Amazon’s anti-superhero show returns for a more assured sophomore run that gives its broad satire deeper character.
Season 1 of The Boys, which released last year on Amazon Prime, both shocked and amazed audiences who thought they had seen it all when it came to the superhero genre. In the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, Eric Kripke’s irreverent new satire about corrupt superheroes who are owned and marketed by corporations took precise aim at Marvel, DC, and our collective imaginations over what it means to be a modern superhero.
Since the show premiered, we’ve also gotten HBO’s Watchmen, hailed by many to be a masterpiece of the superhero genre. So what’s left to glean from a Season 2 of The Boys? Quite a lot, if you ask these showrunners, who’ve continued the story adapted from the eponymous graphic novel series by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Season 1 was certainly enjoyable enough and a fun surprise, but in hindsight it looks more like a passable prologue compared to its superior successor, thanks to a bigger budget and some loftier ambitions.
The show wastes no time picking up the bloody pieces left by Season 1. Butcher (Karl Urban) is still missing and presumed dead by his allies, the titular boys, who are now barely held together by the hesitant leadership of Hughie (Jack Quaid).
Season 2 finds him and Butcher in a peculiar place now that their central motivations (revenge for the loss of their loved ones at the hands of the Seven and their corporate overlords) have more or less been overshadowed by larger stakes and a new conspiracy at play. Compound V, the substance that gives superheroes their powers, is now in the hands of Shining Light, the terrorist group giving Vought International a political excuse to pressure the U.S. government into unleashing new paranoia on a country slowly turning against them.
But Homelander (Antony Starr) has more important things on his sociopathic mind. Now that he knows he has a son, he can’t wait to provide the kid with the father figure he never had, and his simmering, unpredictable bouts of ultra-violence have never been so pronounced when faced with his own failures in the family department. To stop him, the Boys spend the early part of Season 2 regrouping and putting a new plan in action with the reluctant help of Starlight (Erin Moriarty), who can now use her rank as a member of the Seven to finally do some real damage to Vought and its CEO, Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito).
The show’s true super-strength doesn’t really manifest, however, until Episode 3, which marks the first time The Boys feels like it’s at its most addicting and binge-able. New, unlikely threats emerge, including the social media-savvy Stormfront (Aya Cash), as well as the (attempted) return of the deeply insecure The Deep (Chace Crawford), who is still reeling from his disastrous #MeToo moment. If you thought his Season 1 persona had already jumped the dolphin as far as it can go…well.
As a satire, it’s still punching up about as high as it can go.
What’s strange about The Boys is how unendingly surprising it still is in its grim humor and plot developments, despite being a superhero show that doesn’t really do anything new for the genre. It just does everything in the boldest, darkest way it knows how. As a satire, it’s still punching up about as high as it can go, including several moments that lay waste to the female pandering seen toward the end of Endgame, as well as Captain Marvel’s curious choice of using the U.S. military as a storytelling prop. In all these ways and more, The Boys doesn’t let anyone off the hook, perhaps to a fault. In all its skewering, the show sometimes loses sight of its own heart.
But it manages to find its way again in the improved writing between Butcher and Hughie, who become both closer and more hostile as the season progresses. No longer the doe-eyed, naive lackey (at least to some extent), Hughie steps up in his role as the group’s conscience.
He’s aided of course by Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) and Frenchie (Tomer Capon), who continue to be the show’s secret weapons. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) has always been the group’s wildcard, and mostly hit-or-miss with her character progression. But in Season 2, she’s finally given an arc that advances both her story and the group’s, which we also see with the Seven’s own wildcard, Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), who finally gets his big moment, or two.
And that’s not even covering the new storylines for Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), A-Train (Jesse T. Usher), and many more. The show almost feels overloaded at times by its dense cast and fraying B-plots, but almost all of it lands gracefully thanks to continuously sharp and unpredictable writing.
It’s hard to suggest that The Boys is the best at one particular thing. It’s trying to do so much, you’d think there would be more to criticize than ever. But with a higher budget, they’ve polished the special effects that were glossed over in the first season, the romance between some of the characters has improved strongly, and the villains are still, well, super. Here’s hoping The Boys really will return in Season 3.
The Boys cracks superpowered skulls on Amazon Prime Video September 4th.