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The Boys Season One Episode 4: “The Female of the Species” Begins to Find A Voice

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The fourth hour of The Boys is all about how you spin it: from Homelander’s convenient framing of a tragedy, to Starlight’s identity crisis, much of “The Female of the Species” is about perception, and the power of humans and supes alike to mold the truth to fit their liking. In a surprisingly human hour (still full of explosions and juvenile sex jokes, no less), “The Female of the Species” finds poignancy in a few unexpected places – and more importantly, builds to a powerful sequence that gives voice to some of the young drama’s central conflicts and ideas.

“The Female of the Species” begins to find some quiet resonance in some of its characters, hints of something beyond the self-serving nihilism expressed by so many of The Boys‘ central players.

There is a lot going on in “The Female of the Species,” much of it narrative deck building for the second half of the season. Some of this material is rather effective: Popclaw and A-Train’s relationship and Frenchie’s connection to a young, traumatized woman (The Female, in her dialogue-less introduction) are both poignant scenes, nuggets of ideas and character shifts deftly included in an event-heavy script. Continuing the trend of fantastic world building on display all season, “The Female of the Species” begins to find some quiet resonance in some of its characters, hints of something beyond the self-serving nihilism expressed by so many of The Boys‘ central players.

The Boys The Female of the Species

As a whole, it’s still a mixed bag – look no further than the thunderously hollow opening sequence, a check list of antihero tropes shoved into a single scene. It literally opens on Butcher having a sex flashback, the archetypal “tough guy thinking about his softer moments” before jump cutting to the present, where we see Butcher is alone and miserable. But wait, there’s more: we’ve also got Loner Bad Eating Habits and Old Security Footage of Wife, rounding out Butcher’s laughably predictable back story in almost impressive fashion.

The reveal of Butcher’s vague past is a disappointment: there felt something more playful, more layered to the character, nuance that’s all but erased from whatever superhero-related tragedy befelled him and his wife. All it really does is present a female to be immediately fridged, in service of a character arc we’ve seen thousands of times: bitter bearded man pushes everyone away by being an asshole, then lives out his lonely life propositioning deputy directors of the CIA in between illegal activities.

It’s a series of milquetoast descriptors that sells Karl Urban’s performance in the role short: there’s life behind the eyes of Butcher, a life that isn’t completely consumed by regret and failure. The Boys could engage with this, building out a different antihero for its decidely anti-superhero tale; instead, it is one of many examples where The Boys fails to buck tradition or offer commentary on the genre – it just lazily embraces the status quo of the genre, rather than offer some meaningful deconstruction, as it is often trying to do with other characters.

The Boys The Female of the Species

The Deep’s presence in “The Female of the Species” suffers from the same eye-rolling silliness, but feels so much more sinister. Now, The Deep isn’t a defensible or likable character (again, sexually assaulted Starlight during her first hour at work), but his continued degradation at everyone else’s hands seems… unbelievable, given that he’s a superhero, presumably someone with some noble sea lineage (if we’re to believe the parallels between him and Aquaman are absolute)? Instead, in “The Female of the Species,” he’s reduced to a bestiality punchline (for the second episode in a row).

The Deep is really just a collection of The Boys‘ worst habits, a ball of casual misogyny and open homophobia with nothing really mooring its character to anything. He’s a punch line, not a human, but a punch line The Boys doesn’t know what to do with. There’s clearly an attempt to build his arc towards some transformative moment, but it’s unclear what the character’s motivations really are at any given moment, sliding between confident and limp as each scene demands.

That kind of inconsistency doesn’t feel mysterious, or meaningful: it just feels hollow, especially when placed next to a character like Homelander, whom The Boys has an absolute ball with in “The Female of the Species.”

Any scene Homelander is in, the camera is deathly obsessed with him, mirroring society’s simliar obsession with the all-mighty superhero – but the camera gives us insight the public isn’t privy to, building out this terrific dichotomy of public figure and private sociopath, two warring sides that come to a head when Homelander decides it’s not worth trying to save 120+ people about to die on a falling plane.

The Boys The Female of the Species

The plane sequence is arguably the most effective distillation of The Boys‘ central thesis so far: it’s an arresting scene, one that is just harrowing in how casually Homelander dismisses the lives of so many men, women, and children who cheered him and Queen Maeve on as they disposed of the (stereotypically Middle Eastern) terrorists who hijacked their flight. As their adornation slowly descends into terror, director Fred Toye keeps his camera fixated on the heroes.

This serves two important goals: first, it gives Queen Maeve some much-needed distinction from Homelander, establishing that she hasn’t been consumed by her own power, still empathetic to the plight of humanity. When Homelander reveals he’s done trying to save them, she still pleads, trying to think of any plan to save them (all of which he casually dismisses, in a truly dark bit of comedy), giving her character a bit more distinction from Homelander besides “woman who doesn’t want to fuck him anymore.”

It also completes the circle on Homelander’s character, unveiling just what a self-preserving sociopath he is. We’ve seen hints of it before, threatening his teammates and casually dismissing the human costs of his actions; but seeing him wholeheartedly reject the very premise of being a hero – to do the seemingly impossible – is still a shocking turn, one that only grows darker when he politicizes the moment, using the engineered tragedy as a way to ensure the passing of the military bill him, Madelyn, and Vought want so badly.

Much of the rest of “The Female of the Species” (that isn’t the strange, underdeveloped The Deep plot) is dedicated to the mysterious debut of The Female, a young woman who Hughie’s crew accidentally stumbles on, in their quest to entrap A-Train in his Compound V sales. Now, it’s arguable whether The Boys needs another mysterious character added to the fray at this point, but the introduction of The Female is nonetheless shocking and intriguing, as the Boys try to understand the sudden presence of a dirty, violently powerful woman and how it ties to A Train’s murder of Hughie’s girlfriend.

The Boys The Female of the Species

It’s arguable whether the Female is more detraction than enhancement for the episode: she’s kind of an amorphous presence, existing seemingly for the sake of some visceral disemboweling shots and Frenchie’s connection to her as a survivor of abuse (we also get Mother’s Milk being the butt of a joke for respecting his girlfriend, because, well, it’s The Boys). But she’s certainly a presence of intrigue, an avenue for The Boys to explore superhero-dom from a different angle, absent of the privilege and sycophantic behavior seen in the shining employees of Vought International.

Except for Starlight, of course: in what’s quickly becoming the most tragic sequence of any given episode, seeing Starlight contend with the realities of her dream, all while flirting with Hughie (who has ulterior motives he can’t seem to quit), is the episode highlight. In it, we get a careful deployment of Starlight’s identity, a super hero who believes in God, a very interesting idea to explore in the context of a super hero series. We already get hints of what heroes mean to religion (we get another ad for Ezekiel’s Samiritan’s Embrace organization), but what does religion mean to a hero?

For once, it feels like The Boys is taking one of its characters seriously: as her and Hughie trade flirty barbs over fried food, Starlight’s arc begins to take shape in a number of powerful ways, a promising sign for a character utilized for shock value in the first three hours of the series. Seeing Starlight engage with her identity beyond the sexual implications of her fame and her co workers pays huge dividends in the (extremely lens-flared) bowling alley where the scene takes place: it gives voice to the depressing realization Starlight doesn’t know how to stop people from taking advantage of her, a compelling conflict for her to face in these final four episodes.

It’s hard to say The Boys is a fully formed idea as we reach the halfway point: while it has wonderful grips on characters like Homelander and Starlight, it equally struggles with Butcher’s crew and Madelyn. At times, it’s still unclear whether The Boys ultimately wants to embrace the superficial excess of the stories it is satirizing and deconstructing, or become a thoughtful critique of heroism – in “The Female of the Species,” at least, that dichotomy leads to some powerful sequences, though it hardly seems like a tonal balance it will be able to maintain for four more hours.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • when Hughie finds out Translucent had a kid, it really hits him what he did when he killed that naked, self-righteous asshole at the end of “The Name of the Game.” Truth has consequences, indeed.
  • A Train telling Popclaw he “always has her back” feels like something a lot of toxic dudes have said to their partners in order to try and save their own asses. It is clearly going to end poorly for this woman.
  • “Lift the plane? How? There’s nothing to stand on – it’s fucking air.” Antony Starr is a fucking master at deadpan sarcasm.
  • Are we supposed to care about this Cherie character (the arms dealer who wants to fuck Frenchie)?
  • There’s a scene with The Deep and his therapist that is the most laughably dumb shit ever. It’s just there to justify the Oceanland plot that follows – which ends abruptly with a horny dolphin getting run over by a tractor trailer, begging the question of its inclusion in the first place.
  • there’s a brief moment where Hughie sees a vision of his dead girlfriend looking disappointed, as random as anything you’ll see on TV in 2019.
  • At least we get a shot of Butcher eating a Hot Pocket with silverware as he watches the vaguely ominous security footage of his wife on a park bench from 2012.

Butcher flashback
Butcher meets with CIA dep
The Female breaks out
The Deep therapy
PR about Translucent
NORAD warning
Frenchie & Cherie
Popclaw
bowling!

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.

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