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

The Boys’ penultimate season 2 episode is one of its most disturbing

Aya Cash and Antony Starr
Aya Cash and Antony Starr
Photo: Panagiotis Pantazidis/Amazon Studios (Other)
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This post discusses major plot points of The Boys episode “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker.”

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Okay, seriously. WHO IS EXPLODING THE HEADS? We are very nearly at the end of this second season of The Boys. There are major shifts happening involving the makeup of the Seven, the “first natural-born superhero Ryan,” and the Boys’ ongoing quest for revenge against Homelander. But I must admit that all of these other subplots pale in comparison with the televised bloodbath of a Congressional hearing that concludes “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker!” It was a very effective cliffhanger, and I’m still pretty grossed out about it.

This episode was riddled throughout, actually, with staggeringly good, deeply upsetting scenes that show us how high the stakes now are. The cold open might be the most disturbing thing I’ve ever watched on TV, as we saw Neil from Community become radicalized by Stormfront’s ceaseless fearmongering, white-supremacist language, and supe-terrorist conspiracy theories. These few minutes were really effective in how they captured that fan-to-follower transformation that Stormfront had mentioned to Homelander, and in methodically laying out the indoctrination that Stormfront is hoping to spread. Tommy Peterson (Charley Koontz) has a Stormfront Funko Pop figure, he spends all day watching her news appearances, he listens to her push back against the Congressional hearings led by Congresswoman Victoria Neuman, and he actually seems to believe that store clerk Kuldeep Singh (Kris Siddiqi), a man he has seen every day for who knows how long, could secretly be a bad guy. His skin is a different color. He has an accent. Maybe Tommy saw a glimmer in his eyes, the sign of a supe-terrorist waiting to attack. And if Tommy doesn’t bring down the bad guy, he’s hurting Stormfront: “I am counting on you. Don’t let me down,” she says, and sure, she wasn’t speaking directly to Tommy, but yes, she was speaking to countless people just like Tommy who are looking for some direction and some purpose, and are willing to kill to please a person on whom they have projected their own desires. The use of “What a Wonderful World” was inspired, and by that I mean, I am not going to be able to listen to that song again for a long time!

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The murder of innocent people like Kuldeep Singh is exactly what Stormfront wants, so of course when she and Homelander offer “thoughts and prayers” to his family, it’s all a bunch of crap. At the rally where the pair of them whip up the crowd, we see the effects of Stormfront’s ideology captured in attendee signs (against SJWs, and encouraging “the new War on Terror”), but Stormfront almost seems … bored by her success. The episode then pivots Stormfront into Mom mode by having her coo over a baby that reminds her of her daughter’s infancy, and seeing a way to please his new girlfriend, Homelander decides to introduce his son Ryan to Stormfront. I felt for Becca during this entire ordeal as Stormfront acted like the worst new girlfriend of all time, but I must also admit that I was surprised by how quickly Ryan turned against his mother. I thought Ryan’s behavior up until this point had been skeptical of Homelander and defensive of Becca, but man, did he jump quick into hating her and calling her a liar! And again: Isn’t Becca’s house under surveillance at all times by Vought? Wouldn’t Vought be upset about Homelander and Stormfront essentially kidnapping Ryan? I don’t know! Seems weird!

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But I suppose Vought has bigger problems on their hands, between Annie’s breakout of Vought Tower, assisted by Hughie, Lamplighter (and his hand), and Maeve, and former CSO Jonah Vogelbaum’s decision to appear before Congress at the Compound-V hearings as a witness. Let’s discuss Annie’s escape first. After her clueless but well-meaning mother asks Vought if they can go on vacation, Vought acts on the knowledge—which I guess they’ve had all along?—that Annie leaked the Compound-V reveal to the press. They take her and her mother into custody at Vought Tower, sealing Annie in a superpower-diffusing cell reminiscent of the plastic one Magneto was in during X2, and claim that Annie is a traitor responsible for Translucent’s death. Homelander wants to kill her, but then goes off to introduce Stormfront to Ryan instead—opening the door for Hughie and Lamplighter to sneak into Vought Tower.

Shawn Ashmore
Shawn Ashmore
Photo: Panagiotis Pantazidis (Amazon Studios (Other)
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Shawn Ashmore’s time as Lamplighter was brief, but I enjoyed his fatalist humor this episode, from his “Boom, bitches!” when his hand scan works to his despondent “They moved my statue?” before setting himself alight in a moment reminiscent of Thích Quảng Đức’s famous death. The fire forces an evacuation of the building and sets in motion Annie’s escape, Black Noir’s near murder of her, and Maeve’s rescue of Annie by activating Black Noir’s tree-nut allergy—showing us that the queen, despite the breakup with Elena, still has some sense of heroism left. And while that’s going on, Hughie takes Lamplighter’s separated hand (please, I do not want to remember how gross that scene was, do not make me) and frees Annie’s mom. Previously in the episode, during their interrupted coffee date, Annie had told her mother, “I gave my whole life to nothing. What we do means nothing.” But that’s not necessarily true, is it? Yes, the Seven are hopelessly controlled by Vought. Individual moments of sacrifice still matter, though—I’m not saying that Lamplighter is a hero, because he’s still an asshole. But his death helped save other people’s lives. Could that help shift Annie’s perspective?

The problem with Lamplighter’s death, though, is that he was going to appear at Congresswoman Neuman’s hearings as a witness to what Vought and Stormfront were doing at Sage Grove. In his death, then, the only option the Boys have is to recruit another former Vought member with knowledge of Compound-V: Vogelbaum, who was responsible for the creation of Homelander. Vogelbaum feels some regret for this, I think—there is almost affection in his voice when he says that as a boy, Homelander loved the woods, Teddy Roosevelt, and manifest destiny, which, you know, OF COURSE HE DID—but when Mallory first asks for his help, he rejects her and MM. “Moral compromise does have its privileges,” and that means that Vogelbaum doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He can stay in his palace and in his retirement and in his complicity, and that’s that.

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But that whole “moral compromise” thing doesn’t apply to just Vogelbaum. Butcher is an ace at messy morality, and he won’t take no for an answer. He arrives unexpectedly at Vogelbaum’s place. He drives across his yard. He threatens his “whole fucking family” to get what he wants. And when Vogelbaum agrees, Butcher is triumphant. Look at the gusto with which he sits down alongside the rest of the Boys, plus Annie and Annie’s mom, to watch the Congressional hearings! Butcher put on his best black turtleneck sweater for this, and he lets that “Gotcha, cunt!” roll off his tongue! They even made popcorn! And then the heads start exploding, and the blood starts spraying, and everything the Boys have worked so hard for goes to shit. Again. How many times can they keep doing this? How long until anything they do actually seems to matter? I guess we’ll find out next week, with the season finale “What I Know.”


Stray observations

  • “You die twice, once when you stop breathing and the other when someone says your name for the last time” was actually a lovely line that almost made me tear up! What the hell, The Boys!
  • Kimiko starts teaching Frenchie her sign language. The first word she teaches him is “gun.” It is very on-brand and somewhat adorable.
  • Quoting Butcher’s analysis of Congress here for, uh, no reason at all: “Congress. Please. What a corrupt bunch of fucking cunts they are. … What the fuck are you good for? A sharply worded tweet.”
  • I must admit that I’m bummed the Black Noir of the show does not seem to match the Black Noir of Garth Ennis’ original comic books. That would have been such a good reveal!
  • I want to know more of Becca’s favorite movies. The Blind Side and Dances with Wolves? Is Becca just really into Academy Award winners? Or are these some of her favorites because they are always on TV, and Becca can never leave the house? If so, please let Gladiator be in the mix, so we can get a LEGO adaptation of the “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius” speech.
  • Much respect to Annie for rejecting a unicorn frappe. The Lisa Frank treatment of coffee … we do not need it!
  • Someone in the comments had mentioned a few weeks ago that not every depiction of a product is, as I had been labeling them, product placement, and because I personally, cynically believe that all press is good press, I didn’t necessarily agree. But Almond Joy is the candy that puts Black Noir in a vegetative state? Now I’m conflicted! Is that product placement? Do the writers of this show just hate the best candy bar on the planet? How to feel!
  • I have so many questions about how Lamplighter had all the Seven-inspired porn at Grace Mallory’s house. Did he ask the Boys to stop by his place to pick up the DVDs after the destruction of Sage Grove? Did he buy them on the way to Grace Mallory’s house? Was this a same-day Amazon-delivery situation? How are these Lamplighter’s most-prized possessions?! (Best lines of the episode go to Jack Quaid’s delivery of “This isn’t healthy. You can’t watch porn while the sun’s out!” and “Let’s go fuck the wife … consensually!”)
  • Butcher’s parents’ storyline felt tacked-on to this episode, no? Butcher’s friction with his father has a bit more weight in the comics, but it felt rushed here, like the only purpose was to share with us how Lenny died. At least we got a Lord Of The Rings reunion with Karl Urban and John Noble out of it.
  • In another “Yes, obviously this is Scientology” moment, we learn that the Church of the Collective has banned Eagle the Archer for being a “toxic” personality. Alright! Whatever!
  • Ashley’s put-upon moment of the episode: Her shrieked “This is not lesbian!” upon finding a despondent, dumped Maeve in bed with two guys. And vaping, no less.
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