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Binge Mode: Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1)

Thoughts on the ambitious, sloppy, heartfelt first season of The CW’s big Arrowverse spinoff.

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Legends of Tomorrow Review

(With over 500 shows airing each year, it’s only natural most television watchers eventually resort to binge-watching series. In my new column Binge Mode, I’ll be periodically sharing thoughts on the shows, old and new, I’ve been marathoning. As such, the following review contains spoilers for the entire season being discussed. Duh.)

With 376 episodes aired since its debut in October 2012, The CW’s Arrowverse has become the most sprawling, network-dominating franchise this side of Law & Order universe. Over that time, all of its long-running live-action shows – Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow – have calcified their serialized formula into an impressively reliable device for dense storytelling, building out unique worlds and personalities for each show within that similar framework.

Refined by over 260 hours of produced television, the CW DC formula is painstakingly familiar at this point, for better or worse: each one has pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses, similar abilities to deliver small scale spectacles while bumbling awkwardly to pace themselves through the massive episode count each show is given (for most, 22-24 episodes, with LoT and the recent addition Black Lightning offered shorter production orders). Bad romance plots and wonderfully crafted references to the DC multiverse, great production design and laughable special effects… to love the CW’s heartfelt, melodramatic, tiresomely lengthy universe is to take the good and the bad with each new season.

Recently, I sat down and watched through the first season of the C-List Super Hero Spin Off of the Arrowverse, Legends of Tomorrow, which aired in the spring of 2016 opposite the second halves of Arrow‘s fourth season, and The Flash‘s second season. On the surface, Legends of Tomorrow seemed like a shrewd, calculated bit of programming for The CW: take a bunch of actors the network loved, but couldn’t realistically keep involved on their current shows, and mush them together in Rip Hunter’s Waverider spaceship, Guardians and the Galaxy-ing the shit outta of their C-squad of heroes – The Atom, The White Canary, Firestorm, and Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield with cool guns – for the sake of filling the spring schedule with even more DC-flavored television.

The first few episodes of the series feel like a victim of the network’s focus group approach I noted above: the personalities of each character clashed together without much resonance, and outside of the mystery of “what time period are they going to travel to so they can make generic references?”, there wasn’t a lot of intrigue to Rip Hunter’s quest through time to stop Vandal Savage, and Legends of Tomorrow struggled to find its way early on. It takes until the sixth episode, “Star City 2046”, for even the plot to get interesting – and that’s only because the show teases us with Diggle’s son as Green Arrow, with a bitter, one-armed Oliver Queen to boot. But with the lamest incarnation of Deathstroke in recorded history, and the wasted opportunity of taking the The Dark Knight Returns reference even farther with a truly anti-capitalist Oliver, the small teases of character we’re offered with Captain Cold and White Canary in that episode are buried under the same bullshit that plagues the five episodes preceding it.

And then “Marooned” hits, a quasi-bottle episode that in theory would congeal the show’s individual aspects into something coherent, and instead mires the show in some of the clunkiest interpersonal relationship material I’ve seen in the Arrowverse (and this is a universe where Thea Queen’s had multiple romantic story lines). Of course, I’m talking about the Ray Palmer/Kendra Saunders love story, which initially debuts as a prime example of why these series should have shorter episode orders; left to fill space, the inclination to have these people fuck and get dramatic about it is run deeps through the heart of all the series I’ve mentioned so far, and it never feels like anything but a waste of time. In “Marooned”, which introduces this as a laughable love triangle between those two and Jefferson Jackson, it destroys any sense of momentum the season had been building to that point.

However, it’s the Ray/Kendra relationship that is the catalyst for the most interesting arc of the season, beginning in episode 9’s “Left Behind”. After being stranded in 1958 for two years, Ray and Kendra are “rescued” from the life they’ve built together, and brought back to the Waverider to resume their mission. This causes tension between them, because Ray wants to stay in 1960, and Kendra desperately wants to return to the mission of taking down Savage and saving The Timeline (the single most annoyingly overused phrase in the series, I might add): slowly, what appears to be a lame romantic dispute between two wildly underdeveloped characters, gives way to the deeper exploration of the series: what does it mean to be a hero?

That seed of an idea blossoms in the tenth episode, “Progeny”, is perhaps the first real episode of the series that is firing on all cylinders. When the team travels to 2147 to stop Savage from mentoring a young tyrant-in-waiting who is destined to unleash a virus on the world in 2166, the team has to reckon with the difficult decisions of trying to save the future. They attempt to kidnap the young bastard in the hopes of affecting the time line enough, but it doesn’t matter: as the characters are fond of saying through the series, “time wants to happen”, and suddenly the team is thrust into a debate about fate vs. destiny, and how much control we have over anything. While a thoroughly pedantic trope for a science fiction series to explore, Legends of Tomorrow takes this moralistic dilemma, and cuts it down into something more powerful as the season continues, culminating in the season’s penultimate episode, “Destiny”.

I’m willing to forgive a lot of the bullshit that comes between those two episodes – Kendra’s struggle to choose between Ray, and a dude she’s banged for over 4,000 years, silly politics involving the Time Masters council – because of how strong the thread is between “Progeny” and “Destiny”, and how it represents a truer vision for the potential of the series. In “Destiny”, each member of the time traveling team has to decide what their impact on the time line is going to be: what makes our lives memorable, to ourselves and the ones we love? When our lives inevitably end (again, time really wants to happen), do we want society to remember a heroic action, or our friends to remember the smaller moments that unite us? Without a family, can one be remembered at all?

When the series began, Rip Hunter brought each character on board under the false pretense of their lives being insignificant (he really wanted to flip a middle finger to the genocidal time council that employed him, but that’s besides the point): he offered them the opportunity to be legends, to leave an impact on the entire time line of history. “Progeny” forced characters to reckon with the ambiguity of saving the world from its own future: how do you know what will make you remembered as a “good person”? Is it the one heroic action you commit, or the sum of everything you decide to do in life? Other shows like The Good Place or BoJack Horseman have very definitive answers for this question: Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t, often exploring the idea that the universe is so fucking random, there’s often no way to tell what will end up being the right or wrong decision, the heroic or the cowardly, the legendary or the dangerously misguided.

Ultimately, Legends of Tomorrow posits, is that we can try and shape our destiny however we may – but our attempts to do so dishonestly have consequences. Captain Cold is able to redeem himself as a somewhat honorable man, but does so at the cost of his life: and on the other side of the coin, Rip Hunter’s selfish parade through time guarantees he can never save his own family, blinded by his own pain and driven by egotistical notions that he, and only he, could save the time line from the powers that be. Where Legends of Tomorrow really found its stride was in those moments: propelled by those two lead stories, normally lame B-plots like Martin trying to be fatherly to Jackson have a lot more pathos, grounding their silly inter-generational bickering in something much more emotional as Martin tries to guide Jackson to being, essentially, a better version of himself.

The season finale “Legendary”, is a bit of a letdown from the high of “Destiny” – but after 17 episodes of stretching out maybe seven episodes of actual story, it’s no surprise the final episode runs on fumes until it drops its obtuse references for what’s to come in season two, in the form of a dude named Rex Tyler who can’t land a time ship worth a damn. Again, it’s emblematic of DC shows as a whole: great premieres that don’t hit second gear until halfway through, followed by a strong second act that slowly dissolves into nonsensical chaos as it barrels towards a climatic showdown, before hitting the semi-reset button and signing off for the season.

But for those five episodes where Legends of Tomorrow really hits its stride and becomes the swashbuckling time adventure it promised (save for a super lame Jonah Hex appearance in an otherwise strong hour in the Wild West), DC’s strange spin off series offers a glimpse of a series on a slightly smaller scale, with much bigger – and much more promising – ideas and worlds to explore. With its fourth season scheduled to begin in October, there’s certainly plenty of…. time for them to figure it out (yes, that’s a fucking lame way to end a review, and I’m going to own it. Set time drive to max, Gideon!)

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– I can’t get over how lame the Hawkgirl material is for pretty much the entire season. If Hawkgirl isn’t thinking about a man, she doesn’t really have much to do but spar with White Canary (inadvertently teasing a much, much more interesting potential romantic pairing).

– The dissonance between the younger and older halves of Firestorm are perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the show: Victor Garber outshines Franz Drameh in every scene of the series, something that feels both a byproduct of writing and performance for the characters of Martin and Jefferson.

– I still don’t understand the convoluted history between Hawkgirl/Hawkman and Vandal Savage, and I do not wish to.

– Caity Lotz and her stunt double run circles around everyone in this series; White Canary’s fight scenes are always more kinetic and powerful than anyone else’s (maybe because most of them rely on SFX magic, but there’s still some impressive work done by all the White Canaries on set).

– Rip Hunter fucking suuuucks, and boy, does the third act of this season realize it just in time (I gotta stop making these terrible jokes, I’m sorry).

– the costuming on this show really needs to take some direction from the Timeless production crew: the difference in the two shows and their ability to convey time periods is almost baffling.

– Hawkgirl is in her suit so little compared to the other characters on this show, it is silly.

– Heat Wave’s arc this season is all over the fucking place, but I really like the underlying dynamic of a lost soul just trying to find a home where he – in all his crazy, wildly violent ways – felt like he belonged.

– the Captain Cold/White Canary romance that suddenly appears at the end of “Destiny” is so fucking lame, it hurts.

– thanks for checking out my new, semi-regular column! I may or may not write more about Legends of Tomorrow in the future; if you have a show you think I should binge and write about, let me know!

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Katarina

    October 18, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    There’s a drastic change in tone from season 2 forward in Legends that really improves the show, IMO, so if you stick with it I’d love to hear what else you have to say!

    • Randy Dankievitch

      October 18, 2018 at 2:16 pm

      I will definitely be writing more about Legends of Tomorrow in the near future, so stay tuned!

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Boys Season 2, Episode 2 Review: “Proper Preparation and Planning”

A noticeable shift in perspectives and narrative make for a promising second hour of The Boys’ sophomore effort.

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The Boys Proper Preparation and Planning

As The Boys finishes off the remnants of its season one story lines – marked neatly by the funeral of Susan Reiner – “Proper Preparation and Planning” finds itself… well, doing a lot of preparation for the six episodes to follow, expanding on the few new dynamics introduced in “The Big Ride,” and kicking off the season’s big stories: Kimiko and Kenji, Butcher’s quest to get his wife back, and the continued, slow fracturing of The Seven. Despite all that table-setting, however, “Proper Preparation and Planning” is one of the more compelling episodes of The Boys, offering a number of promising signs season two is on much stronger footing than its freshman offering.

There’s a growing sense The Boys is beginning to figure itself out (well, mostly) with “Proper Preparation and Planning” – and if that’s the case, we could be in for quite the fun ride.

Perhaps the most surprising is the general sense of thematic unity found in “Proper Preparation and Planning,” an hour about leadership – particularly, how the toxic brand Homelander and Butcher offer in their parallel paths are disturbingly harmful to anyone who comes in their path. With Stargirl, the idea of corporate, PR-encouraged “leadership” also finds its way into the narrative, when a publicity scrum with Stormfront causes Stargirl to begin considering the compromises she’s making to be a member of The Seven.

The Boys Proper Preparation and Planning

With Stargirl, it’s not exactly a new conflict; but her increased disillusionment with the frivolities of being a corporate super hero are wearing off, neatly reflected in Stormfront’s carefully-cultivated ‘rebel’ persona Stargirl is so enamored with during the hour. Though much of Stormfront’s dialogue with Stargirl is simply repeating story beats we’ve heard before, the accumulation of Starlight’s experiences since stepping into the public eye inform these ideas in a different way.

Not exactly a promising sign The Boys is searching for fertile new ground to explore with Stargirl, but there’s a sense in her most reactionary moments – particularly with A-Train, who goes from being on the verge of death to completely healed and annoying in the space between episodes – that season two of The Boys‘ is committing to exploring the nuances of Stargirl’s complicated relationship with her identity and morality, forcing her to contend with the part of herself that likes her life now, the part that’s willing to do the corporate dance of bullshit whenever she’s trotted out for another interview.

(I’m also very curious whether Stormfront is going to be a direct adaptation of her comic book counterpart… let’s just say the color scheme, which changes whether she’s on camera or not, is pretty telling.)

The Boys Proper Preparation and Planning

What really elevates Stargirl’s material, though, is all the compelling work done around it with Maeve, Becca, and Kimiko, three women coming to terms with the traumas they’ve endured by those in power around them. Maeve and Kimiko in particular, offer up some of the most emotional beats The Boys has been able to create yet; sure, Maeve’s comes at the caveat of having her and her ex-girlfriend explain their emotions to each other, but it’s not like we’ve ever considered The Boys a meticulously crafted character study. It’s just interesting to see her contend with her ‘human’ self a bit more, something we got shades of in season one, but was mostly buried under a layer of self-righteous snark and gallons of vodka.

Removing the salaciousness of Maeve’s character in these early episodes is paying off large dividends; giving Dominique McElligott more room to access Maeve’s interiority is a major boon for both performer and character alike, re-balancing a character who always felt a bit out of whack in season one. One of the things The Boys struggled with early on was not making everyone a complete asshole; adding a bit of dimension to Maeve, whether through the circumstances of her failed relationship or contending with her complicitness in Homelander’s actions, adds a crucial dynamic to the very essence of the stories The Boys are telling (which, let’s be honest, are mostly about a bunch of dickheads and assholes, with the occasional decent human being left victim to their exploits).

Where this really crystallizes, however, is with Kimiko and her brother Kenji, siblings drawn into an army and a war they didn’t want to fight, abandoned overseas and left for dead (while being hunted by the most powerful governments on the planet, no less). These two, victims of careless murders perpetrated by high-minded sociopaths with revolutionary ideas, are remnants of decisions cast by those whose ambitions exceeded their respect for human life; though The Boys is clumsily trying to portray a “good terrorist brother” trope, it does depict the twisted depravity to which powerful men make others serve their ends, and the emotional fallout that causes for those without that power.

The Boys Proper Preparation and Planning

Becca, Kimiko, Hughie… all these characters were drawn into this world of murderous superheroes and super-secret government projects by way of tragedies, by the carelessness of others affecting their very existence in life. At least for the first two characters, The Boys recognizes the importance of that innocence; even in this shitty world, there are still things worth protecting besides IP and oil contracts, and the lives of Becca and Kimiko, and their ability to find peace, make for quite compelling human stories among the madness of Homelander’s attempts to play daddy, and whatever the fuck The Boys thinks its doing with The Deep and his Patton Oswalt-voiced gills (he’s a rapist because… body image issues? the fuck?).

There’s a surprising richness to the quietest moments of the hour that’s rather impressive; Kenji and Kimiko’s embrace as the obvious highlight, having the pleasure to watch Karen Fukuhara firmly establish herself as one of the most talented performers among the cast (watching Aya Cash drop right in like she belongs there is also wonderful, and has me excited to see what fucked up shit inevitably awaits her character). The pain, the hope, the resignation…. everything about the brief five or so minutes they spend together at the end of “Proper Preparation and Planning” elevates the very core of The Boys, as intriguing a second episode of the season I could’ve possibly imagined, especially after the vague disappointment of “The Big Ride.” There’s a growing sense The Boys is beginning to figure itself out (well, mostly) – and if that’s the case, we could be in for quite the fun ride.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 1 Review: “The Big Ride”

The Boys are back in town – and they’re making a louder, bigger mess than they did in season one.

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The Boys The Big Ride

If there’s a common theme to the marketing of The Boys‘ second season, it’s the allure of more: even the episode description for “The Big Ride” promises more of what Amazon hypothetically thought made it a breakout hit in 2019: more explosions, more blood spurts, more tantalizing characters, more drama – a true consumerist’s dream of media, one might say. To its credit, “The Big Ride” delivers on most of those fronts: there’s certainly a lot of extravagant bloodshed, an abundance of new characters, and of course, more of Hughie’s self-righteous bullshit. In a lot of ways, “The Big Ride” is a satisfying return to the world of The Boys – that is, if the world The Boys established in season one was exactly what you wanted from the series.

“The Big Ride” looks, feels, and smells like season one, in ways that are both understandable, but disappointing for anyone hoping to see The Boys refine its core ideas.

Beginning with a quick succession of “where are they now” scenes, The Boys inelegantly reintroduces audiences to the aftermath of “You Found Me,” picking up but a few weeks later, offering the kind of minor changes to the status quo you’d expect in a season premiere. Starlight is still living the two-faced identity of superhero and woman who hates being a superhero, Homelander is trying to reposition himself in the Vought power structure, and everyone is talking about “super terrorists” running around the world, a byproduct of Homelander’s gamble in season one (and an easy avenue for some casual racism, in the form of a “super-terrorist” who’s power, is he is a bomb because that’s the most inventive thing that could be thought of).

The Boys The Big Ride

Things haven’t changed much, except Hughie’s living in the closet of a gang headquarters, and Mother’s Milk is spending his free time building a dollhouse for his daughter – oh yeah, and Billy the Butcher is completely absent from the picture, leaving an enormous hole of personality in the titular group of characters at the center of the cast. Perhaps the most troubling thing about “The Big Ride” is not how sprawling and big it all feels, but how much of a vacuum is left at the center of its human stories without Billy. Even though he’s nowhere near my favorite character, it’s worth noting just how little dramatic traction can be gained out of Hughie, Mother’s Milk, Frenchie, and Kimiko trying to figure out their next move; in fact, without the Deputy Director’s head exploding in front of them, they really don’t do anything at all, skewering interest towards the super-powered dramatics happening in the rest of the world.

(does anyone think its strange how little anyone at Vought is looking for Butcher or his crew? There’s the brief news segment, but nobody at Vought seems to give a shit about it, which seems… a bit strange?)

Thankfully, The Seven’s side of things is generally more interesting – even for The Deep, whose season one journey was easily the weakest element of the series. Season one touched on religion with Stargirl’s past and Ezekiel (in “Good for the Soul’), but as much of The Boys‘ satirical touches in its freshman offering, there wasn’t a whole lot done with the concept.

The Boys The Big Ride

Season two is upping the ante on both fronts, by re-introducing the Church of the Collective – and more importantly, catalyzing some moments of an actual challenge for Homelander. Our titty-sucking Superman stand-in’s been drunk on power from the get-go, and season two is throwing some wrenches in the works, offering ample opportunity to watch someone who considers himself god-like, begin to wrangle with the ultimate limits of his power (and with no more of Mommy’s milk around, he is going to be very cranky during all of this). It’s not exactly introducing more nuance to the Homelander character, but the presence of more prescient dramatics, those which challenge his self-conception, is a potent fuel for The Boys‘ to begin delivering on its promise of being a truly twisted inversion of superhero tropes.

The rest of The Seven’s stories are a mixed bag; Starlight playing both sides of the fence, while catering to the whimpering wheezes of Hughie’s bullshit, is not exactly an endearing reminder of their season one “romance”. The less she’s in his orbit, the more interesting a character she is – given that, it’s no surprise their subway scene released the most groans from this meticulous observer.

The Boys The Big Ride

But the rest of The Seven feel equally shake: with A-Train in the world’s most convenient coma, Black Noir being a random plot device in the Middle East, and Queen Maeve basically missing from action, “The Big Ride” spends a lot more time revisiting the status quo of Vought-powered superhero life than it does pushing these characters forward – except for Homelander, reeling from the triad of Vought’s CEO, the arrival of Stormfront (hey, it’s Aya Cash!), and the absence of Elisabeth Shue’s dominating screen presence. Antony Starr can carry an episode on performance alone, but if it’s just Homelander growling and hamming it up all season while the other characters jump around in the background, The Boys‘ sophomore effort is going to fall flat on its face (or in the case of the debate around the word “super terrorist” in this episode, just feel embarrassingly empty).

That’s a lot of words to say “The Big Ride” is a mediocre, if mildly intriguing, table-setting premiere, taking a paint-by-numbers approach to storytelling that betrays its self-identified rebel identity; though The Boys certainly can impress with a shocking moment of violence or an abrasive punchline, there’s still a noticeable lack of depth and development of the core elements of the series – in fact, the most developed story at this point is the lineage of Compound V and Frederick Vought, two things that in the large scheme, mean fuck all to the identity of this series (they’re also the most boring, uninteresting parts of the series if we’re being honest).

“The Big Ride” isn’t an abject failure, by any means; it definitely delivers on its promise of being “more” of The Boys, offering a heightened sense of everything. That works, but only to a degree: when the blood spurts dry up and every speck of brain is out of the field of vision, “The Big Ride” looks, feels, and smells like season one, in ways that are both understandable, but disappointing for anyone hoping to see The Boys refine its core ideas.

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