The big lesson from “Barbary Coast” is absolute power corrupts…absolutely. Just forget what happened in the season premiere, because any hint of progress and happiness has been obliterated like one of those wet balloon body explosions that are typical in this show.
Homelander is unleashed. Butcher is unleashed. Hughie is more disillusioned than ever and that’s putting a strain between him and Annie as well as destroying his soul. Mother’s Milk can’t do the status quo anymore since he and Soldier Boy have a history. Kimiko and Frenchie come to the realization that they are going nowhere with Butcher. And people are back to dying graphically. Oh wait, that never stopped. Well there’s more this time.
Let’s not sugarcoat it, things get bleak and they get bleak fast.
Narcissism Gone Wild
Any attempts to keep Homelander down are now failing spectacularly. If there were faint parallels to our former president’s administration (I’m one of those that takes a ‘he who should not be named' approach), they are now blatantly obvious with Homelander’s unleashing. His massive profanity laced and unhinged rant on live television at the end of the last episode has boosted his ratings wildly up, well at least with rust belt males. Sound a bit familiar? Homelander uses this boost in popularity to take control of The Seven, and he naturally takes the high road. Just kidding. He demoralizes everyone to show them who’s boss just because he can.
We are used to Homelander being a vicious, over-the-top villain but he really pushed boundaries in this episode. For the viewer, it got a bit too excessive. First he calls Starlight’s bluff, challenging her to release the tape of the flight that Maeve uncovered. It won’t hurt him now. Actually, his wording was far more creepy and diabolical. “I prefer to be loved, but take that away from me and being feared is A-1 okey-doke by me.” Chills man, chills.
Things went way too far though with The Deep. I get it, he’s shallow, he’s desperate, but being forced by Homelander to eat his pet octopus? While his poor aquatic friend begs for his life? That’s narcissism gone wild. As much as I think The Deep deserves what he brings upon himself, something this uncomfortable is not fair to an audience that at this point is already getting the message. Homelander is off the rails.
For the record, I hated the entire American Hero thing. I get where the parody comes from, a Bachelor rip off that only exists for ratings and buzz, but it’s too awful. Giving the slot to The Deep despite promising two slots to the remaining contestants was a low blow, especially when the two remaining contests were minority women, but that’s Homelander for you! No accountability. Another parallel to our former reality TV star turned president. I’m still wondering why he was willing to give the remaining spot to Starlight’s old flame Supersonic, but the dude chose to take the slot despite Starlight’s warning that Homelander was dangerous. This can’t go well for him. I really, really hated the Homelight twist. If that wasn’t a slam at PR monkeys, I don’t know what is.
Poor Annie, she was really thrown a lot of curveballs this episode and toughed through it. I was so heartbroken how a disillusioned Hughie threw her under the bus, telling her to stick with it even though Homelander was flying off the rails and she lost her leverage. She was truly scared and Hughie didn’t do anything about it. The fist behind her back was so telling, she’s built up a coping mechanism since she was a child and that’s how she remains strong and calm. It goes to show that she is the true hero in a show where no one seems like they’re the hero. I’m really annoyed that Hughie has put her in this position. Does he really think she can handle it, or is he desperate?
While the whole Vought hero drama took a sickening turn, the important crux of the episode is what happens on The Boys side. Gunpowder did reveal some important information last episode before Butcher sliced his head off. Soldier Boy died in Nicaragua, not a nuclear explosion. The one person who knew what happened is the CIA agent in charge, none other than Grace Mallory. The confrontation reveals quite an interesting backstory, even if it is told in between Butcher having a physical meltdown in the bathroom due to V-24 withdrawal.
The whole trading guns for drugs thing that apparently happened in Nicaragua in the 80’s happens in this flashback, throwing more sharp commentary about how corrupt and racist our government was back then. It hasn’t changed much! Finally we get to see Payback in action and what do you know, they’re overconfident clueless dicks. Trying to get supes into the military is not a recent thing as we see in the encampment is a much younger Stan Edgar, looking for his big PR opportunity and lucrative government contract. Soldier Boy is a big dick, trying to hit on Grace in a totally demeaning manor and treating the whole gig like it’s play time at the office. Actually, they all are treating this trip the same way, like one big joke, being totally despicable in the process, except one supe we’ve learned so little about until now, Black Noir!
To me, that most intriguing part of the flashback, learning what happened to Black Noir all those years ago. While the others were acting moronic, Black Noir was arguing with Stan about the way things were. We finally see the man behind the mask! He’s a black man that doesn’t like the fact he has to wear the helmet all the time, because being African-American isn’t marketable. He takes off the mask at just the wrong time, when they are ambushed by the Russian backed Sandinistas.
Yep, the whole thing goes very bad. Grace’s team is wiped out and Payback takes quite a hit too. Swatto ruins everything with his high flight grandstanding which gives away their position. He’s taken out easily with a surface to air missile, and it’s wickedly awesome. The bastard deserved it. Black Noir was horribly disfigured by the fighting and I presume he lost his voice? I’m assuming that’s why he doesn’t speak because he could before. The also explains why he never takes off the helmet now. The rest of Payback is seen lying around licking their wounds except Crimson Countess, who hysterically declares Soldier Boy is dead. They have to believe her I guess, because the Russians took his body. Why? Strangely, no one ever tried to find out. I guess that’s how much they cared about Solider Boy.
So, Butcher and gang decide that they’ll find what they need in Russia and everything is all hunky dory, right? Hee, you know what show we’re watching. It’s the ultimate Billy Butcher meltdown, him giving into his worst tendencies. He, like Homelander, wants burn the whole thing down. I applaud Grace for at least calling out Butcher for who he is, a very angry man like his father who isn’t doing this for Becca or Ryan like he says, but for himself. She has him nailed. Its gut wrenching to watch Butcher take out his anger on Ryan, blaming him for Becca’s death. It’s a low blow and one that will continue to haunt him as he’s ruined the best relationship he has. It cements his descent to his lowest point, and proves once again he is no hero in this story.
That’s why it’s more sad to watch Hughie is taking Butcher’s lead on this. That’s what really makes this hour bleak is seeing Hughie abandon those principles that he held in solidarity with Annie for the misguided revenge against the supes mentality. He’s not pulling from Billy Joel this time. He’s following Butcher on the slide down to Hell. It was truly a discouraging hour to watch.
There were a couple of gem moments. I adored watching Kimiko bond with Ryan, both confessing to each other that they hate their powers and wish they never had them. The fact that they don’t intend to kill people but they do really hits hard with both of them. Kimiko flirts with the idea of having a different life, planting the idea to Frenchie the idea of running away to Marseilles together. He’s still not convinced, but it’s a sweet thought. Someone deserves to be happy on this show!
In the flashback, you'll notice a younger version of Gunpowder (see the photo at the top). That person is none other than actor Gattlin Griffith, who played young Jesse Turner, the antichrist, in Supernatural season five's "I Believe The Children are our Future." There's a fun fanwank for those wondering what happened to Jesse. He because a supe on another show!
V24 makes you really sick when going through withdrawal. Go figure. I think that side effect is going to have to go back to R&D.
All in all, these first three episodes seem like a lot of history repeating itself. Season one wasn’t the only time that Vought tried to push superheroes in the military. They didn’t learn their lesson from the first disaster. Butcher seems to be headed down the same road of mistakes with V24 that A-Train made with Compound V. A-Train in the meantime is falling into the same “new identity” traps that have weakened The Deep and Queen Maeve. Poor Starlight has to repeat the unpleasant things she did as a child, grin and bear it, with a fist behind her back to get it through it all. She really needs to take a lesson from Homelander and do whatever the f*** she wants.
Overall grade for the “Barbary Coast,” a C-. It was a rather gloomy hour to get through at all, despite the relevant Payback backstory. Timmy the Octopus deserved better. Coming up next, The Boys go to Russia! How much you want to bet it looks a lot like Canada?
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Catch up on all of Alice's Reviews on The Boys and Supernatural, listed on her Writer's Page.