tv The Women of ‘The Boys’ Reveal How The Show Is Changing Superhero TV
What do you think of when you hear about a subversive superhero show like The Boys? Words like “violent,” “anti-establishment,” “profane,” and “timely” may immediately spring to mind — but “girl power” should be at the top of the list. In Season 1, Erin Moriarty‘s Starlight, Karen Fukuhara‘s The Female/Kimiko, and Dominique McElligott‘s Queen Maeve burst fully-formed onto our screens as complex, powerful and deeply flawed women who just so happen to be superheroes. In Season 2, their journeys continue, and they display the same strength, nuance and grandiosity as their male counterparts.
“You could easily call the show The Girls. Especially with season two, the show is all about the women, and their dynamics, and their interactions. They are fighting for space, fighting for air, fighting for themselves,” Prime Rewind: Inside The Boys host Aisha Tyler told Decider.
Tyler is absolutely spot on. Many of the most compelling relationships explored by the writers for The Boys are between the female characters: Queen Maeve and Starlight’s tentative alliance; Kimiko and Starlight’s burgeoning friendship; and Kimiko’s deadly struggles with the villainous Stormfront (Aya Cash).
When recalling her initial reaction to the premise of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book series, Tyler stated flatly: “I remember thinking when I saw the title, ‘is this going to be another just cis white male dude fight show?'” To her relief, she says, “The show immediately turned that notion on its head.”
Showrunner Eric Kripke is responsible for helping mold The Boys into the surprising feminist showcase it has become, and Moriarty has nothing but respect and praise for his approach. “Erik creates nuanced female characters who remain empowered, even though they make bad calls at certain moments. [Bad calls] don’t make these women weak, they make them human.”
Fukuhara agreed with Moriarty’s assessment, adding that, “The female characters in our show face hardships and endure difficult situations like Starlight being sexual assaulted by The Deep and Kimiko being tortured by members of the Shining Light. What’s beautiful is that these women always try to do what’s best in that situation for them.”
These are not cookie cutter heroines, but individuals who react in their own ways to the dangers they encounter. For example, Starlight is introduced to the Seven when she is sexually assaulted by The Deep— one of the most harrowing events in Season 1. Instead of being compliant, Starlight goes rogue and fights to take down the corrupt super-group — and the evil Vought corporation that runs them, with the help of Hughie (Jack Quaid) and The Boys. Kimiko retreats into silence after the murder of her parents, years of torment within a terrorist organization and then the trauma of being a Compound V test subject (whew!), but she is starting to heal with the help of teammate Frenchie (Tomer Kapon). The fact that Stromfront (Aya Cash) kills her estranged brother (Abraham Lim) in front of her eyes interrupts this process; but Kimiko is a survivor and is seeking her revenge.
And speaking of strong women characters— Season 2 introduced audiences to two very different females: Stormfront, the newest member of The Seven, who turns out to have a number of nasty tricks up her sleeve including being a secret Nazi and enlisting the powerful Homelander (Antony Starr) to her cause ; and Becca Butcher (Shantel VanSanten), previously only seen in flashbacks, who left her life and husband Billy (Karl Urban) behind when she was raped by Homelander, became pregnant, and was forced to go into hiding so that she could prevent their child from growing up to be a Supe asshole.
“Stormfront is the scariest person, the scariest villain out there,” said Colby Minifie, who plays Ashley Barrett, the overworked and constantly terrified Senior Vice President of Hero Management at Vought International. One of the biggest twists of Season 2 is the reveal that Stormfront is actually the wife of Nazi scientist Frederick Vought, and is the first successful test subject of Compound V, his Supe-making serum. In the comic books, Stormfront is actually a male character, but Kripke made the decision to change the character to female on the show, in keeping with his tendency to disrupt traditional superhero motifs.
Aya Cash, who plays Stormfront, acknowledges that Kripke wanted to keep audiences off balance. “There was some intentionality behind Stormfront coming in and being one of the worst possible creatures in this world,” Cash explained. “In the superhero genre, the women tend to be the moral compasses. They tend to be the wives who get fridged [a term used to describe when female characters are killed to motivate their male opposites]. Stormfront coming in and being this strong, feminist woman who has a heart of acid, is a way of showing that these female superheroes can be just as fucked up as the male superheroes, if not worse.”
Certainly the plot backs up Cash’s take on her unusual character. Under the guise of “protecting” America, Stormfront is in fact fueling paranoia against immigrants and ethnic minorities while secretly building an army of Aryan Supes to enforce her twisted and poisonous ideals. And worst of all, she has someone who seems like the ultimate patriot, Homelander, by her side. It is an exaggerated, but truly chilling parallel to today’s political climate in which traditional expectations and relationships are turned upside down and nothing is what it seems.
On the other hand, there’s Becca Butcher. “For 10 years she’s lived in this bubble after making the sacrifice that she did,” VanSanten said. “I don’t think it was without any sort of struggle. For her, the only way to overcome the trauma of being pregnant after being raped was to raise the child to be different than his father.”
The scenes in which Becca confronts her rapist, Homelander, and is forced to slowly let that monster into their child’s life because he could laser her to death with his eyeballs are uncomfortable for audiences — to say the least. But VanSanten sees this discomfiture as a good thing. As she points out, “A show like The Boys can be entertaining, but can also make you think about the evils that result from sexual harassment, racism and white supremacy and hopefully to have uncomfortable conversations… I feel proud to be part of a show that raises awareness of these issues.”
And indeed, for a character whose life is at the mercy of an unhinged Supe with a God complex, Becca is unafraid and will no doubt do everything in her power to get her son back before he can be corrupted by his father and the sadistic Stormfront.
As Season 2 comes to an end this Friday, October 9, who knows how these stories will conclude for the fearless and fiery women of The Boys. With the show already greenlit for third season, these multifaceted female characters, whose stories reflect our own painful reality in so many ways, will continue to challenge our settled notions of the Superhero genre, taking it further and further away from its comic book roots. Maybe instead, let’s call Season 3 The Girls?