NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Pennyworth” are present in this review
After taking a whole month off the air for us Canadians (two months for Americans!), Pennyworth is finally back this week, for the latter portion of its sophomore season… And not much has changed. “The Bleeding Heart” sends Pennyworth along without really skipping a beat, as if it hadn’t gone on hiatus at all, which will be good news for fans of the show. Unfortunately though, this also means that the series hasn’t really ironed out the bulk of Season Two’s problems after its several weeks off, with the overall season arc still feeling like a disjointed mess for the most part, despite individual good ideas nonetheless managing to poke their heads out of this episode’s highlight scenes.
“The Bleeding Heart” revolves mostly around Alfred realizing a bitter truth about fleeing to America; It’s a lot more expensive than he thought it was! Despite Thomas promising to loan Alfred the money, no strings attached, Alfred still remains governed by his principles, and refuses the handout. This inevitably means that Alfred and Dave Boy end up back on another job for Troy, which also has the added consequence of putting Alfred back into the orbit of Melanie. All the while, Sandra excitedly tells Alfred that she’s recording a demo for a record label, only for Alfred to not only blow her off, but also refuse to tell her that he’s trying to flee to Gotham City, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean!
The biggest strength behind this episode is how Alfred’s own principles end up leading him to trouble, and creating a domino effect of unintended consequences. Caught between trying to do the right thing and trying to get away, Alfred’s latest job for Gully proves to be impeccably thrilling, and even darkly humourous. After Gully’s group attempts to rob a women’s’ wrestling match, with Dave Boy initially being oblivious to the fact that these matches are fake, Dave Boy nonetheless ends up being vindicated in the end, after the wrestlers go off-script, ending the fight ten minutes early. Despite Alfred’s attempts to flee without the payday however, Troy insists on grabbing the cash, resulting in a very messy escape that sees Banjo gun down several innocent civilians, and one of the wrestlers, on the way out!
The fact that Alfred was forced along on a job gone bad is pretty upsetting on its own. The emotional gut punches from the fallout of this job come especially fast and furious for Alfred after this though, particularly when Mary learns of the botched robbery from the paper. After Alfred initially tries to lie his way out of Mary’s questions, he’s eventually busted by his mother’s intuition, before Mary subsequently kicks him out, and once again refuses to go to America. On top of that tragic turn, Alfred also yet again misses Sandra’s recording session, leaving Sandra to sing alone over a backdrop of budding, tragic romances that appear to be blossoming while London goes to hell around the characters involved.
One of these romances, surprisingly, is for Bet too! After one of the old Raven Union guards wanders into Peggy’s sex shop, only for he and Bet to recognize each other, the Sykes sisters capture the guard, intending to kill him. Once Katie intervenes however, a frustrated Bet storms off, at which point, Peggy recounts the tragic secret that Bet has been keeping. As was foreshadowed before Pennyworth went on hiatus, Bet and Peggy did indeed used to have a third sister, May Sykes, who fell in a river and drowned while on the way to school with Bet many years ago. Bet was then blamed for May’s death, which seemingly sent her on a path of unhinged, sociopathic behaviour. Compounding Bet’s bad luck and constant failure to be a better person is the apparent fact that she’s gay to boot (which would have been a lot more challenging during the 1960’s!), though Katie does ultimately accept Bet for who she is, eventually leading to a romance between the two women. Like Peggy says, bad luck and violence seem to follow Bet wherever she goes though, so you just know that this romance is probably doomed, likely with tragic consequences for Katie.
Frustratingly though, these good ideas are still brought down by this season’s usual weak areas in the narrative. Thomas and Martha continue to get into pointless spats that fail to progress either of their characters, for example, despite the promising confirmation here that Lucius Fox is a Raven Union mole planted by Thomas himself! As for the Raven Union overall, they’re also going in circles this week, again, while the English League continues to be neglected, again. Mrs. Gaunt’s meeting with Aziz to warn about Stormcloud ends up going nowhere to boot, while Harwood once again spends this entire episode berating his subordinates, and not really doing much else. Sure, Harwood seemingly has Gaunt arrested after he learns about her meeting with Aziz (despite denying it to Colonel Salt?), but I can’t help but feel like this twist won’t matter much in the end, considering that Harwood is begging for a coup. Either way, a very interesting, large-scale conflict is still being fought all around England at this point, for both the Raven Union and the English League, and yet, not only is Pennyworth still refusing to show this battle at all, it’s also predictably failing to make its underlying political squabbling interesting as a consolation prize, again!
It’s bad enough that Alfred and his social circles continue to feel so disconnected from the over-arching war for England that’s being fought in the background throughout this season of Pennyworth, but with the show’s storytelling once again spread too thin, even after its hiatus, it’s starting to get especially frustrating to see the Raven Union, the English League and their future Batman parents continuing to accomplish nothing but impotent arguing and aimless plotting! “The Bleeding Heart” nonetheless does very well with its core story arc surrounding Alfred at least, presenting an intense, darkly funny heist effort that gets Alfred his money, though it ultimately costs him the love of anyone that’s willing to appeal to his better angels. The more Alfred fights to escape the seedy world he’s come to inhabit, the deeper he seems to sink into it. That makes for pretty solid television, sure, but it definitely would have been ideal if that struggle wasn’t constantly and awkwardly shoehorned into a brutal, country-wide war that’s somehow still never being properly spotlighted.
Pennyworth returns from its hiatus this week, kicking off the latter portion of Season Two with another engaging, but disjointed episode that continues to present uneven storytelling.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Alfred's pride costing him the rest of his moral links
Exciting, darkly amusing heist effort
Bet's dark secrets leading to a romance with Katie