The Boys Season 2

“But don’t you worry. Daddy’s home.”

I guess my New Year's resolution was to finally write a review for The Boys season two.

And as I suspected, my opinion on this show remains divided.

Despite far exceeding the first season in terms of entertainment, relevant themes, and the development of plot and character, the meticulously crafted whole of season two adds up to the same feeling of muted approval I had for what came before.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty about this show that I like.

Firstly, I grew up obsessed with superheroes. And dark takes on superhero lore is a bit of a guilty pleasure anyway. So obviously this sort of thing is right up my alley.

The characters are compelling and well-drawn, for the most part. Love me some Butcher and Homelander, just like the rest.

Just the very nature of the characters and atmosphere yields some truly unique performances; for instance, despite having a pretty useless role, I was impressed by Chace Crawford as The Deep this season.

And the writers do manage to make the adaptation stand apart from the source material in a way that feels like it's elevating the original rather than doing it a disservice, unlike another Garth Ennis adaptation I know.

But before I talk about what I really liked about this season, let’s first talk about what I didn’t like about it and more broadly what I don’t like about this show altogether.

What I Didn’t Like

This is a very well-made, and by now very successful, TV series, yet it still leaves me with the sense that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I’ve encountered this with a few shows. Not ones like True Detective or Westworld that try to do something different each season as an artistic choice. I mean the shows that are rather tonally disjointed.

The Boys is, of course, an especially biting satire on the comic book industry and the all-consuming maw of corporate greed in general. The graphic novel series is an endless series of scathing, scatalogically-charged jabs at superheroes and our cultural perception of them. There is a dead serious element to certain avenues of the plot, but the pitch black comedy is so overwhelming that it’s hard to take anything in the comic too seriously.

That’s something of a conflict with the show. Because The Boys TV show handles the darker, more dramatic elements far more gracefully than the comic does… yet it still insists on being this relentlessly ribald thing that you’re not supposed to take seriously. They haven’t really found the balance between the show’s darker and more hilarious aspects. I mean, there’s just so many times where this show feels almost like it’s trying to be a live-action South Park sketch, only to turn around the next minute and be a serious drama in a way that doesn’t feel tongue-in-cheek.

I dunno...

Another thing that annoys me about the show, which part of me feared would happen after that first season, is how The Boys themselves don’t really feel like the main characters. They’re still there, being whacky misfits and all, but they very often feel secondary to the supe characters.

You could say that’s just the usual thing with the villains overshadowing the heroes, but I think it’s more than that. So far, most of the show has been about the misadventures of a group of dysfunctional, power-mad superhumans, plus the scrappy rebels planning to lob the occasional firebomb at their ivory tower while on the run. The crux of The Boys, its premise in both comic and TV show, is supposed to be centered around an unorthodox secret police unit that keeps legally mandated but dangerously stupid and chaotic superhumans in line. This season ends with the promise of that, with the AOC expy giving Butcher, Mallory and the rest of the Boys the backing they need to finally be a thorn in Vought-International’s side. So, technically, the show won’t even fully reach its actual premise until season three.

There’s also the fact that so much of The Boys feels like it is written and structured to generate internet memes. That gets even more egregious this season with Stormfront, an alt-right supe who has a team of content creators making “edgy” memes to boost her popularity.

What else? I’m still not a fan of the fact that basically everything about this world is the same as ours except the presence of superhumans since the 1940s. It’s just an easy way to make commentaries on social media and modern pop culture references that most people would understand.

And although they managed to do more interesting things with the Homelander son subplot than I thought, it still ended up being a pretty diversionary storyline.

What I Did Like

The most suspenseful parts of this season have nothing to do with The Boys, really. Those were found in the storylines of Queen Maeve and Becca Butcher. Maeve is in for a really bad time when Homelander discovers her ex-girlfriend and proceeds to out Maeve on live TV out of sheer pettiness, prompting Vought to fully lean into Maeve's homosexuality and all but physically force her and her ex to act as if they’re still in a loving relationship. Meanwhile, Becca now has to desperately placate Homelander, her insane, mood-swinging, all-powerful rapist, now that he knows he’s the father of her superhuman son, and Vought’s only advice is to keep him happy until he loses interest. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Black Noir gets a lot more shine this season, but aside from his surprise tree nut allergy, he’s still a mystery. A great moment is the sequence in which everyone learns the truth about Compound V on the news, and Black Noir seems to break down and cry in the hallway at Vought headquarters.

I still love everything about Frenchie (Serge) and the Female’s (Kimiko) relationship.

Aya Cash was a fantastic antagonist as Stormfront. The contrast between her snarky post-modern demagogue persona and the dead-eyed serial killer underneath was a perfect match for Antony Starr’s Homelander.

I know I complained last season that they were on the verge of making Butcher — a delightfully depraved heroic sociopath with a funny Cockney accent — a little too maudlin with the darkness and the anger and whatnot. But unlike AMC’s Preacher and its “mean bastard who’s lucky to have turned out as well as he did being raised by swamp witches and all” interpretation of Jesse Custer, this show actually handles Butcher’s dark backstory with a little more nuance.

His relationship with his long-lost wife as well as those of a few of his family members really highlights the tragedy of his character. This is a man haunted by his violent past and, in many ways, ruled by his darkest instincts. His bad side is largely a result of a flagrantly abusive father (who we meet), while his more admirable qualities are tied to his love for his deceased younger brother, who Hughie reminds him of.

Though I’m slowly losing interest in Hughie and Annie/Starlight, I really enjoyed the episode where Hughie is mortally wounded and Butcher and Starlight are forced to work together out of their shared concern for his life. Especially when they do find help for him and they eventually just start laughing about all of his little quirks. It was adorable.

Now I’ll get to those interesting things surrounding the “Ryan, the Boy Homelander” plot. So we learn that Vought used Becca Butcher’s rape induced supe pregnancy to essentially pave the way for a more ideal version of Homelander (you know, something that is more like an actual superhero instead of just appearing to be one). So they secluded Becca and her son Ryan in a fake all-American town where the super boy could be isolated and controlled but still have some semblance of a normal life and a loving mother to raise him.

And here’s where the most fascinating aspect of the season developed for me. The prospect of being responsible for this child cuts to the core of both Billy Butcher and The Homelander, our main hero and our main villain.

Though he approaches it with his usual level of grace, Homelander is keen on being the primary influence in young Ryan’s life, viewing Becca as an annoying inconvenience. Putting aside his creepy feelings of ownership over his child by rape, he is motivated by the bitter memories he has of his own corporate-mandated upbringing. He’d rather raise Ryan to be a proud and arrogant tyrant like him than let Becca and Vought spin a few lies to help Ryan grow up to be a good man. And while his sense of fatherhood over Ryan does lead to a few odd moments of empathy and vulnerability from Homelander, his interest in the boy is purely an extension of his own ego, as with everything else.

Butcher, on the other hand, finds his season long-mission to rescue his wife complicated by the fact that she’s obviously going to want Ryan with her, and he can’t deal with that. Butcher tries to connive a way to save Becca and get rid of her supe son, not because the boy is what he’s trained himself to hate, but because he doesn't trust himself as a father. He fears perpetuating the vicious cycle that he was born into by being a negative influence on the kid, whereas the selfish and ignorant Homelander has the opposite reaction.

This ends up being a lovely way of illustrating the nobility of Butcher’s character and the vanity of Homelander’s.

Overall

Still a wildly entertaining show that is just smart enough while still appealing to our base instincts. There’s a lot more excitement and more heart this time around, though, in my opinion, it’s toeing the line between something genuinely good and a cheap guilty pleasure.

Supes and Sceptics:

* There’s a lot of memorably gruesome scenes this season, but the ones that stood out to me the most were the ridiculously ultraviolent supe sex scenes between Homelander and Stormfront.

* The entire subplot with the Church of the Collective, while amusing (“Fresca?”), was really drawn out and didn’t seem to amount to much. Though I guess it is supposed to be a bit of a red herring in the end.

* Speaking of that last twist, without spoiling too much, I would love to brainstorm over the potential symbolism of that certain person being the mysterious Head-Exploding Assassin. The head exploding thing itself had to be a reference to Scanners.

* Shawn Ashmore as the pyrokinetic supe Lamplighter is a nice nod to his work as Iceman in the X-Men franchise.

* Thankfully, Giancarlo Esposito’s Stan Edgar is what I thought he’d be. A true portrayal of the male Stillwell from the comics, specifically his ability to belittle and cow Homelander into obedience despite just being an icy corporate exec.

* The show spends the entire season tactfully picking apart the absurdity and lethality of alt-right fascist trends in modern culture, but the finale seems to hint that next season will be targeting the far left, which is given the impression of being possibly more subtle and nefarious than Stormfront’s agenda. That should be a challenge, given how extreme the right has been in our reality of late.

* Jumping off that point, one of the least subtle yet most striking real world commentaries this season presents is when an episode opens with one of Stormfront's fans being gradually conditioned by her rhetoric to embrace xenophobic paranoid delusions, driving him to murder a convenience store clerk on the baseless assumption that he's a supe terrorist. It's followed up with a scene of Homelander and Stormfront at a rally, paying lip service to the dead with "thoughts and prayers" before getting right back to the fearmongering. Its execution makes it seem so ridiculous, which makes the fact that stuff like this actually happens in even sadder. Because this is almost certainly in reference to real life cases of people becoming violent domestic terrorists due to the influence of right-wing demagogues.

* I was once again annoyed that The Boys aren’t using Compound V to give the supes a real whoopin’, but certain plot-points this season hint that the show might actually be building up to that.

* Several supes from the comic are mentioned but never seen, such as Tek-Knight and Soldier Boy, rip-offs of Batman/Ironman and Captain America respectively. I’ve heard that Jensen Ackles is going to be playing Soldier Boy next season. Be a nice little Supernatural reunion with him and Eric Kripke.

* Speaking of Supernatural reunions, Jim Beaver briefly appears as a politician named Robert Singer. He also had a cameo in HBO’s Watchmen awhile back.

* And speaking of actor reunions, we got a nice Lord of the Rings one with John Noble as the father of Karl Urban's Butcher.

* This season gets an extra half-point for including Butcher's pet dog, Terror. And his diabolical pastime.

Quotes:

Homelander: Well, this is a truly fascinating, if not slightly condescending lecture, but uh… I don’t think I see the point, Stan. Stan Edgar: The point is that you are under the misconception that we are a superhero company. We are not. What we are, really, is a pharmaceutical company. And you are not our most valuable product. That would be our confidential formula for Compound V. Which you, man-child that you are, managed to release into the wild.
I so, so loved this.

Hughie: But I can be Harry Potter. Or John Conner. Or what's her name, from The Hunger Games. The point is, I can be that person that no one thinks is awesome, but it turns out, they're kinda fucking awesome.

Butcher: You come between me and my missus again, I’ll fucking kill you.

Annie: This is where you’re living?
Hughie: Yeah. You know, it has its charms. The rats are like Pokemon. With Hep C.

Stormfront: You have fans. I have soldiers.

Stormfront: You can’t win the whole country anymore. No one can. So why are you even trying? You don’t need fifty million people to love you. You need five million people fucking pissed. Emotion sells, anger sells.

Victoria: He'll be a good witness. It's not enough, though.
Butcher: Not enough? If torturin' and burnin' a buncha mentals on Vought's say-so ain't enough for you muppets, then what the fuck are you good for, huh? A strongly worded Tweet?

Homelander: Hmmm. Look at this. Look at these strong female lesbians. I'm inspired. You inspired?
Ashley: Oooh yeah.
Homelander: Girls get it on!
Ashley: Done. Girls get it done.
Homelander: They sure do, Ashley.

Stan Edgar: But it’s not all about me. I can’t lash out like some raging, entitled maniac. That’s a white man’s luxury.

Stormfront: People love what I have to say. They believe in it. They just don’t like the word “Nazi,” that’s all.
It’s sad how accurate this is.

Frenchie: Huh. Girls do get it done.

Homelander: (furiously masturbating atop a skyscraper) I can do whatever the fuck I want. I can do whatever the fuck I want!
I guess they wanted to do this scene in the first season, but the network wasn’t keen on it. But after the show’s success, they were allowed to use it in season two. Weird little tidbit.

For the current climate in America, it’s more than appropriate viewing material. Four out of five Frescas.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

From somebody who lives outside America. The Left - right debate is incredibly interesting and ultimately pointless because they all operate to 'win' and have 'power' over the other. While one side appears to be 'Good' and the other 'bad' they are all politicians. Really liked how the show played it up over the season and then watch it happen in real life.
I loved who they made the head exploder represent throughout the season while they made you think the 'others' were the ultimate bad guy when they all worked for the same corporation. The speech Edgar gave Butcher was like a lobbyist talking to a representative that does dirty work for both sides.
The left in particular champion righteousness democracy and freedom but have some individuals who just use these positive agendas. The show showed this brilliantly through Stormfront and Victoria Neuman. Stormfronts right wing bull in a china shop apporach compared to Victoria's behind the scenes subtelty.

Phyllis Strickland said...

I love almost everything sci-fi and superhero for decades now. I can’t even put into words how much I dislike this show. It is a waste of the airwaves. It is supposed to be great and I do my best to support sci-fi and TV shows but I am not going to waste a minute of my life on this drivel. The characters are completely unlikable and awful. Why would anyone watch this garbage when there are so many awesome shows to watch.

Billie Doux said...

I find The Boys sort of fascinating. Just when I think it's too disgusting to watch, there's a comic moment or a piece of satire that impresses me. Maybe it's not my sort of thing, but it's a clever show with something to say.

Tim said...


Excellent review. Thanks, Logan.

I was a little uncertain going into Season 2 of this show, as I had mixed feelings about S1. However, as you say, the deepening (no pun intended) complexity of the characters and greater nuance of themes and subtext (even amongst the head explosions and whale-deaths-by-speedboat) were a huge improvement.

I loved it.

TJ said...

Loved season 1. I was a bit disappointed with season 2. And I have no idea why. But there was something in there that just felt off.

jo said...

Honestly I really enjoyed the series. I totally get why it isn't for everyone though.I think a lot of it is because of the actors who nail their roles, and the way in which it bounces between satire comedy and more thoughtful scenes often in the same episode. Stormfront was an excellent baddie and Homelander getting increasingly unhinged should be fun to watch in the next series. Looking forward to seeing Ackles as Soldier Boy too. Butcher, his missus and the kid were touching as were Frenchie and Kimiko. Not sure where Starlight and Maeve are going to go from here. But yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Logan Cox said...

Thank you all for the responses and kind words.

TJ, I agree with you somewhat. Something about the whole show feels off to me. I think it's just because I'm growing less and less tolerant of shows that aren't really about anything. The Boys is packed with a bunch of different messages about a bunch of different things that anyone with an internet connection is aware of, but I'm still not seeing the greater point that it's aiming at.

Phyllis, I understand your reaction. While I don't think The Boys is an awful show, I fully agree that there are many better shows that would I sooner recommend than this one. If you haven't yet, I highly encourage you to check out HBO's Watchmen miniseries.

Anonymous, as someone who does live in America, the last four years have taught me that this divide between Left and Right means more than most Americans are willing to admit. While it may be true that politicians on all sides are often compromised by heartless corporatists and oligarchs and all the other unforgivable pitfalls of capitalism, equating "people who may be bad but at least try to do some good" with "people who get off on being as virulent as humanly possible" just strikes me as disingenuous. I hope next season clarifies that it's not necessarily either one side or the other (or political figures in general) that is the "ultimate bad," it's the system itself that is truly rotten and in need of an asskicking.

And with that, the comments for The Boys and my reactions to the comments leave me ever more conflicted in my feelings for this goofy little show.