The greatest superpower may very well be an individual's ability to turn a phrase. Simply put, words have power. When these are deceitful, hateful words masked by vague banalities of danger, they have the potential to galvanize society, spurring violent movements under the pretense of a culture war.
This statement could easily describe the US in this, the year of our Lord, 2020. Anti-cultural and divisive rhetoric divide society as the country's highest political official unabashedly bullies others for the sake of Twitter followers, subsequently empowering alternative right-wing groups to take action to defend their way of life. It just so happens to be a statement that also defines much of season two of Amazon Prime's hit series, The Boys.
Throughout the show's first season, creator Eric Kripke sought out to illustrate the corrupting nature of power and revenge against the backdrop of a world in love with Superheroes. In season two, Kripke drew inspiration from reality, focusing on a narrative that shines a light on the social and racial divide driven by the consumption of false facts through mass media. What results is an engrossingly diabolical story that feels all too real for comfort.
Season two finds our merry band of Supe hunters hiding in the basement of a pawn shop in New York City, framed for the murder of Madelyn Stillwell (Elizabeth Shue). Throughout the season, the Boys team up with Congressional Representative Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumitt) and former CIA deputy director Grace Mallory (Laila Robbins) as they seek to clear their names by bringing down Vaught International.
As should be expected, things are never easy for the Boys. The newest member of the Seven, Stormfront (Aya Cash), proves to be a sharp thorn in the side of the group. On top of this, Butcher is still reeling from the news that his wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanten), is alive and well, raising Homelandeer's son. It's honestly enough to make your head explode, which presents another problem for the Boys as a mysterious Supe continues to secretly make their presence felt by blowing up the heads of their victims.
The unexpectedly jarring images of headless bodies are a reminder of the show's trademark hyper-violence. The show isn't afraid to push the envelope, quickly developing a reputation for its grisly action. Kripke and the writers up the ante throughout season two, providing some of the most violent scenes in the show's history. There is a particularly gnarly scene featuring the Boys, the Deep, and a humpback whale that is equally humorous and gruesome.
While known for its violence, The Boys also sports some of the most nuanced characters on television today. Season two spent a great deal of time slowing down the pace to unpack backstory. Mother's Milk, Frenchie, and the Female chew up more of the screen time this season, digging into their character's history. It is nice to see the show letting its supporting characters shine more.
This focus on character, though, benefits Cash's Stormfront the most. A male Nazi zealot in the comics, Stormfront is re-imagined in the show as a social media savvy female with a secretive past. The show takes a slow-burn approach to the character, peeling back more and more layers as the season progresses. Cash's performance is unnervingly charismatic. Few can match the sadistic energy that Anthony Starr's Homelander brings to the screen, but Cash more than holds her own. Stormfront exudes confidence, sporting a shit-eating attitude that almost makes her strangely likable at first. By the time the writers reveal her true motivations, though, there is little doubt that Stormfront is as terrifying as she is bewitching.
Of course, you cannot talk about The Boys without talking about standout Homelander. Starr continues to be the MVP of the series. His odyssey into fatherhood was a fun twist for season two, a hilarious failure that proved the cold and calculated Supe is incapable of any real empathy. More importantly, Homelander's control of the Seven began to unravel as Stormfront managed to seduce him with her alternative views. Heading into season three, he doesn't have control of the Seven anymore, and one has to wonder if we will see an unhinged Homelander when the show returns.
The rest of the cast is good here as well, even if they don't stand out as much as Cash and Starr. Butcher (Karl Urban) is his usual crotchety self as he learns to accept the son of the woman he loves. The Deep (Chance Crawford) also has some fun moments as he looks to regain favor with Vaught and the Seven. Unfortunately, Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Starlight (Erin Moriarity) feel like a bit of an afterthought the season. While their partnership in bringing down Vaught was a central part of the narrative, their inclusion in it didn't feel as vital as it should have at times. Hopefully, they get more to do in season three.
Overall, season two succeeds far more than it fails. Its greatest weapon is our reality, pulling storylines straight from real-world headlines. In a lot of ways, this choice created a sense of realism throughout, a sad fact for society considering the depravity of character and action The Boys often sports.
"You don't need 50 million people to love you," Stormfront says to an angry Homelander, "you need five million people fucking pissed off. Emotion sales. Anger sales. You have fans. I have soldiers".
No exchange of dialogue better expresses the season's overarching themes. Fringe diplomacy that gives a voice to a small minority with outdated opinions has come to dominate society. Kripke and company don't pull their punches addressing this, fearlessly attacking these very systems of manipulative politics that lend themselves to dangerous and unpopular ideals spreading like a virus.
The show's message could have easily felt self-righteous, but Kripke handles the story delicately. His focus on character helps him walk this tight rope, giving audiences a real reason to care about what he has to say. More importantly, the story left me feeling anxious to watch the next episode in hopes that those who manipulate the system finally get their comeuppance. And when they do, it is ever so satisfying.
In true Boys fashion, though, the writers pull the rug out from under the audience's feet with a last-second reveal that is quite shocking. I won't go into detail, but it is a game-changing revelation. Based on the ending of the season, the show seems to be heading toward a bit of a retooling as several characters have new directions. While not a full-blown revamp, it appears the status quo is about to be shaken up.