I saw a tweet this morning about Episode 5 of The “Boys” Season 2, just saying ‘Wow, this show is dark’. Showrunner Eric Kripke replied ‘we warned you!’
He did. But knowing it’s dark and then being sucked into its vortex and experiencing the darkness are two different things. This is an entertaining show, but it’s not always a comfortable one. And I think that’s part of the point. I am still enjoying the wild ride this show offers each week, and even more important to me, I continue to be interested in the characters and eager to know more about what makes them tick.
“The Boys” Social Media
Before I run down the events of Episode 5 (and wow, there were a lot of events), I have to say that I’m really enjoying how interactive Amazon, showrunner Kripke and many of the cast are on social media – and how good they are at it! Sometimes the corporate social media accounts sort of fall flat, either taking themselves too seriously or trying to keep up with the fandom discourse and failing, but so far everyone involved with The Boys has been a joy to follow online. Nobody is taking themselves too seriously, but everyone is perfectly willing to poke fun at themselves and the show, while still standing behind the more serious social commentary that runs beneath the sometimes deliberately over-the-top drama.
My Eric Kripke Story
I got acquainted with Eric Kripke many years ago as the creator and first showrunner of my other favorite show, “Supernatural,” and was impressed way back then by his ability to find a balance between being tuned into fans and following his own creative vision.
“I have the core story I’m telling, and I’ve never deviated from that story,” he told me back then. “But we’re open to self-reflection. If there’s a subplot that everybody hates, and even the writers can pick out the flaws, I have no problem dropping it.”
He said they didn’t have an attitude of ‘we know better’ – and I think that showed. Eric went on to say that they were happiest when there was debate amongst fans – that fans would probably be disappointed if they were entirely satisfied every week with every character conflict.
Kripke seems to be using a similar lens now with “The Boys” – so far, I think it’s working! There were some one-star reviews on Amazon from people who don’t like the weekly release schedule for episodes 4 to 8 of this season, and he responded with a hilarious meme of Homelander getting increasingly furious as he reads them. I was alarmed to realize that for once I was in agreement with Homelander! I’m used to old school Supernatural, where waiting for the next episode is integral to the experience. It’s part of the agony, but also part of the fun, and allows a whole week or more of passionate dissection and discussion before the next piece of the story plays out. Pretty sure this might be the ONLY time I agree with Homelander though.
One of the reasons Kripke’s shows tend to resonate with me is his ability to tackle very dark themes in a way that hits hard, but give our psyches a break periodically for some actual humor or an unexpectedly emotional moment between characters. Navigating those transitions requires talented actors, and “The Boys” has found a whole bunch of them, luckily.
In one of our first interviews near the start of “Supernatural,” Kripke and I got talking about “Supernatural” fanfic. He has always seen fans getting creatively involved in his shows as a sign that the show is good enough to engage viewers, and I wholeheartedly agree. You’ll be happy to know, Eric, that there’s already plenty of fanfic out there for “The Boys” – and yes, Jensen Ackles is already playing a starring role in some of it. Congrats!
So, Episode 5, ‘We Gotta Go Now.’
Vought continues its “girls get it done” PR campaign and the filming of its propaganda film, the wonderfully stereotypically titled ‘The Dawn Of The Seven’, to go along with that. Queen Maeve’s newly revealed bisexuality is, predictably, immediately co-opted in the film, as she’s set up for a romance with Ruby, a Charlie Bradbury type character (for you Supernatural fans), who connects with Maeve and prompts the expected dialogue.
Maeve: I’m a lot like you. I’m gay.
Homelander sits in video village literally calling the shots for the film, reminding Maeve – and us – that he knows about her girlfriend Elena and is clearly a threat to her. She asks him, if she promises never to see Elena again, will he stop?
I think we all know the answer to that.
In one of my favorite little moments in this episode, Homelander dismissively directs them to get back to filming “Girls get it on.”
The constantly stressed out Ashley, who’s a relatable character in spite of her skewed moral compass, responds with the deadpan look she’s perfected.
Ashley: Girls get it DONE.
I laughed out loud. That was one of those moments of humor that break the tension just enough to let me stay on the roller coaster and not start begging to get off. Special shout out to Colby Minifie, whose portrayal of Ashley is spot on. She’s often the audience’s route into the madness, observing it all and scrambling to keep up even as you just know that internally she’s screaming WTF???
As is usually the case on “The Boys,” nobody is doing very well in this episode. Homelander’s impulsivity is getting him in trouble repeatedly. He’s caught on cell phone video accidentally (but carelessly) killing an innocent bystander as he kills a Supe terrorist and then leaves without a backwards glance. His cold dismissal of the collateral damage when Ashley tries to do damage control is chilling.
Homelander: So, what? They’re all starving but one of them has a fucking cell phone?
He’s incredulous that there’s a public backlash and that people are protesting against him and refuses to apologize. Once again, I sit there open mouthed as I watch, wondering how Eric Kripke got it so right when this was all written and filmed well over a year ago. Could that scene be more timely? This show is powerful for its ability to comment on the most emotionally riveting events of right NOW, with just enough displacement and distance that we can watch it without becoming overwhelmed with anger or bitterness or just plain horror (as often happens to me as I take in the news). That’s the power of fiction, after all.
Ashley begs Homelander not to do any press, but once again his impulsivity gets in the way of her better judgment. He crashes an anti-Supes rally, where a representative who reminds me of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is telling the crowd that Vought has too much power. Homelander flies right in and grabs the mic, as Ashley watches the live video from the film set and has a panic attack.
Homelander, whose best skill is definitely not reading the room, tells the crowd that freedom comes at a price. They don’t want to hear it.
A man in the armed forces yells back, “You don’t speak for us!”
Homelander, much like other narcissists in positions of power, becomes enraged at the lack of adulation, and for a moment it seems he’s lost it and is cutting down the crowd with his laser eyes. I gasped for a second, then suspected that was his narcissistic fantasy. In fact it was, but the incident definitely gets to him. He freaks out, with classical music accompaniment, before finally taking Stormfront up on her offer to help him revive his media image.
Stormfront shows him some doctored photos of the innocent guy he killed, and the memes that are circulating the internet.
Stormfront: (gloating) When you see it on your uncle’s facebook page, then you know it’s working.
Sometimes this show gets it so right, I sort of want to throw up.
None of the other characters, on either side, are faring much better.
“The Boys” uses the media within the story also, to move the story forward and also to comment on its real life ramifications. Maeve and Elena are sucked into the media machine with a Katie Couric interview, hashtag #BraveMaeve complete with rainbow flag.
Elena: You know Maeve is bi, right?
The response? “Lesbian is more cut and dried. And people are more comfortable with gendered roles, so wear a suit”.
Elena storms out, but Maeve goes after her, begging her to play along for now to stay alive. And then?
Maeve: We’re gonna take that motherfucker down.
Me: Ooooh. The plot thickens.
Also on the film set, A Train attempts to refuse to film the big farewell scene that Vought has scripted for him, desperate to hang onto his standing in The Seven and at least leave it open ended as to whether he’ll return. Of course, he fails, and it’s a little bit heartbreaking to see him film that scene and know he’s lost.
In a particularly chilling scene, Stormfront casually engages A Train in conversation about The Church of the Collective, saying that they used to be “pure.”
Stormfront: Then they started letting all kinds of people in, ya know?
A Train’s shocked expression tells us that he’s starting to get a clue.
Aya Cash deserves all the kudos for portraying Stormfront as simultaneously amusing and entertaining, while also giving us glimpses of absolute evil underneath. The superhero genre often portrays Nazis as the bad guys, but in such a fictionalized way that it doesn’t set off alarm bells about anything happening right now in real life. “The Boys,” on the other hand, gives us Stormfront – media savvy, cute, perky, appealing — and yet virulently racist and scary as hell.
In contrast to some of his former Seven colleagues, The Deep seems to be doing a bit better, though that’s only by letting himself be drawn into the cult of the Church of the Collective. They’ve arranged his marriage to Cassandra Schwartz, an anthropology professor, and set him on the media circuit to start rehabilitating his image with television ads.
The Deep: I used to be angry, insecure – now I know the kind of man I want to be. Who calls out injustice when he sees it. Stands up for what’s right.
Of course, his real goal is to get back into The Seven, but he’s getting a lot better at saying the ‘right things’. It’s a small part of this episode but another powerful story line about what people are willing to say and do to keep a position of power. (It’s a lot more palatable watching it play out in fiction than being confronted by it in real life, as we are constantly, but it makes the point).
Queen Maeve offers to help The Deep if he helps her in return, pointing out that he “needs a woman to say you’re not a piece of shit.”
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
The realism, it burns.
Meanwhile, Annie’s mom shows up on the set of the Vought film and ambushes her daughter in the craft service tent, where she’s been having an ominous heart to heart with none other than Stormfront – an unlikely mediator if there ever was one. Stormfront facilitates an awkward apology from Annie’s mom, who asks for her daughter’s forgiveness.
Understandably, that doesn’t happen. Annie instead goes to Stormfront’s trailer, trying to figure out what she’s all about. When Stormfront finds her there, the two have a confrontation that ends in a reluctant agreement. Stormfront says she knows that Starlight leaked the Compound V via Gecko.
Annie, whose journey to finding her own courage has been inspiring to watch, fires back.
Annie: How will the world feel when they find out you used to be Liberty?
Stormfront: (aghast) You’re going against your own people?
Annie: (incredulous) Fucking white people?
It’s a striking scene, and it ends in a stalemate. One that I’m sure will keep bubbling up again and again.
On the “other side,” nobody is doing much better. Kimiko tracks down some bad dudes for an apparent hit, literally tearing a guy’s face off after he offers to show her his “motherfuckin’ dick”. I admit I didn’t see that coming and didn’t cover my eyes quick enough and EWWW.
She splits another guy’s head open with his own gun, leaving it rather theatrically embedded there.
Frenchie tails her the whole time and finally catches up to her as Kimiko reports back and gets paid.
Frenchie: (indignant and still trying to protect her) Doing hits? This is poison for your soul!
Kimiko communicates in the only way she knows how, which of course Frenchie cannot understand – but he gets the message anyway.
Kimiko: I got my own baby brother killed! The only thing that mattered to me. Stop trying to help me – I don’t want your help!
Frenchie (finally giving up, at least for the moment): Fuck you, go be a monster!
Also, per usual, Butcher isn’t doing well either. In fact, he feels so bad about what happened with Becca that he starts a bar brawl just to get the shit kicked out of him. Shades of Dean Winchester on “Supernatural,” whose guilt and self-loathing made him take risks with his own life way too often. It’s taken me a while to get a handle on Butcher or to find the character appealing, but little by little, seeing through the cracks in his façade are humanizing him. That scene in the bar told me more about Billy than perhaps any other; watching him resign himself to the boots and fists pummeling him – even welcoming it – I found myself nodding. Oh. That’s who he is. It’s no secret that Dean Winchester is my favorite fictional character of all time, so seeing a little Dean in Butcher? That says a lot.
Becca rejecting him has left Butcher without the single-minded purpose that’s been driving him for years, and he’s clearly lost. The vulnerability he hides so assiduously bleeds through in a phone call from Hughie.
Hughie: I’m not mad, I get it. It’s Becca. I’d do the same thing. You coulda said goodbye though.
He does say goodbye, but not before acknowledging that Hughie kind of is his canary, as Mother’s Milk had insisted.
Hughie doesn’t know what he means by that, but his instincts tell him that something’s wrong. When he shares it with Mother’s Milk, saying with some incredulity that Butcher was “nice”, MM knows. That’s the sort of vulnerability that means Butcher is not okay – and means that ‘goodbye’ was a lot more final than Hughie realized.
He’s right. Butcher seems to be on a farewell tour, stopping to see his aunt, and refusing to see his father, who’s apparently dying of cancer. There’s a backstory there that instantly engaged my psychologist brain, and I look forward to finding out more. No one turns out as angry as Butcher (or Homelander, for that matter) without some serious trauma along the way.
“Where’s my boy?” Butcher asks his aunt, and we’re introduced to Terror the bulldog (and Fuckpig, a stuffed pig who is the object of Terror’s….affection).
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Butcher, his friends aren’t about to let him go quietly. MM and Hughie show up at his aunt’s door and don’t take no for an answer.
Butcher: Expecting a happy ending, were we? I’m knackered, I could use a little lie down.
Hughie: Am I supposed to be impressed by this blaze of glory jerk off shit? So you don’t have shit, welcome to the fucking club! At least your wife is alive, she just doesn’t want you!
Butcher: I don’t need your help. You’re pathetic – so scared of being alone. I ain’t interested.
Oh, shades of the Winchester brothers, that constant push-pull of I need you/I don’t need anyone that kept Sam and Dean’s relationship compelling for fifteen seasons.
To make the parallel even clearer, Aunt Judy confides to Hughie that he looks a lot like Lenny, Butcher’s little brother, a “skinny, nervous little bugger like you.”
Me: I knew it!
Butcher has apparently been rageful from a young age, and also incredibly protective of his younger brother.
Aunt Judy: Lenny had a way of making Billy not be…. Billy.
Me: Ah, just like Hughie…
In a tense scene as the episode nears its end, Black Noir tracks them down at Aunt Judy’s house, hiding on the roof. The Boys stall with a reported gas leak, but when the fire department leaves, Black Noir breaks in. The Boys and Aunt Judy and Terror hide in the basement, while we hear Black Noir literally burning her house down above them.
Butcher orders the others to get his aunt out of there, locking himself in, with Hughie yelling “don’t do this!” It’s a self-sacrificing move worthy of Dean Winchester, but Billy has underestimated both the courage and the loyalty of MM and Hughie. They break back in, only for everyone to be overcome by Black Noir, who eventually has Butcher by the throat.
Sometimes Vought underestimates The Boys’ intelligence though. They threaten to send photos of Homelander’s son right into Ronan Farrow’s inbox, rightly noting that Homelander is nothing but a filthy rapist and Vought has been hiding his little laser eyed bastard. (Ouch, because it’s not that kid’s fault at all).
Black Noir communicates with the boss, Mr. Edgar, who makes a deal. That information never sees the light of day, and he’ll call off Black Noir.
Miraculously, it works.
It’s a temporary victory, but the experience has had an impression on Butcher – especially that his ‘family’ refused to give up on him.
Butcher to Aunt Judy: I almost threw in the towel…
But he didn’t. Always Keep Fighting, Butcher. Always Keep Fighting.
“The Boys” episodes often end with a gut punch of a scene that we’re not expecting, and this one was no exception. Homelander admits to Stormfront that her advice is helping, as his media image ratings rise. The tension between Stormfront and Homelander turns into something that’s not just competition or anger, though those emotions are still very much there. As happens in some of the most popular fanfic, lust enters the mix, with Stormfront ripping open her shirt and ordering Homelander “Don’t be a pussy, laser my fucking tits!”
He does, which is all kinds of messed up.
Stormfront: Ohgod, it fucking hurts, don’t stop!
They kiss passionately, and she laughs darkly.
Stormfront: I told you, I don’t break easy.
Talk about rough sex! I actually did not see that one coming, so I was probably gaping unattractively at the screen. This show does that to me regularly.
I always feel a little bit shaky when I finish watching an episode of “The Boys;” it’s a lot like when you ride a rollercoaster that takes you through every possible emotion before finally depositing you safely back on the platform. And much like actual roller coasters, I usually get off, want to take a break and have a bit of refreshment – and then get right back on again.
You can watch this episode now on Amazon Prime Video, and the next episode on Friday September 24! Three more episodes to go for Season 2!