Review: The Boys Season 2 (Amazon)

At the end of my review of Season 1, I said that the show was not as thoughtful as it wants to be. The second season remains flawed and tonally uneven but less so. It works better this time by finding its own satirical line that can encompass more of its themes of power and abuse and using contemporary interest in superheroes to exam modern politics.

A key spoiler follows, so skip the bit after the fold if you want to be unspoiled.

The major addition to the cast and the plot is the arrival of a new superhero to the “Seven” superhero team. Aya Cash plays the unsubtly named Stormfront — I say unsubtle but Cash plays the character so neatly that initially I thought it was just a poor choice of names. As the series progress she shifts very easily from apparent unconventional millennial, to revealing that she is actually more of an alt-right meme-obsessed demagogue to maybe an overt neo-nazi to oh-actually-she’s-quasi-immortal-and-an-actual-Nazi-from-the-1930s.

Apparently in the original Garth Ennis comic book, the character was male but the gender shift here is used cleverly. The women in the Seven are repurposed by the Vought Corporations media-wing into a kind of faux-feminism ’empowerment’ campaign, the shallowness of which is underpinned by the presence of a literal Nazi in their midst.

Less good is the secondary plot about Bill Butcher’s wife Becca and her son. The twist from season 1 was that she was alive and living in isolation bringing up her son, whose father is the psychotic superman-analog, Homelander. That plot line has many moments of psychological abuse horror but by the final episode Becca dies. So the whole subversion of the dead-wife as motivation of Butcher is undone by having dead once again.

Indeed, while the final episode is quite tense and largely well done, the resolution of all these plot lines is a return to more-or-less the status quo. Butcher’s gang, including Hughie, are no longer on the run but the Seven are still operating and the Vought Corporation is still manipulating things. Starlight is back in the Seven (as is A-Train after a side plot about a scientology like cult) and MM is reunited with his family. It’s so neat that it undermines a lot of the journey of the previous episode and also fits with the depressing cynicism of the show: you can try to change things but you won’t get anywhere.

I’ll leave out the other big twist because I want to see where that goes in Season 3 (assuming there is one). The wrapping up feels like the writers were unclear if there would be another season and hence wanted an ending that was sort of happy for the characters but left the show’s basic premise intact for an as yet unwritten season 3.

So, better than season 1 and a better use of the premise but an odd final conclusion.

9 thoughts on “Review: The Boys Season 2 (Amazon)

  1. I know it’s almost certainly unfair to the show because they’ve changed a lot, but I just can’t bring myself to watch it because I can’t stand Garth Ennis so much. There was a time when I tolerated the bad stuff because the good stuff was so good from him, but those days are long passed. Kind of like Frank Miller.

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      1. Same here. Garth Ennis’ work always had its share of irritants, but for a while it was possible to ignore the irritating stuff e.g. in Preacher, because the rest was so good. But unlike many other rockstar comic writers, Ennis never outgrew the irritations.

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  2. Well, I will probably end up watching it and I’ll probably feel similarly to you. After agreeing with your last review I did go ahead and write a brief one of my own but there wasn’t much more to say. If it’s at least slightly different then I’m curious. I can’t imagine it will annoy me much more than the part of The Invisibles I’m rereading right now.

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    1. I think my resistance to it has been increased by the fact that whenever I bring up Amazon Prime in order to watch some more Schitt’s Creek, their home page seems to feel very, very, very, very strongly that what I really want to watch is season 2 of The Boys, so much so that I started talking back to it.

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  3. Four episodes in: yeah, OK, this is definitely somewhat better than before. The plotting continues to be bizarrely stupid for a show that clearly has some writers capable of good things; as soon as I try to think things through like “How the hell did the group get back to base after the apartment attack, while still drenched in blood? And where was that supposed to have happened anyway?” or “How come Vought’s huge surveillance department apparently hasn’t made any effort to find Butcher until Black Noir goes there and threatens a random employee?” or “Why do Frenchie and MM keep following Butcher AT ALL?”, I get so annoyed that I start to worry I’m turning into one of those “50 Worst Plot Holes” guys. And the social commentary still feels awfully strained— I don’t know how much of this is in the show, and how much is just that I’m annoyed with critics claiming that “fanatically worshipping superheroes and megacorporations is a societal harm” is an insightful message (people going to see Marvel movies, or buying iPhones or whatever, doesn’t mean they’re “fanatically worshipping” anything), but to me most of the satire in this at the level of “yeah, that’s a really good imitation of the style of a smarmy PR event, those sure are fake, good job.” They are really good at reproducing the style of those things(*), but that’s only entertaining up to a point.

    (* And I like how detail-oriented they are. One of the background jokes that might not register for non-US viewers: at the “party supplies” warehouse where Butcher tries to shoot Kimiko’s brother, there are a bunch of those Halloween costumes that are almost exactly imitating a trademarked property but with a perfunctory slight change in the name, so the Homelander outfit is labeled “Home Defender”.)

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    1. It is unsubtle but in being unsubtle it fits nicely with 2020. The biggest plot hole is why everybody can’t see that Vought’s superheroes are the baddies — which isn’t a plot hole at all.

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      1. I don’t think I was complaining about unsubtleness, which is something I’m fine with in general. just don’t see the point in devoting such a huge amount of the energy and panache of the show to stuff that’s so extremely repetitive (yet another Vought PR event), and promoting it as if the idea that superpowered people and corporations could be corrupt and careless and cause a lot of destruction is a bold new idea, rather than a premise that’s been thoroughly explored many times including in many of the blockbuster films they’re allegedly satirizing. It comes at the expense of letting the character stuff, which they really are good at a lot of the time and which IMO had the potential to make this more of a distinctive thing, limp along with the slowest possible development while rehashing the same few types of conflicts. Having watched 9 or 10 seasons of Supernatural, a show I often enjoyed, I feel like this is in character for Kripke.

        I would also disagree that “the biggest plot hole is why everybody can’t see that Vought’s superheroes are the baddies”, except you’ve already pre-disagreed with it for me: indeed, it’d be silly to call something a “plot hole” when it’s the entire setup without which there wouldn’t be a story. I’m more annoyed by the kind of lazy writing decisions that, to me, undermine the possibility of having a suspenseful story because they make it obvious that both sides of the conflict will always be exactly as powerful or as stupid at any moment as is required to let the writers keep reusing the same types of predictable scenes that they like to write: Butcher keeps acting like the most arrogant dumb shit in the world without the slightest attempt to give his crew any reason to trust him, and they make the smallest possible gestures of defiance; Hughie and Starlight can keep meeting in secret because Vought apparently has no ability to do basic surveillance on someone they strongly suspect of being a traitor; etc. They pull this stuff again and again and it gets to feeling like an insult, like they’re saying “We know you’re just here to see some cool gory effects and bad-boy attitude. You won’t really care if there’s a story or if it makes sense, so we won’t really try. See, we’re proving our point that corporate entertainment is shallow and people are suckers!”

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  4. Finished it. Yeah, I see what you mean about the requisite cynicism, especially with that final twist.

    Really strong acting and directing and effects, with wildly uneven writing, as before. Two high points where the show surprised me in entertaining ways: the mayhem at the asylum (even though it doesn’t make much sense to me in hindsight, due to that character having such extreme powers that blowing an accidental hole in the wall shouldn’t have made such a difference), and the moment when Hughie finally finds out what Lamplighter’s actual plan was.

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