CW: This article references sexual abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
In a genre defined by carefree power fantasy, “The Boys” is a piercing, empathetic depiction of consequences that is not fundamentally about superheroes.
It features spandex-wearing men and women who can fly and shoot lasers, but its soul does not belong to them. “The Boys” is about everyone else. People who are not bulletproof, who cannot walk off of a collapsing building unscathed, who are just as mortal and fragile as you and me.
The heart of the show is not the man who can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, but the struggling family he unknowingly crushes beneath him during a CGI fight. It’s about the innocent civilian whose body disintegrates when Homelander misses his target. It’s about the hero’s collateral damage.
These victims, who would be soon-forgotten background characters in any other superhero property, are what make “The Boys” special. The show’s value derives from its ability to compel its audiences to not just empathize with its main characters, but also to reckon with the wake of destruction they leave behind them.
“Gen V,” Amazon Prime’s new spinoff of “The Boys,” abandons that thematic focus entirely.
The first—and in my mind—most condemnable example of the spinoff’s unfortunate divergence from the worthy, unique message of “The Boys” happens in the show’s first episode. The popular students at Godolkin University — a college for young up-and-coming superheroes — and newcomer Marie go out, get drunk and do drugs. Then, a student named Andre nearly kills someone while trying to impress a girl.
The scene, in isolation, works well. We see the irresponsibility and selfishness of the protagonists, Marie’s willingness to do what is right in spite of a lack of accountability and the potentially incredible applications of her abilities. The problem is that Gen V ignores the victim thereafter. The only time the events of that night are brought up again is when Professor Brinkerhoff tries to expel Marie to cover up Andre’s mistake, causing a brief altercation that is soon overshadowed by the dramatic conclusion of the first episode.
For the remainder of the show, the fact that a main character nearly fatally wounded an innocent person and then ostensibly left her to die is never brought up again. Not when Dean Shetty, a psychologist, is reprimanding the students for how irresponsibly they use their powers, not when the students talk about their regrets, not once in the remaining seven episodes.
In “The Boys,” that injured woman would be a real person, with a real family who cares about them and whose harm has tangible consequences on the world around them. In “Gen V,” she is forgotten. It feels like the writers play-act at the compassion that makes “The Boys” so engaging before pivoting to what they actually want to depict: cool action sequences and depictions of superpowers.
And that is, unsurprisingly, what “Gen V” does very well.
The show introduces a slew of new characters with unique powers, and each episode manages to find inventive ways of displaying them to tell a story. Burdened by regret and restraint, Marie struggles with the ramifications of her ability to manipulate blood. “Gen V” juxtaposes her seemingly limitless potential with the jarring past she yearns to leave behind. As the show develops each member of the main cast, we begin to see the cracks in a family altered by superpowers. You would be hard-pressed to find a character whose powers haven’t damaged the human relationships they hold dear; compassion for the “supes” is what “Gen V” does best.
Another instance of this selective removal of compassion is when Cate sexually violates two security guards. At the end of the third episode, when a character named Emma is discovered by the guards of The Woods — an unethical facility bent on torturing, controlling and perhaps destroying superheroes — Cate uses her telepathic powers to protect Andre from a pair of Woods-affiliated guards, forcing one of the guards to sodomize his partner. The show does not go out of its way to draw attention to it, or seem to at all remember the fact that it happened.
Now, to be fair, these guards are not innocent bystanders but instead murderers who help the wicked Vought Corporation kidnap and detain teenage superheroes. Admittedly, too, Cate later becomes a main villain of “Gen V,” so it isn’t that much of a break of character (in spite of her own status as a survivor of sexual abuse).
But what doesn’t sit right with me is how the show plays off the entire exchange for laughs. We never learn anything more about the guards or the effects of this upon them. They, like Andre’s victim, become faceless and forgotten. It is one thing for your characters to be psychopathic in their treatment of those around them. It is quite another for your narrative perspective to be the same.
In fact, the only time “Gen V” seems to care about the destroyed lives the protagonists leave in their wake is when handling the death of Marie’s parents. The drama and guilt of this moment, and the effect it has on Marie in both past and present, are beautifully handled. A pity, then, that her narrative takes a back seat to a Vought subplot beyond the third episode.
From the deranged rant above, an astute reader might assume that I do not enjoy “Gen V,” and would recommend against watching it. In fact, the opposite is true. “Gen V” features a solid plot, some exciting twists, multidimensional characters and engagingly gory action, and as a result, it never fails to entertain. But it is far from exceptional.
Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-6985)); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (202-742-1727). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator (202-687-9183) or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.