was doing, he decides that the best option is for Alfred to save people rather than betray his family. His former army friend Captain Gulliver Troy (James Purefoy) decides to sacrifice his life to stop the virus, but in doing so he became the first super-soldier called Captain Blighty. They win the civil war and London returned to normal.
The first two seasons of Pennyworth feature a lot of espionage and action and great adventure drama. At many moments it felt like watching V for Vendetta, Agent Carter, Sherlock, or even sometimes Batman 1966. Although these episodes were sometimes really dark, dramatic, and violent, as an overall story, they work well and are worth watching.
The Pennyworth season 3 premiere episodes present something new and better
The third season was released with a three-episode premiere on HBO Max, after a long year and a half wait. Before I watched it, I had mixed feelings about it. One change that caused a pause was the addition of a subtitle to the series’ official name. Now it’s not just Pennyworth, but Pennyworth: The Origin Of Batman’s Butler, which suggests that this season might be the most important of all.
The main plot of this season is also that the CIA and Thomas Wayne’s father Patrick Wayne (Richard Dillane) are working together on a mysterious drug used to control people. They bring him to England, using the cover story that Patrick is visiting Thomas and Martha while the CIA makes sure the tests are going according to plan. They use their new power of persuasion to manipulate the sect into killing people (by applying the drug to other members) while pretending that cultists are behind the killings.
This season begins five years after the events of the season two finale. The first three episodes are something new and very colorful compared to past seasons of Pennyworth. There is a completely different vibe to this series, with an added feeling of change for the better. The visuals, special effects (although there aren’t many at first glance), music, and characters are better than before.
Alfred, for example, is no longer the arrogant, selfish, hard-headed donkey he was. He is now more of a cautious optimist, with a tendency to sometimes exaggerate the danger. He is more mature, only when needs to be, and is more open-minded about more complicated solutions.
Whenever possible, instead of helping the government with their big secret missions for large salaries, he’s helping other people who have nowhere else to go with their problems. How Alfred’s character has developed over these 3 seasons is something admirable. From a shrewd bodyguard, he has become a private detective with a plethora of cases and experiences to impress not only the people around him but also us – the audience.
Thomas and Martha’s marriage and relationship are falling apart on various levels. Their viewpoints are very different from what they were 5 years ago, further dividing the couple. They promised each other that there would be no secrets, yet Martha is working as a special agent for Prime Minister Aziz (Ramon Tikaram) in MI5, while Thomas has stopped working for the CIA and started a legitimate life as a doctor.
When their daughter was born (yes, their first was a girl, Samantha, not Bruce), they promised themselves that they would live a careful life, taking no risks. Now the only thing holding their marriage together is Samantha.
Hints at future events in DC’s Pennyworth
Even tho it was only the first three episodes of the season, I felt a really big improvement in many things comparing them to previous seasons. Jack Bannon is the perfect young incarnation of Alfred, and most importantly, his version is something we would never expect from the Alfred Pennyworth we all know and love. He is not a stoic, cultured, and honorable man, but a cynical, emotional, and damaged individual, with PTSD and real-life problems.
Although he’s not a butler yet, he’s acting more and more like Sean Pertwee’s incarnation of Alfred (from Fox’s Gotham series). There, he was a calm and stoic butler, but when he needed to protect Bruce or teach him something, he would become a soldier/detective again. Nevertheless, there are too many of these story arcs and little things in these first three episodes that they will probably develop into something much bigger.
For example, at the beginning of the first episode “Well to do,” Alfred goes to check out an incident in London and finds a guy with a mechanical arm holding a girl hostage. We learn that this arm is not functioning properly and will be dealt with by special services. Then we get a look at Lucius Fox’s (Simon Manyonda) laboratory, where experiments are being conducted on all sorts of technologies, including this arm.
I’m almost certain that some of the minor things we’ve seen in these three episodes will become something much more important mid-season, or maybe even later, closer to the finale. Who knows, maybe at the end of the season there will be a big fight between cyborgs and people with mechanical arms, or maybe even the whole city will be drugged and everyone will kill each other. But one thing is for sure, we need to find out what the heck that extra title about The Origin Of Batman’s Butler is for.
This might not be a widely known show, but you should give it a try. You can’t expect it to be another Batman story, or something related to another DC series. There’s been some talk that this series is a prequel to the Gotham series, but nothing has been confirmed. Pennyworth is, rather, a spy-thriller series with familiar characters you’ve never known this side of. This is the reason I like prequels because you never know for sure exactly how certain things in a character’s past turned out.
The first three episodes of Pennyworth season 3 are currently streaming on HBO Max, with subsequent episodes coming out weekly. There has been no confirmation yet whether the series will be renewed for a 4th season.
Have you watched Pennyworth? Let us know what you think of the series on Twitter or The Cosmic Circus Discord! And for more Batman fun, check out Tucker Watkin’s review of The Batman, which is also streaming on HBO Max!