As Amazon Prime’s The Boys geared up for a second round, the show faced steep, self-set expectations after making such an unapologetic, ultra-violent, and hyper-sexual debut. Where, exactly, does one go after nailing balls to the wall? Figuratively, I mean. Thank god they didn’t literally do that, but there’s always room in the already-renewed third season. Seriously though, the first batch of episodes burst out of the gate with so much momentum while adapting Garth Ennis’ comic book series and skewering superhero culture, that I genuinely wondered how it could, you know, maintain. If a followup was mostly gonna be about “more blood” and “more profanity,” that’d grow dull and desensitizing pretty fast. Sure, the show would retain some eyeballs, but there’s no reason to turn the show into a live-action-cartoon-esque thing in order to be more daring. It was time to shift into an additional gear.
Fortunately for all involved, showrunner Eric Kripke (along with executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) has injected a shocking amount of depth, in appropriate and believable places, so Season 2 feels more multi-dimensional. The stories behind that spectacle are more engrossing, but there’s no downshift in graphic content. So yes, more gore, and my god, the sound team overdid themselves to emphasize visceral detail. And we get to see more of the vigilante group called The Boys (now fugitives) acting broody with Billy Butcher (Kyle Urban) marching around all gruff-like and Hughie (Jack Quaid) losing his sh*t because that’s a large part of the show’s appeal.
Yet we already knew about The Boys’ trauma and why they raged so hard; we’ve seen, in disgusting detail, why Hughie was an easy recruit for Butcher’s vengeance-cause, but we haven’t yet seen enough of the inner turmoil of Supes, and how they’ll attempt to recover from season one fallout as a f*cked-up, reprehensible bunch, as well as their continued maneuvering as corporate propaganda.
There’s the anchoring point in season two, and boy, is it a welcome turn. The Supes gain more dimension within individual characters, yet the show still maintains an ultra-cynical look at superhero culture because of all the Vought International business. They’re still monetizing those superpowers in almost absurd ways, and the Compound V controversy blows up, but it’s not beaten into the ground. And that’s alright, preferable even. Moviegoers aren’t moviegoers at the moment, so people aren’t feeling superhero burnout much at all right now. We don’t need to kick Supes in the nuts too hard this year. Instead, we can enjoy witnessing more of the The Seven’s inner dynamics, which are a delight to explore. As it turns out, many are more than a little bit traumatized by what went down last year, and sloshing through the mess that Homelander made.
Yeah, so about that guy. What’s particularly entrancing is how Homelander (Antony Starr) continues to be the show’s biggest (and most magnetic) time bomb. A lot of his darkness emerged last year: whatever he did to Butcher’s wife; murdering his mother figure; botching the Flight 37 rescue; and so on. He’s still the most compelling character on the show, and I’m beyond amazed that the writers continue to successfully mine the depths of his depravity, and how Starr is perfectly game to drive those acts home. Getting into this guy’s super-sick head can’t be a simple process, and yet, Starr simply brings that creeping sense of dread and the unsettling air of danger behind that smile.
Meanwhile, nearly every other Supe is dodging his sadistic ways. Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) can’t cope with the sheer evil that he’s seen him commit, and he’s practically hunting Starlight (Erin Moriarty). Meanwhile, Butcher is hunting Homelander, and clearly, the whole world revolves around the guy.
That is, except for The Seven’s newcomer, Stormfront (Aya Cash). It’s rare to see such an injection of unparalleled upheaval from a previously unknown character, but boy, does she mess up the (already tenuous) equilibrium of the Supes. She’s more than a wild card; she’s a molotov cocktail. And she’s doing some horrible, god-awful things. Yet her ability to get under Homelander’s skin is what makes her fascinating on a whole other level. And in opposite-land, The Deep (Chace Crawford), is (at least) keeping his pants on this year, which is more progress than expected, and Crawford probably relished the chance get down and dirty while running his character through therapy. He takes a decent stab at redemption, and you might be here for it.
My verdict here is simple enough: The Boys is still very, very funny, and very, very shocking, and often funny and shocking at the same time. In other words, you’ll still sometimes feel bad about what you’re laughing at. Yet the most impressive part of the show — that the violence and sex and profanity do not exist for the sheer sake of those things — has grown even stronger during the sophomore season. Yes, those things are amplified this year, but so is every emotional aspect of the show that grounds the spectacle and keeps it from flying away and jumping the, uh, dolphin. It’s a triumphant return and a damn fine slice of storytelling.
Amazon Prime’s ‘The Boys’ premieres Season 2 with three episodes on September 4, with episodes to follow every Friday.