When Amazon's The Boys debuted last summer, many expected the series to be the typical ho-hum superhero comic book adaptation: juiced-up muscles, tragic backstories, and a team of underdogs who could really win the day and uplift your spirits. But The Boys Season 1 was much, much more. The vigilante tale turned TV's superhero genre on its head by spinning out a story that was not only full of entertaining shock value -- viewers will always have the image of Translucent's (Alex Hassell) exploding internal cavities burned into their retinas -- but also grounded in three-dimensional characters whose powers made it hard for them to tell the difference between justice and revenge. The wild first season felt impossible to top, but the second season of The Boys, the first three episodes of which are now streaming on Amazon Prime, does just that.
The Boys deftly avoids a sophomore slump by refusing to rest on its laurels. The fans now know to expect the most batsh-- experience possible, so Season 2 balances out scenes like Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) driving a speedboat through a whale carcass by doubling down on each character's emotional growth. (There is in fact an astonishing scene where Billy Butcher apologizes and means it.) What seems in theory like an intuitive path for the narrative to take actually creates surprising opportunities for the series to really dig into the systemic hypocrisies set up in Season 1.
For example, Kimiko's (Karen Fukuhara) understanding of her powers fundamentally shifts when she encounters members of the Shining Light Liberation Army, the group that held her captive and tortured her as a child. At first the storyline seems like an amazing personal journey for the character, until the series uses it as a jumping off point to question American nationalism, the country's thirst for international dominance, and cultural as well as armed colonization. A cat-and-mouse game between A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) at first seems like a personal battle over supe allegiances but turns into an extremely relevant conversation about race and the kinds of minorities who are allowed to succeed in white institutions. The Deep (Chase Crawford) finds religion, and the series uses that as a device to question the sincerity of men on a #MeToo apology tour.
Perhaps the most compelling shift in character dynamics in Season 2, however, is between Hughie (Jack Quaid), Butcher, and the boys. In Season 2, Hughie has backbone. Granted, it springs from depression and the need to prove to himself that he has something worthwhile and good to contribute to the world after the catastrophic fallout of the Season 1 finale, but it's there nonetheless. When he and Butcher inevitably meet again, Hughie pushes back time and time again until the rest of the boys start to question whether they really want to follow Butcher blindly into another mess. The fallout of this struggle leads to a more open Butcher. Let me clarify: This is not a more sensitive or emotionally intuitive Butcher -- Karl Urban is still doing his best to unsettle everyone watching the series -- but it is a Butcher who acknowledges he needs help on occasion. (Of course, this is still The Boys; just because the characters are beginning to understand more about themselves doesn't mean they're setting themselves up for anything but failure.)
As if these shifting dynamics weren't enough to turn the season into an unpredictable journey, showrunner Eric Kripke throws some brand new characters into the mix. Homelander (Antony Starr) has two new enemies to battle: Vought CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) and Stormfront (Aya Cash). Esposito delivers a pitch perfect performance as the menacing (but non-powered) executive who now holds Homelander's leash -- and isn't afraid to remind him of that fact. The simmering machinations of Stan Edgar give fans a window into the perversions of capitalism. In one of the most terrifying confrontations of the season, he tells Homelander that Vought isn't a superhero company, it's a pharmaceutical company. Supes, along with the supposedly good deeds they do, are just the advertising.
But to Homelander, Stormfront is the bigger threat. It's a foolish thought but an understandable one, given that the newest member of the Seven walks onto the team in a blitz of social media-fueled cockiness and charm and immediately steals the spotlight from the team's leader. What she does to get there is more horrifying than -- OK, that's debatable, but at least as horrifying as -- what fans have seen Homelander do in the series. Cash steals every scene she's in with just the right amount of chaotic aggression. The former You're the Worst star is truly the standout of the season.
Season 2 of The Boys makes it extremely clear why Amazon has already picked up the series for Season 3. Between Billy Joel singalongs during car trips, even more f---ed up sex scenes than Popclaw and her landlord, and gut-wrenching moments like a teenage boy fighting back against his Compound V-fueled abusive father, The Boys Season 2 will make you laugh, cry, and throw up all at the same time. Unfortunately you won't be able to binge it all at once -- the first three episodes drop on Sept. 4 and the remaining five will air weekly -- but consider it appointment viewing. What's a better way to spend a pandemic than watching a show that feels as insane as we do?
TV Guide Rating: 4.5/5
The first three episodes of The Boys Season 2 are now streaming on Amazon Prime.