Entertainment

The Boys season finale: Victoria Neuman “head exploder” twist reveals the limits of the shows nihilism. – Slate

A Congresswoman on cable news with the US Capitol in the background, and a banner reading "What else are they lying to us about?"

A Congresswoman on cable news with the US Capitol in the background, and a banner reading "What else are they lying to us about?"

Now you AOC see her …
Amazon Prime

This article contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of The Boys.

Watchers of The Boys got a real jolt of a reveal at the end of the show’s second-season finale. Victoria Neuman, the truth-speaking young congresswoman played by Claudia Doumit, who had worked with the vigilante Boys in their efforts to bring down the evil Vought Enterprises, turns out to be a secret superhero. She also seems to be pretty evil—she’s the one responsible for all the disgusting random head explosions that have made the show so hard to watch this season. In fact, the terrible scene we were subjected to in Episode 7—a Congressional hearing Neuman calls in order to bring Vought Industries to justice ends in a huge mess as the star witness and multiple attendees get their gourds squished by an invisible force—was all Neuman’s doing.

Why did this surprise retain the power to jar and upset me, since I’m generally a huge fan of what Slate’s Matthew Dessem has described as the show’s “deep and abiding misanthropy”? Because Neuman is clearly an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez analog. The comic-book series the show’s drawn from had a character named “Victor Neuman,” but he was a dim-witted Vought exec turned politician, apparently inspired by George W. Bush. This “Victoria Neuman” is totally different. She’s a young woman of color (Doumit is Lebanese, Italian, and Australian). She’s plain-spoken, sharp, and brimming with charisma—and just like AOC, Neuman knows her way around a statement lipstick.

The show even gestures to the similarity explicitly in Episode 5, when Neuman convenes a rally outside Vought after the once-hidden fact that the company has been manufacturing a superhero serum goes public. Homelander (Antony Starr), the evilest superhero, drops in on the rally, paying Neuman a series of smarmy compliments. “Didn’t you love that little ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ dance she did online?” he asks the crowd, a seeming reference to that time a video of AOC dancing adorably to Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” on a rooftop in college went viral. “So fun! I loved it!” Homelander, an old-school sociopath deeply uncomfortable with the workings of online celebrity, did not in fact “love it”—but the crowd, full of people hoisting signs that say “We love you, Victoria!,” clearly did.

Not everyone is sold on Neuman, even before the big reveal. The Boys meet with Neuman at a mutual ally’s house to prepare for those hearings that end in blood. Their leader, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), doesn’t want to collaborate; he is, to put it politely, not a believer in electoral politics. “We’ve never had Congress on our side before,” says the ally (Grace Mallory, ex-CIA, played by Laila Robbins), asking Butcher to play along. To which Butcher spits, in his classic brutal form: “Congress? Please! What a bunch of corrupt fucking cunts they are!” Neuman replies, casually: “You’re not the first to call me a cunt, Mr. Butcher; I’m starting to think it’s like a badge of honor.” Rep. Ted Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez “a fucking bitch” on the Capitol steps in July of this year, so this can’t have been an explicit connection since this season of the show was already in the can, but Ocasio-Cortez certainly gets enough abuse online to make the connection resonate.

Looking back at the times Neuman appeared this season, I’m not sure why I didn’t call this turn ahead of time. This particular show is not about to put its faith in a politician, no matter how apparently virtuous. The reveal that Victoria Neuman is a head-squishing supe works within the universe of The Boys, because nobody but the Boys (and maybe the good superhero, Starlight, and Grace Mallory) are allowed to have pure hearts. But this twist of the story makes me look twice at the show’s nihilism, and wonder whether I want to be along for this particular ride.

When we find out she’s a supe secretly working against the Boys, Victoria Neuman’s force of personality—the leadership qualities that draw people to attend the rallies she convenes, toting signs that say “Victoria Neuman, Political Badass”—becomes instantly suspicious. It’s just too reminiscent of online right-wingers making up fables about AOC’s secret nature (Snopes.com has debunked conspiracy theories from “AOC is an actress playing a congresswoman” to “AOC wants to ban motorcycles.”) Clearly jealous of her youth and beauty, these real-life conspiracists insist she’s too good to be true. I wish this show hadn’t done the same.

Neuman’s nature isn’t known to the Boys yet (just to the show’s viewers), and the finale ends with Hughie (Jack Quaid), the most idealistic of all the vigilantes, joining up with Neuman’s campaign. Season 3 is supposed to start filming in early 2021, COVID willing. I suppose there’s some room for a turnaround—maybe we’ll find out the congresswoman had reasons for busting the heads she busted. But I’m not holding out much hope.

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