The Boys has never been shy of telling us how it really feels. The series has reflected on American exceptionalism and the corrupting influence of social media throughout its run. Now it has the confidence to show its true face, the series' overtly political throughline reaching its apex in the thrilling yet tonally inconsistent "Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker". While the episode does a good job setting up the finale, it spends too much time juggling its various characters and conflicts, ultimately losing focus by wandering away from its core message.
The opening scene shows the daily routine of a quote-unquote ‘downtrodden’ member of the lower middle classes. Its impact is as shocking and brutal as anything else this season; the unnamed character is the product of hateful rhetoric, formed by the bombardment of rolling news channel agendas that are not too far out of step from those in the real-world.
The inevitable tragic conclusion – an anti-immigrant shop worker being murdered – is quietly swept under the rug by Homelander, who offers “thoughts and prayers” and a token charity donation. But what next? Will we hear about that murder again this season? Or ever? If not, it feels like wasted energy. The implicit nationalism has already been glimpsed in Stormfront’s rallies, after all. In an episode that could have used a little more streamlining – despite its admittedly brave storytelling – this should have been a leading candidate for a cut if it’s leading nowhere.
Although The Boys is almost fit to burst and has so much going on week-to-week, it remains as capable as ever in terms of exploring interesting and new dynamics. Lamplighter and Hughie offer one such adventure, with the pair leading a breakout at Vought HQ. Shawn Ashmore’s guest Supe has thus far provided a refreshing take on what happens long-term to an excommunicated member of the Seven – especially seeing as how The Deep and A-Train’s Church of the Collective scenes lack immediacy and are clearly place-setting for next year.
Becca and Ryan return, too, this time flanked by a perky Homelander and his officially-official “girlfriend” Stormfront. The last time we saw the mother and child, the façade of domestic bliss was peeling away. The impromptu arrival of two of the Seven speeds up that process in a series of scenes that feel like the writers hit fast forward and wanted to get things moving along for the finale. It’s a shame as the smiles-and-pancakes formula of the world’s worst family unit had potential, though it’s been curtailed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in.
Elsewhere, Butcher is perhaps the biggest casualty of the fast-track approach. Once a bonafide leading man, you can almost see the gears turning this week just to give Karl Urban something to do. Here, it’s a family matter – one that includes terrible British accents and another peek into the personal life of the ex-SAS man. Each scene is captivating enough, though feels like it belongs to the recently released Butcher spin-off, even if it does give background as to why the volatile Brit looks set to explode at any given moment.
Similarly, there is a feeling that The Boys’ well is running dry in some respects, most notably its jabs at pop culture. In multiple scenes, Lamplighter watches Seven-themed porn. There are only so many times you can expand upon the idea of the Seven’s image being exploited for profit without it feeling rote. Yes, the nods and winks to consumerism – Maeve’s lasagne gets an outing this week – are cute, but they are growing long in the corporate-mandated tooth.
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That’s not to say this episode is bad – far from it. Several big moments and confrontations occur in “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” and each feel earned thanks to the level of care and character building of recent weeks. Supes face off in hard-hitting action sequences and the show’s closer is undeniably the best cliffhanger in its short history. When The Boys brings everything and everyone together, it’s almost unparalleled in its execution. Let’s just hope the remainder of the second season (and future seasons) can heed the lessons that need to be learned here and do away with subplots and secondary characters if they don’t quite fit into an episode. That has been, and remains, the show’s biggest weakness.
This week’s episode is solid proof of The Boys having its cake and eating it too. It wants to offer so many things – shock value; a commentary on contemporary American life; a superhero show dressed up as prestige television – all while fitting in an entertaining ensemble.
It achieves all of those things to good effect but perhaps should have streamlined what this episode wanted to say and how that would work with the finale. If there are too many pieces of a puzzle, it heightens the risk of it all not coming together in the end. Will it stick the landing? On this evidence, yes. Though, much like Vought’s squeaky-clean image, cracks are beginning to emerge as the finale awaits.