“The truth is, our weakness is the same as anyone’s. It’s people. The people we care about.”
So many secrets are exposed in this season’s penultimate episode as the two sides—Vought’s Supes and the ragtag titular heroes—edge closer to that inevitable face-off where violence will reign and blood will be spilled.
A peek eight years into the past, at a Vought Christmas party is a quiet table-setter for “The Self-Preservation Society”, the most complete episode of The Boys yet. The quiet nature of the Christmas celebration, where Billy and Becca’s (Shantel VanSaten, The Flash, Shooter, The Messengers) love for one another can’t be denied, it’s overshadowed by her inexorable fate. This forgone outcome parallels Hughie and Annie’s relationship, one that has gone to the next level as the pair finally consummate things. Their post-coital conversation about potential “red-flags” not only solidifies their amazing chemistry and just how right the two are for one another, but it foreshadows the eventual crash when Annie discovers the truth about Hughie. The question for these two still remains; will Hughie’s duplicity be too much for Annie to overcome or will the upcoming confrontation between Hughie, the Boys, and Vought make that a moot point?
As Homelander lays out the truth for Annie and the others, it’s not until A-Train gives Hughie a call from his dad’s phone that he and the Boys realize they’ve been burned. With no recourse but to return home where A-Train awaits him, Hughie does so but not without two ingenious tricks up his sleeve. Using A-Train’s need for a Compound-V hit to his advantage, Hughie barters a deal: a hit of V for the speedster in exchange for letting his father go. A-Train complies and his edginess, coupled with the guilt at killing Popclaw weighing him down, A-Train focuses on Hughie as a target for what happened, refusing to take responsibility for his girlfriend’s fate. His anger and self-loathing offer the perfect distraction for Kimiko to strike, and she puts A-Train out of commission with a compound leg fracture.
Though Homelander sets into motion the Boys and their family’s hiding out, he doesn’t pursue them. Instead, after finally recognizing Butcher, he begins to search for answers on what happened to Becca Butcher. When Madelyn answers him with lies, Homelander tracks down Dr. Vogelbaum (John Doman, Gotham, The Affair, Person of Interest) the man responsible for his gifts and sterile upbringing. The conversation between the two is a tension-filled masterpiece, where Homelander’s (whose name is John) resentment and barely restrained fury that claw their way to the surface is greeted by Vogelbaum’s tired apology and unflinching truth: “You’re my greatest failure” he states after apologizing to the loveless conditions of the super hero’s upbringing.
But it’s a double-sided blow for Homelander, who discovers that after his apparent rape (more on that later) of Becca, she died in childbirth as his progeny clawed its way out of her womb. Everything Vogelbaum tells Homelander is delivered in the same sterile, nearly emotionless tone that is a painful reminder of what John experienced as a child. It’s difficult not to feel for Homelander and what he could have been, had the Vogelbaum seen to it that he was raised in a loving family. But while there’s no denying Homelander’s upbringing had a massive effect on the terrible person he became, empathy for someone like him, someone who lacks the fundamental characteristics of basic human decency, can only go so far.
Like Homelander, Butcher’s much more recent pain drives many of his actions though, in a surprising twist, he foregoes his own selfish desires for once. Knowing they need help now that Vought knows their identities, Butcher acquiesces to MM’s request and calls in Raynor, handing over the Compound-V in exchange for protection, supplies, and taking Vought down. But that moment of selflessness is colored by his brutal murder of Mesmer in a public restroom. Though Mesmer made his own bed, it’s hard not to feel a bit of sorrow for Mesmer’s helpless fear at seeing his impending death in Billy’s mind.
With so many plot threads going on, it would have been easy for Annie and Hughie to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, the necessity for the two to hash out the truth now that it was on the table was perfectly placed as the episode’s final scene. It’s a painful watching the hurt and betrayal in her eyes though some of that is undercut by Hughie’s revelation about Compound-V. Believing Hughie’s put himself in a precarious position, Butcher ensures the two lovers won’t find resolution this day, putting two bullets into Annie’s chest (thankfully, it just knocks the wind out of her) as he gets Hughie out of dodge and back in the shadows to prepare for the ensuing conflict between them and Vought.
As consistently good as The Boys has been thus far, “The Self-Preservation Society” is that much better. It’s not just the big reveals either; every conversation carries an emotional weight that reveals another layer to each character. From Hughie’s separate confrontations with A-Train and Butcher, to the tension and almost certain violence during Homelander’s dissection of Annie’s relationship, almost everything about this episode worked. If this momentum carries forward to the finale, this freshman campaign of The Boys may find itself in the conversation for best first seasons of a genre show.
Answering the Call of Duty
- Now that she had proof of Compound-V, Raynor was ready to pin Madelyn and Vought in a corner. The unexpected video feed of a super-powered terrorist changes the game. This was what Vought wanted the whole time; to create a situation where the government has little recourse but to integrate Supes into the military. Who knows how many evil Supes (other than their own, of course) are out there and the damage they’ve already caused.
- This Becca and Homelander flashbacks were supposed to provide clarity on what happened between the two but, for me, it’s still up in the air. Was it rape or an affair that lead to Becca’s horrible fate? Ignoring Homelander’s reaction to anything having to do with Becca (even if he forced himself on her, this guy’s so detached from human emotion that there wouldn’t be a trace of guilt on his face), the quick shots of her are inconclusive. Becca’s guise of shame could have been from guilt over her own willful actions, but they very well could be part of the swirling emotions that follow an assault. The finale has to give us a definitive answer and not just Butcher’s assumptions.
- Deep has experienced some seriously choppy waters of late. He’s gone from a starter to back of the bench in the span of a few weeks. This may have been his lowest point yet, banished to Sandusky, Ohio and finding himself on the other end of unwanted sexual assault. Though he’s deserved the demotion (and much more), the way his arc has been played for a joke, while entertaining, doesn’t quite vibe with the serious nature of every other story arc.
Get ready for our review of the finale by visiting our reviews of Episodes 1-6 here.