Updated: Oct 2, 2019
The Boys is an Amazon Prime television show created by Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The Boys cleverly takes the superhero genre and perverts its foundations of traditional values into an exploration of the insidious nature of toxic masculinity and its role in Hollywood's sexual assault problem.
Let’s talk about the first episode of The Boys
The first episode of The Boys immediately introduces us to Vought’s world of power and ultra-violence. Our female protagonist, Starlight, played by Erin Moriarty, is a bright, driven and seemingly naive young female superhero that actually wants to save the world. Starlight grew up believing in the facade of superheroes such as Homelander, Queen Maeve, The Deep and others in the Vought family. Vought itself is a mega-corporation specializing in representing superheroes. Vought, similarly to the Weinstein Company, is the machine behind the superheroes brand. It is the lecherous man behind the curtain. At first, Starlight sees working for Vought as her dream job. She wants to protect her city and be a shining example for young women. Starlight soon finds out that under the cape of Vought, there are red ants everywhere.
On Starlight's first day, one of Vought’s most famous superheroes, The Deep (played by Nate Archibald aka Chace Crawford), gives her a tour of the Vought building. Starlight is happily nostalgic about the days where she had a school-girl crush on The Deep and tells her coworker how excited she is to finally be a part of the action. In other words, Starlight feels safe enough in this moment, with someone she considers a mentor, to be completely open about this new experience. The Deep meets that safety by taking out his member and forcing Starlight to perform oral sex on him.
How was she forced? By the threat of power. When Starlight originally walks away from The Deep, he goes “whoa whoa, wait, it’s just a question of how bad you want to be in the 7.” This is Starlight’s dream. She has been working her whole life for this moment and her last barrier comes down in the face of this false choice of being raped or walking away from everything she’s struggled for.
A familiar story
In a Hollywood Reporter interview about Harvey Weinstein with Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, they said: “[In Hollywood] there’s a culture of paying off people so if you’re sexually inappropriate with somebody and they think, 'Oh if I speak up, am I suddenly a pain in the ass to everyone in show business? And I’ll never work again?' And then Harvey’s like, 'Here’s 150 grand and I won’t mention it to anybody.' So they set up a power dynamic that is difficult for people to figure out what to do about. That’s why it lasts for decades. Because it’s like a perfect system.”
Starlight gets caught in that power dynamic for the first few episodes of the show until she takes hold of her own narrative and confesses her story on live television. Here, both The Deep and Madelyn Stillwell (the top button of Vought Industries) let out an audible “shit” while watching. The Deep, the obvious villain in all of this, is of course worried about confession's impact on his career. The other, more hidden and perhaps darker villain here is Madelyn Stillwell, who covers up The Deep’s transgression. In the same Hollywood Reporter interview, Judd Apatow remarks that, “Someone was writing those checks and somebody knew and those people, on the inside, when they’re quiet also, it goes on for decades and decades.”
Stillwell is the one writing the checks and pulling the strings. She could have chosen to protect Starlight or protect The Deep and she made her choice. If Starlight had never taken hold of the narrative by risking her career, there would have never been any consequences for The Deep’s deplorable actions.
As more and more people come forward about their assaults at the hands of powerful Hollywood men and women, we are, collectively, becoming aware of the deep hold toxic masculinity and rape culture has on our entertainment community. Stories like Starlight's are more common than we could ever know. The Boys' clever evisceration of this culture of assault is as powerful as it is unique. We hope to see more explorations of these themes in season two.