The penultimate episode of “The Boys” Season 2 took several turns for the WTF, including an ending that left me literally open-mouthed for an entire minute – which was exactly how most of the characters on the screen looked too!
I don’t actually watch the show for the violence, as I’ve said before. In fact, sometimes the violence is too much for me. I was never even a fan of “The 3 Stooges” level of violence, and as a kid I got upset every time a cartoon character got beat up. As a long-time Supernatural fan, I got used to that level of violence in my favorite media, but “The Boys” takes it up a notch. Or two.
Table of contents
- What Keeps Me Watching
- THE BIG OPENING
- LAMPLIGHTER’S SAD STORY – DADDY ISSUES PART I
- IT’S NOT JUST DADDY ISSUES
- BUTCHER FAMILY REUNION – DADDY ISSUES PART 2
- CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE: MAEVE AND ELENA
- IT’S ALL ABOUT MOTHER’S MILK
- GOING DEEP
- A FEW THINGS ACTUALLY GET BETTER!
- THE FAMOUS FINAL SCENE(S)
What Keeps Me Watching
That said, as the violence sometimes veers close to over the top on this show, it nevertheless sets a tone that is fitting for the story in its brutality. I am never bored while watching “The Boys.” And if I sometimes say to myself oh, it’s late, I’ll just watch half for now – that never works. You can’t hit pause and walk away from this show, there’s too much ‘what’s gonna happen next’ energy to allow that.
The other thing that keeps me pulled into “The Boys” is its examination of so many of the things that fascinate me as someone who tries to figure out humans for a living. The underlying themes tackled in this episode were power and purpose. The impact that power has on relationships, on how sexuality can be used to maintain that power, and on how it impacts our decisions about right and wrong.
The challenge of finding purpose in a world that distorts it, or in the face of leftover issues from childhood that keep sending us down the wrong path. It’s a recurring theme throughout the entire show, but this episode had a lot to say about how power impacts the characters we’ve gotten to know so well.
THE BIG OPENING
The opening story is Stormfront’s, the character who’s currently driving both the Supes’ media narrative and the show’s story. She’s ubiquitous thanks to her calculated media presence, on every screen, from televisions in stores to everyone’s cell phones. We follow a guy living with his mother, the dull routine of his life evident. Every day is the same: the alarm clock, the ‘goodbye mom’, the longing glance at the woman he passes in the hallway who doesn’t give him the time of day.
A disenfranchised and lonely man, evoking stereotypes of fanboys in their parents’ basements or, more dangerously, isolated loners waiting to be pushed into violence. A Stormfront Pop Funko doll watches over him in his room as the real Stormfront uses her platform for some passionate fear-mongering about illegal immigrants pouring across the borders, any one of whom could be a super terrorist. The propaganda bombards the (psychologically vulnerable) man from all sides, his purposeless life, his longing for connection and his celebrity worship of Stormfront pulling him to follow her ‘orders’ – Keep America safe again, I’m counting on YOU, don’t let me down!
Add a touch of psychopathology and paranoia, and the guy takes her challenge as a personal command, gunning down the hapless store owner whose last name is Singh while he begs for his life and says that he has a family.
“I saw the light in your eyes!” the paranoid man yells. “Are you a super villain?”
He fires, while the incongruous sounds of “What A Wonderful World” plays in the background.
It would be shocking anyway, but the familiarity of the scene thanks to so many horrifyingly similar real-life scenarios made it hit even harder.
Continuing their media blitz, Stormfront and Homelander work up a large crowd, lamenting that “this used to be a beautiful country, before these godless invaders started pouring across our borders. What do SJW’s like Victoria Newman want us to do? Give them a cup of tea? We need more supes!”
Her fear mongering is capped off by the two Supes kissing, to the cheers of the crowd.
Celebrity display in place – it’s one that’s familiar to anyone who’s ever been a fan. It’s a seemingly benign use of sexuality as manipulation – how it “should” look — but it’s right there.
LAMPLIGHTER’S SAD STORY – DADDY ISSUES PART I
The Boys, meanwhile, have to figure out what to do with Lamplighter. Butcher just wants to torture him until he gives up information on other supes; he just wants revenge, in other words. Mallory argues that he’s willing to testify against Vought at the upcoming hearing, and they should make that a priority – they’ve never had Congress on their side.
Every episode of “The Boys” is a political commentary, but sometimes it’s overt. Pro and anti Vought protestors clash outside congresswoman Victoria Neuman’s house, some with signs that say “SEND HER BACK” as they chant the same. It’s once again a chilling scene because it’s so familiar from ‘real life’. Add to that the familiar question of how well it works when one side tries to play by the rules (a hearing) and the other side just does whatever the hell it wants. That, unfortunately, rings true too.
There’s tension, but Victoria Neuman and Mallory reluctantly agree to trust each other and work together as they try to figure out why they’re testing Compound V at Sage Grove.
(Oh, for sure this is not going to go well, I thought at the time …. Little did I know…)
Hughie, still in bad shape from his injury, is nominated to stay behind when the Boys set out, to look after their star witness, Lamplighter. They watch a lot of awkward Supe porn, and Jack Quaid makes some priceless faces.
Lamplighter: Different strokes, man…
Hughie: Don’t say that in this context…
(Hey Hughie, your kink is not my kink and that’s okay, etc etc. It’s still subtle, and I’m not even sure it’s consciously included, but that underlying message of the use of sexuality and the enforcement of the “right” kind of sexuality in particular, once again recurs here)
The two also manage to have some serious conversation, though, Lamplighter confessing that he thought he was going to do great things, and that he just wanted to make his dad proud.
Hughie bonds with him over their daddy issues.
Hughie: After my mom was gone, I watched my dad do nothing his whole life. I thought I’d finally found something, what I was meant to do, but turns out I’m shit at that as well.
This episode drew some interesting parallels between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, and also did a lot of exploration of the daddy issues that plague so many of the characters. Hughie and Lamplighter have that in common, and both confess their desperation here about finding something that essentially gives their lives purpose.
Hughie finally manages to change the channel, only to see the news report announcing that Starlight has been found out by The Seven to be a traitor. Panicked, Hughie convinces Lamplighter to come with him to try to save her, mostly by appealing to his desire to be “the one who gets to fuck the wife” instead of the husband looking on, in the threesome porn they’ve just been watching.
“This is your last chance to be the hero,” Hughie adds, because that’s Hughie. Lamplighter’s fingerprints still work to gain them access, so in they go.
IT’S NOT JUST DADDY ISSUES
Mommy issues are just as much a part of this show as daddy issues. Annie meets up with her semi-estranged mom at a café, since apparently her mom never left town. I feel for Annie’s mom because she clearly does care about her daughter, but she’s the epitome of good intentions mixed with unacknowledged selfishness that can yield very very bad results. Annie confides that she feels stupid for believing the things her mother taught her as a child, for ever thinking “God was sending me on a mission”. Instead, she’s realized that “what they do is all for money.”
That’s a loaded comment, since Annie’s mother made her own big decision for, at least in part, the same reason. It fits well with the theme of this episode, because in most cultures, money IS power.
Annie too is looking for purpose and longing for connection, destabilized with the purpose she thought she had of saving people ripped away and her relationship with her mother with it.
Her mom pleads with Annie to just get out of town and escape, as though it could ever be that easy. Her naivete is dangerous – she’s confided this to Ashley. Boom, they’re attacked and taken captive by Vought. Annie is locked up, unable to blast her way out.
BUTCHER FAMILY REUNION – DADDY ISSUES PART 2
Butcher gets a call from his mother, who says she’s in New York after his father’s death and asks to see him. He goes, only to find that his mom set him up to talk to his father, who really is dying. The reunion is painful to watch, Butcher’s father unrepentant about beating the shit out of Butcher and his brother to “toughen them up” and still ridiculing Lenny for being the “softer” of the two. It turns out Lenny killed himself, their father insisting he “chose to sink” and blaming Butcher for his death.
“You abandoned him, not me,” he insists.
I could barely watch this scene, it was so painful, a vivid depiction of toxic masculinity overload and its horrendous consequences. For Lenny, and for Butcher too.
The reunion ends with Butcher choking his father in a rage, and the old man laughing as they hurl accusations of being monstrous at each other, and finally spitting in twisted admiration, “Lenny could never have done that.”
We haven’t even met Lenny, but my heart is aching for him, having to endure that kind of derision and disgust from his own father. I’ve known too many people, seen too many clients, who have lived that life, and it hit me hard.
As much as I often do not like Butcher, I feel for him. I thought John Winchester was a shitty father, but Butcher’s dad is in a whole other league of shitty dads.
The examination of enforced-with-violence gender norms fits with both episode themes coherently. And the episode isn’t done yet!
DADDY ISSUES AND MOMMY ISSUES BOTH!
The ‘romance’ of Stormfront and Homelander, I won’t deny, is fascinating. Because both characters are fascinating, and Antony Starr and Aya Cash are capable of the kind of nuanced performances that create that fascination. At their joint rally, she sees a baby in the crowd who reminds her of her daughter, and when he sees her longing, he takes her with him to visit his son, Ryan. Homelander’s own longing for the parenting he never had seems to strike a rare chord of empathy in him; I think he genuinely recognizes that longing in Stormfront.
The look on Becca’s face when Homelander and Stormfront arrive unannounced – and he says that he wants his girlfriend, him and his son to be a family — was gut wrenching.
Perhaps it’s because I’m also a mom, but Becca’s entire story is horrifying to me. The way that Homelander has slowly, gradually, inexorably, infiltrated her (literally) carefully constructed suburban mom and son life chills me to the bone. Stormfront is more savvy about how to do that most effectively than Homelander; in so many ways, she’s much more dangerous than he is. Instead of tossing Ryan off the roof, Stormfront woos him, like every manipulative person ever. There’s more than one way to assert power.
Stormfront: Your dad has his own roller coaster, do you wanna take a ride?
What child will resist that? Homelander is the ultimate “Disneyland dad”.
Becca, smart enough to see exactly what’s going on and helpless to stop it, pleads with Homelander, saying she knows he loves his son and understands the value of having a mother from his own fucked up childhood.
Becca: We have an opportunity to give him the childhood you never had – with a mother. I know you understand that.
(We know it too, but that doesn’t mean we understand what it’s done to him.)
Homelander: When he sees the outside world he’s gonna panic, and that’s gonna fuck him up. I do not want my son to go through what I had to go through.
It’s a twisted, terrifying version of caring, all the more unshakeable because there really is some genuine emotion under it. Homelander and Stormfront are so scary because they’re motivated not by a pure lust for power or some simplistic version of “evil”. They’re motivated by emotion, just like the rest of us. They long for relationship and connection, that longing skewed by the tragic lack of it in their own lives and the losses they haven’t been able to recover from – and they have the power to manipulate others to try to create those relationships, like it or not. We know that inevitably that won’t work, that relationships constructed that way won’t last, but it’s also clear that these two Supes are not going to take no for an answer. And that’s going to leave a lot of shattered people in their wake.
CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE: MAEVE AND ELENA
The romance seems over, at least for now, for Maeve and Elena. Elena can’t get past what she learned about Maeve leaving the people on that plane to die, and she says she needs time and is going to her sister’s. She’s worried about what Maeve is capable of, she says, and Maeve throws the entire dining room table across the room.
Elena recoils, terrified and horrified.
Maeve, on the other hand, looks heartbroken.
Maeve: You said you wanted to see the real me, over and over. This is the real me.
Elena: (equally heartbroken) I know.
There’s a powerful story about how power impacts relationships running through this season, and one of its sad truths is that sooner or later an imbalance skews communication and begins to create fear that inevitably gets in the way of honesty. It’s happening to Maeve and Elena, it’s played out between Hughie and Annie, with Becca and her son, with Butcher and his father. I’ve seen it play out in real life too, whether that power is economic or from privilege or from celebrity.
Later in the episode, Ashley finds Maeve in bed with a guy, exclaiming in horror, “this is not lesbian! We curated a coming out story that America loves!”
(One which ignored and invalidated Maeve’s bisexuality, among other things).
We’re right back to manipulating through control of sexuality here, and how power plays into that. PR’s control of the narrative is part of celebrity in ‘real life’ too, and no doubt equally damaging.
Maeve, looking utterly broken: Ashley, for once in your life, be a fucking human being.
I’ve said before that I have a soft spot for Ashley, as a relatively ordinary human sucked into the horror of Vought and the Supes, and losing her humanity as a result. For a moment, Maeve’s words pull her back into a moment of actual humanity.
Ashley: I’m really sorry, Maeve.
That scene kinda broke my heart a little. I have a soft spot for Maeve too.
IT’S ALL ABOUT MOTHER’S MILK
In their quest for information about Sage Grove and dirt on Vought, Mallory and Mother’s Milk go to see Dr. Vogelbaum at his mansion. He refuses to help them, saying that some things are more important than doing the right thing, ie his daughter. Mallory doesn’t entirely disagree – she advises MM to go back to his wife and daughter, offering to get them on a flight to Nicaragua.
MM: When this is done.
Mallory: It’s never done. Go and never come back, I wish I had.
It’s a small exchange, but a big part of Mother’s Milk’s journey this season. How much do you risk to “do the right thing?” What even is the right thing, when your own family is at risk and wants you with them? Mother’s Milk is the other character I always relate to, torn between conflicting loyalties. He’s so aptly named, someone who has both been nurtured and has nurtured in return, in stark contrast to Homelander, whose lack of nurturing has left him with a constant longing – for, literally and figuratively – mother’s milk.
Mallory and MM fail to convince Dr. Vogelbaum, but Butcher comes back and gives it a shot too. (I was thrown out of the story for a second by my difficulty believing that Vogelbaum would actually buzz Billy Butcher in, which oddly doesn’t happen much in this show. I guess he figured Butcher would get in there one way or another).
Butcher radiates almost as much terrifying menace as Homelander – he’s fucked up by his childhood, molded into someone always on the verge of becoming unhinged by his losses, driven by rage. Karl Urban plays that brilliantly, so tightly coiled I’m always just waiting for him to snap. He sits in a chair like a rattlesnake coiled and about to strike, but enjoying playing with his prey first.
Butcher: What was Homelander like?
Vogelbaum: At five or six, he was quite sweet. He’d cuddle up with me, he loved stories of Davy Crockett… But I needed him to be the strongest man in the world, so I went to work on him. He didn’t even want it…
Butcher and Homelander are such perfect antagonists, because they are so much the same, both shaped in brutality and violence and rejection by men who bought into toxic masculinity and forcibly attempted to instill that in their initially sensitive sons to “toughen them up.” Both abandoned in some way by mothers who couldn’t protect them.
No wonder they’re both so terrifying sometimes.
And no wonder that at times they both break my heart.
Butcher’s faux friendly tea drinking conversation ends soon enough, as he snarls at Vogelbaum that what he did to Homelander wasn’t his only sin.
Butcher: It wasn’t Homelander who hid my wife away all those years.
If Vogelbaum refuses to help him, Butcher spells out just how violent his barely restrained rage can make him.
Butcher: I’m gonna bash your daughter’s brains out, and their sons and wives and their little kiddies. Your whole fucking family dies today – or you help me.
I would like to say that I don’t believe him, but I’m not entirely sure. And he’s one of the good guys.
Butcher sees his mother once more before she leaves. She tells him that she manipulated the conversation with his father for him, so he might be able to let it go and his dad wouldn’t have this hold over him.
Butcher’s mom: So you wouldn’t become like…
Too little too late from a mother who didn’t protect her sons when they needed it, but another unflinching look at power imbalance in relationships and the terrible damage they can cause. Intergenerational transmission of trauma, says the psychologist part of my brain.
The episode’s examination of power continues with The Deep’s story, as he enjoys himself with his new wife at a fancy party. A Train’s there too; he gives The Deep a fish in a bowl to make up for all the mean things he used to do to him. I love those little quirky moments on this show, as The Deep listens to the fish and happily exclaims “he knows my name!”
Alastair gives the two the good news that he has a meeting with Mr. Edgar the following week, and that with Starlight gone, they’re going to “need you two”. He then asks about Eagle the Archer, and The Deep gushes that he’s a great guy, so kind…
Alastair: He doesn’t exist. He says the program failed him, but he failed the program.
(Apparently Eagle refused to cut his mother out of his life, so they leaked some damaging video footage – of him “hunting” and then mounting his partner dressed as a deer)
It’s the kind of WTF sexually focused moment that the show loves; as someone who studies fandom, it probably struck me as more chilling than it did most people and less humorous. Revealing something sexual that’s outside the “norm” has always been used as a threat to keep people in line, another commentary on power and the many ways it can be wielded to push otherwise decent people to do not very decent things.
The Deep barely hesitates a second before condemning the guy he was just gushing about. A Train looks momentarily incredulous about The Deep’s swift and clearly not genuine change of heart, but falls right in line as well. It’s a biting take on celebrity and the lengths people are willing to go to in order to keep their status.
A FEW THINGS ACTUALLY GET BETTER!
Mallory gives Frenchie the order to ‘keep Kimiko alive’, which is what he most fervently wants to do anyway. She sends him on his way with a harsh admonition, “no abandoning your post this time.” Instead of getting defensive, Frenchie agrees, which implies he’s made some progress in coming to terms with his guilt about the night Mallory’s grandchildren were killed. Frenchie and Kimiko also make some progress negotiating their relationship, as Kimiko finally begins to teach him her language. Starting, predictably perhaps, with the sign for “gun”.
THE FAMOUS FINAL SCENE(S)
Lamplighter helps Hughie get into Vought tower, seemingly holding it together until they get to the hallway where the Supe statues are – and then he loses it when he sees that they’ve taken his statue down.
Lamplighter (distraught): I wanted to do it in front of my statue…wanted to make my dad proud…
Me: Uh oh
As Hughie watches, horrified and bleeding through his bandages, Lamplighter sets himself on fire and burns himself up.
Hughie: OMG OMG OMG OMG
Me: Holy shit. (I say that a lot with this show)
In the sort of dark comedic moment this show pulls off so well, Hughie has to hack Lamplighter’s crispy hand off using a broken vase so he can work the doors and get out. Down the hall, Annie breaks out of her prison, but Black Noir tackles her and tosses her around like a rag doll in a brutal fight. It’s clear she’s going to lose when Maeve appears and saves her, shoving something into Black Noir’s mouth that incapacitates him.
Starlight: Was that an Almond Joy?
Maeve: He has a tree nut allergy.
I laughed, I admit, but it was also a reminder that the Supes are in fact human. Or were.
Annie tries to convince Maeve to come with her, but she says no. Hughie finds Annie’s mom, who is comically out of her league, and then Annie. It’s a brief but heartfelt reunion as they flee together.
As they escape, in another place, Becca’s attempted escape from Vought and Homelander is crumbling. As Becca finishes making dinner, Homelander and Stormfront have taken Ryan on a little trip that changes everything.
Homelander: The boy deserves to know the truth.
Ryan (furious): He flew me up and showed me. It’s all fake!
Feeling betrayed and lied to by the only person he’s ever known and depended on, Ryan rejects his mother and runs to Homelander, who takes off with him, leaving Becca below, abandoned and in anguish.
It’s like the worst bad divorce scenario ever come to life, and something every single parent who’s in the one down position has probably had nightmares about – their child literally snatched from them into thin air, turned against them by revelation of something they did out of desperation and limited choices. The prerogative of the person who has more power, once again.
The last scene of this episode is the WTF moment that everyone is talking about. Dr. Vogelbaum testifies, as Butcher and The Boys watch on television.
“You have five minutes to make your opening” are the only words uttered, however, before that guy’s head explodes.
Then Vogelbaum’s. And then someone else’s. Then another. And then another.
The Boys (and I) start exclaiming WTF WTF, everyone in the room is screaming and running and slipping and sliding in the blood and gore on the floor. Ashley, our proxy, is hysterical, covered in blood and brains, horrified.
Neuman and Mallory scramble together to try to escape.
Watching in another city on another TV, The Deep grabs his own head to check, exclaiming “Oh shit!”
Close up on Butcher, his face contorted with rage, as Starlight’s tender song from Translucent’s funeral plays ironically in the background.
And this was only the penultimate episode!
One more episode of “The Boys” to go – catch Aisha Tyler’s after-show on Amazon Prime, and then get ready for the Season 2 finale of “The Boys” on Friday! What the hell is gonna top that last scene??