The Boys season two, while initially ignoring the cliffhanger of it’s previous installment, opens with a serious bang. Black Noir finally having a chance to show off his ninja chops in a sequence that is both gruesome and hilarious. With a couple of severed heads, some shish-kebabbed Terrorists, and one severely traumatised child later, we have resolution on the status of our foreign Super terrorist (or as I call him, Osama Bomb Laden). It’s simply nothing less than we would expect from show front-runner Erik Kripke, and it deliberately sets a tone that the defines the rest of the series.
Despite being a relative success for Amazon Prime’s streaming service, The Boys season one Nielsen rating numbers were still relatively low compared to some Netflix favourites. Of course the data was only domestic and Prime’s subscriptions at the time were not anywhere near as high as Netflix, particularly domestically.
COVID19 has been a godsend for streaming however and now Amazon Prime’s Global numbers are approaching that of Netflix, even if their domestic American market is still about a third.
So when The Boys season 2 was the first Amazon product to hit the Nielsen ratings at 891 million minutes watched, it still lagged a little behind some of the Netflix bigger names such as Cobra Kai. But for Amazon that made it a runaway success, one now with a series three and spin-off show in the works.
Of course numbers aren’t everything but with an 89% spike in viewing numbers, and a 96% Rotten Tomatoes critic score. Things are looking very positive for the show. It was described by NPR as a “wonderfully subversive, cynically entertaining piece of work.”
If you haven’t yet seen The Boys, I highly advise you to go check out season one before continuing and for those who haven’t seen Season two…..
For those not familiar with the show, the premise is very simple. It’s a what if? What if Super heroes were not noble guardians of peace, justice and the American way, but were in fact corrupt, depraved, depressed, mentally unstable media whores in the American way? With a thin facade of nobility, maintained by a non-stop media spin machine, supplied by their corporate masters.
If you imagine the Justice League, except Superman is a hyper-narcissistic sociopath, Aquaman is a sexual predator, Batman is a Ninja killing machine, Wonder Woman is a depressed alcoholic and the Flash is a burnt out athlete on steroids, then you pretty much have The Seven. The premiere superhero group in the Boys universe, owned and sold by the Vought Corporation. Starlight is the latest member, a mid-west hometown girl who gets sexually assaulted her first day on the job.
The number is kind of superfluous as there is rarely ever seven members, between those killed by the Boys and those who were forced off in disgrace, the lineup is always changing. But the character list is…
The Homelander – Antony Starr
Queen Maeve – Dominique McElligott
The A-Train – Jessie Usher
Aya Cash – Stormfront
Black Noir – Nathan Mitchell
The Deep – Chase Crawford
Starlight – Erin Moriarty
The Lamplighter – Shawn Ashmore
Opposing them is our titular heroes, The Boys, a ragtag group of testosterone driven dudes and one female meta human, all affected in some way by the Supes (as they call them). Brought together by chance or common history and motivations, they are a dysfunctional family of mercenaries, terrorists, former CIA agents and our central character Hughie.
Billy Butcher – Karl Urban
Mothers Milk – Laz Alonso
Frenchie – Tomer Capon
Hughie – Jack Quaid
The Female ( Kimiko Miyashiro) – Karen Fukahara
Hughie is a vanilla white, passive ode to normality. He would rather be binge watching TV, or listening to Billy Joel, than doing anything adventurous. But when his girlfriend is turned into roadkill, after an impact with the A Train at around one thousand mile per hour, he is forced to take the red pill and see the world as it really is.
There is a sort of Matrix like theme running throughout the show, the public existing in mass media consumptive bliss, spoon fed the artificial stream, while blind to the reality under their nose. It also notes how social media can lift the curtain on the mainstream media and bypass the filters, as well as the power of influence held by meme’s, where the average attention span of a viewer is about two seconds.
The media is also cleverly used as a narrative tool, to keep the Audience informed of things, or to motivate characters, as the television screens and mobile phone streams are constantly around. The city is full of huge ads and merchandise for the Seven, which constantly reminds the Boys of what they are fighting for.
So why is it the best thing on television? there’s a few good shows out there so why is this one so special?
There are none.
There is no limit to the bad taste, grittiness, gore, profanity or sexual depravity depicted on this show. Even a scene that was found too distasteful for season one, that of The Homelander masturbating off the top of the Chrysler Building, found it’s way into season 2.
A superhero who’s power is a giant, tentacle like penis also makes an appearance. And while the show is extraordinary in it’s profanity, it never feels gratuitous. It either fits into the humour and earthy grit of the show, or particularly in Homelanders case, is essential to showing the growing psychopathic nature of the character.
There is a Super called Doppleganger who is a morbidly obese male that can manipulate his exterior appearance to any form. In a very disturbing twist, we discover that Homelander is using him to continue his Oedipal relationship with his former Boss, Madeline Stillwell. He had killed her at the end of Season one by burning her eye sockets out with his laser eyebeams, and boiling her brain, so her presence is perplexing until you work out what’s actually happening.
When this charade no longer satisfies Homelander’s fetish, the doppleganger offers him a very unique form of self love which is only made more disturbing by the fact that Homelander considers it for at least a moment.
Allegories abound in The Boys, and these are compounded on further in Season 2. Many are critical of what’s seen as the “worst of America”. Politics, Evangelism, Scientology, cancel culture, media pervasiveness and identity politics are all in season two’s crosshairs.
The similarities between The Homelander and Donald Trump is both obvious and deliberate, both are narcissistic attention whores, who use ultra nationalistic narratives under the guise of “patriotism” to fuel the anger of their obsessive audience. The critique however is also somewhat subtler and almost apologetic for them. Homelander may be the most powerful being but he is also the weakest, crippled by his own security and lack of personal growth.
The Boys stop short of any real political persuasion, it’s only real interest is the cult of personality surrounding Trumpian showmanship, not the rhetoric surrounding right and left. Although the show likes taking a swipe at corporate giants and unfettered capitalistic power bases, it doesn’t really delve into socialist ideals or alternate viewpoints. It’s simply pointing out how blind patriotism can be turned into the ugliness of nationalistic zealotry when guided by a zeitgeist of significant circumstance.
Ironically some Trump supporters donned the costume for MAGA marches prompting bewilderment from show creator Erik Kripke, making him wonder if they had actually watched the show. Such is the state of the Trump circus, that they were completely oblivious to something that parodied their cause.
A new character Stormfront is introduced in season two, rather than being a modern white supremacist, Stormfront is a literal Nazi. She was married to the founder of Vought, who was the inventor of the Compound V which creates the Super-beings, and was the macguffin for most of series one. Born in 1919, She literally danced with Hitler and Goebbels at her wedding, but has not aged since being dosed with compound V.
She holds frequent rallies instilling fear of terrorist super beings and calls for the creation of a Super army, her own personal master race. She conceals the worst of herself behind a formidable online social media presence and acts as an influencer, with an army of meme creationists. She is also seemingly in charge of a ‘hospital’ where humans injected with compound V as adults are kept.
The formula is normally given to babies, when it is given to adults, the subjects tend to become unstable. They are kept locked in her facility and if they fail to meet her standards of progress, they are instantly cremated by the Lamplighter, a former member of the seven, who is in disgrace, and in hiding.
Whatever The Boys themselves represent, it’s important to remember that they also bear an extreme level of prejudice towards the Supes in a sort of reverse racism. The morality of the show is very ambiguous, The Boys might be perceived as the ‘good guys’. But it’s a fine line.
The only normality is presented by Starlight and Hughie, the shows literal Romeo and Juliet, who probably represent the middle ground majority of the American public who just wish the whole shit show was over, and they could go somewhere quiet and peaceful and raise some babies.
The running in-joke of the series is Black Noir, masked and mute, Black Noir still manages to manifest great expressiveness. He is however the only person on the show that displays cultural appreciation. He does Japanese tea ceremonies, he plays piano, acts politely and is the only member of the seven that is completely competent at what he does. The fact that he is largely ignored and invisible, is then the Boys commentary on the value of culture and refinement in the modern world.
For a show with a huge cast and multiple, inter-weaving storylines, the Boys takes the time to round out it’s characters. Backstory and exposition is doled out in meagre, but meaningful portions. Each of the main characters family and relationships are explored in season two, with a strong emphasis on family bonds, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is tricked into a meeting with his terminally ill father. Rather than seeking Billy’s forgiveness for his abuse (which also involved the death of his younger brother Lenny) his father instead tries to take credit for making Billy as tough as he is, in a kind of Boy named Sue counter logic. This enrages Billy, but it plays out later when he realises that to rescue his wife Rebecca he will need to take on board her son, the result of Homelander raping her years ago.
Billy’s fear of being like his father and his outright hatred of Supes results in a truly compelling scene when the boy, Ryan, accidently kills his own mother when trying to protect her from Stormfront. Will Butcher comfort the boy and protect him, or bash his skull in with a tyre iron?
The same scene gives us insight into Stormfront as well. Despite her hatred and venom, when blasted into a catatonic state, her rambling in German (when translated) basically tells of a single beautiful day, long ago that she experienced with her husband and daughter. Where they laughed and ate apples off the tree. It’s compelling to see how even the most vile and hate filled people are grown from ordinary ones that are still capable of discerning beauty. That deep inside even the worst monster is a kernel of something beautiful.
The Boys is masterful in it’s handling of pacing. It’s balance of slower, more poignant scenes, contrasting with action set pieces, is really in balance with the viewer. There is often conflict and resolution pieces between characters used to build tension. In the first couple of episodes we get a lot of resolution, exposition and conflict hung over from series one, and it almost teasingly builds to what can only be described as an almost orgasmic climax of action sequences to cap off episode three.
It shamelessly uses cliffhangers, to drive the viewer into a binge watch frenzy. Yet will still take ten minutes for the character Mothers Milk to discuss with his wife about not binge watching a show and leaving him behind. It takes the time to show the mediocre and mundane parts of it’s characters, the result is a natural and organic flow to the episodes.
Action and Effects: The action sequences are fast flowing, gory and often brutal. The special effects, while not quite Avengers level are suitably impressive, particularly for a TV show. Given the entire show is filmed in Toronto and appears to be in New York that’s probably doubly true.
The VFX is provided by a company called Framestore, and they use a combination of digital and practical effects to produce some of the bigger money shots in the show. They have a science first, rules base sort of ethos, but they aren’t above disobeying the laws of physics for comedic timing.
Some of the shots of Starlights powers used a process called Femto-photography which is such extreme slow motion (in the range of millionths of a second) that it can actually catch the ripple effect of light waves in the way slow motion shots can catch the motion of a bullet.
Karl Urbans Accent:
Severely criticised and maligned, Karl’s accent is the subject of many online articles. All I can say as an Australian who’s national accent has been severely butchered over the years is ‘suck it up, princess”.
The Boys walks a fine line between respect and absolute mockery of Identity politics. Again it is not the actual politics but the cult of personality of extreme activism under fire. The Vought corporation constantly tries to repackage problems into solutions, using identity politics and the pretense of being woke and progressive.
At the start of the season, there is a highly hypocritical campaign of “Girls getting it done”. With the inclusion of new female member Stormfront, Vought’s spin doctors see the opportunity for presenting themselves as feminist allies. Ironically at the end the girls do get it done when they absolutely stomp Stormfront in a catfight of epic proportions.
After repackaging Starlight’s sexual assault into empowerment while simultaneously forcing her to wear a far racier costume than she was comfortable with. This novel feminist agenda grows to truly appalling levels, when they repackage Queen Maeve’s sexuality, making her the LGBTQ poster girl of the group. It’s something she abhors, but accepts for the protection of her partner, whom she suspects might simply disappear one day without the protection of public scrutiny.
Homelander himself feels the cutting edge of cancel culture politics, when he unwittingly causes a civilian casualty on mission and fails to acknowledge it. Again the power of social media slices through the driven narrative delivering a view that is both skewed and honest. An opportunity Stormfront seizes to unleash a pile of nasty meme’s.
So if you like good story lines with dramatic tension and mind blowing action, The Boys may well be the best show on tv for you.
If you also happen to like black humour, profanity, sexual deviancy, political satire, gore and Billy Joel?
Then what are you waiting for?????
So do yourself a favour, check out the Boys on Amazon Prime.
Let me know your fave Boys moments in the comments.