The third season of Pennyworth brings many changes to the series, both internal and external to its production. Originally airing on EPIX, the series’ move to HBO Max also brought a bigger effort to bring the adventures of Alfred Pennyworth, Thomas and Martha Wayne, Lucius Fox and the rest of the cast into the superhero universe of the Waynes’ eventual son—Batman.
It’s a delicate balance, however. After all, the show’s departure from most everything recognizable to Batman is what has kept Pennyworth unique among DCTV shows as a retro spy-thriller set within an alternate universe. Yes, it features Bruce Wayne’s parents, but the Dark Knight-to-be is yet to be seen. Last season ended with the newlyweds giving birth to not a son, but a fair-haired daughter named Samantha. If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, in season three we fast-forward five years to the late 1960s where there’s still no Bruce, but fashion, music and the other signatures of flower power pop culture signal the changes that our characters are going through. But why the time jump?
“Some of it was having Thomas and Martha have a child at the end of season two, and it’s very hard to have a baby on set,” admits Executive Producer Bruno Heller. “Having a five- or six-year-old is much easier. Part of it too was wanting the new season to have a different look and feel than what came before it.”
“I think that’s an exciting element of it,” enthuses Ben Aldridge, who plays Thomas Wayne. “I’m glad we jumped ahead five years, with all the psychedelics and fashion of the period. The psychedelic drugs really play into our main storyline. They’re kind of our baddie, basically. And to be wearing different clothes of the time, I’m a really big fan of the time-jump, actually.”
The transition from season two to season three was a challenge for the UK-based production, but it’s not because of the move over to HBO Max, which the producers found to be seamless. Rather, it was filming during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We were the first Warner Bros. show to go back into production (after the shutdown),” explains Executive Producer John Stephens. “It was kind of scary for a lot of people—kind of like making a movie during wartime. But we felt like we were doing something useful.”
Aldridge had his own sense of satisfaction in filming season three. In his case, much of it stemmed from Thomas’s narrative, which took a shocking turn in the season’s third episode.
“There’s something major that happens, that Thomas does, that I didn’t see coming at all (before reading the script), and it leads to a helluva lot of drama,” Aldridge says. “He has some big stuff coming that made me go, ‘Oh, they want me to act!’”
As for the time-skip, much has clearly warmed between the often-bickering Waynes, but that doesn’t mean viewers should expect smooth sailing. These are people who have trafficked in national secrets, after all.
“They’re always going to be tested, I think,” suggests Aldridge. “We meet them at the beginning of season three, it’s five years on and it’s all quite harmonious. They have their daughter, Samantha, who’s five. And Thomas is a responsible family man. He’s a pediatrician, which is more in line with the comic books. But there is a big reveal from Martha that causes a lot of tension between them, a lot of trust issues. And Patrick Wayne, his father, arrives and that really stirs the plot. Thomas tries his best to stay on the straight and narrow, but he’s become re-embroiled back into darkness after spending the last five years trying to avoid it.”
As for the series’ namesake, Alfred Pennyworth, he’s still wrestling with his character’s core challenge—his relationship to violence, which seems to have only grown tighter these past five years.
“I think violence is in him,” says the man who embodies him, actor Jack Bannon. “Throughout his time in the SAS he’s seen a lot of it. He perpetrated a lot of it as well, it’s something he’s good at unfortunately. He’s always pulled back into that world.”
For all the changes to the series, the Pennyworth team also promises that we’ll be entering more familiar territory as well. The characters will be visiting Gotham City for the first time on screen, and we’ll be seeing what amounts to an early, almost prototype version of the Batman villain Clayface. But for the time being, just surviving the season with everyone’s sense of self intact is a pretty big victory, even if that sense of self changes.
“What happens in life and what’s important to you changes after jumping ahead five years,” explains Bannon. “I’ve been playing Alfred for four years now, and thinking about how my life has changed, sitting with those thoughts, really helped my thinking going into season three.”
Part of that involves seeing familiar traits start to emerge, suggesting that the show’s new subtitle—“The Origin of Batman’s Butler”—is more than just a way to lure in Bat-fans.
“We begin to see the nurturing nature of Alfred, and it’s amusing to see him interact with children for the first time,” says Bannon. “He’s got a line early on, ‘I don’t like babies,’ which is quite funny.”
Still, don’t expect any potential future seasons to see Alfie busting out a tux and answering doors for the Waynes. At least not any time soon.
“With the new subtitle, there is a show somewhere of a man ironing shirts and learning how to make tea, but for now it’s not that exciting, is it?” Bannon laughs.
New episodes of Pennyworth drop Thursdays on HBO Max. Keep up with Alfie's latest exploits on our official Pennyworth series page.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.