Spoiler Warning: The following contains spoilers from S2 E4 of Amazon’s The Boys.
When we left the Boys last week, Kenji buried Homelander under tons of rubble1, Stormfront murdered most of an apartment building in a hate crime (along with Kenji), Starlight failed to murder Hughie for Homelander, and the team had successfully murdered yet more aquatic life. Episode 3 was pretty lit if you like murder!
This week, the chickens come home to roost for members of the team and the Seven alike. Frenchie is carrying the guilt of his past failures, falling deep into substances and self pity while Kimiko grieves her dead brother and plots revenge. As he isn’t the most self-aware guy in the world, Frenchie decides this is a perfect moment for a little misguided affection, trying to kiss Kimiko, who is absolutely not looking for that kind of comfort. Embarrassed by his own idiocy and toxic masculinity, Frenchie finds solace — and post-coital confession of his poor judgment with Kimiko — in the arms of an old friend.
Homelander, on the other hand, is literally masturbating his ego by forcing Doppelgänger to live out an oedipal fantasy with him as Madelyn Stillwell2. This appears to be the self-care Homelander has chosen to cope with his frustrations over Stormfront’s increased role in the public eye. Tellingly, a part of this fantasy involves a movie date where they watch Taxi Driver, Homelander un-ironically rooting for Travis Bickle, of course.
Grace Mallory is so wracked with guilt for all the people she’s failed to save she tells Butcher to find an old supe called Liberty and gives up where she thinks his wife Becca is being held. Butcher wastes no time heading out to find and rescue her, leaving Mother’s Milk in charge of the team (which does not sit well with our resident control-freak soccer dad).
Starlight’s paying the price for not killing Hughie and the net is tightening as Homelander feels things falling apart around him, with the Seven (and all supes) now exposed as having been created by Vought’s Compound V. Still, she decides to join Hughie and MM on their trip to Raleigh to seek information about the elusive Liberty. Homelander, needing to do something, removes the ailing A-Train from the Seven due to his deteriorating heart condition.
All of this is framed by interstitials of different women auditioning for something, giving testimonials on the nature of love, each more dysfunctional than the last. It’s here where the themes of the episode are made gradually more apparent as it’s revealed that the audition is being run by The Collective in order to select a wife for The Deep, in the hopes of redeeming his public image.
Every character in the episode is struggling with love and dysfunction in their own ways. Homelander, desperate for the adoration and belonging his position has always promised, is nevertheless incapable of love, so he tries to substitute it with forced adulation at the point of a laser-eye. Hughie is gradually giving in to his own love for Starlight3 as they both struggle with the inherent danger their relationship creates. Mother’s Milk and Starlight share a moment of bonding over memories of the sweets and fatherly attention they so craved as children. Butcher finds Becca and they share a mournfully steamy reunion, but even as they plot their escape, it’s clear he’ll abandon her son Ryan at the first opportunity. This is something it would be easy to chalk up to Butcher just being a nasty, supe-hating bastard, but as the season progresses it will become clear that this is just another aspect of how he was raised. Karl Urban is fantastic here, as Becca tells him that she’s never known how to handle the rage inside of him, which existed long before Homelander took their world apart.
As mentioned in last week’s write-up, the performances by this cast are uniformly excellent. Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty expertly handle their own reunion/dissolution arc within this episode, culminating in Starlight realizing she needs to break things off with Hughie if she hopes to keep him safe. But it’s Anthony Starr who continues to surpass all expectation in his performance, as Homelander loses more and more of his mind as the story goes on. Starr is incredible. He’s so needy and angry and self-absorbed. He’s challenged by Stormfront whipping up public frenzy with her shallow, faux-gressive rhetoric and memes, when what she’s actually preaching is the same old nationalistic pap to the masses. She’s preaching anti-Disney gospel in mouse ears. As her public chiding and needling of Vought accelerates, Homelander increasingly lashes out at those around him, even publicly outing Queen Maeve and Elena’s relationship in a moment of defensive white pettiness. Things reach a head when Homelander finally confronts Stormfront about her horning in on his spotlight, and she admits to him that she is simply trying to help adopt a new strategy, Trumpism.
You can’t win the whole country any more. No one can. You don’t need fifty million people to love you. You need 5 million people fucking pissed.
Emotion sells. Anger sells. You have fans… I have soldiers.
Speaking of Stormfront (and tipping a bit of the show’s hand for the long-game), the big revelation this week comes as MM, Hughie, and Starlight track down the address Mallory gave them, leading not to Liberty, but to a Black woman who knows that ‘Liberty’ killed her big brother decades ago. Exactly like Hughie, Vought paid her family to remain silent about their sponsored hero’s racist murder. Unlike Hughie, Vought paid them just $2,000 for it. Meanwhile, Liberty became Stormfront a half a century later.
This show continues to delve into ever more intriguing plot developments, while also layering on ever more cohesive and angry thematic exploration. Where Watchmen wanted to explore some of these areas with a keen sense of personal and generational trauma, The Boys opts for a pitch-black satirical chuckle alike to the work of Verhoeven at his best.
I can’t wait to keep rolling through it with you all.