No one is suggesting that a kinetic, loud show like The Boys can never slow down and take its time to dig into its characters in an episode like “Nothing Like It in the World,” but did they have to take 68 minutes to do so? That’s a movie. And not exactly an action-packed one, either. There are definitely things to like here — a more vulnerable performance than Karl Urban is usually allowed, the chemistry between Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty, the kinky oddity that is everything Homelander does with Doppelganger — but this episode needed a tighter editing hand in both writing and post-production. The same thing could have been accomplished in two-thirds the running time, pushing us with more urgency into the back half of the season, instead of feeling like a show that’s kind of spinning its wheels before it gets to the good stuff.
“Nothing Like It in the World” is all about defining relationships: Hughie and Annie, Billy and Becca, Homelander and Homelander, Frenchie and Kimiko, Maeve and Elena. And it’s about Stormfront’s continued dominance. As Amazon had to have known, the end of episode three was a buzz-generator online, with some even suggesting that the racial epithet that the purported hero threw out before killing Kenji should have come with a trigger warning. They are likely to say the same about this episode, given the flashback to what Liberty/Stormfront did to a Black man after a traffic stop, but that’s for later. It’s interesting to see how Stormfront has generated controversy with viewers, some of whom may have been enchanted by her initial no-nonsense presentation. Stormfront is a character who purports to be the only one who can speak the truth and tear down the system, but is actually a virulently racist borderline Nazi. Sound familiar? Even her name hits the ear differently now than it did in the premiere.
The writers leave Stormfront for the majority of the episode, focusing instead on three arcs: Billy trying to rescue Becca, Homelander dealing with his new role in The Seven, and a road trip to find Liberty. Both non-Homelander arcs start with a meeting between Billy and Grace. It turns out that an old supe named Liberty was all over Raynor’s server before she was murdered. Before Billy can go find Liberty and figure out how she’s connected, Grace gives her the details on Becca and Ryan’s location. They’re not far, but they’re under heavy surveillance by Vought. Billy tasks Mother’s Milk with going to find Liberty while Billy goes to find his wife and kid. MM brings Hughie and Annie along. Road trips!
Meanwhile, Homelander visits Madelyn Stillwell! At first, seeing the murdered Vought power player is startling, but it’s clear something isn’t quite normal from the beginning, and not just because Stillwell seems to be in “Homelander Fantasy Mode,” carrying her own breast milk and wearing a revealing outfit. It’s revealed that this is actually Doppelganger taking on the form of Stillwell for the pleasure of the most popular superhero in the world. The word “creepy” doesn’t even begin to capture it, especially in the final scene. We’ll get there.
The two “normie” arcs of this episode play out rather routinely (and take way too long to accomplish what they do in this episode). It’s nice to see Laz Alonso getting more screentime than he’s been allowed previously, but the driving and socializing scenes between MM, Hughie, and Annie drag. They chat it up across the heartland, eventually arriving at the home of someone connected to Liberty, who tells a harrowing story about an incident from when she was only 11. She witnessed Liberty murder her brother, calling him a “Black piece of shit” before doing it. And then she was paid to keep her mouth shut. She reveals that the monster known as Liberty is the same one now known as Stormfront. Immortal, murderous racism that doesn’t age and seems to have found a way to come back stronger in 2020? Yikes.
While the legacy of Stormfront’s evil is being defined, Billy makes his way to Becca. She escapes surveillance by telling her overlords that she’s going to a bridge to smoke, but she catches up with her husband instead. Urban is good in these scenes, but they go on too long and end in a way that’s not entirely believable. The dividing point between Billy and Becca comes when she discovers that he wants her to run away … but not Ryan. He’s going to leave the kid behind, and they can start a new life together. Billy is too smart for that play. He may not have a connection to Ryan, but he must know that Becca would have one; it’s simply not a believable plan. And it feels like a cheap way to divide Billy from Becca, who has really been his driving force for the entire show, first in avenging her death and then in finding her when he learned she was alive.
Back to Homelander, who is having a full-blown identity crisis. If he’s not the king of the superhero world, who is he? He basically threatens to kill Annie, pushes A-Train out of the Seven, outs Queen Maeve on national television, and then comes after Stormfront. He is a manchild lashing out at everyone and everything around him as his power dwindles. Stormfront redefines things for him. If Homelander was America’s hero, Stormfront reminds him that heroism is an antiquated concept. She is the embodiment of modern politics when she tells him, “You can’t win the whole country anymore. No one can. You don’t need 50 million people to love you — you need 5 million people fucking pissed.” The entire concept of a hero who unites the world is dead in 2020. As she tells him, “You have fans, I have soldiers.”
The final scene is essential for the arc of Homelander. Doppelganger shifts from Stillwell into Homelander himself, still in the nightie, and offering to pleasure, well, himself. The old Homelander probably would have had rough sex with himself, but you can almost see Stormfront’s speech ringing in his ears. He finally says something he may not have said before: “I don’t need everyone to love me. I don’t need anyone.” And then he strangles and kills “himself.” Now that he’s killed his external self and need for adoration, what does Homelander become?
• There’s something so perfect about Homelander not just watching Taxi Driver but siding with Travis Bickle as he does so. Especially if you consider that the “you talking to me” scene from Scorsese’s masterpiece is kind of bookended in the final scene with Homelander literally talking to a version of himself.
• I forgot that The Deep is getting a bride?!? There’s not much more to that revelation for now other than the fact that Carol and the Church of the Collective are really shaping his entire life. Expect Scientology references ahead.
• I am totally with Hughie when he says that Almond Joy, Charleston Chew, and Bit O Honey are the three worst candies in the history of candy. Gross, Starlight.
• Can we talk about how creepy Black Noir is for a minute? The scenes in which he tries to find Billy without speaking to the surveillance tech were a little terrifying. I know it’s a silly show, but wouldn’t the Seven all have to be extremely charismatic like Maeve, Homelander, and even A-Train? How did he get in?
• Did you feel like the week off between episodes hurt or helped your enjoyment of episode four? It might not have felt like it dragged so much with another episode that’s likely faster paced immediately following it.