I’m going to be honest and say I hadn’t seen any of “The Boys” until September when a good friend recommended it to me. The day after he told me I should check it out, I watched the first episode.Then the second. And then it only seemed right to watch the third. Within four days I had blown through the first season and half and was eagerly awaiting the next episode’s release on Amazon Prime Video.
The series follows Hugh, a young man whose girlfriend is accidentally killed by a superhero. Instead of taking a settlement in exchange for silence, Hugh falls in with an assorted group of victims of superheroes led by the tortured and snide Billy Butcher.
Hugh soon realizes that superheroes killing and wreaking havoc is much more widespread than he thought and joins Butcher’s crew to help stop the bloodshed superheroes, or “supes” as the crew calls them, cause. Together they kidnap, blackmail and kill to chip away at the hegemonic power and influence supes have in society. Along the way, Hugh falls in love with a rookie supe named Annie, who later works with the crew as an inside agent.
A lot about it drew me in right away. Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty’s affable and grounded Hugh and Annie kept me invested in their stories both individually and as an on-again off-again couple. Karl Urban’s charismatic cynicism as Billy Butcher and his washed up rocker wardrobe that provide an excellent foil as to the bright-eyed, hopeful pair.
As I binged into the second season though, I knew something deeper was keeping me coming back for more. It wasn’t superficial or fan-service like so many superhero shows or movies. Indeed it bills itself as something of a “not your parents’ superhero show.” It made an effort to cut through the bullshit. “The Boys” is so compelling because it perfectly reflects some of the issues in our politics, in media and in our society as a whole.
In season two, the rag tag group of antiheroes takes the fight directly to Vought, the corporate conglomerate that employs the supes and enables their sociopathic behavior. They try to work within the legal system and the government to finally hold Vought and the supes accountable for their atrocities.
Hugh and his friends are working against all odds to fight a gargantuan corporate monster. A conglomerate that has gathered so much wealth and influence that they are above the law, that they can cause untold suffering for profit with no consequence. They are fighting the very people their society idolizes and trusts to protect them.
In most classic old westerns, there were good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats, but it’s not so simple anymore. With more and more people protesting rampant police violence and corruption, with a growing distrust in our government, politicians and institutions, it’s harder to easily sort out those white hats and black hats. “The Boy’s” supes embody this crisis of confidence in authority.
The supes are politically motivated, corrupt, sexually predatory and amoral; all the qualities in our institutional and authority figures that have caused recent backlash in the form of protests and the #MeToo movement. The larger than life figures in the real world (senators, presidents, news anchors and movie stars) have proven that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“The Boys” took this message and cheekily made it literal. Supes feel they are above the law because everything in society tells them they are. In the show, the supes have fanatical supporters who openly advocate for the supes to have unchecked power for the sake of safety and law and order.
This reflects a growing authoritarian vein in our own politics where some Americans cheer the rough, bordering on violent, rhetoric of the president; wanting a strong man to take care of everything, any means necessary.
The sociopathic supe is summed up perfectly in Anthony Starr’s character Homelander. Homelander is a racist, sadistic, egomaniacal version of Captain America who stokes the fears of his supporters while promising that he is the only one who could possibly protect them, much in the style of a fascist strong man.
Homelander is complemented in season two by his latest flame, Stormfront. Stormfront is a media darling who uses social media to stoke fear and anger in a positively trumpian fashion. She makes the fascistic intentions of at least some of the supes clear when it is revealed she is gifted with perpetual youth and is actually the wife of Vought’s zealous nazi founder.
Season two wraps up the gang’s quest to hold Vought and the supes accountable perfectly. After gathering enough evidence to trigger congressional hearings on Vought and their criminal activities, Hugh and even Billy feel things are looking up. The hearings are called to order when all of the sudden several congress members’ heads explode at the hands of an unknown supe, preemptively adjourning the hearing in a bath of blood.
This final lesson of season two rings clear. If they can, fascists won’t just submit to a legal hearing to be shut down. By virtue of being fascists, they will achieve authoritarian power by any means necessary.
In his testimony in the Nuremberg trials, the top surviving Nazi Party official, Hermann Goering, bragged that established liberal politicians will just keep calling hearings and issuing reports all the way to a concentration camp. A somber warning for the future of our political moment considering how prescient the series has been so far.
Philip is a junior studying Journalism. Read more of his work here.