Amazon’s The Boys is many things, but it is not subtle. The first season was already a jackhammer to the senses, but the second season is even bigger and crazier. And I mean all that in a good way.
The first season was about a bunch of vigilantes (the titular Boys) who have their own reasons to abhor the ‘supes’ or superheroes. This is a world in which superheroes like Justice League and Avengers exist, and instead of being symbols of hope and nobility, they are blinded by their fame and many of them are more like supervillains.
If they do save people, they do it in front of the camera. Their names and public persona help corporations like Vought (which owns the Seven, the most powerful of supes) sell merchandise, movie, theme park tickets, breakfast cereal and other stuff. Most of the supes are just vain, corrupt and careless, but some are downright psychopaths. One among the psychopaths is Homelander, the strongest supe with powers of Superman, who, entirely devoid of conscience and empathy, does what he pleases with impunity. Taking human lives is his second nature.
Enter the Boys. They are basically are a group of nobodies brought together by Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher, who has seen the supes up close and found them, in his own words, f***ing diabolical. A former CIA operative, this Brit believes his wife Becca was raped by Homelander. He recruits other people holding grudges against the supes by a combination of low cunning, charm and manipulation to, chiefly, achieve his own ends at the expense of others. He hates all supes, but it is Homelander he wants to bring down.
But how would a mere mortal fight an invulnerable being who can turn you inside out in a second with his Heat Vision? How do the Boys survive against people with superpowers, for that matter? Well, the Boys play dirty and never take on the supes head-on, for that would be suicide. They try to wrench from them their biggest superpower — celebrity — and expose them for the loathsome hedonists a majority of them really are.
The Boys found out in the first season that a substance called Compound V was responsible for supes’ powers, and they were not born special as the official story said. However, it backfired after Homelander distributed the substance to different corners of the world, giving birth to supe-terrorists. Obviously, only supes could defeat their terrorist counterparts, so the public opinion was once again on the side of Vought and the supes.
Picking up right after the first season, the sophomore outing fires on all cylinders right from the outset. The Boys are licking their wounds after the fallout in the finale. They are wanted by not just law enforcement, but also Homelander.
Easily my favourite thing about the second season is Aya Cash as Stormfront, the newest member of the Seven. Cash is absolutely phenomenal in the role. In the comic series that inspired the show, her character is a male nazi — not Neo-Nazi, an actual German Nazi and the first supe ever created. In the show, the character retains her views but is otherwise distinct. Cash’s Stormfront is a rabble-rouser through and through and uses social media extremely well to achieve her ends, employing memes, trolls and inflammatory views about those who are not white, especially ones who have illegally migrated into the country. Even more charismatic than Homelander, she quickly rises in the popularity charts, and this irks the leader of the Seven. Cash is so convincing as a nazi, so reprehensible, that I had to look up her social media feeds to see if she really does believe all that filthy racist, xenophobic balderdash (spoiler alert: she doesn’t). It is not normal for me to conflate an actor with their character.
If Cash does not score an Emmy nomination for her performance, there is something terribly wrong with the world.
Antony Starr as Homelander is simply King Joffrey with superpowers. The actor, despite playing the most vile man on television, is still somehow immensely watchable.
Truth be told, every actor is superb. The returning cast members give better, more confident performances. Urban remains the force of nature. His Butcher has a redemptive arc this time, and it turns out he is not the jerk we thought he was.
Karen Fukuhara, who really should have been brought back by James Gunn as Katana in The Suicide Squad, is not allowed to speak in the show as her character Kimiko is mute. Yet, she manages to leave a significant impact just through her eyes and facial muscles. And her fists, of course. We get to see a lot more of her character, which in turn makes us care about her more. Thankfully that is true for almost every major character. The writing is one of the things that was really satisfying for me this season. Despite getting a lot bigger, the writing is more streamlined and less messy than before. Each and every significant character grew considerably and believably, which is a testament to the superlative creative minds behind the show. And, the collision of those character arcs in the end felt more credible and exciting. While The Boys may be loud and unsubtle, it also has a superb foundation underneath.
The show also gets bloodier the second time around. Heads explode so many times throughout the season that you will expect that to happen in every single scene by the end. We glimpse the innards of a human body in a detail that is greater than a documentary on human anatomy.
If you like everything about The Boys’ Season 1 — including the cynicism, brutality and the swearing — you simply can’t go wrong with the second season. It turns everything several notches up. Due to a bigger budget, there is more action, bigger scale and more complex visual effects. It is not Marvel Cinematic Universe yet, and it certainly will never be, but it gets the job done. The social commentary is also bolder, and I daresay, The Boys is as brave as Watchmen in this regard.
The finale of the second season is easily the best I have seen in years. It is not just the entertainment value. It is Cathartic with a capital C. A major character gets comeuppance in a significant way, and it is endlessly rewarding.