Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bleakness makes “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men” one of The Boys’ best

Left to right: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Karen Fukahara, Tomer Capon, and Laz Alonso
Left to right: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Karen Fukahara, Tomer Capon, and Laz Alonso
Photo: Jasper Savage (Amazon Studios
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This post discusses plot points of The Boys episode “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men.”

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“Sooner or later, you’ll get your second wind,” sings Billy Joel in 1985’s “You’re Only Human (Second Wind),” the music video of which copied the premise of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. An angelic Joel stops a young man from jumping off a bridge and taking his own life, reassuring him, “We’re only human/We’re supposed to make mistakes.” It’s understandable that Hughie, for whom nothing has been going right lately, would be drawn to this particular Joel track. To the message of reassurance and hopefulness, and to the idea that if you just keep going—if you just keep trying—everything will work out.

Hughie, however, is a sentimental rube, and the most irritating parts of “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men”—which otherwise is such an engrossing, intense episode that, most importantly, clues us into who Stormfront really is—are when he seems to regress back to the same guy we met in the first season. The season two premiere “The Big Ride” established that Hughie knows how to act on the phone! Use a burner! No incriminating information! Don’t identify yourself! And yet here he is, basically leaving a confessional voicemail for Annie about the crime they just committed against Vought—and then, when she arrives at a location where the Boys are clearly hiding, approaching her in camaraderie and friendship instead of scoping out the situation first. Read the room, Hughie!

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Hughie’s amateurish actions this episode seemed less like a natural extension of who his character now is and more like ham-fisted machinations for where the plot needed to go. Homelander needed to start suspecting Annie/Starlight again, so he overhears Hughie’s joyous reaction to her arrival. (Homelander does a lot of lurking and eavesdropping this episode.) Butcher needed to feel protective of Hughie again, to protect his canary, so then he gets in on the eavesdropping action by sneaking up on Homelander, Hughie, and Annie and interrupting Homelander’s threats with that perfectly delivered “Oi, cunt!” A lot of the storm-drain showdown felt forced and clumsily imagined, and that disconnect stands out so starkly because the rest of the episode is so great. The breakneck speed with which Annie’s leaked information about Compound V is then spun into positive press by Vought CEO Edgar; the reveal as to what Stormfront’s motivations really are; that unforgettably enraged, deeply resentful glare that Homelander sends Stormfront’s way at her celebratory press conference; the mirrored glower of hatred on Kimiko’s face as she stares at Stormfront on TV, basking in how the media receives her as an American hero for murdering Kimiko’s brother.

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All of those elements feel most in line with The Boys as author Garth Ennis imagined the series: A portrait of shared capitalist and nationalist corruption, entwined together to create a morass of exploitation and abuse. The people in power will never give it up easily, Ennis has always argued, and so it’s clear from the beginning of “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men” that the Boys’ initial victory against Vought will not stand. Sure, the Compound V reveal is dominating news headlines, and stock prices are tanking, and a worried array of Vought lawyers suggest to Edgar that they might need to consider declaring bankruptcy. But Edgar knows the American people, and he knows how they work. He knows how to divert attention, and how to transform perceptions, and when he sees the video footage of Kenji, he sees how to make a mistake into an opportunity. Was his corporate gobbledygook speech to the Seven about trusting each other meant to fail? Did he say “super terrorist” instead of “super villain” specifically to antagonize Homelander into action? I could see reverse psychology being the play here, especially because in many ways, Homelander is quite predictable. He’s been open about considering himself Vought’s top “talent.” He’s most defined by his desperate desire to prove himself. When he says “The world still needs superheroes,” it’s as much a reassurance to the rest of the Seven as to himself.

But even Homelander can be surprised, because did he have any idea about who Stormfront was, or what her ideology is, or the threat she poses to him as the Seven’s leader? I’m guessing nope, nope, and newp! Up until this point, Stormfront has been deeply opinionated, sure. She was very passionate about complaining re: the lack of pockets in women’s clothing, and mocking the obvious artifice of the Seven’s “girl power!” message, and tearing apart the screenwriter of the Dawn Of The Seven script for making all its female characters “unknowable Hitchcock bitches or Michael Bay fuck dolls” (zing!). But could any of that have prepared us for how Stormfront pivots into a hardcore evil racist? Unless you already knew this plot element from the comics, I don’t think so! And actress Aya Cash sells it fully, dropping her Cool Girl façade as soon as she’s on Kenji’s trail. She kills a father and his children, throws another man out a window, and explodes a series of apartments as she climbs up the stairs to the building’s roof; I’m sure the fact that they’re all Black had nothing to do with it. (Readers, that was sarcasm; their race probably had everything to do with it!) And when Stormfront tortures and kills Kenji, snapping his wrists before breaking his neck, her description of him as a “Fucking yellow bastard” is aggressive, pointed, and hate-filled. (Remember how Stormfront is from Portland? Uh, remember what happens in Green Room once the Ain’t Rights get to Portland?)

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I’m not sure if Homelander sees or hears Stormfront’s final words to Kenji, but my assumption is that Stormfront’s racism won’t bother him. Still, what is the endgame of the people in Vought who decided Stormfront should replace Translucent on the Seven? What agenda is being served here, and who are its masters? It’s obvious that what Homelander cares more about is someone getting more acclaim and attention than him, and in doing so, Stormfront has placed a target on her back. She doesn’t seem to care—calling Homelander “Gramps,” making deliberate eye contact with him during that press conference and charity event at which she was so praised—and she’s certainly going to help sell Vought’s party line that “Our superheroes are the last line of defense.” She’ll probably even use the term “super terrorist” instead of “super villain,” just to get under Homelander’s skin. At the end of “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men,” the only undamaged things are Stormfront and Vought.

Everyone else, though, is suffering. Homelander threw Ryan off the roof of Becca’s house to prove that his son has superpowers; Ryan’s subsequent defense of his mother activates his super strength and laser-red eyes, but is that really a good thing? The Deep, urged by the Church of the Collective to try and rejoin the Seven by apprehending the Boys, inadvertently causes the gory death of Lucy the whale. (I really do not think the physics of one speedboat being able to burst through a sperm whale check out, but unlike George Costanza, I am not a marine biologist.) Hughie realizes that he might have put Annie in serious danger with his pining. Butcher puts his scrawled list of details about Becca’s house away. And Kimiko, now mourning Kenji, is the angriest we’ve ever seen her. Grief and rage is a dangerous combination. I hope Stormfront is on the receiving end of it.

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Stray observations

  • I appreciated Annie getting the opportunity to finally tell the Deep that he’s an asshole, an abuser, and has no chance of returning the Seven while she’s on the team, but again, didn’t it seem like Stormfront knew more about that whole situation than she should?
  • I REMAIN WORRIED ABOUT ELENA. Homelander’s inquiry to Maeve about her is stressing me out!
  • Butcher seems to be rocking a Jim Hopper-like pink Hawaiian shirt on the boat My Big Wet Dream, and his outfit was a reminder that I need more leisurewear in my life.
  • Is it weird to anyone else that we haven’t gotten much of Becca’s reactions to seeing Butcher again? Obviously she’s being terrorized by Homelander and trying to protect Ryan, but shouldn’t she feel some type of way about her husband reappearing?
  • Black Noir got some great silent moments this episode, from his weeping at the reveal regarding Compound V to his hand on his chest, in an expression of mournful respect, when he passes by the corpse of Lucy the whale. Part of me wants more from Black Noir, and part of me also thinks any character expansion past this point would ruin his sly impact.
  • Was the ringing in Hughie’s ears just aftershocks from, you know, being driven through a whale, or is the show suggesting something else going on with him? That scene seemed to have a weird undercurrent, and I’m not sure what it was meant to be.
  • “We’re not his partners. We’re his product.” Welcome, Comrade Homelander!
  • Of course Ashley would love Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton. Of course she would.
  • This week, in product placement: Postmates and Papa John’s, in the same breath!
  • A-Train’s comment to Annie that “You don’t fuck with the money” had a real Killing Them Softly vibe, and his continued health issues can’t be good, right?
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