A lot has changed since the first season of The Boys released last year. Watchmen, the comic book property with which it shares DNA, came out with a game-changing reboot. More importantly, however, the real world turned into the sort of dystopian fantasy that the show so mercilessly mocked.
My capacity for the sort of nihilism that The Boys peddles is definitely waning, though. Do we really need more reminders that our planet is being consumed, even during one of the worst years in recorded history, by corporate greed? Or is it necessary to never lose sight of the evil that surrounds us, simply because we’ve had enough? There are no correct answers.
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Of course, by definition, revolution implies the existence of oppression. And The Boys is a revolutionary show, about revolutionaries. Led by the brash Bill Butcher (Karl Urban, by way of Jason Statham), they took on the vile Vought Industries precisely because the corporation posed a threat to the planet. Just because we now find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic that has only broadened the wealth gap mustn’t mean we reject art that dissects why such things happen.
Even as the coronavirus pandemic sent the world economy into its worst slump since the Great Depression, and more than 100 million people across the globe into ‘extreme poverty’, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos became the first person ever to record a net worth of more than $200 billion. There was a time when war profiteers used to be looked at with utmost disgust. This was the central conflict that raged in Tony Stark’s heart in the first Iron Man film, which arrived in the shadow of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But what of pandemic profiteers?
While Amazon maintained its position as one of the world’s most valuable companies, in India, the government launched a relief fund that it said doesn’t come under the ambit of the Right to Information act, thereby relieving itself of the responsibility to be transparent about where the money was being spent.
This irony is lost neither on me, nor showrunner Eric Kripke, who in the second season of The Boys doubles down on the themes it introduced in season one more forcefully. That’s what mass validation does for you, I suppose — it gives you the courage to bite the hand that feeds.
But this time, the stakes are personal — while Butcher is motivated by a desire to protect his wife, Hughie and Annie are working together to bring down Vought from the inside. Season two, despite frequent bursts of action and violence, is almost like a 70s conspiracy thriller in tone — and Kripke is usually successful at balancing the edgy meta-ness with the broader cultural critique.
Homelander and Starlight in a still from The Boys season 2. ( Amazon Studios, Prime Video )
The Seven — the show’s corrupt version of The Avengers, or the Justice League, in case Marvel fans take offence — are weaker than they have ever been. The Deep, after being outcast for his sexual misdeeds (not because Vought disapproved, but because his presence was bad PR), has found Scientology? A-Train is struggling with the fallout of season one’s Compound V relapse, and Homelander is looking to consolidate his position as the leader of The Seven, now that the team is on its knees.
While the first three episodes — that’s how many I’m allowed to talk about — don’t quite have a set-piece as jaw-dropping as the plane sequence from season one, a ‘tryout’ scene involving a blind character reinforces the idea that Homelander is, in fact, the supervillain of the show.
Like Rorschach in Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen reboot, Homelander also appears to have become a symbol for white power, while Stormfront, the newest member of The Seven, brings the disruptive social media savvy that proves to be a clincher in captivating the minds of middle-America. They butt heads initially — both are alphas in a team desperate for leadership — but realise eventually that a partnership is the only way forward.
It is just one of the many (over-the-top) ways in which The Boys suggests that a merger between conservatives such as Homelander and radicals such as Stormfront is the key to power in modern-day America, and perhaps the reason behind the rise of men like Donald Trump.
It takes longer for season two to kick into gear, as compared to the first season, which came out all-guns-blazing. But once Butcher makes his almost Hindi film-inspired ‘entry’, the pace picks up significantly. The second season of The Boys will premiere with three episodes on September 4, followed by a new episode every week. It’s worth sticking around, if only to see just how much more ambitious the series can get in an already greenlit season three.