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Amazon's The Boys is a superhero story that deals with many topics — greed, capitalism, corruption, fame, and violence — but rarely, if ever, is it about actually being a hero. Unlike many other superpowered dramas, those gifted with special abilities are generally no better than they have to be, and often are much worse, selfishly using their power and status for personal gain and a life free from consequences rather than helping those in need.
The show is a vicious satire of our current superhero-obsessed culture, showing us the dark underbelly of a group of heroes whose shiny public personas rarely match their messy private lives. Season 2 is rightfully garnering praise for its dark, nuanced, and uncomfortably realistic portrayal of the rise of fascism in America and the ease with which white supremacy can and does infiltrate our social spaces. The arrival of new Seven member Stormfront, a secret Nazi who wants to build an army of white superheroes, makes for thrilling and deeply difficult television, and the ways in which Vought Industries is revealed as complicit in multiple global horrors feels painfully on the nose in our current society.
But this is not the primary story that Season 2 is telling. The heart of The Boys is still found in the girl who arrived in the series' very first episode, and Annie January's journey remains a ray of (star)light in an otherwise bleak narrative landscape.
Warning: Spoilers for Season 2 of The Boys within.
Branded an "annoying goody-two-shoes a**hole" by Maeve in Season 1, it initially seems as though Starlight's bright optimism and hopeful demeanor will inevitably become a joke within the world of a show that openly mocks her sincerity and determination to do good. Yet these are the very traits that will ultimately help her find her place as a leader — and a hero — in her own right, maybe the first real hero the Seven has ever had.
In the world of The Boys, everything is a transaction, even saving the day. Members of the famous superhero team The Seven are more concerned with their number of social media followers than they are with helping the less fortunate, and the international conglomerate they work for gleefully exploits their personals — as well as their genders and sexualities — for targeted marketing campaigns.
Starlight learns this lesson the hard way upon her arrival at Vought Tower, where she is forced to wear a skimpy new costume and thigh-high stiletto boots in the name of feminine empowerment, take part in an over-the-top "Girls Get It Done" ad blitz that requires her to smile for the cameras, and say ridiculous things like "Strong is the new pretty!" The actual work of being a hero — of saving people or protecting innocents — is almost never mentioned, and though we see Starlight hawking products and filming a Seven-themed movie, we never really see her fighting for the side of right.
At least, not as part of the Seven.
Starlight's Season 2 arc is ultimately one of resistance and determination, a story of the repeated and quiet heroism inherent in doing the work to make the world a better place. She spends the bulk of The Boys' second season fighting back against the oppression represented by Homelander, works to expose the truth about Compound V, and learns the truth of Stormfront's original identity as Liberty, all from within Vought itself.
Over the course of the season, Starlight manages to make peace — of a sort — with A-Train, and ultimately convinces Maeve that she can choose a different life than one of tired cynicism and imagine a different kind of future for the group she once so longed to join. Maeve's arrival in the season finale — just in time to beat the crap out of Stormfront and blackmail Homelander into leaving them all alone — may be the season's most satisfying sequence. But it's Starlight who ultimately makes it happen. She's not just learning how to be a leader in her own right, she's reminding others why they got into the superhero game in the first place. She is The Boys' best example of what a superhero is supposed to be — someone who does the right thing regardless of what's convenient or marketable or sells.
In a world that regularly rewards selfishness or looking the other way in the face of injustice, Starlight must often make difficult compromises and hard choices in the name of doing the right thing. (Who knows what would have happened if Homelander had really tried to make her harm Hughie herself?) She finds herself working with The Boys, blackmailing a former church group friend for access to experimental drugs, and thrown in a Vought Tower prison cell after going on the run. She's almost killed herself more than once.
Yet she still decides to remain in The Seven at the end of the season, even and maybe especially because she's not sure if it's truly safe for her to do so. (She can't be thrilled at the thought of regularly working and living with Homelander again, at any rate.) But someone has to, and even though Starlight credits Hughie with reminding her about the power of tenacity, that's a trait she's already more than displayed on her own. She's held on to her dream of being a real superhero, to her faith, to making a difference in circumstances that would have made many give up.
In the series first season, we watch Annie shed her wide-eyed Midwestern naivete once confronted with the cynicism and greed of the corporate superhero business. But in its second, Starlight determinedly never loses her belief in the power of hope and goodness, even when those same qualities repeatedly cost her in the world of the show. Because it's also the source of the quiet strength that allows her to stand up to a world that she knows is wrong.
And though The Boys as a series will likely (and rightly) be remembered for its hyper-violent fight sequences, crude jokes, and cynical politics, it's important to remember that, at the end of the day, its real hero was the woman who kept pushing back — even when the world told her no.