When this series began, I was expecting it to follow a fairly standard format. Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), now running his own security agency, would solve a case each week, while pursuing his cross-class structure romance with Esme (Emma Corrin). The relationship between Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz) would grow as well as a counterpoint to the other couple. Sure, there was a lot of craziness with the alternate fascist England to explore, but the series would remain on an even keel.
I was wrong. And I am glad I was wrong.
Esme was brutally murdered in the previous episode, and Alfred completely falls apart in this one, as a result. His feelings of guilt are magnified by the fact that he had been fooling around with Martha Kane at the time of the murder. And though Paloma Faith’s character, Bet Sykes, seemed to be the obvious suspect, this episode makes it clear that she is not the one behind it.
The Ripper, a local gangland leader, who had been introduced a few episodes earlier, makes his return, and seems to be unusually motivated to get Alfred out of his funk. He claims to have information about Esme’s death, but is this really someone we can trust?
For that matter, who can one really trust on this show? Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane are both at sea in an alphabet soup of secret organizations with schemes and counter-schemes. The villains take some genuinely compassionate actions during the course of the episode. And the Queen of England proves to be on the side of one of the more extreme factions vying for power, at least for the moment.
The increasing complexity of the series is highlighted by the bits and pieces of world building that are scattered through the series. A news broadcast made reference to the German Reich. So who won World War 2 on this show?
And as impressed as I am with the many shades of grey that the characters find themselves navigating through, I am also quite taken aback by the level of violence that is shown. There was a shocking accidental murder a couple of episodes back, and some extremely graphic disembowelings. Those are both overshadowed by a character getting their head blown off in the latest episode, something the camera returns to afterwards, so that we can more fully enjoy (?) the remaining jawbone and leaking brains.
It’s hard to know who to root for on this show, aside from Alfred himself. And even he is proving to be less than the perfect hero, even in his own eyes.
Perhaps this review makes it sound like I am criticizing the series. I am not. It is delivering a solid, dark, and definitely adult tale. Keep your Bat-Watusi. I’ll take Pennyworth.