This is a spoiler-free review of The Boys’ second season, although there are major spoilers for Season 1.
When the first season of The Boys landed on Amazon Prime Video last year, it quickly became one of my favourite pieces of superhero media to date.
Based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic series of the same name, The Boys boasts a winning mixture of Watchmen-style cynicism, Deadpool-esque raunchiness and a fantastic bunch of misfits. Even as a big fan of both Marvel and DC, it was a welcome breath of fresh air from both companies.
Now, series creator and showrunner Eric Kripke and company have managed to outdo themselves with a second season of the filmed-in-Toronto series that’s even more sharply-written, well-acted and entertaining than the first.
Shortly after the events of Season 1, The Boys find themselves in a rather rough spot. With Butcher (Karl Urban) having gone missing after an encounter with Homelander (Antony Starr), the titular ragtag group of vigilantes finds itself laying low and struggling to make do without its leader. What’s worse, Vought has now implicated The Boys in the death of Translucent (Alex Hassell), resulting in both The Seven and law enforcement beginning a national manhunt for them.
Right off the bat, this setup affords Season 2 a welcome sense of tension that wasn’t present in the first season. There’s a gripping back-and-forth dynamic between The Seven and The Boys, as each group takes turns getting the upper hand over the other, which, in turn, ensures that you’re never sure where it’s all heading. While Butcher soon returns to the team, the discovery that Homelander had a son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), with his wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten), sets him on an even more vengeful path that occasionally puts him at odds with the rest of The Boys.
Given these weightier story beats, Season 2 wisely takes the time to further develop its characters, making them even more dimensional and compelling. In particular, Butcher’s quest to find Becca is now much more nuanced, as he must reconcile his contempt for “supes” like Homelander — and, by extension, Ryan — with his longing to finally return to a life with his wife. All the while, Butcher grapples with relatable family drama that, alongside Urban’s sensational performance, helps to remind you of why you root for him amid his morally dubious antics.
Impressively, the supporting cast is equally strong. While they’re often doing incredibly over-the-top things (like goring a giant whale with a boat), the writers never lose sight of the fact that The Boys are, at the end of the day, a group of eminently flawed people. Seeing Hughie (Jack Quaid) often feel helpless over the mission and his strained relationship with Starlight (Erin Moriarty), MM (Laz Alonso) solemnly reminisce about his family and Frenchie (Tomer Capon) reflect on the failings of his past as he tries to help Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) is consistently riveting and even emotional. Kimiko, especially, is a much more well-realized character this time around, thanks to an endearing bond with Frenchie and heartbreaking backstory.
Likewise, The Seven continues to be the perfect enemy for The Boys, as Season 2 does a wonderful job in making the superhero team much more complex. Except the comically silent Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) — every member of The Seven goes through their own sort of soul searching, allowing the writers to fully examine what makes them all tick. No more is this true for Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), one of Season 1’s most underdeveloped characters who’s given a satisfying arc focused on stepping out of Homelander’s shadow.
And speaking of Homelander, the leader of The Seven once again proves to be the standout character in an already excellent cast. With Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) gone, Homelander becomes increasingly desperate to find other sources of affection. Season 2 uses this opportunity to explore Homelander’s terrifying declining mental state and ever-fragile Superman-esque public persona — an internal struggle brought to life through Starr’s mesmerizing performance.
Meanwhile, Homelander is further tested by The Seven’s latest member, Stormfront (a wickedly magnetic Aya Cash), who uses her social media savvy to win over a massive fanbase. Stormfront harbours her own sinister secrets that she seeks to hide by charming the people, drawing clear parallels to the current political state of the U.S. Jealous of this attention and frustrated over her lack of fear of him, Homelander quickly sees Stormfront as a rival, adding a clever wrinkle into the inner dynamics of The Seven.
At the same time, The Boys continues to add layers of empathy to Homelander’s character, primarily through his relationship with Ryan. It’s a fascinating dynamic, as it’s clear that while Homelander’s ego plays a factor in him trying to win over Ryan from Becca, you also buy that — in his own twisted way — he genuinely wants his son to have a better upbringing than he got from Vought. On the other hand, it’s easy to empathize with Becca, who’s unwittingly placed at the centre of the larger conflict when all she wants is to protect her son from his unstable father.
With so much going on throughout its otherwise brilliantly-paced eight episodes, though, Season 2 does stumble with two of its main characters. Besides Stormfront, Season 2’s biggest newcomer is the shadowy Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), the CEO of Vought, who ostensibly serves as the series’ overarching villain, as well as another figure for both Butcher and Homelander to butt heads with. Unfortunately, Edgar is criminally underused and mostly a waste of Esposito’s considerable talent. To be sure, the Breaking Bad star expertly commands every minute he’s on-screen with Gus Fring-levels of gravitas, but the character’s overall role in Season 2 is somewhat underwhelming. Thankfully, Homelander and Stormfront are such a captivating villainous duo that Edgar’s comparatively short minimal time doesn’t feel so glaring.
Likewise, The Deep (Chase Crawford) feels somewhat misused this season. Following his dismissal from The Seven to allow the team to save face amid his sexual assault scandal, The Deep is now wallowing in misery in Sandusky, Ohio. Because of that, Season 2 follows the aquatic superhuman as he works with a Scientology-esque group to get himself back into The Seven. While this is a darkly funny-yet-surprisingly timely exploration of how an abuser might try to redeem himself in the public eye, it’s also distractingly removed from the central Boys-Seven conflict for the majority of the season. As a result, I often found myself checking out from his subplot as I waited to get back to the heart of the story.
Ultimately, though, these issues are easy to forgive when considering just how phenomenal Season 2 is altogether. It’s even more impressive when considering that while many series fall victim to the cursed “sophomore slump,” The Boys deftly manages to come out even stronger in its second outing. Thanks to arresting levels of suspense, uniformly excellent performances and consistently clever writing, The Boys Season 2 cements the Amazon series as an absolute must-watch series. Season 3 can’t get here fast enough.
The first three episodes of The Boys‘ second season will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on September 4th. Subsequent episodes will release on the streaming service every Friday.
Image credit: Amazon