The second season of The Boys is building toward a violent conclusion, anchored in commentary about how quickly heroism can turn to villainy, especially when lonely people are poisoned by people who should know better. The opening segment this week is startling but inevitable, an example of how easily dangerous rhetoric and racism can persuade people to commit violent acts; it has timely power that’s only slightly removed from the real world of 2020 by the inclusion of Frosted A-Trains cereal on a store shelf. Overall, “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” is one of the season’s stronger episodes, setting up a thematically resonant endgame about fathers and sons: Billy Butcher and Homelander are two men warped by bad fathers, and at least one of them could be preparing to continue that legacy.
The episode opens with a scene of stark violence. A loner is surrounded by Stormfront’s hate speech, spewing from TVs in his home and seemingly everywhere he goes. He becomes convinced that the clerk at a convenience store is a supe in hiding, and he shoots him in the face as “What a Wonderful World” plays mournfully on the soundtrack. The Boys generally goes for satire and comedy more than commentary, but especially in light of recent shootings and unrest in our current reality, this week’s open is legitimately depressing.
It turns out that the events of Sage Grove last week left Lamplighter back in the grasp of Grace, Billy, and the boys. They’re going to try to use the former member of the Seven against Vought, but the congresswoman leading the charge isn’t convinced that testimony from Lamplighter is enough to get the job done. They need more details about exactly what was happening at Sage Grove, which will lead Billy and Grace back to Jonah (John Doman), the man who helped build the Compound-V program and essentially raised Homelander.
Meanwhile, Annie is totally disillusioned by her place in the world, uncomfortable being a hero or a vigilante. She’s ready to give up on the entire concept of heroism when her mom tries to talk her back into the fold. Mom is really just a tracking device to lead Vought to Annie, which results in a vicious attack/fight scene by Black Noir versus our sweet Starlight. Everyone is struggling to find their role this week, with Billy confronting his father, Annie fighting with her mother, Lamplighter giving up on all of it, and Homelander and Stormfront deciding they need an heir for their hatred.
Anyway, Annie ends up in captivity while Hughie and Lamplighter bond over cuck porn based on the history of The Seven, and Billy goes to see his dad, played by the wonderful John Noble of Fringe fame. It turns out Billy’s pop is a garbage person, someone who beat the shit out of both Billy and his brother Lenny. They fight and swear until Billy nearly chokes the old man to death.
The theme of the often-poisonous connection between parent and offspring segues nicely into the next scene, as Stormfront laments the decades it’s been since she had a baby, and Homelander decides to introduce his new gal pal to his son Ryan. Becca Butcher is, naturally, instantly uncomfortable. Homelander’s visits were bad enough, but his new partner-in-hate amplifies the creep factor.
Relationships are fractured all over The Boys, including the one between Queen Maeve and Elena, who can’t look the love of her life in the eyes anymore after learning about the plane crash that she essentially let happen. How many other people has Maeve killed? With Elena gone now, what will Maeve have left to fight for? The Boys is very much about how people, even superpeople, need connections to fuel their passion and heroism. Maeve’s has been ripped away from her, and she spirals out, appearing groggy and in bed with two naked dudes when Ashley comes to find her.
While Homelander and Stormfront try to win over Ryan with stories of how his dad has not only been in movies but literally has a roller coaster named after him, Grace and Billy, separately, try to woo Jonah to a congressional hearing. Grace, accompanied by Mother’s Milk, takes the diplomatic route, learning that Jonah only lives for his daughter now—again, a connection to the episode’s themes about parents and children. Billy takes the “bad cop” approach, basically telling Jonah that he’ll kill his daughter and the rest of his family if Jonah doesn’t do the right thing. Grace tried diplomacy; Billy goes for righteous fury.
The episode peaks at Vought, where Lamplighter and Hughie have gone to break out Annie and her mom. Lamplighter discovers that his statue has been moved from the boardroom, and he’s sad he won’t be able to “do it” in front of the statue, and by “it” he means light himself on fire. Is it that easy? Wouldn’t he be inflammable? Anyway, the sprinklers go off, allowing Annie to escape, but Lamplighter is a crispy former superhero. To make matters worse, Hughie needs Lamplighter’s hand for security reasons, so he cuts it off his burned body. Yikes.
Just then, Black Noir pushes Annie through the wall and they fight right near Lamplighter’s roasted corpse. He’s strong and crazy, as usual. It’s a brutal, ugly fight, and he ends up choking Annie until she passes out. Cut to Maeve with her arm around Noir’s neck! This show’s version of Wonder Woman is finally being a hero again, and she shoves an Almond Joy down Noir’s throat and he passes out. It turns out the world’s creepiest superhero has a tree-nut allergy. Hughie finds Annie’s mom and eventually Annie and they take off.
While Noir is choking to death, Homelander and Stormfront take off with Ryan, leaving Becca devastated, and A-Train and The Deep learn the danger of crossing the Church of the Collective, who are now actively defaming Eagle the Archer for some reason. The big climax takes place at the hearing about Compound-V, where Jonah Vogelbaum is set to be the key witness. Just as he’s being sworn in, the congressman’s head explodes. And then so does someone else’s. And then Jonah’s. Heads are popping everywhere. Is it Stormfront? The escaped prisoner from Sage Grove? Grace tries to race her congressional ally to safety as Homelander looks around to see who’s doing it. C-Span cuts the feed. Billy Butcher glowers.
• I continue to admire the casting on this show. Not only are the leads perfect but any season that peppers in supporting turns from Giancarlo Esposito, Jim Beaver, John Doman, and now John Noble gets extra points from me.
• Hughie gives Lamplighter advice that everyone should heed: “You can’t watch porn when the sun’s out.”
• The version of “What a Wonderful World” playing in the open is this one by Jon Batiste.
• What do you want to happen in the finale? What do you expect to happen? How much do you think it will wrap up threads from this season, or will we look back at year two as a transitional one, setup for year three? I’m really starting to think that’s the likely case. We’ll know soon!