Revenge is Good: How 'The Boys' Subverts Your Usual 'Hero' Themes
The Boys is Amazon's breakout hit show. But how does a show about revenge and nihilism get so many viewers?
We're in a state of superhero glut and I kind of love it. As a kid who grew up reading comic books, watching the cultural embrace of my passion has been one of my greatest joys.
Superheroes are about the best of us. What humanity can be if they have hope, justice, and a moral compass?
So why do I like The Boys so much?
The Boys is about how much corruption is worked into absolute power. It's about the perversion and sale of the American dream, and the corporate payouts that play into having people taking care of us at all times.
Check out this teaser from Amazon with a Behind the Scenes look at the show.
Some spoilers for the show to follow.
Nihilism in The Boys
Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles. At its core, it is the belief that life is meaningless. And in this TV show, that shines through really quick, as we see the lead character's girlfriend killed right away by a rogue superhero running across town.
There is no bigger meaning here. It's an inciting incident. One that sends the story going. People want revenge on these "heroes."
Mostly because they only do heroic things when it pays.
A Throughline Focused on Revenge
The Boys is defined by its characters' actions. Since the show is about getting revenge, on heroes who should no better than to do things that need avenged, the protagonists are always actively doing something. That gives urgency to every episode. We talk a lot about the narrative drive; what your character wants. And needs.
Revenge is not always tangible, but it's a helluva motivator.
While the bigger conceit of The Boys, the drug bust and US Army plotline, become tangible manifestations of this revenge, the show pushes boundaries we're not used to seeing. We're hyper-focused on these characters and why they are the way they are. We need to not only actively hate them for the revenge to work, we need to see why they are the way they are, so we get another layer.
This isn't blind rage, it's hate with range. We hate characters more the more we know them.
And the more we sympathize with the heroes, see their emotional weaknesses, the more we want our average crew to succeed.
Utopia as Dystopia
The final layer of what makes this show so perfect is the idea that life under a superhero watch is a utopia. We feel safe like someone always has our back. But what this show does so well is showing us what would actually happen. Even though they have superpowers, they're still humans.
And humans have deep flaws. The show puts forward a utopia sold to use but explores the dystopia behind the scenes.
It gives us a real breadth of the story that fills each of the episodes. In the end, we understand why everyone behaves the way they do.
And we also understand that if nothing matters, the only thing you can do is access a feeling in this life. Once you acknowledge the dystopia, you're free to create your momentary bliss.
For our team, that bliss comes from killing heroes.
But after the episodes you start to wonder, is that revenge anything but sweet?
What's next? What the hell is theme anyway?
Your script theme needs to carry both the weight of the story and a connection to the audience. That's a significant burden to bear. So how can you tell if your theme is coming across, or if you even have one?
Click the link to learn more!