A mush of half-cooked ideas and strange plot twists, “Good for the Soul” tries to cram a lot of Big Ideas and plot twists into a single episode, all to little effect. Set against the back drop of a hyper religious festival, “Good for the Soul” initially appears like a grand opportunity for The Boys to give some of its societal critique teeth; and yet, by the time it reaches the end of its 58-minute running time, it only succeeds in revealing just how flat and narrow its storytelling (and perhaps more importantly, sense of humor) is.
It feels like The Boys doesn’t really have anything to say about the events taking place in “Good for the Soul,” instead offering lame, nihilistic placeholders for moral complexities, character motivations, and personality.
The ideas of superheroes as deities is an idea superhero material often engages with; whether for theological or sociopolitical debates, the idea of a genetically enhanced version of humanity is a thematically rich avenue for science fiction and fantasy to explore. In The Boys? It mostly adds up to thoroughly sophomoric take downs of religion, just another avenue to deliver another set of hypocritical values and homophobic jokes (which “Good for the Soul” contains about a half dozen of, including the line “you played my butt like jazz”).
Exploring the idea of faith in a world full of super powered humans is an interesting concept; but it’s one “Good for the Soul” only wants to engage with in only the loosest theoretical sense, mostly to use it as a litmus test for Homelander and Starlight. Homelander, as one might expect, eats the evangelical crowd for lunch, parading around the all-too-familiar combination of xenophobia, homophobia, and desperate patriotism with glee – while Starlight, now a grown up because she’s been sexually assaulted, comes to realize the beautiful message of intolerance she grew up with is suddenly bad.
At least the last episode gave voice to Homelander’s bottomless depravity; with Starlight, her religious beliefs only come to the forefront this episode, never established as a part of her character beyond her mention of growing up in a Jesus-friendly house. There’s nothing tangible to connect her to this world; so her eventual rejection of it, feels less like an awakening, and more like a cheap tactic by The Boys to seem smart and “edgy” in its progressiveness.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look far to see behind the thin facade presented in “Good for the Soul”: in what is becoming a trademark, The Boys‘ fifth hour treats homosexuality as a punch line, unceremoniously kills another female character, and fumbles its way through the discovery of Queen Maeve’s bisexuality, in one of the most awkward and forced discussions in recent memory. The Boys neither develops, or challenges, its own views on gender, sexuality, and religion, rendering itself a rather inert exercise in trying to establish itself as a prestige drama.
Maeve’s drunken visit to an ex-girlfriend is the most painful of these all: to this point, The Boys hasn’t really done much to give dimension to Queen Maeve’s character. She’s powerful, and only 95% the sociopathic monster Homelander is; that’s really all we’re given before her turn during last week’s (Homelander-made) disaster, before she’s thrown into this depressive arc, where she is supposedly challenging everything she knows about herself?
It’s easy to see the tracks of Maeve’s story, but it doesn’t feel like The Boys really understands her character, especially as the last two episodes have reduced every conversation including her down to her sexual viability (Homelander constantly hitting on her, Maeve visiting some random ex we’ve never heard of). She feels like a cipher for disgruntled female stereotypes, and not one the writing or performance’s been offered room to grow into something more concrete and three dimensional.
In fact, it often feels like all of “Good for the Soul” is just a random collection of half-baked ideas: be it Ezekiel the closeted evangelist (who is also basically Mr. Fantastic), or A-Train’s decision to murder his girlfriend (on Homelander’s orders, no less), so much of “Good for the Soul” feels awkwardly pieced together, a bunch of half-baked ideas oscillating around the central event until they crash into a pile of nothingness in the end.
There are certainly things going on in “Good for the Soul” but nothing’s given enough room to develop: take Butcher, who randomly disappears in the middle of the festival, to go hunt down his sister-in-law (wherever she is) to complain about his probably-not-dead wife’s gravestone? Abruptly occurring in the middle of the episode, Butcher’s little adventure into his past serves absolutely no purpose in the episode: we don’t get information on what happened to her, we don’t see Butcher really struggling with his loss, and we certainly don’t get any justification for the tantrum he later pulls, destroying the gravestone his wife’s family made, in order to come to peace with her disappearance (which was eight years ago).
Butcher’s absolute toxicity is to be expected; which begs the question of why this subplot suddenly appears in the middle of this episode. “Good for the Soul” already has too many bland offerings on its plate, to need another plot offering an exact measurement of Butcher’s assholishness; especially in this episode, which also features awful, misogynistic turns by characters like Homelander and Hughie – who pulls double duty this hour, the aforementioned anal sex jokes only overshadowed by the horrific red flags he proudly displays when later talking to a distraught Starlight.
It’s so off putting how, when faced with taking responsibility for his selfishness, he suddenly decides to invoke the dead girlfriend he hasn’t mentioned to Starlight before; sure, he has his reasons, but in this moment, he uses it as a deflection to avoid responsibility in this moment, launching into a diatribe about how broken he is. Not only is a fundamental misunderstanding of the despair Hughie’s feeling in this moment, but it undercuts Starlight’s own personal conflict (she just gave a speech about being sexually assaulted as a superhero, which Hughie conveniently ignores) and reframes the festival as an exercise in exploring his emotions, the only person who is offered emotional closure in this moment.
Frankly put, “Good for the Soul” is a fucking bummer of an episode: there’s so much potential in the story of this episode, but it feels like The Boys doesn’t really have anything to say about the events taking place on-screen. Instead, it offers placeholders for moral complexities, character motivations, and personality, even in its most carefully constructed characters, like Madelyn or Starlight. Whatever momentum was built in the first four episodes is brought to a startling halt here; as The Boys begins building steam towards its finale, it is in danger of losing the tenuous grasp it has on its characters and themes, a troubling sign for the deadpan drama.
- The Female is basically X23 without actual adamantium. Boom – there’s literally nothing else to talk about in her/Frenchie’s scenes, they’re such a waste of time.
- So I understand Homelander’s dynamic with Maeve (girlfriend he wants back) and The Deep (the Jerry Gergich of the group) – but why does A-Train trust him so unequivocally? Why is he willing to murder the love of his life, on Homelander’s command, with no hesitation? I’m sure the answer is plot-related, but there’s no relationship established between these two characters, so it makes his loyalty in this situation seem extremely convenient.
- Homelander doesn’t hate Madelyn’s son; he’s jealous of him, because I guess Homelander likes breast feeding? This whole twist feels like weirdness for the sake of being weird; hopefully the last three episodes will justify this scene in some (hopefully ludicrous) way; if it’s just an extreme age regression fetish, it will stand as one of the most odd, pointless scenes of television this year.
- I can’t get enough of how Homelander stands, or handles his cape when he sits down. This guy is so practiced on his front-facing image, it almost comes naturally to him.
- I know it’s technically called Trans Oceanic Flight 37, but my LOST-infested brain heard “Oceanic Flight” and almost lost my shit for a second.
- What are Drummer Boy’s powers? I really need to know this.
- Because The Boys is so edgy, you know it has a character calling God a cunt. This is that kind of a show!
- This show is so lazy, A-Train learns who visited Popclaw during her horny rampage because she had a teddy bear in the corner recording everything? Ugh, it’s so dumb and clearly written because there was no other way to get his character that information.
- Hughie is wearing a Billy Joel shirt when he gets baptized – which I guess is a nod to the moment his girlfriend got killed?
- Why are Butcher and Hughie talking on the phone when they’re literally 50 feet away from each other?
- Butcher and Mother’s Milk discover Compound V is being pumped into babies at a local hospital… does this mean all superheroes are created in labs? Is there a difference between natural and synthetic heroes? I’m sure we’ll get some (un)satisfying answers to all this!