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.
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.)
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.
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.