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The Boys Season One Episode 7: “The Self-Preservation Society” Falls Apart

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“The Self-Preservation Society” is an extremely busy episode of The Boys, trying to work in two directions at the same time to fill in all the core narrative (and logical) gaps built across this weirdly-composed first season. And though many of these moments are treated as major surprises and big twists, much of “The Self-Preservation Society” follows the same blueprint I’ve harped on all season, another hour relying on the same, tired dramatic tricks for its big moments.

“The Self-Preservation Society” is another hour of The Boys that forgets a morally empty world doesn’t need to be a hollow one.

The back story of Becca Butcher is a painful, but familiar story, yet another woman subjected to grave traumas in order to justify the behavior of our masculine protagonists. I know I’ve hit this nail over and over again, but it’s hard not to do when The Boys utterly refuses to build a story in any other fashion. Though it is unfortunately resonant – the historical significance of women bearing the brunt of men’s bullshit – it is not something The Boys is treating as a trope to be deconstructed, or reflected on in any meaningful way: and that just makes Becca’s story depressingly empty, the only sense of “mystery” remaining whether Homelander actually raped her or not (since the security footage only sees them coming or going).

The Boys The Self-Preservation Society

Perhaps the strangest part of “The Self-Preservation Society” is how little the moment is given context; if we’re to believe The Boys is following its source material here, then it makes sense why Homelander doesn’t try to justify the incident, or why there’s no contextual information given before or after that important scene.

(*mild spoilers from the comic book below*)

Homelander saying he’s sterile is a hint towards the comic book, where it is eventually revealed Homelander’s clone (whose identity I won’t reveal here) is the one who raped Billy’s wife, leading her to die from a baby superhero clawing its way out of her womb. But “The Self-Preservation Society” makes no hint towards this, letting the moment sit on Homelander’s shoulders – where it is subsequently forgotten that he fucking raped a woman, in favor of building out the mysterious back story of Vought and their experiments on children.

(*end spoilers*)

(by the way: did we really need all the details we got in the birthing scene? The Boys‘ goofy application of gore takes a nasty, dark turn here… especially when it is revealed the Vought doctors let the superbaby drown in its mother’s own blood.)

The Boys The Self-Preservation Society

Ultimately, it just feels like a cheap way to round out Billy Butcher’s arc, pushing him into an archetype The Boys offers no such commentary on. It’s a strange divide, how The Boys treats its superheroes like larger-than-life caricatures and its humans like plastic chess pieces: that dichotomy lessens whatever emotional effect it’s going for, with stories like Billy’s Hot Pocket-fueled sadness, or Homelander’s sudden identity crisis.

Neither of these characters do themselves any favors in “The Self-Preservation Society” – though did we expect anything else from Billy except brutally murdering Mesmer? Homelander’s arc is even more irksome: in perhaps the most stunningly silly turn of the hour, “The Self-Preservation Society” tries to build out a sympathetic arc when he confronts the doctor we saw briefly in his flashback during “The Innocents.”

It’s laughable to think this would be effective, even considering the callous attitude his surrogate father approaches humanity with, mirroring Homelander’s own disregard for mortal life. But The Boys doesn’t lean into this, instead trying to paint Homelander as a victim of his upbringing; but the legwork being done here is introduced far too late into the season to matter. The depravity of Homelander is engaging, in how it presents an alternate universe version of Superman; as a story of a broken child unable to figure out his emotions, it’s a wildly less effective piece of material (again: rape, mass murder, fraud, ordering hits on civilians… his shitiness really has no limits).

The Boys The Self-Preservation Society

The Boys never makes explicit how awful the actions of Homelander – or, to the same degree, The Deep – and instead is trying to reverse engineer empathetic arcs for these two. The Deep’s increasingly comedic story seems to be engineered to paint him as a man out of touch with his own image, unable to cope with being treated as a punchline for humanity and superhero kind alike. But what is that arc tethered to? The Deep’s incessant misogyny? Whatever the fuck that weird gill-fingering scene is?

I just… I can’t get over how ridiculous and pointless the whole story in Sandusky is. It is the most heavy-handed “raper gets raped” plot imaginable, and further undercuts any point about comsic justice it’s trying to present by treating the entire thing as a joke: as always, The Boys can be counted on to try and pry a punchline from the cold, dead heads of rape joke culture, another in a long line of vaudeville emasculation it revels in as humor.

(he is also the basis of the second most ludicrous moment of the season, when he fails to save a lobster he strikes up a conversation with in the supermarket.)

Moving around the table of the Seven (I mean, the Five Plus One Who Is Suspended), Maeve and Starlight are easily the strongest presences in the episode. “The Self-Preservation Society” draws an important parallel between the two, strong women left to bear the brunt of the blame and trauma for the behavior of the men in their lives; Maeve still struggling with all the shitty things she’s done in the name of Homelander (and “Edgar”), and Starlight finally discovering that Hughie’s a legitimate shit bird, stringing her along for information mere hours after her convinces her they should get a hotel room to have sex for the first time (to which she asks: “Is this something nice, or a is this a red flag?”).

The Boys The Self-Preservation Society

The Boys posits a world of moral compromise; and yet, when it comes to those moments of real internal reckoning, it proves itself surprisingly empty. Mother’s Milk and his family (“you made a promise to us… and Jesus Christ!” his wife admonishes him at one point), The Deep feeling “alone”, Hughie’s father knowing he raised a ‘good boy’ put in a tough position; all of these stories are built on inherently unhealthy premises, which makes the emotional turns written into this hour feel saccharine, and inauthentic to the truer, more brutalistic self The Boys prides itself on.

“The Self-Preservation Society” is another hour of The Boys that forgets a morally empty world doesn’t need to be a hollow one; the plight and struggles of awful people are wonderful fuel for the tragedy-laden stories it wants to tell (there’s a little show called The Sopranos you should check out – just replace superpower culture with Italian culture). But the dead-eyed choices of its main characters undercuts much of the tension it tries to build towards the finale; there may be a few surprises under its sleeves, but it’s a tough sell those twists and turns will retroactively bring poignancy to the inconsistent, occasionally ignorant, sense of self The Boys has presented in recent episodes.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Did I mention this episode ends with a superpowered Middle Eastern terrorist making his debut? Because there’s a super powered terrorist. From the Middle East.
  • Admittedly, it’s fun to watch Raynar flex on Vought when she brings in Madelyn.
  • It’s too bad the writing of Homelander remains so thin and formless; Antony Starr’s performance is almost mystifying in its ability to convey the absolute brokenness at Homelander’s core.
  • the episode ends strangely in the middle of a scene: while Hughie is confessing everything to Annie, Butcher shows up, shoots her in the chest, and Hughie fumblingly apologizes before running away and the episode cuts to black.
  • Vought stands to make $35 billion once this government deal goes through; it seems like a 40-year long secret experiment on thousands of American children might’ve cost a little bit more than that?
  • Has everyone forgotten about Translucent?
  • Fun fact: the mansion used to film Vogelbaum’s scenes is the same from Happy Madison.
  • Frenchie is seen teaching Kimiko how to cook, the one endearing moment of the hour. She later brutally breaks A-Train’s leg, which raises a lot of questions about his super-speed (does he have accelerated healing?
  • There’s a really strong visual sequence of Mesmer learning of Butcher’s past with each punch to his face. It’s quick, and immediately forgotten in the wake of his disturbing death, but it captures his super powers in a way it’s done with no other character on the series.
  • Between Billy Joel and Nirvana, Hughie has the lamest fucking vanilla taste in music possible. Can’t wait to see him in a Rolling Stones shirt!
  • there’s a good relationship to be built between A-Train and his brother, but The Boys ain’t got time for that.
  • if Becca was just named Senior Director of Digital Marketing, wouldn’t she have already been in charge of Homelander’s social media? which begs the question: was she down with the whole Bible-humping, fascistic approach to superherodom? If so…. what does that say about her as a character? It’s hard because her personality is literally “RAPED” and nothing else.
  • Maeve tells Starlight “our weakness is the same as theirs… our weakness is people.” I can’t roll my eyes any harder.
  • Sounds like Mallory (the CIA agent who revealed the truth about Becca to Butcher) is set to be revealed as yet another woman whose life was destroyed to give purpose to the importance of this mission. Can’t wait.

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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