“The Innocents” is a rather important episode for The Boys – but I don’t think in a way it was necessarily intended to be. An hour full of expository dumps and revelatory pieces of information, “The Innocents” posits itself as en episode shifting gears into its endgame, drawing intrigue and drama out of the mysterious back stories of Homelander’s childhood, Butcher’s marriage, and The Female. While it certainly does accomplish the goal of relaying important information to the audience, it is also a rather revealing hour, reinforcing The Boys‘ most nihilistic tendencies, in what is one of the more cynically unsatisfying hours of television you’ll see in 2019.
The longer “The Innocents” carries on, the more The Boys seems to wholeheartedly embrace the hollowness lying inside Butcher’s soul.
Lurking around every corner is a miserable plot twist, led by Butcher revealing that Homelander raped his wife eight years ago, before she mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth. It’s a strange moment to bring this bit of story to light: most of “The Innocents” is spent trying to salvage some sort of empathy for the character, as he films promotional material for Vought, walking through a home he’s never lived in, and talking about family memories he never had.
It presents a rather strange dichotomy of the character: after all, we ended “Good for the Soul” with Homelander celebrating a mass killing (he engineered) with some good ol’ titty-sucking. “The Innocents” presents a frustrated Homelander, trying to engineer excitement to recite memories of a childhood he never had – which we learn via a flashback to a child Homelander under observation in a laboratory, a random image never given much context (outside of further developing Homelander’s infantilism, an unsettling characteristic it feels like the character doesn’t need).
Even more problematic is how this cynical emptiness infects every single plot of the episode: the only thematic unity to be found in “The Innocents” is the shared misery of the audience, observing character after self-absorbed character act on their absolute worst instincts at all times – human or superhero. We learn The Deep is a serial rapist (he literally ogles a girl in the middle of a take for his segment of the promo), that Queen Maeve is bitter (and… has a girlfriend again? I don’t understand why Elena just appears to get into an argument), that Madelyn has entirely no soul – “The Innocents” doesn’t give the audience a lot of characters to root for, especially as it pushes Hughie further and further into his manipulation of Annie (which we’re supposed to forgive because he’s falling in love with her, I guess?).
The introduction of Mesmer is equally bleak, only furthering the pattern of miserable, irredeemable assholes filling up the world of The Boys. A former child star/superhero, Mesmer’s fame cratered when he touched the hand of a Wall Street employee and manipulated the stock market. Now a lonely man with vague drug addictions, Mesmer is employed by Mother’s Milk and Frenchie to help figure out who The Female is – a favor they trade for access to the daughter he lost custody of years ago, giving him a chance at having a family, and a purpose beyond fucking his fans at lame conventions.
Mesmer, of course, rejects the whole deal: once he reads the mind of his nonchalant daughter, he goes behind everyone’s back to plead for a deal with Homelander, trading information on their identities for the chance to beg for a job Homelander was never offering (he silently flies off after getting the information he needs). In the end, Mesmer turns out to be a piece of shit like everyone else: a selfish prick with no values, nothing tethering him to any sincere, unique characterization beyond the same blueprint everybody (except maybe Starlight) is built on.
More troubling is how The Boys wants to have it both ways: it wants Butcher to be as cool as Homelander is dickish, missing the obvious point that they’re two sides of the same garbage coin. Hughie is no different; save for the occasional vision of his dead girlfriend sneering at him, he’s had no problems continuing his manipulation of Starlight to suit his ends – a manipulation that’s only become more emotional over time, negating the whole “dead boyfriend searches for answers” plot it seemed his character was built on. If Hughie is the moral litmus test for The Boys, it’s hard to see where they offer a counter point, “The Innocents” reveling in the idea that no matter how many powers you have (or don’t have), everybody is just a selfish asshole when it comes down to it.
There’s a version of that story that is interesting; but the line between say, the first season of Eastbound and Down, and the Netflix series Friends from College, is all about balance and tone. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like The Boys really has much to say about human nature, except that everybody’s just awful: and without a rich cast of unique, developed personalities like Veep or Party Down, it’s hard to make that awfulness feel like it means anything.
Instead, negativity sits like a dead weight at the heart of every story seen in “The Innocents”; The Female’s traumatic past, Maeve’s incredulous attitude towards Starlight, The Deep’s mission to build a greener earth… these are all stories playing on the ignorant hypocrisy lying at the heart of every single character on The Boys. The sheer redundancy renders a lot of it ineffective material; only in extreme examples like Starlight and Homelander do these conflicts feel like they have any depth – and even in those cases, calling these dynamics three-dimensional is a bit of a stretch.
Starlight’s arc is perhaps the strongest of “The Innocents” – and The Boys as a whole – but even that is held back by the show’s limited variety of character. Her progression through the season’s been effective in fits and starts, often in accordance with how close she’s integrated with other characters: she’s perhaps the most honest character on The Boys , the only one with enough agency to assert her personality on the story in a meaningful way.
Everyone else is left to the whims of The Boys‘ unending cynicism: everyone is the worst possible versions of themselves at all times, leaving the many stories of fake heroism and disgruntled victims just feel empty at their core. In fact, the only time it feels like the show has something to say, to offer some attempt at distinguishing itself from the pack, it falls back on edge lord tactics in a hollow attempt to point out it’s cooler than Marvel movies.
Once again, The Boys‘ persistence at using a woman’s trauma to shape every single central story is exhausting in its emptiness. “The Innocents” reveals that Homelander raped Butcher’s wife, that The Female was a victim of human trafficking (and youth armies), that The Deep is a serial rapist (and Madelyn his apologizer), and an entire scene built around the “hilarious” joke of one of Vought’s marketing team losing his dick to the Ice Queen in an unfortunate sex accident; it’s a parade of toxic masculinity and emasculation, a seemingly bottomless pit The Boys wants to dip into over and over again.
The Boys is a world of bad fathers and twisted mothers, of humanity’s vapid corruption and the all-consuming pursuit of capitalistic ends. But beyond presenting this image of a bleak world full of awful people – and Starlight, who just realized she supported bigotry and homophobia two weeks ago – The Boys doesn’t have anything of substance to say about these characters, except reveling in just how fucked up it all is.
At times, the explosions of violence and dissonant self-perceptions of heroism give voice to The Boys‘ exploration of the dark, unexplored underbelly of superhero stories. But the longer “The Innocents” carries on, the more The Boys seems to wholeheartedly embrace the hollowness lying inside Butcher’s soul, applying the same characteristics to every character in its scope – and without those stories being grounded in some kind of philosophic exploration, or offering something to distinguish between this collection of violent misfits, anything not related to Starlight just feels, well, empty.
- Oh, if The Boys could only follow the blueprint of Antony Starr’s last starring role, Banshee. Could you imagine what a rewarding, kickass show that could be?
- It’s so hard to invest in the whole Annie/Hughie dynamic; The Boys is struggling to make him not as emotionally manipulative as everyone on the show, and this core relationship is suffering from it.
- Butcher walking away from the CIA’s deal is just maddening; sure, it fits his character (in all his dumbass self righteousness), but it’s so stupid. If you’ve negotiated immunity, then Homelander’s life is ruined anyway! Does he actually think the CIA has a prison that can hold him?
- We get a rather large expository dump in this episode, as well: turns out Vought’s been infecting children for 40 years with Compound V, and are now feeding it to terrorists to further justify the inclusion of Vought into the national defense plan.
- By the way – is anybody still wondering how a governor mysteriously died in open water? I feel like that’s a story that shouldn’t be forgotten.
It’s so hard to feel bad for Homelander’s bullshit upbringing, when in the same hour, we’re learning he raped (and potentially) killed a woman.
- how many women is this show going to rape or kill in one season? Stay tuned!
- There’s a version of Maeve that’s the most fascinating character to observe on The Boys; unfortunately, we’re getting such a condensed, undeveloped version of her arc of disillusionment, she hardly feels consistent.
- The Deep isn’t too committed to anything: he ogles a woman during filming, he drives a Hummer, and he fumbles his way through halfheartedly reading a scripted apology to Starlight. How fun!
- Wait is Citizen Starlight a new show, or her first movie? I’m confused as to what all these promotional filmings are actually for – if it is one shared project, or an entire slate of programming. Vought+, anyone?