The Boys season 2 episodes 1-4 spoilers follow.
We knew that the return of Amazon's subversive superhero show was going to bring along an attempt to interrogate white supremacy, and four episodes in it's become clear that new girl Stormfront is the means by which these waters are being waded into.
Despite being billed first as the voice of female empowerment we thought The Seven needed, the final moments of episode three – and the brutal murder of Kimiko's long-lost brother Kenji – gave us a more rounded picture of who Stormfront is.
While it was a surprise to the audience, we don't want to turn phrases such as 'dropped the mask' or 'showed her true nature' to describe this game-changing moment. It is entirely possible for a person to present as 'good' in one aspect, yet still be a horrendous person at the core.
To put it bluntly, those advocating for women's rights can still be deeply racist.
This is a truth already known by Black women, and those from Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, who have often been excluded from feminist spaces. The same can be said for Transgender women, who are routinely disregarded by some factions. Basically, feminism has long had an intersectionality problem, and it's commendable to see this mirrored on screen.
It would be remiss at this point to continue to label Stormfront a feminist, but by presenting this duality on-screen The Boys is following its pattern of interrogating the very genre it sits within.
There's a comment on the clearly distinguishable "good versus evil" trope here, and The Boys' showrunner Eric Kripke has explained that Stormfront's positive first impression was completely intentional.
"Hate doesn't come at you with a big neon sign that says, 'Hey, we're hate.' They come at you in pretty insidious and attractive packages," he told The Wrap in a recent interview. "We wanted a character that when you first met her you'd be like, 'Oh, wow. What a free thinker. She's so attractive and interesting.' And then you sort of reveal that she's peddling the same shit that people having been peddling for a thousand years."
This introduction of nuance is vital when it comes to complicated conversations such as those around racism and structures of white supremacy.
But what hasn't quite landed so far is the show's execution of it.
The aforementioned moment at the very end of episode three saw Stormfront relentlessly and violently chasing Kimiko and Kenji. As part of the pursuit, she ransacked an apartment block filled with families and Stormfront didn't hesitate to murder every single person of colour that she came across.
In what's been dubbed the big twist, she uttered a racial slur at Kenji before brutally ending his life.
The way this was handled on screen was clumsy, playing the reveal of Stormfront's racism as little more than a plot device for shock value. Worse still, it could have been triggering for some viewers watching at home without warning.
The same blueprint was followed in episode four when a flashback scene depicted the murder of an innocent Black man – in full view of his young sister – at the hands of '70s supe Liberty (later revealed to be Stormfront).
The flaw in the storytelling is born from the fact that the white characters are being centred, while those on the receiving end have very little (if any) character development or agency. The victims are a side note, or a consequence, in their own stories.
Instead Stormfront and, to a lesser extent, Homelander are steering this particular aspect of the plot, pushing the narrative forward from their perspectives. Fundamentally: can you interrogate racism in a way that does it justice by looking at it, however critically, through the eyes of a white supremacist?
Aya Cash, who plays the role of Stormfront, has defended the scene in episode three. She argued that it would "do a disservice to the trauma that people suffer hearing those things all the time" for the script not to have fully leaned into her character's beliefs and the way she would behave (via Radio Times).
"It's in service to a bigger conversation," she said.
This could be a signal that The Boys season two will build on the foundation that's been laid so far, and start to push harder against its racist central characters.
While it wouldn't have necessarily been a consideration during filming, The Boys season two is airing at a time when conversations around racism are of the utmost importance.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited following the killing of George Floyd, which sparked widespread protest against police brutality and renewed conversations about how prevalent racism is in different areas of society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also further highlighted socio-economic disparities and systemic racism, with very real and tragic consequence for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in particular. Let's also not overlook the fact that coronavirus-specific racism is being targeted at East Asian communities too.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with a superhero show but, as we've argued before, entertainment does not exist within a vacuum. When done right, it can also comment on, and facilitate, real-world discussion.
The Boys made no secret of its desire to feed into the discourse, with showrunner Eric Kripke stating that he wanted to explore the issue of white nationalism because of how it presents itself in today's modern world – namely, festering in forums online.
Stormfront is all about her social-media channels, building a following that will hang on her every word. Disturbingly, she told Homelander (who wants everyone in the palm of his hand) that her strategy was to whip up anger and outrage to exploit it for power.
You don't need to win them all over, she says, you just need a portion of people "really f**king pissed." Sound familiar?
The Boys could have something very meaningful to add to the TV landscape, and world discussion – we just hope that season two will go on to take a little more care with the narrative it uses to frame its message.
The Boys season two dropped on Amazon Prime Video on September 4 with episodes 1-3, and will continue weekly from September 11.
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