“Shirley Bassey” finds new ways to surprise and impress, as Pennyworth continues to be one of the best shows on television right now.
This recap of Pennyworth Season 1, Episode 5, “Shirley Bassey”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The premature death of Esme ripples through Pennyworth Episode 5, “Shirley Bassey”, in which old foes are given a new lease of life, new ones emerge from the shadows, and faces are splattered with relish.
We open with Bet recounting how she witnessed Esme’s assailants — a man and woman, apparently, and with a key — enter the apartment to kill her. She and her sister Peggy attend Esme’s funeral, albeit from a distance, as does a very guilty Martha and a mostly unbothered Thomas Wayne, who has bigger fish to fry.
Those fish need frying at the behest of the No-Name League, who would like him to set up the murder of the Raven Society’s leader, especially now that the conflict has spilled out into the local populace, resulting in mobs of hooligans rioting in the streets. But to do that Thomas needs Martha, and they both need Alfred, who is taking Esme’s death so hard that he’s having full back-and-forth conversations with the ghost of his mate Spanish, who died during the war. He “won’t do violence anymore”, as he explains to Martha when she visits him just after a rather touching father and son bonding moment in which Mr. Pennyworth shaves him and makes him eat a biscuit. I understand that doesn’t sound particularly touching, but here we are.
Alfred is compelled back into violence in “Shirley Bassey” by Ripper, of all people, who brightens him up in a clearly Rocky-inspired training montage and requests that he do a job of work for him in exchange for a name that’ll lead Alfie to Esme’s killer. Thomas Wayne, meanwhile, enlists Dave Boy for the job Alfie refused, leaving Bazza with nothing to do but get high at the club. Maybe next week.
Needless to say, this all collides in the same place. As Dave Boy arrives at a meeting between the No-Name and Raven higher-ups with the intention of offing the Raven leadership, a moment of hesitation gets him shot at around the same time Alfie turns up and blows the head clean off the No-Name leader. It’s all a bit of a pickle. Alfie makes off with Dave Boy and takes him to the local pub sanctuary where he finally does the no-pants-dance with the naive barmaid Sandra — that’s what we call a grieving process, I suppose.
Elsewhere in “Shirley Bassey”, Bet stumbles across Lard Harwood, devoid of nose and toes, chained up and kept as a pitiful money-maker. Bet, however, believes in an eye for a nose, and before long his Lordship is living with and being trained up by Bet and Peggy and Mr. and Mrs. Cuckhold, now being patronizingly referred to as “Ginger”, apparently not all that much better off than he was before.
This was, as is becoming quite unsurprising at this point, a fine episode of television. Alfie playing his grief slightly cartoonishly was an obvious lowlight, and the way the tone tends to bounce around — particularly during any scene with Ripper or Lord Harwood, this week — can be disconcerting. But these are minor quibbles. “Shirley Bassey” ends with the revelation that Ripper is shacked up with the No-Name widow, promising a political takeover to come, and Pennyworth continues to surprise and entertain with its willingness to take sharp turns into bonkers territory. Can it maintain that sense of unpredictability without losing itself? Who knows. But it’ll be fun finding out.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.