More than a Butler

When I first chose Gotham as my topic for this article, I determined that I would not write about my favorite character. I would delve into the multiple personality disorder of Jim Gordon, or the odd teen romance of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, or focus on the redemptive qualities of Oswald Cobblepot, or even rant against the vindictive nature of all the female characters in the show save one. But I couldn’t do it. Because, for me, the only reason I watched Gotham in the first place is the man who plays Alfred Pennyworth.

I’m a Sean Pertwee fan from way back. Long before he even dreamed of a starring role on Gotham as Bruce’s butler and father figure, I was watching him in Poirot and Cadfael. He is, after all, a British actor. That accent isn’t a fake. So when I realized my Sean Pertwee (the fangirl side of me still considers him partially mine) was cast in Gotham, I knew I had to at least try it. Never mind it had been out 3 years before I even started watching it. I joined the fandom in 2017, so I’m way behind. And even now I’m just halfway through the 3rd season, so I’m undoubtedly missing a few details along the way.

This is why I chose not to focus on Cobblepot or Selina or Gordon because they’re all changeable. What you know of them in one season may not be truth in the next. Hey, that’s showbiz and keeps the fans watching. But that’s not Alfred. It’s never been Alfred. Since my first encounter with the character in the Batman movies starring Alfred Gough as Alfred, he has been pretty much the same man. He’s stable and steadfast in ways you rarely find in a fandom where characters are sometimes turned on their heads to create additional drama.

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One thing, however, is different, and deliciously so. Alfred is finally allowed to be more than his mere 15 minutes of fame per movie. I have nothing against those 15 minutes of fame, after all, Michael Caine’s famous quote “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn” remains my favorite. But the capacity of a TV show allows for character development films can’t provide.

I finally saw Alfred as more than just a butler thanks to Sean Pertwee in Gotham. He’s a father, an uncle, a caretaker, and the best friend Bruce Wayne will ever have in his entire life. Alfred is one of the most self-sacrificing characters I have ever encountered. Sometimes it really is the people in the background, the Alfred Pennyworth’s of our lives, that have the most impact and sometimes they’re the people we appreciate the least.

When his parents died, Bruce and Alfred had to find a new path together, shaping a family that may seem odd to outsiders, but is one they both needed. Alfred made Bruce strong, stronger than he ever would have been without Alfred at his side. It’s the same with any Alfred, but in Gotham viewers are allowed to truly see the progression. Bruce doesn’t always appreciate his guardian. In fact, the older he gets, the more he hates being caged.

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But Bruce’s parents were wise in their choice of a guardian for their son if anything should happen to them. With his military background, Alfred doesn’t let people run roughshod over him very often. (Just over his face, but that’s another story.) He dishes out sarcasm and disagreements at Bruce just as firmly as Bruce throws them at him. He won’t be bullied and never gives up. Nothing Bruce does or says ever makes Alfred stop loving him. The worst moment for me so far is when Bruce fires Alfred for defying him. It is a childish move, and one with consequences, but the look in Alfred’s eyes tears out my heart. Alfred invested his life in this little boy, more than he ever bargained for because, really? Who in their right mind would ever imagine both of the Wayne parents would end up murdered? But murdered they were, and there was Alfred, a man of little outward emotional parenting skills, parenting a little boy whose parents were just murdered. It was not an ideal situation, but Alfred didn’t give up on his charge. Instead, he and Bruce pushed through some of the hardest growth and grief moments imaginable. So after all those moments, to have Bruce throw Alfred’s loyalty back in his face, treating him as if he were a replaceable servant, it’s wrong.

But it shows Alfred’s strength of character because he loves that little boy. The franchise doesn’t matter; every Alfred’s loyalty to Bruce Wayne is absolute. Sean Pertwee plays Alfred with the snark, the attitude, and the strength it takes to be the guardian and best friend of Bruce Wayne. He’s more than just a butler; he’s a hero.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Horton works at Compassion International whose tagline reads “Releasing Children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” She is an avid crafter, a prolific blogger on Musings of an Introvert about all things literary and film-based, and dreams of getting her stories published.

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