Explainers

Amazon Prime’s The Boys, Explained

July 31, 2019
13 min read

In all the superhero movies, the protagonists are shown as good people who are not maligned by the incredible powers they have. They always want to stay in the shadows and only show up when the world needs saving. They might stray from the noble path sometimes, but they are inherently good and, in the end, will always do the right thing. This is a very romantic idea and, in a world full of bad people, seems rather impossible. When has it happened that a person in power hasn’t used it to his own end?

The Boys’ doesn’t want you to fall for the Disney-styled superheroes. It presents a whole different side of these heroes, giving you a hard truth about how it would actually be if there really were people with superhuman abilities amongst us. They won’t sit back and lead a boring life. Instead, they would make a spectacle out of themselves and abuse their power, as any person would. If you haven’t yet seen the series, head over to Prime Video. SPOILER ALERT!

Summary of the Plot

‘The Boys’ is set in a world where superheroes are treated as celebrities, if not gods. They are managed by a company whose only job is to maintain the reputation of the heroes for the public and make as much money as they can out of it. While there are 200+ superheroes around the world, there is a team of the best of them all that operates from New York. They are called the Seven. They are loved and adored by everyone. But that’s because no one is aware of all the bad stuff they do. After Hugh Campbell’s girlfriend is killed by one of the Seven, he is approached by a man named Billy Butcher who offers him to join his team and exact the revenge.

Themes of the Story

‘The Boys’ might be fiction, but what works so wonderfully for it is the resonance with reality. The first thing that it gets right is the fact that the superhero business is one of the most profitable businesses right now. There had always been a craze for superheroes and such movies had been made before as well. But the past decade saw an incredible increase in the appetite of the audience for the superhuman protagonists. With ‘Avengers: Endgame’ becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, the morale of the studios has only increased and there is a legion of movies that we will get to see in the next couple of years. But the effect of it doesn’t stop at the movie theatres. There is merchandising, theme parks, and all the other tricks to keep the audience invested in this world. ‘The Boys’ heavily satirises this by highlighting the “human” than the “super” part of the word.

From the screens on Times Square to food items in a grocery store, there is nowhere that you can’t see a superhero asking you to buy something. Their job isn’t just about saving the world. They are the face of a multi-billion-dollar corporation. They enjoy an excessive amount of stardom, which is further heightened by their involvement in the showbiz. They act in their own movies, and from the way it looks, I don’t think there is any other kind of films besides the superhero genre. Even their lives run like a movie.

The heroes don’t show up in public without a script, they have “crime itineraries”, they have special people to handle their social media accounts and keep track of their popularity. Specific outfits are designed for them to please the people. There are “auditions” for becoming a part of The Seven; children even take part in hero pageants which play out like Miss World contests. And all of this rests on marketing. They are projected as chosen by God and use their influence to further the cause of another huge business- religion. It doesn’t matter if they have raped someone, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people and are absolutely shitty people, as long as it all remains in the shadows. As long as the public doesn’t know about, they can be the messengers of God.

While Vought is a huge organization with unimaginable money and strong contacts, we only get to see the superheroes involved with the marketing division. There is a “corporate” that makes the big decisions, but we never really get to see them. This actually plays in with the tone of the series because the whole world is dazzled by these superheroes and doesn’t see anything beyond them, which allows bigger players to work behind the scenes and do whatever they want. The audience too experiences this first hand and only sees the company in the form of its superheroes.

With great power comes great publicity, which means even more money. The Supes are not at all concerned about saving anyone. They are extremely powerful and know that no one can actually touch them. As Butcher puts it, it is their reputation that they care about the most. If they lose that, then despite the superpowers, they are useless. This point is made through the arc of The Deep’s story. He is an extremely stupid person (the dolphin scene!) who somehow clawed his way up and into the Seven, but no one takes him seriously. His teammates don’t respect him and Vought only cares about how much money he can bring for them. Any thoughts that he has about helping the dolphins and other sea creatures are scraped off. This gives him serious inferiority complex, and there is only one way that he can make himself feel better- by using his power to subjugate those below him.

The one way he does that is by sexually harassing the women around him. In the first episode, he welcomes Starlight to the Seven Tower and when she confesses that she had a crush on him when she was child, he takes it as an indication that she is interested in him. When she stands up for herself, he does what many men like him have done before. He uses his position to show her that he can easily destroy her life and career if she doesn’t comply. Even after that, he behaves as if nothing ever happened and even scoffs at her for being “still angry” about that.

Part of his confidence comes from the belief that he is untouchable. He has done this before too, and no one has ever stood up. Even if someone did, his employers took care of it. A few episodes later, when Starlight finally speaks up and he is made to give a public apology (in which he says “it was consensual at the time”), his reputation takes a turn for the worse. The people who had cheered for him before now curse him. He is asked to “take a sabbatical” from the Seven and is sent to a place where there is practically nothing for him to do. In a turn of events, he is even assaulted by a woman. By the end of the season, he has realised that there is no going back for him. Not even with the Seven becoming a part of the Army now.

There is a clear impact of the Me Too Movement on the story of ‘The Boys’. As often happens in a story, a woman takes upon herself to take her revenge. From the first couple of episodes, it seemed like Starlight might embark on the same path. Finding no one she can turn to, not even Queen Maeve, she decides to keep her chin up. We know that payback will come for The Deep, but we think it will be at the hands of Starlight, which is rooted in the belief that she will keep the incident to herself. This changes when she publicly speaks about it. Now she has let the truth out into the world and the people should decide the fate of their hero. Public responsibility is also highlighted when Hugh comes to know that he isn’t the only one who has lost someone because of a Supe. Yet the fuck-ups by the superheroes are covered up because most people settle for some money.

The Choice of Right and Wrong

Another prominent theme that reverberates throughout the show is the question of choices. Whether you are a superhero or a normal human being, your choices pave the path for your future. In the Supes, we get to meet a good variety of characters who have different ideas about the power they possess. Starting with Homelander, he is an absolute psychopath! What sets him apart from other Supes is his childhood. All the others were brought up in normal families, but he is a lab rat who lived in isolation, surrounded by the people who treat him as a test subject. He has never known motherly love, which is partly why he is attracted to Madelyn. He is actually jealous of her baby! Moreover, he is super powerful which has made him free of any guilt, shame or fear about anything. He doesn’t really feel these things and we come across such situations time and again. His utter unwillingness to even try and save the people on the hijacked plane shows that he has no interest, whatsoever, in being an actual saviour as long as he already has a reputation for that. On the other hand, the rest of his team behaves like normal people, all the time. Their flaws only accentuate their humanness.

Queen Maeve is a tormented character who doesn’t like to show her feelings to the world, lest anyone believes that she is weak. Just like Starlight, she was hopeful and bright-eyed when she was young. But after spending some time at Vought, she realised how utterly useless it was for her to behave that way. She discovered that it is all about appearing a superhero and she sticks to the role. She is also invested in getting her points and being rich and popular, but there is a part of her that still wants to save the world. In the plane, even when she knows that people are going to die, she doesn’t let go till the very end. While Homelander makes his way towards the exit, she tries to come up with all possible scenarios to save as many people as she can, even just one little girl. But she can’t and it haunts her. The only reason she gives us for despising her is her surrender to inaction. But we do hope she will find that spark again.

Another contrast of characters, despite their similar backstories, can be seen in Billy Butcher and Hugh Campbell. Both of them were simple men who had to take up arms against the Supes after losing the women they loved. They are both approached by someone who promises them revenge. And the differences begin to show up after that. Butcher is fixated on Homelander. He doesn’t really care about the rest of the Supes, all of whom he hates unequivocally. When the CIA gives him a deal in return for Compound V and other information, he doesn’t take it because it won’t get him his main enemy. Even when M.M, Frenchie and the Female are captured, he doesn’t give any thought to rescuing them. He simply wants revenge and doesn’t care what price has to be paid for it.

Hughie, on the other hand, is quite different. Even though he wants payback from A-Train, he is not hateful of other Supes. He can differentiate between his personal animosity and hating an entire group. As he gets deeper into the mission, his priorities take a shift. It becomes more about Compound V and what Vaught is doing to the world. It’s not just his personal vendetta anymore. Moreover, in the end, instead of going with Butcher, he decides to stick to the team and saves them with the help of Starlight. While Butcher hasn’t let go of his revenge, Hughie is somewhat distanced from it now. The writers also reward him by bringing Starlight back to him and sending him off with the rest of the team. But Butcher’s obsession leads him to a revelation that isn’t really rewarding.

The Ending

‘The Boys’ surprises its audience by taking a different turn from the novels, in which his wife was supposed to stay dead and the Supe baby was to perish as well. The show, however, keeps both of them alive, making it clear that the story is going to take a different direction from its source. With the Boys on the run and a heart-breaking revelation for Butcher, the next season promises a lot of drama. The first season has given a solid start to the series and we expect the second season to take it a notch higher.

What to Expect from The Boys Season 2?

First of all, what happens to The Boys now? Hughie, Frenchie, M.M and The Female are fugitives, with Vought on their tails. What will be their next course of action? Also, is A-Train really dead? If not, then what does that mean for Starlight who has now joined forces with the Boys? Can we expect her to serve as their spy against the Supes? Will she continue to be a part of The Seven? Will Maeve finally get around to do the right thing? And what’s the future of The Deep in the team? Speaking of which, we expect some new members to join it next season. Translucent’s death calls for replacements.

In the announcement for the second season, it was revealed that Aya Cash would be joining the cast as Stormfront, an extremely powerful Supe, created by none other than Hitler himself. She is an equal of Homelander, if not greater than him. How will The Boys fight her? Moreover, will her power make Homelander insecure? Will he try to get rid of her? Now that Billy knows his wife his alive, will he agree to join forces with Homelander to face a new threat!

With Madelyn out of the picture, we also expect Giancarlo Esposito’s Mr Edgar to have a bigger role in the next season. With his handler gone, we also count on Homelander to make himself a stronger presence in the company. We know that the plan of circulating Compound V internationally and making some supervillains was his idea. This means that he doesn’t plan to make movies and click selfies for the rest of his life. What are his plans for the future? In the novels, he makes an army for himself and storms the White House. Can we expect the same storyline to emerge in the next season?

With him becoming so powerful, can The Boys really stop him? In the comics, it is Black Noir who kills him and then is killed by Butcher. BN’s story wasn’t explored in this season. We hope it gets some time in the next. There are also other small things like The Lamplighter’s story, and The Boys injecting themselves with Compound V. How far will the show stray from the novels now? How many other Supe children are there? What plans does Homelander has for his son? And most importantly, will Simon Pegg return?

Read More in Explainers: Another Life | Big Little Lies Season 2

SPONSORED LINKS