Eric Kripke and the team behind Amazon’s adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book The Boys take one of the sharpest turns so far in adapting the source material. We have a completely revised origin story for the mute killing machine who gives this episode, “The Female of the Species,” its title, played here by Karen Fukuhara (who was Katana in Suicide Squad). The two versions of the character are relatively similar, but she’s introduced in the source comic as a member of Butcher’s team, even if everyone is terrified of her. In the series, she’s found as part of the investigation into Compound V and whatever’s going on with A-Train. It’s a revision that works, giving the show a different energy, even if other parts of this episode frustrate.
Let’s start there: How are we supposed to feel about A-Train and the Deep? The writers have been unequivocal about Homelander and Queen Maeve. The former is a sociopathic version of Captain America, a type of toxic masculinity multiplied by the powers of Superman. The latter is arguably the only member of the Seven with a conscience, and Dominique McElligott is doing an excellent job carving out a character with only a few scenes. Maeve knows the depth of Homelander’s insanity, but she also knows better than anyone that no one can stop it.
But the other two members of the Seven that aren’t Annie/Starlight seem to confuse the writers a bit. Some scenes in this episode seem designed to elicit sympathy for A-Train and the Deep, as if someone forgot they are a murderer and a rapist, respectively. Just a few episodes ago, we watched A-Train run through a woman and then laugh later about swallowing her molar. Why are we supposed to care that he’s nervous about what’s going to happen to his girlfriend, Popclaw, who also happens to be a murderer? Ditto the Deep, whose concerns for marine life are unheard by Vought, although the scene in which he tries to rescue a dolphin only to see it smashed by a truck is an unexpected bit of surreal humor. The show could use more of that silliness; it often seems like it can’t figure out how seriously to take itself.
We do know how the writers want us to feel about Annie, the still-righteous new member of the Seven. She finally gets a real date with Hughie this episode, and it’s at a bowling alley of all places. (Chime in the comments if you’ve ever had a great first date at a bowling alley.) The setting is really just a place to detail how Annie has lived a life in which she had to hide her superpowers to get a guy. Could Hughie be the first beau who really loves her for who she is? Even if she can bench-press him? Just as Hughie seems to be falling for her, he spots a vision of Robin, his dead girlfriend who exploded in front of him, like, a few days ago. It shocks him into reality, and he does what needs to be done, hacking Annie’s phone to get the Boys closer to their goal of bringing down the Seven. Will Annie be the key to dismantling the corrupt group of which she’s now a part, or will she eventually turn on Hughie to keep her superhero dream alive?
Back to the Female of the Species. As they’re tracking down the Compound V, which Butcher’s contact at the government needs a sample of to move forward, they come upon a girl in a cell. Frenchie assumes she’s a victim and opens the door, not realizing that the cell isn’t to keep her prisoner but to protect everyone else from her. (Small question: If Compound V makes her as strong as she appears to be, what are the bars of the cell made of? Oh, never mind.) After she destroys her guards, she takes off into the night.
Butcher, Frenchie, and Mother’s Milk track the escapee first to a salon, where she has murdered a woman who, it is revealed, traffics girls. As they continue to track her to the train station, we get a bit of background on why Mother’s Milk hates Frenchie: Frenchie was supposed to track Lamplighter, but he didn’t and some kids ended up dead. This trek also allows for the worst pep talk ever from Butcher, who encourages the guys to stick together like the Spice Girls; after all, their solo careers never produced a “Wannabe.” Ultimately, A-Train catches up with the Female of the Species first, speed-smashing her head into a wall. Frenchie saves her, but Butcher knocks her out with some gas. What now?
All of this action surrounds the most disturbing scene so far this season. We need to talk about Flight 37. It has been hijacked, and Stillwell sends the two biggest heroes in the world to save it: Homelander and Queen Maeve. Bring home the hostages, and Congress will have to push through the bill to get supes involved in the military. Homelander knows the only thing that creates more activism than saved hostages is dead ones. He sabotages the mission, using his laser eyes in the cockpit to send the plane spiraling. In a scene that’s just a bit too long, crossing the threshold into discomfort, he fights with Maeve about saving the passengers, even threatening to just fry them in the air. As he floats in the sky and watches the bodies plummet out of the plane, one wonders if a quick laser death wouldn’t be better. As he stands amid the wreckage, railing against how superheroes need to be in the chain of command so they can get to hostage crises earlier, Stillwell realizes his play. And she looks proud.
• There’s a brief reference to an upcoming religious event called the Believe Expo, which will include an appearance by Homelander and Starlight. Not only is this likely to be a major series event — the first public one with our villain and heroine — but I’ve always found religion an interesting issue in the world of superheroes. How would belief in a higher power change in a world in which gods are essentially real? I’ll be curious to see how The Boys handles it.
• The show needs more clever minor beats, such as the one in which A-Train seems to be just casually standing around as if he doesn’t want to be noticed before turning into a speedy blur. It’s probably hard for him to blend into a crowd.
• We get a shot in this episode of Terror! That awesome bulldog is a major part of the Butcher aesthetic in the source material, always by his side and willing to do whatever he wants, including fornicating on command. He’s in the flashbacks to a happier time in Butcher’s life that open the episode. We’re sure to get more of what happened to make him so depressed, eating Hot Pockets and refusing to shave, which probably means more Terror.
• For arguably the most high-paced episode to date, The Boys turned directorial duties over to Fred Toye, who was Emmy nominated for Westworld and shot episodes of Chuck, Fringe, Alias, and many more. Writing went to a veteran of another Seth Rogen–Evan Goldberg adaptation, Preacher: Craig Rosenberg. They both do their best to bring together elements of a show that still feels one great chapter away from figuring itself out.