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The Second Season of ‘The Boys’ Was Fueled by the Nihilism of Reality

Amazon Prime’s dark, meta superhero series isn’t subtle about its reflection of current events. That’s a good thing.

Amazon Prime/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The penultimate episode of The Boys’ second season begins in unnerving fashion, even by the show’s standards. A lonely young white man who lives at home with his mother is slowly enveloped, and radicalized, by the dangerous rhetoric spewed by the Vought Corporation superhero and newest member of the Seven, Stormfront. Over time, and with Stormfront’s warnings of “super-terrorists” invading America from beyond our borders constantly booming from his phone and computer screens, the loner begins to suspect that his local bodega owner is one of these threats in hiding. (The owner is, of course, a person of color.) The tragic sequence culminates with the man shooting the innocent owner in the face.

While The Boys is a pessimistic thought exercise exploring what would happen if super-powered beings actually existed among us—spoiler: yes, superheroes would absolutely abuse their powers—this particular moment, unfortunately, feels very much rooted in our current reality. As other on-screen superhero stories have confronted historical examples of fascism—HYDRA, originally an experimental scientific branch of the Nazi Party, is a recurring antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—The Boys portrays more contemporary racist ideologies. Modern fascism comes by way of social media, memes, and conspiracy theories.

Stormfront, a being who the second season reveals was originally created by Heinrich Himmler (a side effect of her powers is that she doesn’t really age), is the evolution of the white supremacist rebrand in practice. Once a literal Nazi from Nazi Germany, she shaves part of her head, is undeniably crafty with her faux-feminist/anti-corporate messaging, and succinctly underlines her philosophy for recruiting people like the aforementioned loner. “You can’t win the whole country anymore, so stop trying,” Stormfront tells Homelander, the show’s sociopathic Superman/Captain America stand-in. “You don’t need 50 million people to love you, you need 5 million people fucking pissed. Anger sells. You have fans; I have soldiers.”

That The Boys season finale, “What I Know,” premiered the day after the FBI uncovered a terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is further proof that, existence of superpowered humans wearing dorky costumes aside, the series has a firm grasp on how actual cults of personality are formed. Reality these days can be just as strange, and depraved, as fiction. (If the second season wasn’t put together in 2019, Stormfront may well have given a shoutout to the same white supremacist group that the president told to “stand by” just two weeks ago; The Boys is rarely subtle.)

Viewers expecting a crass, irreverent take on superhero culture—the tone of Deadpool in the form of a TV series—certainly won’t be disappointed by The Boys, but Season 2 sure goes down with an un-Deadpool-like bitterness. Amazon Studios originally sent critics the entire second season in advance over the summer, so my enjoyment of the show was distilled in a few afternoons. But The Boys’ actual release model—after the first three episodes premiered on September 4, Amazon went with a weekly rollout—has its pros and cons.

On the one hand, the series reaped the rewards of sustaining interest for weeks on end; its popularity is such that not only was The Boys renewed for a third season, but a spin-off about superpowered kids in college is also on the way. (Suggestion: Cast Nicholas Braun for all the Sky High heads out there.) On the other hand, stretching out this particular season into weekly morsels is asking fans to become gluttons for punishment. Even though her name was an obvious reference, Stormfront doesn’t reveal her true nature until the end of the third episode—at which point, the show takes its time laying out the full extent of her awfulness (an ageless Nazi who, in a previous superhero iteration under the name Liberty, viciously murdered a young Black man). It’s compelling, up to a point: Eventually, you just want to see Stormfront, like Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones, get her comeuppance.

To the credit of The Boys, “What I Know” does deliver a satisfying rebuke to, as many characters end up dubbing her, the “Nazi bitch.” After A-Train discovers the real reason why Stormfront doesn’t want him back in the Seven—because he’s Black—he goes about stealing buried, classified documents of her Nazi past. With Hughie and Starlight’s help, Stormfront’s real identity is leaked to the press, giving Vought another PR nightmare to deal with. (One of the many effects of the revelations of Stormfront’s Nazi ties is that A-Train is let back into the Seven so the company can try and save face.) As for Stormfront, who confronts the Boys in the finale, she pivots very quickly from decrying the information as a deepfake to acknowledging that people like what she has to say—they just don’t like the word Nazi.

And then, thankfully, she gets walloped. Queen Maeve, who’s spent much of the series wallowing in self-pity, leads a Stormfront beatdown, joined by Starlight and Kimiko. The sequence is immensely cathartic and scored to the on-the-nose tune of Peaches’ “Boys Want to Be Her.” The Boys loves to take jabs at Marvel—whether intentional or not, three female heroes beating the crap out of a Nazi feels like the show’s answer to Avengers: Endgame’s cringey and entirely unearned “girl power” moment. Stormfront eventually does her best Anakin Skywalker getting roasted on Mustafar impression—courtesy of Homelander’s superpowered son Ryan nailing her with his laser vision—to cap off her arc. With all due respect to Aya Cash, who delivered an incredible performance, I’d be fine if that was the last we ever see of her.

Season 2 was a transitional period for The Boys. After all, “What I Know” saves its biggest mic drop for last: Victoria Neuman, the representative reminiscent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s been trying to hold Vought accountable for its actions, has powers herself. And not only that, she’s the character responsible for the series of head-exploding assassinations this season. (Her final kill of the season was the leader of the show’s equivalent of the Church of Scientology.)

While Neuman’s motivations aren’t entirely clear, it appears that Vought is covering all bases: Since the company can’t stop the government from interfering in its nefarious plans, they might as well have a mole in charge of the newly established “Office of Supe Affairs.” If a Nazi becoming the most popular and social-media-savvy member of the Seven was The Boys’ appetizer, the show’s main course looks like it will be Vought—a conglomerate with shades of Disney and Lockheed Martin that turns a blind eye to fascists and murderers in its ranks—vying for complete global domination.

Having a young representative in the mold of AOC secretly being a ruthless assassin who can explode heads with her mind is, uh, definitely in line with The Boys’ provocative sensibilities. But the finale’s Neuman twist also reaffirms what the show has hammered home from the very beginning: Whether it’s superheroes, celebrities, or politicians, you should always have a healthy dose of skepticism for authority figures and the institutions that put them on a pedestal. And if you ever find yourself confronted by a Nazi, punch them square in the face.