Why Is ‘The Boys’ Trying to Kill Its Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Character?

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Amazon Studios
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Amazon Studios

Throughout its run, The Boys has constantly made headlines as the show whose own fanbase can barely understand it. It’s a left-wing series filled with loud, unsubtle critiques of the police, Christianity, Republicans, Fox News, rape culture, and capitalism, yet there are countless right-wing fans who insist the show’s either politically neutral or on their side. How dumb could these right-wing fans be, the rest of the fanbase wondered, to think that such an obviously left-wing show agrees with them on any of these issues?

This sort of misunderstanding is nothing new. When a leftist show critiques liberals, as The Wire did with city Democrats or Succession did with white corporate feminism, it’ll always read as right-wing with audiences who aren’t that familiar with politics that go any further left than Joe Biden. For The Boys, these fans will see the mockery of corporations’ shallow pandering to the LGBTQ+ community and they’ll think it’s a dig on queer people. They’ll see The Boys’ critique of empty PR platitudes regarding #MeToo and think it’s straightforwardly bashing the #MeToo movement.

Perhaps the biggest example of this misunderstanding is with the show’s handling of congresswomen Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit). She’s introduced as a young, up-and-coming woman of color from New York, and the parallels to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are undeniable. The show throws in references to AOC’s famous dance video that Republicans tried to embarrass her over, to the scandal where a Republican colleague called her a “fucking bitch,” to even just the aesthetics and messaging of AOC’s real-life campaign.

Throughout Season 2, Neuman is sold to our heroes the same way AOC sold herself to the disillusioned left, as one of the only people in all of Congress who is actually on their side and fighting to help them out. For almost eight episodes straight she measures up to this role, assisting the Boys seemingly every step of the way.

But in the Season 2 finale, she’s revealed to be the mysterious figure who’s been exploding people’s heads all season. Not only is she a murderer, but she’s a murderer who’s actively working on behalf of the corrupt mega-corporation Vought, thwarting our heroes’ quest for justice at every turn.

Antony Starr as Homelander and Claudia Doumit as Victoria Neuman.

Antony Starr as Homelander and Claudia Doumit as Victoria Neuman.

Jan Thijs/Amazon Studios

It’s with this reveal that I almost sympathize with right-wingers for the misunderstanding. Revealing that your AOC stand-in character is a deceptive, bloodthirsty monster is one of the most Republican-coded twists a show could ever do, the sort of thing you’d expect from one of those movies produced by The Daily Wire. It’s the plot point that right-wingers will point to as proof that the show’s on their side, and it's what other viewers will use to prove that the show is politically neutral. If Homelander’s their critique of the right and Neuman’s their critique of the left, fans often conclude, then The Boys’ point of view must be somewhere in the middle.

For leftists, the interpretation of Neuman’s character is split into two camps. The first is that she’s intended as a leftist critique of electoral politics. You can’t trust any politician, the show seems to argue, because the mere fact that they’ve gotten to a position of power in the first place must mean that they’ve been corrupted at some point on the journey there. In real life I find this attitude pretty frustrating—it often feels like just another way for the left to repeatedly critique itself out of power—but for a show like The Boys, it mostly works. It’s a show that’s inherently about a small group of good guys going up against a small group of bad guys; laying its trust in a prominent politician was never going to make for riveting TV.

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The other left-wing interpretation is that Neuman’s AOC aesthetics were merely a bait and switch. We were given all the markings of the politician we liked so that we’d be less likely to pick up on the big villain twist; everything she does in Season 3, post-reveal, is no longer meant to be read as a commentary on the real-life figure. This is a pretty reasonable interpretation, as most of what we’ve seen of Neuman’s political messaging since then has been more moderate, to the point where her receiving an endorsement from conservative-coded Homelander isn’t seen as a political liability. Judging by the show’s marketing team’s parody campaign ads of Neuman, it seems like these days they’re lifting more off of Kamala Harris instead.

Regardless of The Boys’ intentions, that first impression stuck. AOC is always going to be in the back of a lot of viewers’ minds as they’re watching Neuman’s storyline play out, and although Neuman is not a one-to-one character, the show’s depiction of her is inevitably going to come across as a commentary on AOC and progressive politics in general. That’s why the choice to base so much of this new season around taking her down leaves such a sour taste.

What makes it worse is just how little the main characters seem to still care about Homelander anymore. The sadistic Superman is mostly off on his own throughout the three-part Season 4 premiere, feuding a little with Starlight and attempting to bond with his son Ryan. Like in Season 3, he’s playing around with the idea of going crazy and burning everything down, but this time nobody’s trying too hard to stop him. That’s because the show wants us to believe that the main focus, the most important thing in the world, is that the Boys kill Neuman before she takes office. When it comes to the corrupt progressive or the far-right fascist, The Boys has decided that the progressive is the one who needs to die first.

It’s a choice that doesn’t make much sense logically, because even with her murders and her behind-the-scenes deals with Homelander, there’s not a ton of evidence that Neuman’s going to be more damaging to the world at large. She’s a politician who’s remarkably easy for the Boys to blackmail, and she’s someone who’s genuinely been shown to use her position to try to ease supe/non-supe tensions. Fans often consider her to be nothing more than a puppet for Vought, but not even Vought has been happy about Homelander’s slow descent into madness.

Even on an emotional level, the show hasn’t earned this switch in focus. Some Boys fans will point out that Neuman has done some objectively terrible things. She betrayed her father; she injected her daughter with Compound V; she blew up a bunch of peoples’ heads; she ate Hughie’s bagel sandwich; the list goes on. The head explosions are the main sticking point for most fans, but murder has always been narratively cheap on The Boys; Butcher casually beat Haley Joel Osment to death with his bare hands in Season 1, and he’s still a fan favorite. At least when Neuman kills it’s for a clear strategic purpose.

The real crimes on The Boys, the ones that have stuck with us long after the episode aired, have always been the more intimate, emotional forms of cruelty. We hate the Deep because he raped Starlight, not because he killed Singer’s first running mate. We hate A-Train because he’s a coward who can’t take responsibility, not because he accidentally ran into Hughie’s girlfriend. If this wasn’t a work of fiction, Neuman’s kill count would totally be a justifiable reason for the Boys to want to take her down so much. But in a TV show where people get brutally murdered every week? When even the goody two-shoes Annie gets to kill a stray civilian in Season 2 with no consequences? It’s hard to keep hating Neuman when she’s only killed minor or unlikable characters so far. The fact that she did it with style makes it even harder.

Claudia Doumit in The Boys.

Claudia Doumit in The Boys.

Amazon Studios

Some fans hesitate to admit this out of fear of sounding psychotic, but in fiction it’s fun to watch a competent schemer do their thing. Neuman has successfully maneuvered her way through one tricky situation after another, largely through her charm and quick-thinking rather than brute force. She’s been kind and encouraging to Marie in Gen V, a character she barely knows and has no strategic reason to be nice to. In the Season 4 premiere, we’ve seen her continue being nice to Hughie even as he’s actively trying to kill her. Sure, her list of crimes technically register as evil, but she is not a “love to hate” villain. In terms of both emotional investment and real-world consequences, killing Neuman won’t feel as good as The Boys is promising us it will.

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Intentionally or not, the choice to prioritize Neuman’s demise over Homelander’s makes for the most brutally cynical social commentary in the series so far. It sends the message that a corrupt progressive is more dangerous than an open fascist, that a leftist being insincere in their beliefs is worse than a far-right demagogue being openly out to oppress as many people as possible. It reinforces the nihilistic idea that nothing matters, that both sides are always bad, that there is no real solution to the world’s problems other than vigilante violence.

It’s likely that the writers for The Boys haven’t intended for that to be the takeaway. After all, the main reason for this awkward narrative shift has little to do with AOC or Neuman, but on the writers’ attempts to draw out the show. Homelander is the one character The Boys can’t survive without, so to keep him around the show has given us a revolving door of one-season secondary villains to defeat in his place. This worked out tremendously with Stormfront in Season 2, but not so much with Soldier Boy in Season 3. Much like Neuman, Soldier Boy was just a little too cool for audiences to buy he’d ever be at the top of the Boys’ to-kill list. Heading into Season 4 The Boys seems like it’s about to attempt the same mistake, this time with much darker, messier political implications attached.

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