The Boys gets to a real “Come to Jesus” moment in its best episode so far, as Annie tires of the façade of superheroism and the false Gods that come with it and pulls down the curtain. The writing here is still a little shallow, but it feels like the show is finally taking real stabs at social and even political commentary instead of just trying to be edgy. The kind of fear-mongering and false hero worship that Homelander engages in at the Believe Expo is clearly designed to mimic modern politicians, and probably one specifically. (Don’t worry. We’ll keep partisan politics out of our superhero-show recaps, but only if you admit you wouldn’t have been surprised to hear Homelander say, “Make America Great Again.”)
Before “Good for the Soul” gets to the meat of the episode, it has to dispatch Popclaw. Yes, the second half of the season opens much like the first as A-Train commits another murder, although this one is more of the first-degree nature than when he sped right through poor Robin in the series premiere. After getting Popclaw to admit that she told Butcher and the Boys about Compound-V, and to say she loves him one last time, he injects her with multiple needles of heroin, causing an instant overdose. It’s one of several scenes on this show that edges just too far into darkness and feels more gross than edgy.
It’s quickly revealed that A-Train killed Popclaw at Homelander’s order. The maniacal leader of the Seven — and the world, really — continues to be the most fascinating character on the show. Antony Starr injects him with the right balance of menace and false patriotism. He’s increasingly terrifying as he praises A-Train for killing a fellow hero and the woman he loved. The way he grabs his neck, calls him family, and says he’ll always be watching him is obviously meant to recall a mob boss. He’s the Godfather with Superman’s powers who believes he’s the second coming of Christ.
Speaking of family, Frenchie is trying to bring the vicious, feral girl they found into theirs as the rest of the gang hits the Believe Expo, a massive gathering of heroes who preach the word of the Lord. Led by a Guy Fieri-looking huckster who calls himself Ezekiel, the event allows the writers some of their deepest exploration of belief and heroism. Yes, it’s a little easy that our trio of anti-heroes all fall on different parts of the devotion spectrum — Mother’s Milk is faithful, Hughie is agnostic, Butcher is hard-core atheist — but it still allows for some of the season’s richest dialogue to date, and we start to get some character development for Karl Urban’s Butcher, who has merely been a series of snarls and curses for half a season.
All of this is backdrop for the Boys’ true intention for going to the Believe Expo. Sure, Hughie wants to spend some more time with Annie/Starlight, but he really needs to get closer to Ezekiel to figure out what he has to do with the Compound-V shipment they intercepted. The mission forces Hughie to do three things: use his relationship with Annie to get backstage, get rebaptized by Homelander and Ezekiel, then blackmail Ezekiel for the truth.
All of those things happen in a relatively straightforward manner, but, once again, the episode’s most memorable scene belongs to Homelander. He hits Believe Expo like the biggest celebrity in the world, slapping high fives and yelling nonsense like “Keep believing!” First, he rages at Stillwell, telling her that the right move now isn’t platitudes but rage. Of course, he’s right. If we’ve learned anything lately, it’s that Homelander isn’t lying when he says, “What they want is a little John Wayne frontier justice.” He even complains about the coastal elite and foreigners! And then he kills Baby Stillwell with his eyes again. It’s getting increasingly obvious that he’s going to do something awful to that child just so he can have all of Mommy’s attention again.
Of course, Homelander does exactly what he wants onstage, firing up the crowd with phrases like “God’s judgment” and how we were attacked by foreigners. Imagine fear-mongering from an actual superhero. He yells, “Wasn’t I chosen to save you?,” stretches his arms out in the Christ pose, and literally rises above the crowd, quoting Psalm 58:10: “He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
While this nightmare is unfolding, Butcher gets an exposition-heavy tangent when he goes to yell at the sister of his dead/missing wife, Rebecca. Yes, they have fridged another character, this one in the form of Becky Butcher, who it turns out hasn’t been seen in almost a decade. Her husband refuses to give up hope, but Rebecca’s sister wants a tombstone at which they can grieve. Billy won’t even give them that, destroying the headstone.
As the Seven get closer to tracking the Boys, it’s time for Annie to take the stage at the Believe Expo. After everything she’s been through and all the faux faith she’s seen at the event, she finally cracks. She goes on a tirade about tolerance and premarital sex and accepting homosexuality, ending it with the real exclamation point: “What’s immoral is the guy who shoved his dick in my face.” The Deep watches at home, knowing he’s in trouble. And so does Stillwell, furious that Annie has gone off-book.
About that: Elisabeth Shue’s Madelyn Stillwell is supposed to be the mastermind of Vought, and the world really, but she’s increasingly bad at reading situations, right? Homelander’s ploy to fear-monger a need for heroes was a devious but smart plan that one would think she would figure out, and wouldn’t she see that Annie’s speech will engender sympathy the minute it happens? Annie ends with a call to action: “I’m done pretending, and I’m done taking any more shit.”
Back to the plot! Butcher and Mother’s Milk track the Compound-V being shipped through Ezekiel’s charities to a NICU, where they see that it’s literally being pumped into babies. Yes, just as in the comic book, heroes are created in a lab in this world, and apparently from birth. Butcher uses a baby’s laser eyes to kill some enemies, and the pair escape with the knowledge that all of those origin stories about radioactive spiders and islands of Amazon women are lies.
And now we need to talk about the season’s creepiest scene. Stillwell admonishes Homelander for his speech (again, really?) and then she sits on the couch and unbuttons her shirt. He lays his head in her lap, and she shoves her fingers in his mouth, likely because the show producers thought it would be just one bridge too far for her to literally breastfeed him.
Finally, Frenchie and his mute human weapon are jumped in an alley by Black Noir. Frenchie runs, but the two heroes fight. It appears that Black Noir gets the advantage, almost cutting the girl in two. After he leaves, Frenchie returns to mourn what looks like a tragic death, only for her body to heal Wolverine style and her eyes to open. The final line is a perfect one for an episode about Gods and heroes: “You are a miracle.”
• What is up with the timing of the Butcher subplot? In the middle of a mission, he goes off to fill in some backstory we should have had from the beginning. It was jarring in terms of pacing, even if it gave Urban some needed depth.
• Billy Zane! We see a shot of Popclaw’s biggest-hit movie, and Zane co-stars. I wonder if he’s in a bunch of MCU movies. What if he’s Samuel L. Jackson in this world?
• I like the rustle of papers every time A-Train leaves or enters a room. It’s kind of his way of announcing his arrival.
• This was the longest episode yet at a solid 60 minutes, although it worked in terms of pacing better than some of the shorter ones.
• It’s hard to believe anyone wrote this line, much less that Jack Quaid delivered it, so we have to raise a glass to: “You played my butt like jazz — with poise and skill and willingness to improvise.”