It’s Homelander’sAnnual Birthday Spectacular, live on TV! There will be song, there will be dance, the cast of Riverdale and Dame Judi Dench plan to make appearances! The second episode of this season delights in mocking the polished sheen and Disney-fication of our superheroes. When we aren’t watching onstage sound check preparations with Homelander, Starlight, and a group of scantily clad back-up dancers, we’re in the Voughtland theme park with Kimiko and Frenchie, the park filled with “woke” and hollow messaging (Brave Maeve’s “Inclusive Kingdom”, which serves BLM BLTs and LGBTurkey legs), or we’re watching an ad for Deep’s new Lifetime special. A-Train, concerned about his waning popularity and potential inability to run without regular Compound V usage, is ready to rebrand, pitching a tone-deaf docuseries of him traveling to Africa and a videogame about the slave trade, but finally taking matters into his own hands and wearing a redesigned version of his uniform, this time in African textile patterning, onstage at Homelander’s birthday event.
Starlight sits in the middle of this mess, continuing to attempt at creating boundaries and staying true to herself. When she refuses to sing a sensual “Happy Birthday” to Homelander (with the suggested energy of “JFK just got rimmed out by Marilyn”), Edgar sides with her. Ever the numbers game, it’s not actually about ethics for Vought, but about the fact that Starlight has higher popularity points than Homelander currently. Starlight optimistically sees it as a sign of change anyways, telling potential new Seven pick (and old flame from her Christian convention days) Supersonic (Miles Gaston Villanueva) that making waves may actually be a plausible path in the company.
Hughie tries to keep his cool and not raise any alarms with Congresswoman Neuman while snooping around an orphanage for superheroes. Records here reveal that Neuman is, in fact, a woman named Nadia who was adopted by Vought’s Stan Edgar in secret. (While not touched upon much in this episode, one little cherubic teleporting child in the orphanage is named Teddy Stillwell — presumably the deceased Madelyn Stillwell’s now toddler-aged child).
The characters with a previous taste for the raw, addictive, and immediate results of working as The Boys are drawn back to it — Mother’s Milk’s obsession with the death of Payback’s Soldier Boy forces his return to Butcher, Hughie’s dejection over the fact that all roads lead to the continued corruption of Vought and its supes trigger his total disillusionment. “I thought we could fight Vought the right way, but we can’t, it’s all rigged,” he declares to Butcher after his revelation about Neuman’s ties to the company, “We have to do whatever it takes. We have to do it your way.”
The number of non-Seven characters with superhero adjacent skills increases when Butcher tests out the twenty-four-hour superhero compound during a fight with Gunpowder (Sean Patrick Flannery), which gives him immense strength, a general invincibility, and some wicked laser eyes which he employs to slice through Gunpowder’s head and the car behind him in one fell swoop, brains spewing about the parking lot.
It’s hard to say how Butcher feels about his brief flirtation with being super-abled, but these powers remain repulsive to Kimiko. For her, powers make her feel non-human, cruel, othered. After a gory fight at Voughtland with Crimson Countess (Laurie Holden) — former Payback member, now performer and singer of weird PSA-type songs like “Chimps Don’t Cry” — Kimiko mourns the burden of her powers. “I’m broken and can never be fixed,” she signs emphatically to Frenchie. It’s a far cry from Homelander’s belief that these types of powers make him a god among mortals.
This exact narcissism of Homelander is on full display in this episode, beginning with his desperation for Stormfront to wish him a happy birthday (not only does she refuse, she takes the day as an opportunity to commit suicide by forcefully swallowing her own tongue). As the world around him — Stormfront, Starlight, Stan Edgar, the woman he is meant to save from committing suicide by jumping off a building — do not bend to his will with desired ease, he grows increasingly agitated. There is not enough validation in the world for Homelander, who compares himself directly to Jesus Christ and God. When he takes out his anger by forcing the woman who now wants to live, to jump off the building anyways, he snarls, “There’s no God. The only man in the sky is me.”
Homelander publicly snaps at the end of his birthday broadcast, going on an anti-apology, anti-cancel culture tirade. “I’m not just like the rest of you. I’m stronger, I’m smarter, I’m better […] I’m done apologizing, I’m done being persecuted for my strength,” he rants and raves. The episode ends with him staring outward at a quiet audience, somehow appearing both petulant and frightening: “I’m the real hero.”
In his psychopathic mind’s eye, to deny Homelander endless praise and cultural prostration is to persecute him, and to persecute him is to risk feeling his wrath. It is a far safer fate to submit to the shit The Seven and their brand offer you — the crappy movies, the reality shows, the birthday spectaculars, the thousands of collateral deaths for some meaningless crime stopping — and to thank them for it fervently, than to ask for anything better.
Image courtesy of Prime Video