The Boys’ second season further explores the reality that a world inhabited by super-people who publicly claim to be committed to maintaining peace and upholding justice would still never truly be safe or fair. Powers or not, caped vigilantes are just people with their own personal agendas and deeply held prejudices.
Hyper-violent as The Boys continues to be this season, the story being told is a much more political one. The battle between the Boys and the Seven is physical and metaphorical, as Vought International uses the Seven’s public profiles to drum up support for the creation of more superpowered people. Even after being exposed for being responsible for the creation of the world’s supes through the use of the drug Compound-V and then lying to the public about it, Vought manages to maintain its public image and its grip on power by using the Seven to manipulate the public’s sense of security.
In its pursuit of convincing the world that more Vought-branded superpeople are necessary, the company throws its weight behind Stormfront. But the main priority of the electrokinetic brawler supe hailing from Portland appears to be boosting her own popularity and prominence on the Seven.
Where the original members of the Seven were all content to rely on Vought to handle their media presence, Stormfront takes matters into her own hands. From the moment she arrives, she livestreams her interactions with other supes directly to social media, where thousands of people follow her. As this season progresses, Stormfront’s skill at using social media to generate positive buzz about her being on the Seven becomes a significant point of contention between her and Homelander, who sees her arrival as a threat to his authority.
It isn’t until Homelander admits to himself that he can’t strategize his way around Stormfront that he takes her up on her offer to teach him how to play her game and he realizes how similar the two of them are in terms of sociopathy. Together, they’re able to boost public opinion about the Seven to new heights. But while it really is all about needing to feel adored and respected by regular people for Homelander, for Stormfront, the end goal is far more insidious—she’s a Nazi hellbent on ushering in an age of supremacy for white supes.
Because The Boys spends so much time focusing on its flashier, high-profile capes, it can be easy to forget that there are plenty of people living regular lives who, because of exposure to Compound-V, have some sort of ability that they’ve simply chosen not to use for crimefighting. While the Vought-approved messaging about superterrorists was specifically engineered and focus-grouped to engender fear of abstract, far-off threats who could only be dealt with by “heroes” with powers, Stormfront uses it to drum up fear about Others™ invading America. By stoking fear about superterrorists, and using the concept of them as a catchall for people who simply had powers and were deemed to somehow be un-American—thinly-veiled code for nonwhite—every single one of Stormfront’s rallies worked to encourage people to see danger where there was none.
“Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker,” the seventh episode of the season, opens with a brief selection of scenes that follow a man as he’s gradually radicalized by consuming Stormfront’s subtextually racist sentiment via a variety of different media. What begins as the man casually listening to the “hero” rage about illegal immigrants on television quickly becomes a kind of obsession for him. He gets up each day and absorbs more of Stormfront’s rhetoric about how Americans are under attack and in danger from outsiders and helps spread that message online to others. The way he sees the world begins to change, even as he goes about his daily routine of leaving the house and making a pit stop at a nearby convenience store.
While it stands to reason that the man was already disturbed long before Stormfront’s calculated messages of hate began echoing in his head, The Boys follows as he continues to spiral mentally, becoming increasingly suspicious of others. Stormfront’s combined messages about America being under attack and needing more people—who she sees as soldiers in her army—to step up and champion her causes make it easy for the man to see himself as a warrior empowered to take the law into his own hands and exterminate anyone he perceives as a threat. In Stormfront’s statements, you can clearly hear the exact same kinds of white supremacist dog whistles frequently sounded as a call-and-response to groups of people like the organizers of Unite the Right and individuals like Kyle Rittenhouse, the armed fanatic who is charged with shooting three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing two and seriously wounding the third. Despite being written and produced months ago, Stormfront’s rallying cry of the county needing “more supes” carries the same chilling message as Donald Trump’s request that the Proud Boys “stand back and stand by” during the first 2020 Presidential debate, and in The Boys’ case, the push to violence comes to fruition almost immediately.
The disturbed man eventually shoots the convenience store cashier he sees every single day because he believes the man might have powers, and during another one of Stormfront’s rallies, she goes out of her way to extend her thoughts and prayers to the victim’s family. What the show makes clear is that against the backdrop of a powerful, government-aligned corporation insisting that the U.S. is under threat from foreign actors, a white-presenting domestic terrorist was empowered to take up arms and murder a man in cold blood simply because he perceived someone as being different.
Of all the horrific things that The Boys puts on display, the murder in “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker,” is the most chilling because of how closely it cleaves to our reality. Even though it’s the capes who pose the most obvious and visible threat to society, the show is smart to point out that it’s the supes’ influence, more than their physical powers, that makes them truly dangerous.
Update: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that The Boys didn’t address the death of the shooting victim. The piece has been updated with a correction.
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