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A behind the scenes close-up of a puppet with a shocked expression on his orange face from the Prime Video series Gen V Photo: Colin Penman/Prime Video

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Gen V’s puppet massacre was ‘a puppeteer’s dream’

This is how you stage a puppet massacre

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

It was always going to be safe to guess Gen V would end in a massacre. Much like The Boys, the Prime Video college-set spinoff has never shied away from violence, but it has been exceptionally creative in how it presents that violence. Case in point: the puppet massacre in episode 5, a season highlight that’s both one of the funniest moments on the series and the most horrifying.

Much of Gen V’s plot revolves around the disappearance of Sam Riordan (Asa Germann), an incredibly powerful young superhuman and kid brother to prize student Luke Riordan/Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Early on in the season, protagonist Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair) and her friends discover Sam has been kept in “The Woods,” a secret facility beneath Godolkin University where supe students are abducted and experimented on. When Sam escapes, it becomes terrifyingly clear that he’s not well, and Marie and her friends struggle to both help him and keep him from doing anything destructive.

Unfortunately, in “Welcome to the Monster Club,” Gen V’s fifth episode, the people running The Woods catch up with him — not that it does them any good. Sam slaughters them all, but instead of a regular fight scene, we see things from Sam’s perspective, rendering the moment in brutal puppet combat.

“This kind of job is a puppeteer’s dream,” says makeup and prosthetics head Colin Penman in a Zoom interview. Penman is usually responsible for Gen V’s non-puppet prop needs, like giant dicks or ears, but he also has a history of working with puppets. And while his career has taken him more toward makeup and prosthetics, Penman relished the chance to build people out of felt and do horrible, horrible things to them.

“Usually, puppets are for television aimed at a younger audience — and believe me, when when you’re puppeteering on a show like that, and the cameras turn off, what the puppets do off-camera is X-rated at best,” Penman says. “So when this came around, it was like, Oh, yeah, we finally get to do everything we’ve done all along when the cameras aren’t rolling.”

Sam reads a comic book while imprisoned in The Woods in the Prime Video series Gen V Photo: Brooke Palmer/Prime Video

The spectacle Penman and his team devised is equal parts technically impressive, hilarious, and deeply troubling. The Gen V prop team assembled two versions of every puppet — one for “hero shots” where they appear whole, and another for dismembering. The puppet for Sam was then given “live hands,” which means a puppeteer’s actual hands animate the puppet’s hands like a glove, as opposed to just moving them with rods. Think Swedish Chef, not Gonzo.

Except, you know, the Swedish Chef is ripping off a dude’s arm and shoving it into his mouth — which, according to Penman, was the hardest puppet murder to execute. But every puppet kill was an intricate dance.

“We had a crew of six puppeteers on the floor, and each puppet had one puppeteer for the main things they were doing. Except Sam, Sam was two puppeteers operating,” Penman says. “And then there’s about four involved in each kill just to pull things in certain directions or make things go where they had to go.”

A behind the scenes lineup of puppets in various states of dismemberment and pain from the Prime Video series Gen V. Photo: Colin Penman/Prime Video

Those “things” are the darkly funny details of the massacre: the fabric entrails, the crocheted “brain,” the bags of glitter that stand in for blood, and the popcorn that represented bullets fired from puppet assault rifles.

It’s tremendous fun, and while the narrative implications are definitely unsettling — and unresolved, but hey, season 2 is on the way — it looks like a blast to pull off. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Penman and his team flex their puppet mayhem in even more twisted ways when Gen V returns. It’s definitely the work he’s most proud of.

“It was about 15 puppets in total in a very short timeline,” Penman says. “And all the costuming and all the finishing work — just crazy amounts of work, in such a short time. I think that’s probably what I’m most proud of, just how awesome it all worked and how quickly we did that.”