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“The Boys” season two ups the violence and the satire

Wildly entertaining and relevant, “The Boys” is one of the few shows that achieves a superior second season. As much as the show is a psychological, action-filled thriller, it is also a political satire with outrageous and horrific violence. “The Boys” is set in a dystopian America centered around superheroes or “supes” who are given celebrity and military status. Likes, memes, followers and trends are what this industry of superheroes rely on for profit. Vought, the superhero manufacturing company, has an elite team of heroes called The Seven, which consists of handpicked heroes who are mostly ruthless, powerful narcissists. Season two magnifies the central irony of the show, the idea that The Seven are here to “protect America” but are instead a group of cold-blooded murderers who are not invested in anything but their own self-aggrandizement. 

Enter, the boys. The titular boys are the resistance against superheroes given that many of them have lost loved ones at the hands of supes. The team is led by the edgy and sarcastic yet enigmatic Butcher (Karl Urban) and includes Frenchie (Tomer Capon), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Hughie (Jack Quaid) and The Female, aka Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara). This season highlights a reckoning of one of the most major plotlines of season one. Butcher has a reunion with the long-awaiting Becca (Shantel VanSanten), his wife who was raped and abducted by Homelander (Anthony Starr) and is now living under his watch with their child, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). Homelander begins to train and terrorize his estranged son Ryan, (the first natural-born superhero) whom he shares with Becca. Butcher definitely has it out for Homelander in particular and in this season, and he finally meets his moment and faces him.

These crooked superheroes are part of a larger propaganda: to keep Americans in fear of supervillains, increase the need for superheroes and make Vought wealthier. While season one revealed that superheroes were made by Vought using a chemical called Compound V, in season two, the boys are trying to make this information public with the help of their new recruit (and Hughie’s ex) Starlight (Erin Moriarty). 

Starlight loses her faith in God when she finds out she was not born with her electrical-manipulation powers, and is caught between both worlds as a member of The Seven and in cahoots with the boys. Superhero by day and underground rebel by night, Starlight is much edgier this season: She has matured, and she is willing to take more risks, trust her instincts and stand by her principles, even if it almost always entails near-death scenarios. 

The leader of The Seven, Homelander, wears the American flag for a cape and is constantly warning against “supervillains” that keep Americans in a state of constant fear and in need of his help. Homelander represents everything that is wrong with the current white patriarchal power structure of society. Ironically, an egotistical, narcissistic, power-lusting, bad-tempered, conscience-lacking killer is the face of patriotism and nationalism. Due to the tyranny of Homelander, the rest of The Seven are forced to tiptoe around him. In season two, Homelander’s insanity paired with his Oedipal complex escalate as a result of the death of his manager and mother figure (whom he murdered in uncontrollable rage in the last season finale). Starr gives a compelling performance in portraying Homelander’s sadistic and complex psychology. “The Boys” does not ask their audience to like Homelander, but it does ask that we understand him more deeply this season.

The season introduces a new member of The Seven, Stormfront (Aya Cash), who is not only a cold-blooded killer but also a racist and an actual Nazi. Vought’s newest marketing campaign in season two is “Girls get it done,” featuring Stormfront as a strong female, albeit racist, character that the season focuses on. Indeed, this season is full of real women, both good and evil. What is remarkable is that the feminism brings to light intersectionality by having the face of female empowerment be an avid racist like Stormfront. Is a feminist Nazi a true feminist? Homelander and Stormfront start dating, and their sadistic fetish involves getting each other off after murdering people. Together, they instill fear in the hearts of Americans, running propaganda not unlike anti-immigration narratives under the guise of being pro-American. The season slowly builds on more reasons to hate both of them, juxtaposed by their increasing number of loyal fans, which makes the season finale one of the most charged and ballistic I’ve seen. 

A hallmark of the show is its matchless violence; it is not your average fighting and stabbing, but instead a boat crashing into a whale, eyes that shoot lasers, the ability to make people’s heads explode from a distance. The show has a way of always catching the audience off guard. Mixed in with all the gore are hilarious comedic moments that are unsettling amid the ever-chaotic action. Simultaneously commenting on celebrity culture and government agendas, the brilliance of “The Boys” lies in its ability to balance raging violence with intimate, psychologically-driven scenes. One of the most poignant moments in the show was a scene that portrayed Homelander walking a classroom through how to survive a supervillain attack, suggesting that the way America’s school shooting problem is a product of its own hostile inventions. 

Instead of binge watching, I watched as Amazon released it weekly, and I’m glad I did. Each episode is intense and thrilling. There is never a dull moment, and there are always more questions to be answered when watching “The Boys.” The gritty characters of the boys are juxtaposed against these picture-perfect, curated superheroes, and this is what makes “The Boys” the anti-hero show you never knew you needed. It is a show that asks the big questions and answers them in interesting (albeit cynical) ways. “The Boys” season two coming out in the hellscape that is 2020 is a reminder that when the government fails you, we must resist, even if it means enduring principled suffering.

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