The Boys Season 2 Review: Deliciously Diabolical Superhero Satire Cranks Up Its Girl Power By Several Notches
One of the biggest misconceptions that people might have about Eric Kripke’s twisted superhero series, The Boys, is that it’s probably too male-centric with its displays of machismo, blood and gore, and a majorly male cast. What could have helped this flawed notion more is the fact that Kripke’s earlier work, Supernatural, is infamous for being all about his boys (Sam and Dean Winchester) and not doing right by its sparse female representation (strong, but very sparse). But with The Boys, that dynamic has changed. The show comes with some pretty solid female characters, placed in strategic positions of power, with storylines that have a huge impact on the show’s overarching theme of capitalism and celebrity culture. And in the event that they’re powerless, they’ve still got some or the other diabolical plan up their sleeve that’ll show the men who’s boss. With The Boys Season 2 dropping on Amazon Prime Video today, it’s good to be reminded that despite its seemingly sexist title, the show is anything but that.
The series, developed by Kripke, stars Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Dominique McElligott, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capon, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Elisabeth Shue, Colbie Minifie, Aya Cash, Shantel VanSanten, Laila Robins, Claudia Doumit, and Giancarlo Esposito.
For the freshies, what’s The Boys about?
On the surface, The Boys appears to be quite familiar—a twisted take on ‘What if superheroes were actually bad people?’ But that’s not all it is. Those familiar with Eric Kripke’s work in Supernatural will know how beautifully he weaves in subtext and pop-culture references in his stories. And here, he’s got some pretty rich lore to back him up. The series is based on a comic book of the same name, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, which follows the adventures of a motley crew, the eponymous Boys, who are brought together as vigilantes to keep superheroes who abuse their powers in check.
Oh yes, the world of The Boys is a world where superheroes are celebrities, handled by an American corporation called Vought International. Their prime asset is The Seven, a coveted team of seven of the best and biggest superheroes, who’re kind of like a cross between DC’s Justice League and Marvel’s Avengers. The Seven are led by Homelander, who of course, is a wonky cross between Superman and Captain America. The other six are Queen Maeve, Deep, A-Train, Translucent, Black Noir and their newest entrant as of Season 1, Starlight.
When A-Train runs through Hugh Campbell’s girlfriend (literally, he runs through her, and kills her), Hughie is approached by Billy Butcher, who tells him there’s a way he can get revenge on the Supes for all their crimes. Hughie inadvertently becomes a part of The Boys, a team that also includes Frenchie (a mercenary skilled munitions, ordnance, infiltration, and communications) and Mother’s Milk aka MM (operations, strategy). Meanwhile, The Seven gets a new member, Starlight, a devout Catholic girl with dreams of becoming America’s newest saviour and doing good. However, when she enters Vought, she finds out it is a capitalist black hole, the Supes are just money-making tools who do more movies, merchandising and red carpet appearances than saving lives, and everyone’s hero, Homelander is, well, the biggest sexist, racist, classist, and depraved douche on the planet. With Mommy issues.
A chance encounter brings Starlight and Hughie together, and the two cope with the pressures of being in their own respective teams as well as their feelings for each other. What doesn’t make it easier is that both Homelander and Billy Butcher are ‘diabolical’, and we never know where the punch is going to land. Add to that the mystery of the drug ‘Compound V’, Butcher’s murky revenge plan against Homelander, and Supe-Terrorists attacking America, and things don’t just get complicated, they get explosive.
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The Boys Season 2 is more diabolical than even Billy Butcher expected!
Season 2 begins right after the events of Season 1. Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), the VP of Vought who had a disturbing Oedipal relation with Homelander, is dead. Which means there’s no one who can calm down his crazies anymore. And well, he does push the envelope in Season 2 way beyond he did in Season 1! I found myself exclaiming in shock, surprise, anger, and disgust all at the same time at everything Homie did. The only thing keeping him a little grounded is the knowledge that he has a son. Oh yes, we found out in Season 1 that Butcher’s wife, Becca, whom Homelander had raped, was actually not dead, but raising her son in a secret Vought facility. Since Homelander does not want his son to suffer the way he did, motherless, he allows her to raise him there the way she wants to, with occasional visits.
Literally knocked out by this bit of info is poor Butcher, who wanted revenge on Homelander because he believed Becca was dead. The fact that his wife is raising Homelander’s child and loves that little Supe-spawn wrecks major havoc on his brain. Meanwhile, the rest of the Boys, Hughie, MM, Frenchie and Kimiko are holed up underground in the city, with no plans to clear their name from the list of most wanted people in America. They’re also sitting on info that Supes are not born with God’s blessing, but actually made. How are they going to prove that? Yeah, trust me, some crazy plans are going to be afoot.
Deep is still delving deep inside his insecurities to figure out how he can make up his image and get back in The Seven after Starlight called him for sexually harassing her in a stellar #MeToo movement from the first season. He’s part of a mysterious religious cult now which seems to be preying on his insecurities in the guise of helping him. A-Train might be back soon too, but he could make things real hard for Starlight and Hughie. As for Queen Maeve, she turns into a washed-up idealist who does not know what her cause is anymore. Should she continue to be Homelander’s loyal right-hand woman, or can she gain some semblance of control back in her life?
But Season 2’s biggest superpower is its increasing degrees of diabolical. There’s a new addition in the Seven, Stormfront, and she is clearly not welcome. At first. As we see in the trailer, her radical ideas about counter-terrorism—make more Supes—makes her Vought’s favourite asset, and something tells me, her unpredictability gets her Homelander’s attention too. She’s clearly going to stir up some major trouble! How? I can’t tell ya, fellas, you gotta wait and watch. But it will totally be worth it, I promise.
What Season 2 also promises is lots of explosive WTF moments, some pretty intense character developments and lots and lots of socio-political references that you can keep spotting and tallying with what’s happening in our real world, right effing now.
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The Boys Season 2 cranks up its girl power and how!
My absolute favourite thing about The Boys is its political subtext, and the many plot points that are used to integrate them in the storyline. For example, the IRL #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood last year that highlighted several cases of sexual harassment in the workplace was weaved into Starlight and Deep’s arcs in Season 1. Similarly, the most famous superhero in America (and a white man) raping a woman, it getting covered up by his employers, and the woman’s husband (Butcher) taking it upon himself to avenge his wife brilliantly portrays themes of of patriarchy, toxic masculinity and white supremacy.
Other prominent themes like racism (Homelander), classism, body shaming (Starlight), homophobia, fake news and capitalism (Vought’s ultimate agenda with Compound V) are very cleverly layered in the story, and the last word I’d use for them is subtle. They’re practically blowing up in your face. You can easily point out the overlaps with Marvel and DC in the way the characters are written and showcased, and the current celebrity culture, where the stars lead dual lives for the camera and have an image to maintain that gets decided by the people who’ve invested in them. One information leak, one exposé video can destroy their careers, bring entire companies down, or instigate an entire nation to change its foundational values.
Season 2 takes things a notch higher with its female characters. I liked that Season 1 had placed a lot of women in powerful positions. There was Stillwell as Vought VP, ex-CIA Grace Mallory as the unofficial founder of The Boys, and CIA director Susan Raynor. With this season, we get Congresswoman Victoria Neuman, a young, promising politician who might be a thorn in Vought’s rosy plans about Compound V. Something tells me she’s going to be a huge player in Season 3. We’ll also see more of Becca Butcher, who has an interesting relationship with Homelander, being both his victim and the mother of his child.
Of course, the wild card is Stormfront here, whose entry is going to shake things up in a major way for the Supes and The Boys. Aya Cash has done a phenomenal job, and she lands a close third after Antony Starr and Karl Urban in my list of best performances this season.
The trailer also gives us glimpses of Starlight with The Boys, which means at some point, she’s going to have to declare a side, and that’s not going to be pretty. Especially since she is still grappling with the truth that her abilities are not God’s gift but Vought’s. I love Erin Moriarty’s portrayal of Starlight; it’s so balanced in its light and dark sides, and her chemistry with Jack Quaid is super cute!
Queen Maeve is being haunted by what happened on that ill-fated flight, and Season 2 sees her really come to terms with what she wants to stand for. It’s not easy, because Homelander’s keeping a hawk-eye vision on her deeds, but the wheels of power do turn suddenly. All it takes is a trigger. Karen Fukuhara’s Kimiko has so much more happening this season, and I am really excited to see where her arc goes from here, after Season 2.
Unfortunately, The Boys Season 2 doesn’t drop all at once, which means I cannot tell you just how exactly this season blows your mind in its tightly written eight-episode stretch. Definitely a dial-up from Season 1 which, I’ll admit, did get slacking and messy at certain points because it was trying to lay the groundwork for its characters. It all comes together well in Season 2, and it makes a noticeable pop when, at the end of the season, there’s a shift in power dynamics. But what I can assure you is, that this season belongs as much to the ladies of The Boys, as it does to, well, The Boys and the Supes.
It doesn’t get predictable at all, and almost all characters get a chance to get their hands dirty and do things that make you question their morality. It’s what makes that world so real and relatable.
Most importantly, The Boys Season 2 tautly conveys that there really is no point setting store in idealistic notions of good, heroism and sacrifice in our world today. Because power is the ultimate commodity and those who wield it, super or otherwise, are never really clean.