The Boys Depicts Without Challenging White Cis-Male Privilege
Cass Clarke
WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for the first four episodes of The Boys Season 2, available now on Amazon Prime Video.
When Kimiko joined The Boys officially in Season 2 and Stormfront was selected to be the Seven's new face, a window of opportunity opened where the show could have examined what it'd mean for both gangs to let a woman lead their clubhouse instead of its problematic leads.
Four episodes into Season 2 and it's safe to assume that that window is rapidly closing, if not already closed. The series persists to focus on the perils of Homelander, Stormfront's racism, Hughie's relationship anxiety and Butcher's rage over The Boys' marginalized characters.
Instead of The Boys exploring how Kimiko's viewpoint could change their gang's assumptions on Supes or why it's taken so long to have a woman in their crew, the show shifted Kimiko into the role of Frenchie's mute (literally) counterpart that was dependent on his standing in the gang to maintain safe passage. While it was interesting to see how the show utilized a mute character from a directorial standpoint (e.g., relying on visual cues directed into the camera so we too can read others' faces and panning back to hers frequently so she has a facet of communication in heated conversations, and being more aware of staging in a scene so Kimiko would need to be in earshot to be included in conversations) the show didn't give her a voice until The Boys haphazardly discovered and captured her younger brother, Kenji.
After witnessing their parents' murder and being forced to fight inside the terrorist group, Shining Light Liberation, Kenji and Kimiko developed their own sign language to speak to each other in secret. When Kenji enters into the storyline by way of Butcher and the boys deciding whether or not to kill him on CIA orders, we see that Kimiko can communicate in her own language and someone does understand her. However, that pivotal change is quickly killed off by Stormfront as The Boys fail to keep Kenji alive. For reasons unknown, Kenji refuses to teach Frenchie their secret sign language, so Kenji's death doesn't just symbolize loss of family for Kimiko, but the loss of being truly heard.
In the same scene that we see Kenji die, we see Homelander insulted by Stormfront's actions to kill the "terrorist Supe" before him, bringing the focus back onto the Seven and their tumultuous leadership issues. It's hard to see this camera change as anything but a direct acknowledgement that Kenji's death was a B-storyline created to give Kimiko a sense of purpose and challenge, while literally giving more screen time to Homelander's chase of Stormfront and face-off monologues than Kimiko's grief. We can't even truly say how she's feeling as there is no language in place for us to hear her pain and desire.
Stormfront's entrance into the Seven as a social media savvy anti-capitalist-feminist felt like it'd be the show's entry point into calling out other characters' problematic behaviors. At first, especially during the fictional interview segments with Starlight, it does seem like Stormfront is pushing for 'wokeness' among the Seven and its fans, even telling Starlight to "bite a dick" if one's pushed into her face again in response to the Deep's sexual assault. But this too turns out to be a guise for who Stormfront really is and what she really supports.
Stormfront is not someone the show is using as a mouthpiece to speak against Homelander's xenophobic tendencies -- saving America over the globe -- but someone who is also deeply racist, known for her killing off minorities for being a "piece of shit" for existing. Stormfront's character almost seems to suggest that beneath any 'woke' character, at least in this universe, there must be an ulterior motive, and that no one can actually be looking out for something more than their own privilege. In order to lay claim on killing Kenji, Stormfront kills an entire apartment building of citizens; however, what's interesting is how far the show goes to demonstrate that she's a racist. In Episode 3, The Boys chooses to show a Black family being slaughtered on her pit-stop to killing Kenji, the show chooses to hear Stormfront call Kenji a "yellow bastard," and the show chooses again in Episode 4 to show her killing a Black man for no reason other than the color of his skin. Any one of these examples would have informed the audience of the guise of Stormfront's liberty messages, but the show adds more into the mix to prove some unknown point. How many hate crimes do we need to see Stormfront commit to 'get' the point that she values whiteness above all else? Where is the line between shock value and illustration?
Furthermore, this new pivot to unveiling (again and again) how racist Stormfront is shows that the creators chose to use her origin story as one of the only ones where we see MM take the lead in an investigation. In Episode 4, MM is the only one who can get through to their lead in North Carolina, as she is also a Black woman and is distrustful of the dewy eyed Hughie at her door and any mention of Vought. Through her, we learn that Stormfront is Liberty, we hear of another Black murder, but the show doesn't make any room for MM to process his emotions about this discovery. One would think if they just found out one of the most powerful members of the Seven is a white supremacist, their character would have feelings to show; yet, they are sidelined in the name of Hughie's on-again-off-again relationship with Starlight. Instead of hearing MM's grief, we hear his advice to Hughie's broken heart.
Within the same episode that we learn of Liberty's broken moral compass, A-Train is put on medical leave by Homelander for becoming addicted to a substance that Homelander himself forced him to traffic. A-Train is benched for having new heart conditions due to overusing Compound-V, so Homelander replaces him with another speedster. Audience members saw in prior episodes that A-Train was so terrified of Homelander that he killed his only love, proving that he felt trapped in a powerless position, and now, he is almost completely without powers. Feeling inferior by Stormfront's rise to acclaim, Homelander starts reassembling the team to deal with his feelings, even if it costs A-Train everything.
Perhaps the hardest part of Season 2, Episode 4 to watch is how Butcher's reunion with Becca revolves almost entirely around his feelings about her, rather than her feelings of being in Vought jail for all this time. When Butcher finds Becca, finally, he is quick to tell Becca how she had saved him when he needed her most. She, however, is quick to say that she never knew how to save him. She acknowledges the violence and anger that's always been inside of him, but admits that she can't have anything to do with it. Hearing Becca's own concern over Butcher's rage is marvelous as the show so far seems to hedge analyzing this due to him being the Scary-Spice of the gang; but, it's important to remember that his murderous streak, even if in the name of good or vengeance, is no less self-righteous than Homelander's.
The Boys illustrates how white cis-men in unchecked power with unchecked resources can create unimaginable violence and terror. If this illustration was the show's overall goal of Season 2, then it's certainly achieving that. The only question left is: How much more of this do we need to see? Depicting the consequences of privilege is an important task to acknowledge its existence, but after that point, where is the line between depiction and glorification if nothing else shares the screen or our attention as long? What are we giving our precious time to support?
Amazon Studios' The Boys stars Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, Jack Quaid as Hughie, Laz Alonso as Mother's Milk, Tomer Kapon as Frenchie, Karen Fukuhara as Kimiko, Erin Moriarty as Annie January, Chace Crawford as the Deep, Antony Starr as Homelander and Aya Cash as Stormfront. Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.