There’s a reason why The Boys commanded attention immediately upon its debut. While brash and butal in a way rarely seen in the superhero genre, the series was also not afraid to pull punches in its quieter, more heartfelt moments. In that regard, the third episode of season 2, “Nothing Like it In The World”, can be seen as a quintessential episode of the series and one of its best yet.
We spend most of the episode at sea. It’s a slightly rocky start, with Kimiko’s brother Kenji grinding much of the action to a halt until he breaks free. From that point, though, you can almost feel the special effects budget for the season evaporating as a helicopter meets a watery grave and then a whale meets a bloody end.
In some respects, Butcher and company’s high sea hijinks encapsulate the most striking contrast found within the first three episodes: the Supes are, for now, more interesting than The Boys. Yes, Karl Urban is still magnetic and Hughie’s tortured look provides a glimpse of a character that will surely break out the shackles of his and Starlight storylines, but things are just that little bit more exciting when The Deep, Homelander, Stormfront, and the rest of the Seven show up.
That can be seen in the Homelander and Ryan subplot, which keeps inching along this week. There’s a subtle sense of unease through the scenes, and Homelander’s sense of not belonging isn’t a far cry from Jeremy Irons’ exceptional fish-out-of-water absurdist performance – Homelander having pancakes, anyone? – in Watchmen last year.
It all leads to a surprisingly quick breaking point for poor Homelander Jr. A trust exercise goes horribly, horribly wrong and Homelander lays hands on Becca, causing Ryan to lash out and knock Homelander, both physically and mentally, for the first time in the series.
The push is a moment that breaks Homelander, so much so that he seemingly doesn’t know about Vought springing a serious leak and trying to avert a PR disaster. Homelander: Family Man lasted all of two episodes and this latest development leaves the leader of the Seven at a domestic precipice. While he rallies his ‘family’ at Vought HQ, Ryan’s burgeoning powers leaves things tantalisingly poised for future weeks and adds a genuinely compelling reason as to why we should want to revisit this plot-line that could have worn thin, fast.
It’s the last 20 minutes, though, where The Boys really starts to hit its stride in trademark fashion. There are story beats that further each character’s development – Homelander’s disgust at Deep’s protruding gill and Mother Milk sitting down next to a clearly shaken Hughie. There’s even action that, while it will never be on par with its cinematic cousins, probably looks as good as it ever will on a television budget.
The Boys season 2 episode 2 review: "It almost soars to the heights of prestige television"
Then, we get a chance to see Stormfront in action. Much like Aya Cash’s swaggering performance, she shakes up the entire show with one shocking moment that proves – despite The Boys being a thrill ride – there is a real, welcome sense of jeopardy involved.
The final part of the episode also helps the new release format (weekly from here on) make sense. The first two episodes feel slightly restrained in expectation of this blockbuster third act, and now there’s time to reflect on the well-measured crescendo. For the show to work weekly, every episode will need to be like “Nothing Like it In The World”.
The gauntlet has been set, not only by the brilliance of this chapter of The Boys. On this episode’s evidence, this second season is poised to surpass all our expectations entirely.