Isobel Roach reviews the second season of Amazon Prime original The Boys, as the themes of power and corruption continue to be served up with plenty of violence and comedy.
Seeing the familiar trigger warnings – violence, profanity, sexual content – at the beginning of the first new episode of Eric Kripke’s twisted superhero romp feels like coming home. The Boys are back, and just in time for a US election fronted by a blonde-haired, power-crazy megalomaniac. Eerily similar to the real-life events of 2020, season two sees the golden boy of Vought Industries – the frustratingly invulnerable and completely terrifying Homelander (Antony Starr) – attempt to garner favour with an alt-right audience. Kripke handles this new storyline with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, showing us the hideous real-world ramifications of hate speech and targeted social media campaigns.
The show’s second season smoothly continues its dark allegory of idol worship, power and corruption, but there’s room for nuance here too. Whilst season one revelled in showing us the grim pursuits of The Seven – not limited to voyeurism, superhero steroids and fatal sexual encounters – this new instalment allows its heroes a surprising amount of sympathy. The fastest man alive A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) and disgraced aquatic hero The Deep (Chace Crawford) embark on half-hearted journeys of redemption, whilst Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) gets to shine with a more prominent role in the storyline. Series newcomer Aya Cash is brilliant as Stormfront – the latest addition to The Seven, whose dark charisma disrupts the status quo. Kripke and his writer’s room never disappoint when it comes to character; in The Boys, no one is who you think they are. There are layers of depth, mystery and complexity to even the most insignificant of characters – as well as the stars of the show. Occupying a moral grey area in a world packed with comic-book violence and gore, no group of characters better represent this than the titular Boys themselves. This season gives us a more nuanced look at the bond between Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and Hughie (Jack Quaid), serving to humanise the otherwise coarse team leader.
As ever, there’s a wonderful balance of humour in The Boys. Kripke understands that even the darkest and bloodiest of stories benefit from moments of light comic relief. Jokes and camaraderie are the beating heart of Butcher’s makeshift team-come-family, and it’s impossible to watch the season without feeling a fondness for the ragtag vigilante group. On the other end of the spectrum, Tarantino-style violence (think exploding heads and crushed skulls) can come across as a tad heavy-handed at the worst of times. But this is part of the experience of watching The Boys. There’s an understanding of sorts between viewer and creator that things will turn ugly; there will be sex, there will be death there will be an extremely high usage of the C-word. And besides, the show has earned a certain amount of liberty with gratuitous profanity. The Boys is sincere when it matters most; violence comes with its consequences, and it’s in these quiet and devastating moments that the show comes alive. The odds might be insurmountable for Hughie, Butcher and their team of misfits, but it’s their resilient humanity – flaws included – that continues to win over viewers.
With the premiere of season two breaking viewership records for Amazon Prime Original titles (enough to rival streaming giant Netflix), it’s clear that The Boys is resonating with a huge, global audience. Its clever mix of timely cultural commentary and pure escapism has struck a chord; perhaps it isn’t surprising that an action-packed superhero romp has done so well with a house-ridden captive audience desperate for an entertaining distraction. But the pandemic might prove both a blessing and a curse for The Boys – Kripke and executive producer Seth Rogen have acknowledged that the filming of season three could suffer setbacks due to COVID-19. This is a storm that can certainly be weathered, though, since the show has already won over a loyal and devoted fan base that will likely wait for an elusive third instalment. With the future so unpredictable, one thing remains certain; The Boys are here to stay.
Season two of The Boys is available to stream on Amazon Prime now. (Be aware of subscription costs)
Isobel Roach has contributed to Wales Arts Review before.