“Lady Penelope”, the best episode of Pennyworth yet, provided surprising developments for its plot and characters in a stellar hour.
This recap of Pennyworth Season 1, Episode 4, “Lady Penelope”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Thus far, Pennyworth has intentionally kept its connection to the broader Batman mythos as loose as it possibly can. Thomas Wayne has made several, albeit brief appearances, but his cartoonish rich yank blundering has been played mostly as a cute little aside for fans in the know. The third episode took things a step further by introducing Martha Kane, Thomas’s future wife and thus Batman’s future mother, but the excellent “Lady Penelope” complicates matters by introducing a potential romance not between Martha and Thomas, but Martha and Alfred.
If Pennyworth is going to play on its associations, this is the way I’d prefer it to do so; surprisingly and subversively, without making too much of a big deal about it. Alfred and Martha’s last-minute smooching in Pennyworth Episode 4 should raise the eyebrows of Bat-fans, but the key to this show’s success is that the development also felt significant on its own terms.
The snogging felt like a just reward after an arduous mission — financed by Thomas Wayne and the No-Name League — to expose the new leader of the Raven Society. A contact’s last words and a pocketful of ticket stubs lead Alfred and Martha to a Wickerman-inspired countryside where henchmen dressed as shamans patrol the streets and the elderly proprietors of quaint tearooms pull out shotguns. After an accidental but nonetheless brutal killing, Alfie and Martha are forced to flee, with the latter admitted to hospital for her injuries and the former surrendering to the Raven Society in the hopes of completing the mission alone.
“Lady Penelope” is both the personable nurse at the local hospital and the leader of the Raven Society, so both our heroes are quickly reunited. After an awkward introduction to a previous would-be assassin, whose blonde head is preserved in a jar of formaldehyde and has been dubbed Tanya because “she looks Russian”, there’s a fight, and an escape, and then, eventually, a kiss. A logical sequence of events. Mortal peril tends to get the adrenaline flowing and bring people together.
Esme, meanwhile, spends most of Pennyworth Episode 4 shacked up with Alfred’s parents, and is finally beginning to make progress with his deeply unpleasant father. She invites him to help plan their wedding, which he is surprised and clearly moved by, and he begins to soften. The show’s thematic undercurrents play out in microcosm throughout Esme’s interactions with the Pennyworths; the battle between the warring secret societies might be over right-wing versus liberal politics, but there’s a strong vein of classism to it all, with the Ravens — and Esme, and most especially her father — representing the snooty, moneyed upper-class while the No-Names — despite being financed by an enigmatic billionaire — are champions of the downtrodden commoners, men like Alfred who fight the nation’s wars and his father who clean its politician’s shoes.
It just so happens that as Alfred is playing away with Martha in “Lady Penelope”, Esme is being strangled — presumably to death — by an unknown assailant. It’s a major, unexpected development, and a smart, almost meta one. Just as Pennyworth began to pay too much attention to its mythology, it lost sight of itself; by focusing on Martha, Alfred lost Esme. For all its compelling characterization and general slickness, perhaps we haven’t given this show quite enough credit for just how clever it is.
- Lord Harwood is “rescued” from a life of noseless begging at the beginning of “Lady Penelope” by a “fellow Christian”. At the end of Pennyworth Episode 4, we see him being kept on a lead and fed dog biscuits by his rescuer.
- In his first meeting with Martha, Thomas Wayne describes Gotham City as “perfectly safe and getting safer.” Famous last words!
- Bet has a fight with her sister and leaves for London.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.