The Boys season 2 review: Amazon Prime series gets audaciously political, but lacks the snark
The follow-up season of The Boys is as gratuitous with blood-splattering, viscera gouging and skull-smashing as it gets, but it slides into a bit of a sophomore slump as the signature snark and dark humour of the first season gives way to more ultra-violence.
When the first season of Amazon Prime Video Original series The Boys launched in 2019, it triumphantly bulldozed through the clutter of superhero content to offer an acerbic satire on abuse of power. The deliciously diabolical show gave a ringside view of the superhero life, uncovering every nasty little secret The Seven, a supergroup of costumed demi-gods managed by the sinister megacorporation Vought International, neatly rolled up in their billowing capes. From corporate malfeasance to workplace harassment, The Boys steadfastly ripped open the veneer of heroism to reveal the pounds of “collateral damage” that these purported heroes caused.
The show served as a wry commentary on the American notions of heroism and leadership through the epitomisation and the ubiquity of superhero icons in American pop culture — from breakfast cereals to TV screens.
The second season, which released on 4 September, already had the short end of the stick just by the virtue of it being the second season. The novelty of discovering the criminal sociopaths behind the carefully stage-managed American sweetheart “supes” is gone; the expectations are sky-high. What could the makers possibly do to up the ante in the follow-up to a near-perfect inaugural instalment?
Not quite as much, as it turns out.
Make no mistake, the second season of The Boys is as unrelentingly ruthless and gratuitous with blood-splattering, viscera gouging and skull-smashing as it gets. Unfortunately, the show slides into a bit of a sophomore slump as the signature snark and dark humour of the first season — much of it delivered through the foul-mouthed Billy Butcher’s (Karl Urban) dismissal of Hughie’s (Jack Quaid) ways — gives way to more ultra-violence. Further, countless subplots somewhat dull the thrill of the hairpin turns.
The second season picks up from where the first season left off. Billy, accused of murdering Vought vice president Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), is off the radar as the rest of his vigilante troupe – Hughie, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) scramble to stay alive. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), their supe assassin ally with a penchant for ripping faces off, starts to learn English. Starlight (Erin Moriarty) covertly tries to find ways to leak the highly classified information on the genesis of supes – that they are not divine beings, but created inside labs using synthetic steroid Compound V – with A-Train in tow. Deep (Chace Crawford), ousted from The Seven on charges of sexual assault, struggles to come to terms with his own insecurities. Once an idealist, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) now bows down to corporate machinations as they commodify her sexual identity.
There’s decidedly a lot happening this time. Having said that, even with too many subplots, season two manages to sustain audience attention. In between juggling its myriad storylines, the show does is spare enough time to develop every primary character. Homelander’s (Antony Starr) Oedipus Complex and his tenderness towards the son he fathered with Billy’s presumed-dead wife is explained through his backstory. In a rare vulnerable moment, Homelander opens up to his son about how, as a laboratory-born child, he never got an opportunity to play baseball with his father, or the acute loneliness of growing up with everyone around too scared to interact with him.
Likewise, Starlight’s unresolved issues with her mother, Maeve’s romantic life, Frenchie’s one-sided adoration of Kimiko, Butcher’s relationship with his parents and his estranged wife Rebecca (Shantel VanSanten) also find prominence.
This time, the chief antagonist is Stormfront (Aya Cash), a super-powered neo-Nazi on an ethnic cleansing mission. Unsurprisingly, her partner-in-crime is the fame-ravenous megalomaniac Homelander, “the guy who has the American flag for a cape” and believes “freedom comes at a price.”
Where the first season scratched the surface into racial profiling in the US with A-Train, the only Black supe of The Seven, this instalment uses fiction as a metaphor of current American politics, white supremacy and systemic racism against non-whites in the US– and the creators make absolutely no qualms about cushioning the blow. In a ratty exchange between Billy and the enigmatic Vought CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), the latter explains why he continues to back the “racist bitch” Stormfront despite himself being Black.
“I can’t lash out like some raging, entitled maniac. That’s a white man’s luxury.”
“So, it’s just business, then?”
“When, Mr Butcher, in history, has it ever been about anything else?”
It’s outrageously unapologetic, but the narrative often tends to overexplain in an attempt to make its message heard.
Unlike the consciously messy first season, the second one is definitive in its portrayal of the good versus the evil. The makers leave no room for empathy for any of the bad guys. Therefore, they promote possession of firearms, manufacture supervillains to demonstrate credibility and blow off the eardrums of “cripple” younger supes considered unworthy of joining The Seven. The bad are absolutely, irrevocably bad, and the Robin Hoods swiftly lose their mischievous outlaw edge to come to represent the moral centre; the story spoon-feeds to a point of exhaustion about where your loyalties should lie.
If you’re wondering what, in fact, the show retains from its original season, it is its persistent throwback to iconic music during key scenes. And it’s safe to say that it is the phenomenal soundtrack (Billy Joel’s 'Pressure,' 'You’re Only Human,' The Turtles’ 'Happy Together,' The Rolling Stones’ 'Sympathy for the Devil') that lends this season much of its unabashed coolth.
What it lacks in razzmatazz is made up for to quite an extent by its wholesomeness. Now here’s something you’d not have thunk would be associated with the show. It urges you to hang in there, even when the going gets immensely tough because "if you jump ship, and let the assholes steer, then you're part of the problem." It's pretty simple, really, as Billy puts it, "Don't be a cunt." And what’s to say, this reviewer is a sucker for positive reinforcement.
The first three episodes of The Boys season 2 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Following episodes will be released weekly, every Friday.
(All images from YouTube)
Watch the trailer here
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