Review: ‘Pennyworth’ S03 Ep.9 – ‘Rag Trade’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Nothing takes the romance out of a proposal than saying you’re ready “to do the right thing” over and over again. Makes a girl feel right special, yet (as much as Alfie’s poor excuse for a proposal should’ve made the choice clear) it was never a given that Sandra (Harriet Slater) would turn Alfie (Jack Bannon) down, and quite the coup that she did.

Photograph by Colin Hutton/HBO Max

It feels premature to congratulate Pennyworth on an engagement well-stopped, because there’s still a finale to get through, and the show could easily tread back on that decision and take away the power of Sandra’s quick and firm “no.” The groundwork is even set, with Alfie telling his mom (Dorothy Atkinson) he feels differently about marriage now by the end of the episode (it’s amazing what 24 hours can do).

Everything about Sandra and Alfie has always been drawn out, so having the engagement be done and dusted before the opening credits? Amazing. Plus, Sandra loves Alfie. Refusing him couldn’t have been easy, so it’s no small thing, her saying no. I feel like I rag on Sandra a lot (and am tired of doing so), but it’s not Slater’s performance but the show not giving her any new notes to play. Putting her back together with Alfie is how she continues to be on the show (because that’s who the show’s about) but it’s not good for her character, and it’s time to let the relationship go or stick to this week’s decision to let Alfie and Sandra only be in each other’s lives as far as their child is concerned.

Speaking of another relationship that could end but it won’t: Thomas (Ben Aldridge) is delusional if he thinks it’s ok to blame Martha (Emma Paetz) for his recent, horrible decisions, yet he’s getting away with it, so maybe he’s on to something.

Sure, Martha stays angry at him for most of “Rag Trade,” and when Sam (Jayda Eyles) is kidnapped she doesn’t worry about her husband’s pride. She calls Alfie, a man she knows she can trust, but it sure looks like all will be forgiven at the end and it doesn’t make sense.

It’s one thing for Thomas to go to Gotham and murder his father (Richard Dillane), but making out like it’s Martha’s fault, when she never said anything about killing him? And then making out like he would’ve come home sooner but he knew she’d be upset, like being angry’s a crime? It’s all manipulative, self-absolving stuff that shows just how insecure and ugly Thomas has become (and that’s not even mentioning Sam’s teddy bear, which is straight out of the absentee father playbook), but you can’t buy love, and Thomas seems incapable of change, which puts the burden on Martha. Thomas doesn’t want to work for forgiveness. He wants everything to go away and maybe that’s what he’s used to, coming from a privileged upbringing. The only way this storyline can be saved is if Martha holds Thomas accountable and the odds seem in Thomas’ favor, not hers.

Some other thoughts on this week’s episode:

Photograph by Colin Hutton/HBO Max
  • Because Sam’s fate on the series is unknown, there actually were some stakes to her kidnapping this week. It also was really cool to see the series start to develop a relationship between Sam and Alfie, especially if Sam is meant to take Bruce’s place and become Batman. Of course, if Pennyworth is like Smallville, that’s when the series will end and we’ll never get to see their relationship blossom but, as a peek into the future, Bannon and Eyles have a lot of chemistry and could easily join the ranks of other iconic adult-child team-ups (like The Hound and Arya (Game of Thrones)).
  • In theory, Atkinson getting to play an evil doppelganger version of Mrs. P. should’ve been amazing (and it’s pretty amazing that the world of Pennyworth is so warped that there are two possible explanations for her double: PWE or Mrs. P was drugged) but, after the initial shock, writer, Robert Hull, never made any attempt to make viewers try and tell the two Mrs. Ps apart, and that’s a waste of Atkinson’s acting chops.
  • As much as his scenes were jammed into an already busy episode, it felt like Lucius (Simon Manyonda), in giving himself a solo mission, finally got a chance to shine and congeal as a character this week, as viewers got to see both his nerdy side (the gadgets, the saying “fudge”) and his heroic side (risking his life to try and help PWEs).
  • Turns out Bets (Paloma Faith) is alive after all (huzzah!), but given what she’s capable of without enhancements, who in the military thought it would be a good idea to make her even more unstoppable? I mean, exhibit A: the prison break she attempted this week. That should’ve been impossible.
  • Daveboy (Ryan Fletcher) deserves to have a girlfriend who believes in him, and Sally (Claudia Jolly) is right. Daveboy is capable of more than he gives himself credit for, except then they have sex instead of treating Lullaby like the serious threat that it is, so maybe she’s wrong. This was the moment, though, that the series could’ve let Daveboy grow as a character (at the very least he could’ve used his contacts to get the right people on the job), but if he can’t step up in a life-or-death situation, when will he ever change?
  • A Question for Comic Book Fans: Was the barrette Sam was wearing purely a lead-in to Alfie telling the story of The Lion and the Mouse or was there a greater significance to the mouse?

New episodes of Pennyworth: The Origin of Batman’s Butler stream Thursdays on HBO Max.

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