Spoilers for season 1 of The Boys follow, with some mild spoilers for season 2, too.
We've seen three episodes of The Boys season 2, and in many ways it's reassuringly familiar stuff: you've got comically overblown violence, superheroes behaving badly, and Karl Urban swearing in an accent that fluctuates wildly between cockney and Australian, with no regard for geographical borders.
In The Boys season 1, the titular group waged an underground war against The Seven – a corporate-owned group of superheroes who behaved amorally with no consequences. Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) joined The Boys because his girlfriend was murdered by one of The Seven, but that became complicated by his later relationship with Starlight (Erin Moriarty), the superpowered team's newest member.
Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), meanwhile, had his own axe to grind with evil Superman-alike Homelander (Antony Starr), The Seven's leader. Butcher was under the impression that his wife had been murdered by the dickish all-American hero, who has an eyebrow-raising fondness for breast milk.
The season finale, however, showed that she was actually still alive – and that she'd had Homelander's son in the ensuing years since Billy last saw her. The scene was seemingly set for a confrontation at the start of season 2.
The thing is, it doesn't really go that way in this new set of episodes. There's a little wait until Butcher fully rejoins the group – and the show picks up some time later, with the gaps only partially filled in.
In The Boys season 2, the group is no longer underground. They're a known quantity and wanted by law enforcement, and Homelander has them in their sights.
Meanwhile, Vought – the company that owns The Seven and is responsible for the drug that gave them their superpowers – has a new leader in Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito, who seems to play the villain in everything now). Edgar asserts power over The Seven from behind the scenes, putting Homelander in his place at the start of this season.
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Bleak, but entertaining
The Boys season 2 struggles to keep the relationship thread between Hughie and Starlight as interesting as before, based on the three episodes we were sent for review, which is a slight shame. This was one of the strongest elements of season 1, but it's harder for the writers to put them in the same place this time, given that The Boys are in hiding.
That said, The Boys is still exceptionally good at presenting the different perspectives and power struggles of its characters. Even the egotistical members of The Seven that you know have done terrible things, like A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), or indeed the reprehensible Homelander himself, have their own gray areas that make them unpredictably exciting to watch.
It helps on The Seven side of things that their new 'hero', Stormfront (Aya Cash), has been added to shake things up, and she instantly irritates the other members. Her addition to the team is against Homelander's wishes, which is surely leading to a clash between the two down the line.
Meanwhile, shamed and excommunicated member of The Seven, The Deep (Chace Crawford) – better known as the show's gross version of Aquaman – is the subject of a side plot where he tries to find his self worth. It's largely in line with where he was at the end of season 1: trying to rehabilitate, but embarrassing himself.
This season also finds new ways to provoke tension between The Boys themselves, too, with Hughie and Billy's relationship at a particularly low ebb.
The Boys' tonal range is fascinating – so much attention is paid to characterization and dialogue that the show's comical violence always feels like a background attraction, despite the series having exceptional effects work. Supporting characters who didn't get much attention in season 1 get a little more of the spotlight here, too.
Saying much more about The Boys season 2 would spoil it. If like us, though, the first season of the show surprised you by being a bloodbath with heart, that hasn't changed here. Enough about this cynical world of superheroes has moved on, however, to make the threat level feel higher.
Don't miss out on the return of Amazon Prime Video's best drama.
The Boys season 2 releases on September 4 on Amazon Prime Video, with new episodes rolling out weekly until October 9.