The penultimate episode of Amazon’s first season of The Boys is a hybrid of an origin story for Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and a really bad week for Erin Moriarty’s Starlight. It’s a solid episode — one that sets us up for a final showdown in the finale — but also contains some of the frustrating writing and tonal inconsistencies that have marred most of this season. Most interestingly, it really pushes the needle on Butcher into the red, making him into a brutal murderer who is willing to do anything to avenge his wife. What will he do when he learns the truth about what happened to her? Or could he already know something?
It was revealed last episode that Homelander raped Rebecca Butcher, and that’s why her husband’s every waking moment is devoted to taking him and the Seven down. We finally spend some time with the fridged wife in a flashback to a Vought Christmas party eight years ago. As the new Senior Director of Digital Marketing, she met Homelander, proud of the way she handled his digital media. Happier times for Butcher are indicated by an actual smile and no facial hair, but we know what happens between Homelander and Becca, giving the whole opening scene a queasy sense of dread.
Let’s stick with this subplot, even though it’s divided through the episode. In another flashback, we finally meet Grace Mallory, played by the excellent Laila Robins! She’s the one who first brought the Boys together and whose grandkids died when Frenchie failed to stop Lamplighter. She came to Butcher with security-camera footage of Rebecca coming out of an office, telling Billy that his wife was in that room with Homelander for three hours. It’s Butcher’s origin story — the minute he realized that heroes weren’t exactly heroic, and the day he was recruited into the resistance.
Later in the episode, we learn at least a version of the truth about what happened to Rebecca Butcher through a scene between Homelander and his Dr. Frankenstein, the man who helped create and raise him, Jonah Vogelbaum (John Doman). Dripping with disdain for the monster he unleashed on the world, Jonah tells Homelander — who has finally figured out that Rebecca Butcher’s husband is the one leading the team against him — about what really happened to her. The rape led to a super-pregnancy, something no one thought possible. Rebecca was forced to sign an NDA and have the baby in secret, which is why she disappeared, but the child literally tore its way out of her stomach, killing her. Jonah tells Homelander that the baby died, drowning in its mother’s blood, but we should be skeptical of that claim. Doesn’t it feel like there’s a revelation of Homelander Jr. just waiting in the wings to destroy both Butcher and the leader of the Seven?
Back to the plot of the day. Homelander uses the photos from Mesmer’s phone to finally connect the dots, burning the Boys, and, more importantly, dropping the floor out from poor Annie. In a meeting with the Seven, Homelander reveals how Hughie has been using her to dismantle the heroes, even reducing them to the Five. He killed Translucent; he got The Deep sent away; he used Annie to help blackmail Ezekiel — she’s shocked and hurt. How are the writers possibly going to patch this betrayal? It will take more than an apology from Hughie.
Annie talks through her feelings with Maeve, and, while this is a good scene, it’s kind of frustrating that she doesn’t find and confront Hughie immediately and that it’s the guy (A-Train) who gets to do that first. A-Train threatens Hughie’s dad, forcing the lad to come home, where they argue about responsibility. At first, it almost seems like A-Train is making a good point (credit to Jessie T. Usher there) when he mentions how the speedy hero just made a mistake in killing Robin, but Hughie did what he did to Popclaw intentionally. Yes, that’s true, but Hughie using Popclaw didn’t force A-Train to then kill her. That’s where the argument kind of falls apart. Still, it’s interesting how the writers have allowed Hughie to get a little gray — he has used Annie and Popclaw. And it seems like he’s not even sure why.
However, the biggest user in this world is the one person who seems completely confident and eternally unafraid: William Butcher. His rage reaches a new level this episode when he confronts Mesmer for leaking the photos to the Seven. It’s a startling scene for a few reasons. First, Butcher had to know that Homelander and them would find the Boys sooner than later. Mesmer sped up something inevitable. So why freak out? Second, Mesmer offers to give Butcher the truth about his wife, leading the anti-hero to hold the psychic’s head. Mesmer is clearly terrified by what he sees. And then Butcher kills him by bashing his head against a sink. It’s a violent moment that’s more consistent with the darker source material, but the show version of Butcher hasn’t really been the kind of guy to murder people who aren’t trying to hurt him. Unless he knows that Mesmer has seen something that must be kept secret. What did he see?
Before the Seven can get to the Boys, the Feds (led by Agent Susan Raynor) get to them. They take all the evidence back to their offices and bring in Madelyn Stillwell for a little chat. Vought either drops the military bill, or everything goes public. Stillwell seems to acquiesce, but then Raynor is called into the other room to witness something disturbing. The Navy SEALs found the men behind the hijacking and killed them, but they were then confronted by a shirtless gentleman with the word “Naqib” on his chest, who exploded, killing the soldiers. And then he walked right out of the compound. The show now has a legitimate super-terrorist, and this could mean that Vought and the military will have to work together, no matter what truth Butcher and the Boys have uncovered.
Finally, we get a confrontation between Annie and Hughie. He drops the truth about Compound-V to his girlfriend, who seems shocked, sticking to the story that heroes are born heroic. She’s had a bad week — her boyfriend and maybe her entire history are a lie. And then she gets shot in the chest. Butcher grabs Hughie and the two flee. Hughie might have been safer with Starlight.
• This chapter was directed by a TV legend named Dan Attias. Seriously, you can’t name many Peak TV shows he hasn’t been involved with, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Lost, The Americans, and dozens more, all the way back to Miami Vice.
• We should talk a bit about Susan Raynor, who is very different in the books. There, she knew about Compound-V, she even gave it to Butcher to inject Hughie — yes, they’ve gone far off the source this season. It’s worth mentioning because for those of us who know the source, it leads us to wonder if she won’t turn on the Boys. Let’s just say, she may not be as heroic as we’ve seen so far.
• I didn’t mention the weirdest scene of the season! The Deep is basically assaulted by a woman who forces her fingers into his gills — yes, he has gills — while she touches herself. It’s creepy and strange. It kind of distracts from the pacing this week, but The Deep’s adventures in the Rollercoaster Capital of the World are still pretty amusing.
• John Doman! The actor who plays Jonah is a great character performer who has been in Hollywood for decades, alternating TV work (he was William Rawls on The Wire) and film (he was recently great in You Were Never Really Here). Not only is it cool to see him here, but it’s always interesting when a show like this takes the time to fill out small roles with great performers. Keep it up.
• A-Train drops a reference to when Ben Johnson, disgraced sprinter, had to race a horse. If you’re wondering, that really happened. He lost.