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Series / Pennyworth

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"I want to be my own man."

Pennyworth is a television series created by Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon (of Gotham fame) about the DC Comics character Alfred Pennyworth, the loyal butler of Bruce Wayne / Batman's family.

An origin story taking place in and around an alternate 1960s London, the series is centered on its titular character (portrayed by Jack Bannon) as a young man following his time as a soldier in the Special Air Service, as he forms a security company and is hired by Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz) and the revolutionary group they belong to, the No Name League, to fight against another group, the ruthless, power-hungry and fascistic Raven Society, led by Lord James Harwood (Jason Flemyng), who's assisted by his enforcer Bet Sykes (Paloma Faith).

The series started airing on Epix on July 28, 2019. It has been renewed for a second season that will air in 2020.


Previews: Teaser, Trailer.

Pennyworth contains examples of:

  • Alternate History: A number of elements make the series definitely fall into this trope, as it is supposed to be set in The '60s. To wit:
    • An extreme example in "The Landlord's Daughter" shows that this world's version of 60s London has grisly medieval-style public executions broadcasted live on television.
    • The Newgate prison is still in service, while the real one closed in 1902.
    • Ditto with the Tower of London, where Lord Harwood is tortured and mutilated. There were no more people detained in it since 1952 in real life, and torture stopped there long before that.
    • A brief news story in "Lady Penelope" mentions how "the German Reich" is allowing self-governing autonomy for the Netherlands, implying that Nazi Germany is still there and still occupies parts of Europe in this universe. Which might explain the presence the Raven Society has and the British government being lenient against it. In fact, this might well be a plausible representation of an alternate post-World War II Britain had Viscount Halifax become Prime Minister instead of Winston Churchill and made peace with Germany in 1940 instead of keeping the fight going. Good commercial relations with Nazi Germany might also explain the widespread use of MP-40 submachine guns among the English law enforcement forces and army in the series while in real life it was the L2A3 Sterling that was provided to British armed forces after World War II.
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    • Aleister Crowley is still alive (and still has hair), despite having died in the 40s.
    • When DI Aziz is outlining all the terrible things that the Raven Society might do if they take over the government, he mentions they might go to war with Scotland, suggesting that it's independent in this universe.
    • London Bobbies doing their rounds armed with (German) submachine guns certainly tells you that this is not the same England we are familiar with. Since 1936, fewer than 5% of the UK's policemen carry firearms in real life.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The show appears to take place in a different 60s London than Real Life:
    • 30s Zeppelins flying in the sky.
    • Cars and most of the main cast's clothes clearly come from the 40s.
    • There are also medieval stocks still in use to punish thieves and indecent exposers.
    • The 20s-style cabaret in which Esme dances.
    • Skinheads coming straight out of the 70s.
    • John Ripper wears a rather modern tracksuit in "Shirley Bassey".
    • Some other details make it fall firmly into Alternate History, as explained above.
  • Apologetic Attacker: After kicking the ass of some rude bar customer armed with a knife, Alfred makes his "apologies".
  • Assassination Attempt: In "Shirley Bassey", the Thwaites arrange for a sit-down with Dr. Gaunt, allegedly for peace talks but actually so that she can be killed by their hired hitman (Dave Boy). Instead, between Gaunt being armed herself and Ripper having hired Alfred for his own hit, Julian Thwaite is the one who ends up dead.
  • Badass Family: The Pennyworths. Aside from Alfred's regular action hero moments, his parents beat the crap out of Bet and her henchman after being taken hostage.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Alfred dispatches some switchblade-wielding attackers in spectacular fashion while wearing a nice tuxedo as part of his bouncer job.
  • Balkanize Me: Apparently, Scotland seems to be independent in this universe, and Wales is implied to have a strong border with England, meaning the United Kingdom itself might be a thing of the past.
  • Best Served Cold: Alfred discovers that he is the target of a decade old vendetta.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: On one hand you got the fascist Raven Society folks who want to purge the undesirables, but on the other you have the British government that's fine with torturing and mutilating suspects and public televised executions and who see a socialist utopia just as bad as a fascist one. No Name League members first appear as the good guys, until their leadership is revealed to be just as as corrupt as the people they oppose. The CIA is manipulating the situation for its own goals and does not care that people are dying as a result. Meanwhile, Alfred and his war buddies are wild cards that could emerge as heroes or descend into Psycho for Hire (Foregone Conclusion regarding the overall Batman mythos suggests Alfred will still emerge as a hero, and he opposes the Raven Society through and through).
  • Bus Crash: Esme is killed off because her actress got another role.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Alfred is horrified to discover that Esme was killed because of something he did a decade ago and that was so insignificant to him that he needs a witch's help to remember.
  • Cardboard Prison: Newgate Prison ends up being this for Alfred due to his complicated relationship with the British government. One day they are throwing him in prison without a trial and the next they need him for some Dirty Business so the charges and prison sentence disappear.
  • The Coup: Harwood stages one in the season finale, kidnapping the Queen and coercing her to make a statement supporting him, thus getting the army on his side and letting the Raven Society march on London. It doesn't last very long, however, as Alfred and company rescue the Queen, who then reveals the plot and has the army turn on Harwood.
  • Dirty Communist: The No Name League is a communist organization which supposedly wants to overthrow the British government.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Esme's murder is revealed to be this, as the person responsible wanted revenge on Alfred because he indeliberately made him look like a fool once over ten years ago.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • Alfred and Bet Sykes team up to find Esme's killer. Their main disagreement is whether they will torture the guy before killing him.
    • The No Name League and the Raven Society decide that the current government is their main enemy and call a truce. When an election is called, they decide not to campaign against each other. In parts of the country where the Society has major support the League will run no candidates. This would be reciprocated by the Society in areas where the League has major support.
  • Electric Torture: Lord Harwood is brought to the Tower of London and gets tortured with electrodes.
  • Funny Background Event: Foreground, but in an external daytime shot of Aleister Crowley's mansion in "Julie Christie", a couple going by on the pavement in front of the mansion is pushing a baby pram with a pig in it.
  • Genre Throwback: To the Harry Palmer 1960s spy thrillers — it's no coincidence that Jack Bannon's acting emulates Michael Caine.
  • A Glass of Chianti: Crime boss John Ripper serves himself some wine before getting busy in his morgue.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The No Name League is painted by the British government as communists seeking to subvert the government, but what we've seen of them so far presents them fairly positively. Until "Shirley Bassey" makes it clear they're no better than the Raven Society.
  • Historical Domain Character: Aleister Crowley.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Lord Harwood, initial leader of the Raven Society, gets captured at the end of the Pilot and gets tortured to hell and back throughout Episode 2 and 3. By Episode 4, he is a noseless, bearded beggar, living miserably on the street after being thrown out. He starts getting better in Episode 5, as Bet finds him and takes him in and by Episode 8 he's running the Raven Society again and is beloved by the public.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: With the exception of the pilot, every episode is named after a woman, either a fictional one or a famous real life one, particularly British singers and actresses prominent during the 1960s such as Shirley Bassey, Julie Christie and Cilla Black.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In the season finale, Peg and Beth are holding the Queen hostage, but are surrounded by Alfred and his friends. Beth is willing to go down fighting, but is talked into giving up by Peg.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The episode "Cilla Black" seems to veer into the supernatural. To wit:
    • Did Martha really meet Baphomet at Aleister Crowley's party or was she drugged and used as part of a blackmail scheme against Thomas Wayne?
    • Did Baroness Ortsey really manage to see in the future about Alfred bringing "a murderer's left hand and a red rose when the Moon is full" or did she get incredibly lucky?
  • Mind Screw: Martha's plot in "Cilla Black" is this, as the party she attends at Aleister Crowley's mansion quickly turns bizarre. No matter how she tries to leave, she finds herself back in the main room, and after a few times finds all the other guests there watching her quietly, while she's guided to a tall figure that appears to be Baphomet. Then the next time we see her at the end of the episode, she's waking up naked in the middle of a field.
  • The Mole: Thomas Wayne is part of the No Name League, but is actually a mole for the CIA. Though this is a less subversive example than most, since the CIA currently prefers the No Name League over the Raven Society.
  • My Card: Thomas Wayne gives Alfred his card, with his phone number on it.
  • Mythology Gag:
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Raven Society, a fascist organization that wants to take over Britain and eliminate everything they see wrong with society.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: The No Name League, the group that Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane work for, is independent of any government, and well-funded and organized enough that Alfred initially thinks they're the CIA.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed:
    • Ian Thurso, the computer genius whom Alfred helps Martha Kane rescue, is an Expy of Alan Turing, who was persecuted for his homosexuality despite making major contributions to the war effort.
    • Mention is made of the Queen having an exiled uncle who married an American divorcee, clearly meant to be the real life Edward VIII but referred to with a different noble title than the one the real Edward was given upon his abdication. He is also referred to as the Pretender which would seem to indicate that in this version of history he never became king.
  • Noodle Incident: When Alfred is imprisoned, he receives a message that Dave Boy and Bazza are planning to get him out just as they did in Rangoon. Alfred sends a message back, calling them children and forbidding them from even considering the Rangoon plan. When asked to explain, Alfred says that Rangoon was a blood bath but does not elaborate further.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Alfred enters Newgate Prison and is instantly surrounded by the prisoners who all want a piece of the pretty boy in a suit and tie. Alfred calmly asks who is in charge. When we see the prison block again, Alfred is top dog and all the other prisoners deferentially refer to him as Mr. Pennyworth.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lord Harwood watches a political ad featuring Undine Thwaite and initially dismisses it as amateurish but he asks the Sykes sisters for their opinion and they find it very convincing and find Undine extremely sympathetic. Harwood realizes that the ad was actually extremely well crafted political messaging that targeted the working class people who make up the majority of supporters for both the No Name League and the Raven Society. He realizes that he severely underestimated his opposition and the election will be far from a cakewalk.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Tragedy could have been averted if Alfred and his parents truthfully discussed what was going on in their lives. Alfred would have found sooner that his father is dying of cancer and a Raven Society supporter and could have in turn explained what is really going on and what the Raven Society is really doing.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Bet Sykes, who develops an obsession with Esme after abducting her.
  • The Purge: During the Raven Society's coup, they start rounding up their enemies to be publicly hung. Including Undine Thwaite.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Alfred blows Julian Thwaite's head off with a sawed-off shotgun in "Shirley Bassey".
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • When the Raven Society stage their coup, Thomas decides to flee the country, but is talked out of it by Alfred and Martha, who convince him to help them fight back.
    • Also during the coup, Ripper is seen skulking away when the Ravens come for Undine.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Poor Esme gets strangled to death by an unknown assailant at the end of Episode 4, much to Alfred's horror.
  • Tagline: "At your service."
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Alfred regularly has flashbacks of his traumatising war experience.
  • Undying Loyalty: The army leadership agree with Harwood politically and would love to have him in charge. However, they are completely loyal to the Queen. When she tells them that Harwood had her kidnapped, they immediately turn on him, stop the coup and arrest him and his supporters.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Raven Society grows increasingly popular with the British public. Especially Harwood after his return, to the point that the government can't touch him without risking riots.
  • Wham Shot: Alfred's father being shown attending a Raven Society rally.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: One of the Raven Society punches Alfred in the face after capturing him for killing Mrs Darkness in self-defense.


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