How 'The Boys' Ratchets Up the Mayhem in Season 2
The supes are back. We talked to showrunner Eric Kripke and series cast members about what to expect.
Now that the first three episodes of The Boys Season 2 are up on Amazon Prime, and more on the way weekly, showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Timeless) wants to remind you that this is isn't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill comic-book show. As Billy Butcher would say, "It's f*cking diabolical."
Stemming from the strong comic book foundation co-creators Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson originally built back in 2006, the program explores an alternate reality where a famous group of superheroes, known as The Seven, fight crime and protect the world from evil. They're also global celebrities who put publicity and branding first, starring in big-budget action flicks and peddling products to the masses, all while pretending that they're here to uphold truth, justice, and the American way. Underneath the Avengers-like veneer, though, they're a dysfunctional crew of truly awful people.
What went down in Season 1
Season 1 introduced us to this world, and the players in it, and acted as a disrupter of sorts to the oversaturated realm of comic book-inspired entertainment. Our unlikely heroes (aka the Boys), led by Karl Urban's self-destructive, constantly smirking Billy Butcher, came in as an unexpected reckoning to the collective wrecking ball that is this crew of crooked caped crusaders. Throughout the first installment of the series, it was pretty evident that Butcher and his gang -- Hughie (Jack Quaid), Frenchie (Tomer Kapon), Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso), and in later episodes, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) -- had one thing on their minds: killing all "supes." They all had their reasons, but our entry-point into this story was Hughie, whose girlfriend was torn to bits by an amped-up A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) as he sped through town, without a care of what (or who) was destroyed in his path.
It's here that the show planted the first seeds of its ongoing themes of trauma, grief, closure, and the constant need for connection along the way. The unexpected love connection that blossomed between Hughie and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) not only gave viewers an emotionally grounded component to follow, the whole romance threw one huge wrench into the Boys' plan. How exactly were they going to bring down The Seven, if Hughie was secretly sharing naked time with its newest member? Oh, the drama.
As it turned out, though, Starlight wasn't at all the one to be worried about. As pretty much the only member of the crew with a sturdy moral compass, she became their connection to getting inside the big corporate beast known as Vought Industries. And when they discovered the existence of Compound-V (the drug the company secretly used to turn infants into superheroes), things really took a chaotic turn for the gang. So much so, that Starlight was viewed as a possible mole, A-Train had a fatal-looking heart attack due to his addiction to the drug, and the Boys were pretty much marked as public enemy number one as they were driven underground.
It all comes back to loss, though. And the murder of Hughie's girlfriend seemed to mirror Butcher's loss, as we eventually found out that his wife Becca had been missing for years, leading everyone to come to the assumption that she was dead. Since all supes are bad, and Homelander (Antony Starr) was the American flag-cape wearing leader of The Seven -- a homicidal mashup of Captain America and Superman -- the blame for her demise was laid at his feet. But as the first season closed, it was revealed that Becca Butcher was not only alive and living in a secret location, she was raising her young son Ryan. And, alert the presses, Homelander was the father.
What's in store for Season 2
Butcher's mission to go out in a blaze of glory, and take his number one enemy with him, transformed into something else entirely. "First and foremost, it's [now] about rescuing his wife and that's what he sets out to do," Karl Urban explained to Thrillist during Amazon's virtual press junket for Season 2. "And really, the question is: How far is Butcher willing to go in order to achieve that goal?"
If the first season of The Boys was all about dissecting the tropes of the superhero genre, while putting a mirror up to its rabid, often toxic fandom, then this new season has positioned itself to pick apart the system that props up the one-percenters, the untouchable celebrities, and the leaders of influence that seek adoration and compliance. As William S. Burroughs once said, it's time to "smash the control images, smash the control machine."
This brings us back to Vought Industries, the megacorporation that offers Homelander and his associates a steady safety net of false accountability. The PR firm component to the company, which was previously led by his mommy figure and bizarre love interest Madelyn Stillwell (Elizabeth Shue) -- before Homelander shot lasers in her skull for keeping his son a secret -- helped maintain The Seven's public opinion. But as we learned, the company had a more sinister purpose.
Stillwell's ultimate plan in the first season was to use the drug to create super soldiers to bolster America's military and make it an invincible global power. She may be gone, but the move to mix the celebrity status of Homelander, A-Train, Starlight, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), and the rest with this political gambit still carries on. That was evident in Season 1, when Homelander and Maeve attempted to rescue an out-of-control airplane only to bail on the passengers and allow the aircraft to crash, turning the tragedy into a stunt that would further Vought's agenda of infiltrating the country's armed forces. The whole concept seems crazy -- and sure, this is still a show about psycho supes and their adoring fans -- but when you take a step back and really look at things, it's almost impossible not to see the similarities to real life. As Kripke put it, "the show, by luck, happens to be about the exact moment we're living in which is this blurred line between authoritarianism, fascism, and celebrity."
The introduction to Stormfront, the newest member of The Seven played by Aya Cash (You're the Worst), brings these issues to the surface even more as her character, inspired by her brooding, rugged, white-supremacist counterpart from the comics, adds an electricity (pun intended) to the new episodes. There's something refreshing about her entry into the series, as she brings a "smash the patriarchy" vibe to the proceedings, which is a bit appealing to Starlight. The girl's got an itch for disrupting the status quo and doing so live on the internet. "She's so media-savvy, and Homelander, being such an old dinosaur, doesn't think social media helps anything," Starr explained to Thrillist. "And then this very social media-savvy woman comes along and pushes all the buttons. It's very challenging for him."
As we learn towards the end of Episode 3, she's a bit of a blood-thirsty, unhinged racist, to boot. So if Butcher and his Boys are going to smash the control machine, that surely involves dismantling the deep-seated racism that props up Vought. Right there in the Season 2 premiere, the company's CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) admits to the megacorporation ties to Nazi Germany. (The concept that America would poach one of Hitler's scientists for our own profits isn't at all unbelievable, considering the fact that NASA did this exact thing during the space race with Operation Paper Clip.)
The Deep (Chace Crawford) adds some unexpected heart this season with his search for redemption, as he hits his rock bottom for countless instances of sexual harassment and assault -- most notably, his first-ever interaction with Starlight in Season 1. As the low-rent Aquaman works to find his way back into The Seven's good graces, he comes to his own moment of clarity. Who knew a fit, good-looking, merman would have body issues of his own? Leave it to a surprise cameo of Patton Oswalt as the voice of the man's gills, to help put him on his own path to healing.
It feels like a lot of responsibility sits in the lap of the show's creators and cast to follow the comic blueprints created by Ennis precisely. It helps that the series is on Amazon, where the characters can spew profanities and barrel at full speed into a dead whale's carcass, spreading bloody viscera everywhere, the comic book series regularly dabbles in what some have referred to as Deadpool territory. And sure, there is that sort-of over-the-top, ultraviolent, meta flavor to the program, but like Garth Ennis's previously adapted work Preacher, there is a whole cavalcade of thought-provoking issues being thrown at the viewers.
What made The Boys so successful in Season 1, aside from all of the components we mentioned above, were the organic ways in which each character -- supe or otherwise -- revealed their vulnerabilities. Hughie's loss and need to connect, Starlight's earnest fight to uphold her moral compass in the face of adversity, Butcher's undying need to destroy everything in order to fill the emptiness inside, Homelander's homicidal need for parental approval -- they're all relatable details that don't just make these characters unique but make us care about who they are and what they do. Yes, even Homelander.
It's sort of nuts to think that Season 2 is bigger, badder, and bloodier than the first season, but it definitely is and a big reason for that is the show's refined focus on its character development and where each person fits in the story. With so many moving parts, it's a wonder that all the pieces fit so well. But they do, and Amazon has already renewed the series for a third season -- with the exciting detail that Supernatural alum Jensen Ackles will step into the role of Soldier Boy.
The Boys' emotional foundation, like Supernatural's before it, is rooted heavily in the concept of family. Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Ackles) were part of an ad hoc crew of hunters that traveled the country hunting monsters and one could say Hughie and Butcher's rag-tag crew do the exact same thing. Kripke, who created both shows, acknowledges the connection.
"I love to write about families, related by blood or not," he said. "I'm really interested in the dynamics of families. As dark as some of my shade gets, I personally think that I'm, at the end of the day, a hopeful writer. And to me, that comes from family. That's where so much human decency and hope comes from. So I tend to always fall back on it, because that, to me, makes me like the characters whether they really do care about the family they're born into or however they create it."
The first three episodes of The Boys Season 2 are now streaming on Amazon Prime, with new episodes dropping weekly, thereafter.
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