Like a true comic book sequel, The Boys season 2, which premieres on Sept. 4 on Amazon Prime Video, doubles down on everything that worked the first time.
The clash between ex-CIA operative Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), his band of rogue agents, and the corporate superhero team known as “The Seven” is bloodier than ever. The megalomania of the Superman-esque Homelander (Antony Starr) has become fully radicalized by technofascism and the high of social media popularity. There are more supes — including the electricity-shooting, slur-spewing Stormfront (Aya Cash) — more espionage, more off-kilter romance for Starlight (Erin Moriarty) and Hughie (Jack Quaid), and more ways for the world to implode — which almost always causes something to explode.
On the surface, The Boys can look like a “twisted” take on endlessly repurposed comic book tropes, like the next step in the evolution of Deadpool and Suicide Squad. In truth, it’s a searing dissection of the ugly American timeline we’ve found ourselves in. In the same episode our heroes are gleefully launched through the side of a beached whale, spraying goopy organ meat every which way, showrunner Eric Kripke and his team of writers can interrogate the incendiary motives of Cool Brands That Tweet.
The show is a juggling act, and a miracle one, and somehow season 2 is even better than the first. But what is it getting at?
“The big question of what the series is about,” Kripke tells Polygon, “is where the lines are blurred between authoritarianism and celebrity, and how late-stage capitalism is driving most of it. It’s about how powerful people are fucking over the regular guy, and how corporations are encouraging it because it lets them make more money.” After putting a finger on it, Kripke looks over his shoulder to make sure Jeff Bezos isn’t standing behind him.
It’s also inevitably about “certain presidential administrations,” despite adapting a comic that’s more than 15 years old. Kripke lauds Garth Ennis for his prescient work writing The Boys comic back in 2005: At the time, the writer was interested in “what happened when you combined the worst of celebrity with the worst of politics.” The book only made more sense to the showrunner in 2020.
“[Between season 1 and season 2], we got deeper and deeper into the administration, and I think we as the writers got angrier and angrier. I think there were things like the travel ban happened when we were starting to break season 2, and a lot of the fear of caravans coming over the border to destroy you, and putting children in cages. That made us really want to talk about how white nationalism, and using xenophobia to further their own interests. Corporations are just letting it happen.”
The Boys season 2 certainly channels that fury. In the first three episodes, which air together as a kind of prelude before the series goes episodic on Fridays, Butcher and The Boys are on the brink of exposing the conspiracy of Compound-V, the superpower-inducing serum produced by The Seven’s conglomerate backer, Vought International. Butcher has also discovered that Homelander has fathered a child with his assumed-dead wife, who’s been hidden away in a suburban prison. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), mutated by Compound-V, discovers her brother, who is also scarred by the effects of torture and experimentation. Meanwhile, The Deep finds himself lured in by a Scientology-esque cult, and Starlight continues to be the victim of gaslighting and workplace violence. Even Homelander, the definition of an overlord, is fuming.
“In season 1, he was really wrestling with being a child,” Kripke says of the character, who, for all his power, sustained himself on the motherly affection and breastmilk supply of his boss Madelyn Stillwell (who he, of course, murdered). “In season 2, he’s trying to be a father. So he goes from being a child to being a father, and he’s trying to raise — and ruin — this little kid. So that’s a big alteration, and you get to see that he genuinely loves the kid. He’s just a horrible person.”
The second season sees the worst thing that could possibly happen to Homelander happening to Homelander: someone steps into his spotlight. Shoving the old guard aside, Cash’s Stomfront enters The Boys with little introduction, immediately commanding the screen (both in-world, via rapturous Instagram applause, and from where the audience is sitting). As written, she’s a social media maven, as well as a no-bullshit rabble rouser. When the director of Vought’s new movie Dawn of the Seven, a simultaneous Zack Snyder and Avengers: Endgame spoof, asks Starlight, Queen Maeve, and Stormfront to assemble for a PR-friendly “girls get it done!” action scene, the new hero balks.
Kripke, who says he’s thankful to have a writer’s room with a diverse mix of voices “and only three white dudes,” shouts out writer Rebecca Sonnenschein as being the force behind a subplot aimed at “corporations pretending to be for women when really they do it because they think they can sell more product.” The show specifically mocks Endgame’s own moment when all the female heroes are suddenly together ... just because. “Rebecca was furious at that. She was like, ‘What a bunch of bullshit!’ They had to do that moment. It’s condescending, in a way”
Stormfront is a feminist who sticks up for the harangued women of The Seven, but in the first three episodes, we also learn she’s a straight-up racist. In the comics, the character is male and overtly a Nazi, but Kripke felt gender-bending the casting, and making the hero a parasocial idol of disgruntled youth, made her a better reflection of The Now.
“If you go like on YouTube or social media, there are all these cute young people that are espousing hateful ideologies, but they do it in this sort of slicker, social media way that understands the audience — that’s really dangerous. And so we kind of wanted to create that experience: “Oh, she’s a disrupter! And she’s excellent with social media! And she’s funny! And irreverent!” As a lot of these people are — they’re telling jokes and they’re taking down institutions and there’s something attractive about it.” To research the character, Kipke plunged into the muck of the hyper-partisan internet. “My poor writer’s assistant has got to be on the FBI watch list now.”
The effect of The Boys’ satire should intensify as we inch closer to Election Day in November. The villains are truly nasty, and hope is often fleeting. Luckily, Urban, Quaid, Moriarty, Fukuhara, and the other two Boys, Tomer Capon as Frenchie and Laz Alaonso as Mother’s Milk, build upon the sweet, found family side of the series. Their performances are shockingly humane and heartwarming, and ultimately, they’re backed by a creator who seems ultimately optimistic about everything.
Also the series remains ridiculously funny. About the whale that explodes…
“That big shot took an incredible amount of blood cannons,” Kipke says with a grin of a 10-year-old. “The VFX guys either set them or sometimes they hold them like a bazooka and they fire them on timing and goo just shoots out.” To pull off the stunt, The Boys design team also had to build an entire replica whale.”The inside is a lot of latex and slime and fake blood, which is very sticky — but anatomically correct! There was a lot of discussion of what cavity in the whale would be big enough to hold a couple people for a conversation. They are the punctured lungs of the whale. So that’s what Hughie is inside. We take a lot of care in our dead whales.”
Ladies and gentlemen, The Boys.
The Boys season 2 premieres on Sept. 4.