Showrunner Eric Kripke returns to direct a strong season finale for The Boys, a show already renewed into a second season by Amazon. Thank God that’s the case, because this year ends with a cliffhanger that, while predictable to a certain degree, sets the table for a very different second year. Think about it: Butcher’s entire reason for being the nihilist lunatic he’s been for a decade has been shattered; Annie is now fully working against the Seven, teaming up to save the Boys and fighting A-Train; Madelyn Stillwell is dead, murdered by the most popular superhero in the world. What now? While the first season of what is likely to be a hit for Amazon Prime was rocky and sometimes frustrating, there are enough things that work about it that the pieces are in place for a follow-up worth being excited about.
The show’s confidence seemed to build throughout this season, and it’s always a good thing to bring in supporting actors as strong as Giancarlo Esposito and Jim Beaver for a finale. The latter — a collaborator with Kripke on Supernatural and a consistently wonderful character actor — plays the Secretary of Defense, who meets with Elisabeth Shue’s Madelyn Stillwell. With the revelation that terrorists now have Compound-V and superpowers, the truth is that the governments will need Vought more than ever. All of those expensive bombers and weapons of mass destruction? Worthless now. And this means that Vought and Stillwell hold all the cards with Raynor too, grinding Butcher’s goal to expose the Seven to a halt. He’s not going to take that well.
Speaking of bad news, Annie got some last episode when she learned that heroes are created in labs. This means some questions for Mommy in a heartfelt scene about Annie’s past. She learns that Mom agreed to allow Vought to experiment on her daughter, and that’s why Dad left. She marches out, feeling betrayed by literally everyone in her life. The sense that she has no one who’s told her the truth can be read as motivation for why she comes to Hughie’s rescue in the end. Yes, his speech about her being a superhero is nice, but she also needs something to hold on to, and she basically learns this season that everything she thought she knew from her view of heroism to religion to her own life has been a lie. At least Hughie’s lies came from a good place.
Butcher goes to the woman who recruited him, Grace Mallory, for something to use against Homelander and the Seven. After much hemming and hawing, she reveals that this superhero’s weakness isn’t Kryptonite but his weird, Oedipal relationship with Madelyn Stillwell. Mallory feels like a bit of a non-character here, but she does get a great line about what she’s doing with her self-imposed retirement from the resistance business: “It was either bird watching or alcoholism, so … birds.”
While Butcher is taking a final stab at the Seven, three of the Boys (Frenchie, Kumiko, and Mother’s Milk) get taken by a special-ops group, likely working for Vought. When Hughie and Butcher get back, they discover that the gang has been burned, and it divides the two remaining free members. Butcher wants to leave the rest of the gang and continue the resistance; Hughie wants to save his new friends. They fight, and Butcher is abusive, as usual. Hughie starts to realize how much he’s been used, and how Butcher drags everyone down in his life.
Right about here — 7.5 hours into the season — is where viewers want the fireworks to start, but a show that has often struggled with pacing has a few more dialogue scenes it needs to get off its chest. Yes, one of those introduces us to Giancarlo Esposito as the mysterious Mr. Edgar, Stillwell’s boss at Vought, but the Starlight party scene and bathroom convo with Maeve feels like something that should have been placed earlier. Same goes for the reveal that Homelander created Naqib, even if it does give Antony Starr the chance to chew on the line, “And now we have villains all over the globe that only we can fight in sequel after sequel after sequel.” Most importantly, we’re allowed the craziest scene of the episode, in which Homelander climaxes inside Stillwell as she practically baby-talks him with lines about “my special, special sweet boy.” Eek. That very memorable moment aside, a 66-minute episode — the longest of the season — drags right when we need it to pick up.
And then it does! Hughie gets himself caught on purpose so Frenchie can use his retainer to bust them out. They escape, get a gun, and an actual action scene ensues! After getting Kumiko free, it looks like the nameless baddies have the jump on them until Starlight comes to save the day! Finally, some heroism! And a showdown! After Frenchie, MM, and Kumiko get free, a drugged-up A-Train confronts Starlight and Hughie. The two members of the Seven fight, but A-Train took too much V and his heart gives out just in time for Hughie not to get destroyed. Hughie makes the heroic decision to not watch another superhero die, starting CPR on the person who killed his girlfriend. Annie calls it in, and takes over, allowing Hughie to run.
It’s telling that the season doesn’t climax with Hughie and Annie but with Butcher, Homelander, and Stillwell. Butcher’s final move is to strap Stillwell with C4 to get Homelander to come to her home. He’s going to kill Stillwell the same way that Homelander killed his wife. However, Homelander has another plan. He figured out the truth, and the fact that his faux mother lied to him breaks the final straw of sanity he had left. After a moment with Stillwell, he literally fries her face by blasting his laser eyes into hers. Now what, Butcher? Our anti-hero blows up the house anyway. There’s no reason to live now anyway, right?
Much to his surprise, Butcher wakes up on a lawn. Homelander saved him at the last minute. (Did he save Stillwell’s baby too? Probably not.) And the season ends by shattering William Butcher’s life as he sees that not only is Homelander’s son still alive … so is Becca Butcher.
• Elisabeth Shue is a solid actress but she was stuck in a part that the writers didn’t really know what to do with, so it’s probably for the best that she’s gone, especially if one considers that this could mean Giancarlo Esposito’s Mr. Edgar will take that role next year as the puppet master of the superheroes. Let’s make that happen. He makes everything better.
• I forgot about The Deep! He learns the very hard way that no one at Vought wants to bring him back to the Seven. He’s in Ohio for now, and probably long-term, reimagined as “The Savior of Sandusky,” opening Splash Zones and hearing “Everybody Hurts” in his head. The idea that this is how superheroes are sidelined once their popularity wanes is clever, but The Deep knows too much. We haven’t seen the last of him.
• Who’s your season-one MVP? For me, the whole season goes to Antony Starr, an actor who struck the perfect balance of menace and faux heroism. Second would be Erin Moriarty, even if she was increasingly forced to be reactive to the story around her more than driving her own. Karl Urban is generally underrated too, and he got more interesting as the season progressed. Now that he has to redefine the character in season two, he could do even stronger work.
• What do you want out of season two? The show could go in 100 directions. Stillwell is dead and Becca is alive, which redefines the show. And Annie now knows everything about Hughie. Will she stay in the Seven? Could she after fighting A-Train? And are they “the Five” now?