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

The Boys connects America’s racist history and present with “Nothing Like It In The World”

Karen Fukuhara
Karen Fukuhara
Photo: Jasper Savage (Amazon Studios
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This post discusses major plot points of The Boys episode “Nothing Like It In the World.”

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I will be honest and say to you: Where to even start with this episode?! We are now at the halfway point of this second season of The Boys, and “Nothing Like It In The World” takes a few big swings. One swing is cheesily satisfying: Hughie and Annie are cute, but tragic, together! Another swing feels sort of anticlimactic: After all this time searching for her, is Butcher really going to push Becca away like that? Also dialed up is the show’s messaging about the cyclical nature of violence, racism, and oppression. If you’re up on your white-power vernacular, you probably were giving Stormfront the side eye this whole time! And then there’s the whole thing with Homelander’s outsized narcissism going head to head with Doppelganger’s sexual risk taking, and I … I might have recreated that iconic Wee-Bey gif in real life once that oral sex attempt started! I was not ready for that!

So many stories get forward momentum this episode because “Nothing Like It In the World” is fairly compartmentalized in its storytelling, breaking up the Boys into three groups. After the whale blood-soaked travails of last week’s “Over The Hill With The Swords Of A Thousand Men,” the Boys are struggling to find their footing. Kimiko remains isolated in her grief, still maintaining her silence after seeing Stormfront kill her brother. No one else in the Boys knows about the newest member of the Seven’s outright racism and murder (at least, not yet).

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The media is doing their part: News coverage calls Kenji “dead-eyed and unemotional,” blaming him entirely for the death toll of 59 people, while Stormfront is a new media darling. Frenchie, resorting to more drug use, wants to be there for Kimiko—but his attempted kiss is unwanted, and his one-again, off-again paramour Cherie (Jordana Lajoie) points out that his “sweaty despair” isn’t exactly the most appealing thing. And sure, Frenchie might be protecting Kimiko when he stops her from attacking Stormfront later in the episode. But that kind of anger doesn’t go away, and Kimiko is not the type to let grief stand alone. She’s going to do something, and does Frenchie really want to be in her way when that happens? (I do feel like Frenchie hasn’t had much yet to do this season, and I think pining after Kimiko is not the best use of the character’s talents? But I digress.)

Does Frenchie and Kimiko being off in their own narrative silo forgive Butcher for not saying goodbye to them before embarking on his quest to save and retrieve Becca from Vought? Maybe, but if it were up to Butcher, he probably wouldn’t say goodbye to anyone. Or hello, either! Butcher just rejects all pleasantries! His farewell to MM is somewhat anticlimactic, but so is his reunion with Becca. Something about their reconciliation felt off, like it wasn’t reaching the emotional heights I expected after, what, a decade apart? I couldn’t tell if the scene was muted because we as viewers have known that Becca is alive for some hours now, or because there’s a sort of predictability to Becca’s refusal to go with Butcher. She hates Homelander, clearly, but she loves her son.

I’m not sure I totally buy her swearing to Butcher that she’s “not raising [Ryan] like that,” because Vought and this mysterious Dr. Park are aware of Ryan’s superpowers. And just because Becca is raising him in privacy and seclusion doesn’t necessarily mean that Ryan’s powers won’t get the better of him, or that he won’t react in anger or frustration and accidentally use them, as we almost saw him do against Homelander. On the flip side of that, though, Butcher losing his temper and calling Ryan “a billion-dollar piece of Vought property” and a “fucking supe freak” probably wasn’t the way to endear himself to his estranged wife! Michael Saltzman’s writing of this subplot felt a little too pat, as if reconciling Butcher and Becca and then separating them again was just a checkbox on a to-do list for this season. But Ryan isn’t a character you can leave hanging out there, right? Now that we know the kid has laser eyes, I’m assuming they come into play again, Chekhov style.

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While Butcher deals with that aspect of his past, we learn more about MM’s history during his chaperoning of that road trip to North Carolina with Hughie and Annie. (He might say he’s not their guardian, but come on. His whole vibe during this trip was very “I’m just a parent at the school dance, watching out for my kids!”) And I understand why: Hughie and Annie cannot get close again, no matter how many meet-cutes they have while singing along to Hughie’s beloved Billy Joel or while arguing about the merits of Almond Joys (I’m with Annie on this one). They sleep together during this trip, but Annie makes the right call when she breaks it off—the only reason Homelander let her go from that elevator is because she was telling the truth, at the time, that she is not with Hughie. Being with him puts her in unprecedented danger, especially now that the Compound V reveal already seems to have worked its way out of the news cycle. The issue clearly isn’t over, but an attack by a super terrorist, an attack that only Vought can allegedly defend people from, will change the conversation, won’t it?

During the North Carolina trip, we learn more about MM’s father, his own battle with Vought, and how that frustration and anger transferred down a generation; Annie very astutely picks up on MM’s OCD as a way to insert some control into a haphazardly paced life. But, uh, how do you really control your life when it’s in the crosshairs of monsters like Stormfront and Homelander? The trip to North Carolina clues MM, Annie, and Hughie into the fact that Stormfront is a rebrand, another iteration of the racist superhero Liberty, who murdered a young Black man nearly 50 years ago. (And who might have killed more, given the casualness with which she seemed to crush the man’s skull.) Vought paid off
the family with $2,000, the death was kept secret until since-murdered CIA deputy director Susan Raynor went sniffing around, and decades later Liberty re-emerged as Stormfront, with her endless cache of alt-right memes, her fascism masquerading as freedom, and her implied call to arms. What else could “Be your own hero?” mean?

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I know I keep saying this, but: What is Stormfront’s purpose on the Seven? I know, I know: Vought is evil. I agree! Stormfront is evil, too. That syncs up! But Stormfront is, to put it in certain political terms, saying the quiet stuff out loud. And she’s doing so real loud! Her methodologies become clearest in that conversation with Homelander: They both agree about how dumb people are, and how exceptional superheroes are in comparison, and how much better America is than everywhere else. But note how Homelander’s big goal last season was getting the Seven to work with the U.S. military, and in contrast, how Stormfront is saying stuff like, “We demand our government do better.” Homelander thought power came from alignment with forces bigger than, but still buoyed by, the Seven. Stormfront seems like she wants something different—a different kind of power, one that doesn’t really come from collaboration. So again: What does Vought want, and how are they using Stormfront to get it?

And, if Vought is using Stormfront to get whatever they want, where does Homelander fit in? Does his certain brand of American patriotism not fit their M.O. anymore? I keep going back to Mr. Edgar telling Homelander that Vought is a pharmaceutical company, and what that could mean in relation to Homelander’s role on the Seven. (Recall what Stormfront says to him: “Change with the times.”) Is he no longer appropriate for this current moment—and if so, would that ever mean Homelander would turn against Vought? As he tells Doppelganger (who had worked for Madelyn in the first season, but now assumes her image while providing comfort to/doing sex stuff with Homelander) before killing him, “I don’t need everyone to love me. I don’t need anyone. I don’t need you.” But we also know Homelander to be the guy with the praise kink, who literally needs milk to be pacified, and who really could have been narcissistic enough to have sex with himself, if Stormfront’s criticism from earlier hadn’t still been rattling around in his brain. The bombastic, declarative way he says “I’m the face of the Seven!” reminded me of another man who thought quite highly of himself: Daniel Plainview’s “I am the Third Revelation!” in There Will Be Blood. “I am whom the Lord has chosen!” Plainview had yelled. Taking that comparison a step further: Does that make the Vought corporation, rather than Homelander, our new gods?

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Stray observations

  • I do not understand Maria Menounos’s career, having only seen her in One Tree Hill and in those annoying advertisements that played before the trailers in movie theaters in the Before Times, but I guess she is self-aware enough to appear here in a cameo mocking herself? Good for you, Maria! (Also, in a nod to real life, April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag gets another spin here with #HeroesSoWhite.)
  • Black Noir is on Butcher’s trail? That can’t be good!
  • Okay, so the Church of the Collective is Scientology! Got it! It all clicked together as soon as that first interview started and it was revealed that those women were Church members vying to be the Deep’s wife—a la those decades-long rumors about Scientology leaders holding auditions for women to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend.
  • I know I talk about Antony Starr’s performance a lot, but seriously! How thoroughly he communicates Homelander’s disinterest in A-Train’s outrage about being kicked out of the Seven was great. I’m still laughing at the deadpan style of “This was nothing personal. It was really hard for me. We’ll always be friends, etc.” Contrast that with how furious he gets when he basically outs Maeve, snarling at her about she and Elena must be “scissoring each other raw.” I can understand that his increasingly unhinged characterization might seem too rapid, but Starr is so good at bouncing between these extremes that it works for me.
  • I still don’t feel like we know Becca that well, but I appreciated her calling Butcher out on idolizing her for so long, and refusing to acknowledge that his anger and self-destruction might have had a little to do with Becca making her decision to go to Vought and raise Ryan alone.
  • This week in product placement: So much! Almond Joy (THE BEST CANDY BAR, I WILL NOT INDULGE IN ARGUMENTS HERE), Charleston Chew, Bit-O-Honey (truly awful, Hughie was right), Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, phew. It was a lot! Also yes, Jamoca Almond Fudge is delicious, but as a former Baskin-Robbins employee, I can tell you with authority that Baseball Nut (cashews and black raspberry in a vanilla base) is very underrated!
  • Those (admittedly horrifying) memes that Stormfront uses must be very fun for the show’s writers to make, and my favorite so far is definitely the distracted boyfriend meme, with the American people paying more attention to Stormfront than to Homelander.
  • I understand we have some Aya Cash stans in the comments, and let me speak to you directly when I say that Cash’s delivery of “You don’t need 50 million people to love you. You need 5 million people fucking pissed. … You have fans. I have soldiers” was very unsettling and good! I guess I should watch You’re the Worst, huh?
  • Homelander sympathizing with Travis Bickle (“How much shit is he supposed to take?!”) while watching Taxi Driver makes so much sense, actually. Homelander! Watch all of Paul Schrader’s movies and report back!
  • Did you see the limited-edition sneaker collection inspired by The Boys? The Butcher, Mother’s Milk, and Queen Maeve designs are my favorite, but the Black Noir and Terror designs best fit my lingering high-school-Goth aesthetic.
  • Homelander with a Confederate flag cape, painted on the side of a barn, in North Carolina? Yeah, that tracks.
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