The first three episodes of Season 2 of Amazon’s “The Boys” premiered Friday, and Amazon kicked things off with a pandemic-compliant outdoor drive-in viewing party in Los Angeles the night before, attended by some of the stars. Antony Starr, Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty, Karen Fukuhara and more arrived at The Grove to celebrate the diabolical new season.
Guests arrived in their cars through Lucy the Whale, who makes a special and quite memorable appearance in the third episode of the critically acclaimed and fan-favorite series. Ahead of the drive-in special screening, guests were invited to a socially distant pre-party in their cars, where they had their pictures taken at the drive-through photo op activation, danced in their cars and enjoyed Umami Burgers, Popcorn, and Swedish Fish. Amazon always does a great job putting together ‘experiences’ and this one looked like it was no exception. Wish I was on the other coast!
Virtual Press Junket
I watched the first three episodes of Season 2 last month before “The Boys” virtual press junket, and chatted with the cast and showrunner Eric Kripke about Season 2. Now that the episodes have aired, I can share both my review and some of the more spoilery things that I talked to the actors about last month.
Based on the New York Times best-selling comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, Season One of “The Boys” introduced us to the characters and set up a world in which superheroes are not the good guys, but manufactured (literally) celebrities who exist to enrich the corporation that created them, the villainous Vought. I enjoyed the premise from the start – though I know people who take the superhero genre seriously who struggled with the parodies – and immediately was drawn to the chaotic mix of violence, humor and sociopolitical criticism that few shows could pull off as well as this. Season One was a wild ride and I appreciated every minute of it, even if I admit to having to close my eyes a few times when the gore factor exceeded my boundaries a bit. (Sorry, Kripke, I know you love those parts!)
I Was Hooked
By the end of Season One, I was hooked on the show, but I was only beginning to be hooked on the characters. It takes me a while to warm up to a show – fifteen years ago, another Eric Kripke show (“Supernatural”) premiered and I watched the whole first season as a casual viewer. In Season 2, “Supernatural” and Sam and Dean Winchester grabbed me by the heart and turned my entire life upside down as I fell in love with the characters, head over heels. Fast forward as that show comes to an end and I’ve published six books on “Supernatural,” several of them written with the actors. Let’s just say that once I fall, I fall HARD. So it’s not surprising that I enjoyed Season One of “The Boys” but didn’t fall madly in love quite yet.
It Was A Dark Season
Let’s face it, Season One was pretty bleak. The Supes were uniformly awful, especially Homelander, who Antony Starr managed to make absolutely terrifying. His slightly unhinged personality and unpredictable behavior, with that overly manicured veneer on top, made my blood run cold. I worried that he was about to murder Stillwell‘s baby every single time they were onscreen together! The other Supes were mostly unappealing too.
There was also A Train’s cold-blooded run-by-killing of Robyn, Translucent’s disregard of anyone’s boundaries (easy to do when you’re invisible) and The Deep’s callous sexual harassment and manipulation of new girl Starlight – yeah, nothing to root for there. By the end of Season 1, there were small indications of vulnerability in some of the Supes that made their characters a bit more complex – A Train’s addiction, The Deep’s banishment, even the revelation of Homelander’s traumatic “childhood” and the revelation that he has a son. It was enough to keep me interested, but still, no one there to root for.
Interestingly, “The Boys” weren’t exactly the heroes I wanted to root for either sometimes. I’m accustomed to the revenge-as-motivation story line from other shows (including Supernatural) but Karl Urban’s appeal aside, Butcher was hard to take in his single-minded mission that didn’t take into account collateral damage. Mother’s Milk and Frenchie seemed to have more humanity, but I didn’t feel like I knew them well enough to judge. Kimiko was still mostly an enigma. We see the events of Season 1 more through the eyes of Annie (Starlight) and Hughie, newcomers to each side, and those two characters were the only ones I felt drawn to for most of that season.
Season 2 Thus Far
Three episodes into Season 2, I can feel the characters taking hold of me – psychologically first, and then emotionally. Kripke has said many times that character is the driving force in his shows. In Season 2 we can see that shift. Now that the universe is established and the main characters are known, we’re getting into what I really want to know – what makes them tick? How did they become who they are, both the Supes and the Boys? (I’m a psychologist, I really can’t help it). To my great delight, that’s where Season 2 seems to be headed.
Since I’m still a “Supernatural” fan and always will be, I was happy to see Jim Beaver make an appearance in Season 2, still named Robert Singer in an homage to my other favorite show and its long-time director. When I rewatched the first episode yesterday, I noticed the mention of original supe Soldier Boy and might have squeed out loud now that we know that “Supernatural’s” Jensen Ackles will be taking on that role for Season 3.
In Season 2, Stillwell is gone, and Stan Edgar is in charge. Giancarlo Esposito manages to make Edgar simultaneously softspoken and yet entirely in command of the situation no matter how much it seems to be unraveling. Homelander and Edgar butt heads, both wanting to be in power – the confrontation never goes up in volume and yet manages to be so full of tension I was on edge the entire time. If the confrontation itself wasn’t chilling enough, Edgar enlightens Homelander (and us) about Vought’s founder, with his Nazi ties and his ‘ready supply of human subjects’ at Dachau before switching allegiances to the US with a full pardon. (Is everything in this show going to sound horribly familiar this season? Perhaps). Edgar takes Homelander down a peg by making it clear that Vought is in the business of pharmaceuticals, not superheroes.
If anything, the themes of media manipulation and celebrity influence over the frighteningly-easy-to-dupe masses rings even more true in Season 2 than when I watched Season 1 a year ago. News coverage of a woman protesting that “they can’t use fear to control us” made me shudder with its much-too-close-to-reality message.
Showrunner Eric Kripke put it this way at a virtual press junket last month.
Kripke: We’re living in the world’s dumbest dystopia and the only good thing is that it gives the writers an incredible amount of material in the room. I wish it didn’t – I wish I had no material, but I do. So there’s plenty to talk about where authoritarianism and celebrity combine. This year we’re actually not touching on many of the issues from last year because there’s so many. This year we’re taking a target at white nationalism, white supremacy, xenophobia, systemic racism, how the people that are trying to convey these hateful ideologies are using new forms of social media as wolves in sheep’s clothing to communicate old and hateful ideas in new ways. We get to convey that. I will admit that I’m pretty angry about the way things are and one advantage that I don’t take for granted is to have a show that to put some of my feelings into. Most fans would agree that there might be even a little more of it this season because I think the writers are frankly a little angrier this season.
And he’s right.
“The Boys” is not terribly subtle, in either its parodies or its depictions of its characters’ respective traumas, but that fits in with the style of the show. In Season 2, The Deep, banished and isolated, has a break down. That makes him vulnerable to being recruited by a weird and creepy cult (the Church of the Collective) that’s anti-therapy and great at putting words in people’s mouths and making them think they’re their own. They also have a creepy infatuation with Fresca, which I haven’t seen in real life since my childhood.
In Episode 2, at the encouragement of the Creepy Collective, The Deep does shrooms and has a conversation with his own gills, a weirdly effective way of looking at someone confronting their body dysmorphia. He’s forced to face the fact that he can’t accept his own body and is terrified of being ridiculed — so he acts out and violates women before they can violate him. He comes to this realization while singing “You Are So Beautiful To Me” to himself.
Chace Crawford manages to make it both disturbing and oddly touching simultaneously, which is no mean feat. Sometimes the quality of the acting gets overshadowed by the spectacle in this show, but quiet weird moments like this allow that to come through. I have to admit, The Deep’s empathy for the fish he can hear begging for their lives is a little bit relatable — and means I never want to eat seafood after I’ve watched an episode.
Chace Crawford said he was actually nervous about doing that scene and wanted to get it over with, but it turned out great because it was second unit so they had a ton of time to do it. They even had an actual Broadway musical singer in the background.
Chace: To help me at least get on key!
Even Homelander gets a little vulnerability added to his story in Season 2. His complicated feelings for Stillwell (who he murdered) leads to him drinking a bottle of her frozen breast milk – which, you get the feeling is what he always wanted to do anyway. But just when you start to think Homelander has a small streak of humanity after all, he manages to horrifically disable a potential new Supe named Blind Spot – hired in the name (and name only) of ‘diversity and inclusion’. (Again, not subtle). Apparently Stillwell was the only one keeping Homelander’s pursuit of complete power in check, and he’s even more terrifying without her modulating influence.
In Episode 2, Homelander’s attempts to connect with his son are both uncomfortable to watch and a little bit heartbreaking, because you are just waiting for the moment it’s going to go very very wrong. He clearly does want to connect with his son but he’s extremely dangerous in his wounded narcissism and every second he’s onscreen I’m anxious. Which turns out to be warranted by the third episode. Seems the kid can’t fly quite yet. Ouch.
The trauma awakens the boy’s powers, but also leads him to reject Homelander, who keeps murmuring “this is nice” every time he gets to be part of a domestic ritual like tucking his son in or eating pancakes together. I can’t help but feel bad for a man who never had any parenting, but at the same time I can’t help but relate to the terrified and enraged mother who does not want a psychopath sitting at her breakfast table or playing ball with her son.
Antony Starr: Up til now, we’ve never seen Homelander do anything without putting himself first. I think this is a challenge for him, because the kid is unpredictable (and tried to kill him) so he’s gotta try to tap into a different part of himself that he’s never really experienced before. He tries different tactics and has varying degrees of success, but ultimately like any relationship, it’s not a one way street. He can’t just bully this kid into loving him, so it does put him into an interesting position where he’s gotta really dig deep and do something he’s never done before. From my perspective it’s great because in Season 2 we’re still discovering new things. We’re lucky and the kid is great and we had a great time!
Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) becomes more humanized in Season 2 also, through continued exploration of her relationship with her ex-girlfriend, who she’s still pretty clearly hung up on. In fact, almost all of the Supes are humanized at least a little through their relationships. We see A Train with his brother, frantic to pull him away from his addiction, and get a glimpse of the man he used to be through his brother’s eyes.
Jessie T. Usher: I knew that when we met A Train that was not who he truly is. The money, the entourage, the status, the way he walks and talks, those are the things I’ve attached to him as dependencies, that you will see get stripped away. Then you’ll see who he is at his core. That’s the A Train that we’ll have to meet eventually, because the superstar, super rich A Train is not the most interesting version of him. I think the most interesting version of him will be peeled down to the core.
Season 2 also introduces the newest Supe and member of the Seven, Stormfront (Aya Cash) who is a lot more media savvy than anyone in the organization and who breezes in like a breath of fresh air to shake things up (and shows that Mr. Edgar is a lot more savvy than he appears).
Jessie: Stormfront and A Train don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. She’s not only the new member of the Seven, but she’s like a shiny new toy and A Train is starting to feel like the old worn out toy that might get thrown in the trash eventually. So there’s a little jealous, a little deceit, and A Train is figuring that out. They butt heads on a lot of different levels.
A Train isn’t the only one.
Antony Starr: I think they may be an even match and I think that’s interesting. There’s been no real threat to Homelander on the show really, not physically anyway, and then this person comes along who 1) is not afraid of him and 2) is not only a match physically, but mentally and emotionally. So she’s a very challenging person for Homelander to deal with. Homelander is a pretty unschooled kind of guy who doesn’t handle his own social media and doesn’t’ know his way around that world. He wants everyone to love him, whereas Stormfront is representative of that new breed of – what are they called? Influencers. Right. They’re savvy and she’s like that, so their worlds collide. Right, Aya?
Aya Cash: Yeah, I think that’s an accurate interpretation of how they start. I think their relationship develops and grows and changes quite drastically in terms of how they interact with each other through the season though.
Antony: I don’t think Homelander is a chauvinist, he’s an equal opportunity hater and killer. He’s not bigoted, other than anyone who challenges him needs to either join him or become one of his disciples or underlings – or die. Having Stormfront there adjusts the dynamic, which is more interesting. It’s not two men slugging it out, we’ve seen that. It’s great to have someone as feisty as Aya come in and it adjusts everything.
Aya: It’s not a dynamic like Stillwell. I don’t think Stormfront is interested in mummying him.
No sipping bottled breast milk then. Check.
There’s head butting amongst the Boys in Season 2 also. Hughie’s identity is changed by the time Season 2 is underway – he’s lost his job, his girlfriend, his family, and his identity is now wrapped up in the Boys mission – and wanting to be Katniss. In Butcher’s absence, Hughie comes into his own, and that causes some problems.
Jack Quaid: In terms of the group dynamic stuff, I found it interesting what role Hughie would step into now that the father figure of the group is gone. And I found it really rewarding to deepen Hughie’s relationship with every single team member. Outside Hughie and Starlight’s relationship, which has gotten deeper in many ways, I had a lot of fulfillment from playing scenes with Laz, who plays Mother’s Milk. Mother’s Milk is almost what Hughie wants to be, a guy who’s still pursuing justice but he cares about his team and won’t abandon them. Seeing that play out has been really fun for me.
Starlight/Annie proves she can be goal driven and pretty damn relentless herself, estranged from her mother and feeling betrayed – and determined to bring Vought down.
I’m rooting for Annie and Hughie, even though it’s heartbreaking that Hughie has to keep lying to her when she’s so hurt by her mother’s lies already.
Erin Moriarty: What I like about being able to return to a show is that in Season 1 I had no history with any characters on the show. In Season 2, I had a history with them that I could use to inform my performance and my dynamic with them in scenes. It was really fun to go into it like oh, I’ve lived out the history I have with each of these characters, and now I can just add to that. Now our interactions as a result are going to be all the more nuanced. I’m going to be scared shitless – pardon my French – every single second I’m around Homelander because he’s not the Captain America I thought he was. I’m going to be really cautious around A Train because he knows way too much about me and I know a lot about him. And that’s why Season 3 will be even more fun, because we just keep building on the history.
Perhaps the first episode’s most memorable scene is the Boys’ meeting with the deputy director of the CIA, who manages to tell them that the terrorist supe they’re after is a coup from the inside just before she….is dispatched. I won’t give it away just in case you haven’t seen it yet, but let’s just say I jumped a foot when I watched that scene the first time. Kudos, Kripke.
Ending that episode with the return of Billy Butcher and his iconic “Don’t you worry, Daddy’s Home” was perfection. As he did in “Supernatural,” Kripke uses music to great effect in The Boys, and Billy Joel’s “Pressure” plays as the credits roll. Episode 1 also includes a montage set to that song that follows Hughie and Annie (Starlight), both having trouble facing themselves in the mirror at this point, hiding under hoodies and threatening to crack under the pressure. That’s a pretty good description of how the first episode feels too!
Episode 2 and 3 see Hughie and Butcher repeatedly almost coming to blows (and sometimes not almost) and the introduction of the media blitz of “Girls Get It Done” for Vought with a distinctly unimpressed Stormfront, Queen Maeve and Starlight.
Stormfront: You wanna talk about girl power, let’s talk about getting some pockets!
Kimiko finds her brother, who unfortunately has also been turned into a Supe terrorist, and the two reconnect and clash simultaneously. Nobody does super intense sibling relationships better than Eric Kripke, and I was fascinated by these two and the backstory that we get about Kimiko’s traumatic past. It broke my heart to see them choose opposite sides and be torn apart when they clearly had so much love and loyalty to each other.
Butcher finally comes clean about Becca being alive and having a son with Homelander when the rest of the group sides with Kimiko as one of them, and he shows some vulnerability for the first time in asking for their help. He also punches Hughie in the face though, so not too much.
Psycho Killers is the ending song for Episode 2, and once again it’s perfect.
Episode 3 kicks off with more Billy Joel, and a lot of it takes place on a boat.
Starlight and Hughie manage to break the news about Compound V and Supes being manufactured, which gives “The Boys” a rare moment of celebration. It doesn’t last long, though, and the constant violence and roller coastering starts to take a big toll on Hughie, who seems about to lose it. He apologizes to Annie in a tearful phone message. Meanwhile, Butcher is planning to trade Kimiko’s brother in an attempt to get back to his wife and everyone is basically distrusting everyone else. While on a boat.
The scene everyone will be talking about happens near the end of Episode 3, when The Deep makes his move to rejoin The Seven riding on a whale named Lucy and the Boys – well, let’s just say, they refuse to be deterred. As often happens with me, I was kind of on the side of the whale, so I felt as demoralized and nauseous as Hughie did at the end of that scene. Sometimes I find it hard to root for the good guys, what can I say? When animals are involved, I always tend to root for the animals. (Although honestly, Deep, that was kind of a stupid plan).
It was a small moment after, but I’ve never hated Homelander more than when he told The Deep to cover himself up because his gills were showing, and it was “disgusting”. He’s like every toxic person who sabotages a client’s progress and makes me grit my teeth.
Of course, my sympathy for The Deep right now may end up being sadly misplaced. As Chace Crawford said at the press junket last month, “He would do anything anyone told him to make it right – like, what do I need to do? Apologize? In reality, he’s trying to do anything he can to make it LOOK right… I do think he’s genuinely close to rock bottom. He doesn’t know who he is and never really has known who he is, so I think he’s broken open enough to at least try some self-exploration.”
Time will tell if all that soul-searching leads to any actual change.
“The Boys” can be horrifically disturbing and yet terribly on point simultaneously and often takes a sudden turn that doesn’t give you time to psychologically prepare for the disturbing. A man paying money for what you initially think is going to be sex turns out to be a guy who gets off on chopping another guy’s arm off – he is literally euphoric doing it, and jumps at the chance to chop off the guy’s dick for an extra thousand. (Gecko’s limbs and other things apparently grow right back). The lust for revenge and violence in this scene with this nameless customer felt strikingly relevant right now – and made me sick to my stomach. “The Boys” will do that, and sometimes it feels right on the verge of too much, like the Lucy-the-whale-slowly-dying scene, but it also sticks with me long after I’ve walked away from the screen.
As much as I was amused by Stormfront for a while, Episode 3 ends with her ruthless pursuit of Kimiko’s brother after the siblings had just exchanged heartfelt ‘I love you’s.’ He comes back to save Kimiko from Stormfront, redeeming himself in the end – and then, of course, Stormfront kills him, as Kimiko watches in horror. That moment killed me, but it also cemented my investment in the show even more. Hey, I was invested in Sam and Dean Winchester for fifteen years.
Stormfront reveals herself as a racist as well as a sadist as she kills Kimiko’s brother. Homelander is not amused – he wanted to do the killing himself. And if all that isn’t horror enough, the real horror comes when we realize that even the revelation that Vought has been manufacturing Supes with Compound V has not brought down the corporation – Edgar spins it, and the public believes.
And isn’t that the most realistic and horrible thing of all?
Giancarlo Esposito was asked at the press junket, what is Vought really after, and what does Stan want?
Giancarlo: I don’t know because I haven’t discussed it with the writers. For me, I have a plethora of ideas about what he wants. All these analogies, many that I make are in regard to our politics and elected officials in the US because I see so many reflections in this playful but intense show that allow me to think that Stan wants what we all want in a certain point in our development. We want to be successful, we want to take over the world. Something else that he wants is about the science. What can the science do to elevate and extend us as humans without harming our vessel, without making us monsters? All of this is a very big investigation or a test of: will this work? Can we have a world where people are empowered physically, able to see through walls and move things and do all you can see in the show — is that a possibility to allow us to become a super race? Who knows, we’ll see.
We will. The first 3 episodes of Season 2 are available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video, and the season will continue with five more episodes released weekly and an after show with Aisha Tyler and cast each week to dig into the episodes more fully (Aisha can hold her own as far as fearlessness to ‘go there’, just sayin’!)
And what’s after that? Kripke said that the writing of Season 3 (with Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy) is already underway. They’ve been in the virtual writers’ room almost since quarantine began and are halfway through the season of scripts and breaks. Kripke allowed that the big challenge will be when they shoot it. They have a tentative production date of mid to late January, but obviously that depends on what happens with the pandemic.
Kripke: But we’re well on our way. I won’t, but I could tell you quite a bit about where the Season 3 story goes.
I learned as a “Supernatural” fan that Kripke always has a plan. And I can’t wait!