The Boys’ first season was most effective when its sights were narrow, focussing on straight-forward stories such as Billy wanting to avenge Becca or Hughie demanding payback for the bloody pile of appendages that was once his girlfriend.
The second episode of season 2 does the opposite, widening the scope of the series by fleshing out lesser characters who were overlooked the first time around. Doing so, The Boys proves that it can effectively juggle several interweaving plots without losing any of its energetic charm.
“Proper Preparation and Planning” asks each character to confront who they are, and how that’s at odds with who they really want to be. There’s Homelander, who desperately wants to be a father and gets some much-needed bonding time with his son, Ryan. Yet dreams of playing catch in the yard soon dissipate as Becca flees to her Vought handlers.
Homelander ends up spilling everything to his son, revealing his experience growing up without parents. Is the Supe lying? This is Homelander at his unsettling best, with Antony Starr’s performance so strikingly subtle you can’t tell whether the terrifying Superman spoof will laser someone Becca to death or break down further.
Starlight and Queen Maeve, too, are at their own personal junctures: Starlight wants to be as self-confident as Aya Cash’s Stormfront, while Maeve would be happiest out of the spotlight and with her one-time lover, Elena. Maeve’s relaxed posture and joy at goofing around with Elena not only shows a different side to the Supe, but also imbues her situation with an otherwise untold sense of jeopardy. That happy ending can be ripped out from under her at any moment – and now we have an actual reason to care what happens next.
Homelander and Maeve aren’t the only members of Vought’s finest struggling with staring into that abyss: The Deep goes on a psychedelic trip courtesy of some ‘shrooms from the Church of the Collective. Blending the potent mix of absurdity and hilarity that The Boys has excels at, Deep progresses from a punchline to a deeply tragic figure in a handful of minutes, with actor Chace Crawford giving his most affecting, three-dimensional work yet – something that is particularly commendable seeing as how he’s acting opposite a pair of talking gills. It’s undoubtedly one of the hour’s highlights.
Yet, we need to ask whether The Deep – real name Kevin – really deserves a redemption arc. Even in the morally grey world of The Boys, that’s certainly debatable, but it adds more intrigue to The Deep’s formerly struggling storyline.
That forward momentum continues for the rest of the hour, especially with the introduction of Stormfront. If the seams of The Seven weren’t already being ripped apart, they certainly are now.
Aya Cash revels in a larger role this time around, deliberately sabotaging press junkets and condescendingly retelling the tale of Pippi Longstocking to a greener-than-goose-shit Starlight. While we’ve only had a glimpse of her potential to shake things up, it speaks volumes that she’s able to fill in any Homelander and Butcher-shaped holes in the script with effortless, confident abandon.
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A-Train’s sudden return also adds another piece to the intrigue-filled puzzle – and his recognition of he and Starlight’s mutually assured destruction if either of their secrets leak out means that all of the Seven, barring Black Noir, are weighed down by terrible truths. Within the span of one episode, the potential for backstabs and betrayals has skyrocketed tenfold. It’s not reached Game of Thrones-levels of politicking and machination, but the extra baggage each Supe is now lumbered with only helps enrich The Boys. It’s a premise that will see viewers tuning in week-to-week – a hopefully good gamble by Amazon.
Butcher, inevitably, also provides a spark of energy. Wisely, the show doesn’t spend much time charting how the Brit made his way from Tony Cicero’s back to the boys (that’s the focus of an upcoming mini-movie).
It’s a good thing he’s there, too, as the fugitives’ pursuit of a terrorist familiar to one of the group doesn’t quite excite in the way Vought’s stage-managing and Homelander’s domestic troubles do. Let’s hope Butcher’s sucker punch on Hughie is a surefire sign that playtime is over and The Boys have loftier targets to aim for. Besides, the Supes who are in their sights suddenly got a whole lot more interesting.
The Boys, rightly, grabs headlines for its laugh-out-lord NSFW content and twisted take on the superhero genre but, for the first time, it almost soars to the heights of prestige television. “Proper Preparation and Planning”’s biggest strength is how it neatly ties together the themes of the episode and the tribulations of its characters in a buttery-smooth way that wouldn’t look out of place within an HBO series.