There is something delightfully and exquisitely British about seeing someone taking a break from torturing a bloody man, hanging by chains from the ceiling, to have a nice spot of tea.
That scene takes place towards the beginning of the second episode of Pennyworth, and it just helps construct the world this show inhabits. The veneer of traditional British civilization over the increasingly fascist actions taken to preserve it.
The second episode does not involve Thomas Wayne at all, which was a good choice. It gives its time over to Alfred (Jack Bannon) and his relationship with Esme (Emma Corrin), and a job he takes on to protect a young barmaid from the unwanted advances of a young tough, the nephew of the Ripper, a local hoodlum.
Once again class structure plays a large role in the story. It remains a sticking point in Alfred’s romantic life, the hugely variant worlds that he and Esme come from. But it also plays in to the other plot thread as well. As a prominent and successful crime lord, the Ripper also looks down on the plebeian Alfred, and is uncertain whether to reward or kill him for the way he defeats his weak and sexually abusive nephew.
And I’m not sure if this was intended as some sort of Easter Egg, but the apartment building that was used in the long running Poirot series on BBC is also being used in this show. Hard to accept that this was chosen merely for the art deco lines of the building. But how far are we meant to take the allusions? It’s no surprise that the Ripper operates out of Whitechapel, the same part of London that was the stomping ground of Jack the Ripper.
Paloma Faith, who did such an excellent job as the villain in the first episode, is back in this one, using her whiles to manipulate a guard while she is in prison. Her character’s name is Bet Sykes. Sykes, like in Bill Sykes, the villain from Oliver Twist.
And, thinking of it, Bet was the name of the best friend of Nancy, Bill Sykes’ girlfriend. Remember how I said I was unsure of how far to take the allusions? Well, one of the characters in the second episode sings Nancy’s big song from Oliver!, “As Long As He Needs Me.” Honestly, I was expecting her to take a crowbar to the head by the time the episode ended.
Because even though good is triumphing over evil, for the most part, there is such a sense of vague but impending doom hovering over this series. And it is that, more than the actual plot of this episode, that made it really work for me.