“The Boys” and the Aftermath of Hate

This article contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of the TV series, The Boys.

Last month, at the start of Season 2 of Amazon’s The Boys, I reflected on how a show about superheroes (or ‘supes’) is able to expose our human weaknesses and whether or not we choose to fight for who we love. But throughout Season 2, as houses and heads explode, each character becomes more and more preoccupied with how to survive another’s hate. The question is not if we love, but how we could possibly love in a world of such ultraviolence. And as our country now hurtles towards a divisive election, we must ask the same question: how do we respond to hate?

The centerpiece of Season 2 is Stormfront (Aya Cash), the newest member of The Seven, the U.S.’s  premier superhero group. Partway through the season, we discover that she (despite appearing in her thirties) was born in 1919 and got involved with the heads of the Nazi Party in Germany. She is an unrepentant white supremacist, confiding in Homelander (Antony Starr) that she sees white superheroes as the way to purge the human race of ‘lesser’ peoples. She doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone who isn’t white, even innocent bystanders. She insults and then expels the only black member of the Seven, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher). She uses human subjects for dangerous experiments, disposing of the failures. And the Boys grow to hate her.

Hatred is not a new concept for the series: Season 1 is dominated by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) relentlessly trying to get revenge against Homelander. But what is different now is the focalization of hatred upon the character of Stormfront. Almost every single character on the show comes to hate her for what she believes and what she’s done – with the notable exception of Homelander who becomes drawn into her hate for the rest of the world. The show treats her as a scapegoat; almost every horrible thing is somehow connected to her (from Homelander’s Übermensch fantasies to the manipulative Scientology-esque Church of the Collective). We, as viewers, are encouraged to indulge  the hatred of the main characters, and are given a supposedly-cathartic moment when the other three female give Stormfront a vicious beatdown.

There appears to be little room left for love. Force must be met with force, violence countered only by a greater violence. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) seeks to kill Stormfront for killing her only brother. Butcher is stopped from murdering the child who accidentally killed his wife only by the appearance of his greater hatred, Homelander. When Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) mourns the loss of her lover, the show presents Nazi-punching as a suitable method of moving on. Many of the characters fight against hatred, but very few actually fight for love.

We as Christians understand love as coming from the outpouring of God upon and into creation. That love is vulnerable, but it also should embolden us to act for justice. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis asserts that true love “impels us towards universal communion… By its very nature, love calls for growth in openness and the ability to accept others as part of a continuing adventure that makes every periphery converge in a greater sense of mutual belonging” (95). Our love, in imitation of God’s love, should be expansive – to welcome the stranger regardless of where they come from, to feed the hungry regardless of what they look like. 

That sense of “mutual belonging” is hindered by every act of hatred. It’s a mistake to  think that hatred is always easy to identify: Stormfront must hate, because she says how much she wants a pure Aryan race. Homelander must hate, because he kills anyone who goes against him. But what of those who seek to stop them? In the aftermath of their hatred, every single character seems to think that the only possible response is a stronger, more violent hatred.

Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits… every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” Love, to be strong enough to withstand the hatred of others, cannot bear good fruit in its own bed of hatred. Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko are a potential source of an enriching love, but their affirmations to each other often amount to, ‘be strong enough to hurt the people who hurt you.’ Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) are beginning to truly trust each other, but it’s unclear if their love can animate them to work to help others. None of them seem to have a love that comes any closer “towards universal communion.” Yet true love should push us, impel us to fight for justice and peace. Justice makes love more possible, but we cannot find justice without first finding a love that breaks down walls. When we are confronted by a president unwilling to condemn white supremacists, when we see police facing no official sanctions for killing Breonna Taylor, love should encourage us to speak out. But that willingness to speak out cannot itself come from hatred.

At the end of the finale, Butcher is left with Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), the 8-year-old boy who came from Homelander raping Butcher’s wife (Shantel VanSanten). Rather than remain with the difficult choice of how to love such a child, Butcher agrees to have the government keep Ryan safe; the boy, and Butcher’s potential vulnerability, are thrown into the back of a black SUV. Against the face of hatred, such an act seems like the safe thing to do. Only our greater violence can stop the violence of others who hate. But Francis points out that this is never how God thinks. “What is important,” Francis writes, “is not constantly achieving great results… It is truly noble to place our hope in the hidden power of the seeds of goodness we sow, and thus to initiate processes whose fruits will be reaped by others” (194-195).

In the bloody aftermath of superheroic violence, an honest love might seem like a small thing. But fighting for love isn’t about me being strong; rather, it’s about building a world where others do not need to be afraid of being weak.

The Boys is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

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