‘The Boys’ Skewers Scientology in Season 2

Looks like The Boys’ cast and crew are well on their way toward being labeled Suppressive Persons by the Church of Scientology. Amazon’s gritty, bombastic superhero series is at its best when it uses the narcissistic, preening heroes at its center as a microcosm for a broader cultural problem—the PR machines that undergird and protect pretty much all powerful institutions and the figures that represent them. So perhaps it’s no surprise that in its second season, which premiered its first three episodes Friday, The Boys introduces fallen “hero” The Deep, played by Chace Crawford, to a new religion called the Church of the Collective—an expensive and controlling religion that promises to get his life and career back on track.Much like driving a speedboat through a whale, there’s little subtlety to how The Boys chooses to engage with the Church of Scientology. The show’s Church of the Collective is astronomically expensive, warns of “suppressive energy,” and touts its connections in high places. Jessica Hecht plays a pseudo-psychologist who gives The Deep workbooks that ask him to draw self-portraits and answer questions about his strengths and weaknesses. As the season unfolds and The Deep gets in, well, deeper with this cult—I mean, religion—further parallels emerge along the way.But The Deep’s storyline largely sticks to the shallow end of Scientology’s public image. The fictional church does not, for instance, face allegations of child abuse, forced labor, or human trafficking—all of which the Church of Scientology has been sued for and denied. Perhaps that’s coming in Season 3?The Boys seems more interested in using the Church of the Collective as a jumping-off point for The Deep’s personal development than as a vehicle for cutting satire. But what does stand out about this arc is Chace Crawford’s performance—a noxious but addictive blend of toxic privilege, childish naïveté, and self loathing.The Deep is this world’s most vexing character. He’s a demonstrably loathsome rapist from the start; in the show’s very first episode he forces a newly-minted member of the super-collective The Seven to perform oral sex on him. And while The Boys does not excuse what The Deep did, it has spent every episode since then complicating him.At the heart of The Deep’s frustrating charm is Chace Crawford himself; the actor’s good looks and charisma have landed him pretty-boy roles in the past—like Gossip Girl’s more attractive Jared Kushner stand-in, Nate Archibald. As The Deep, we see he’s capable of much bigger, weirder things. Crawford deserves a good share of the credit for elevating The Deep beyond the one-note monster he could have been—highlighting, instead, the fact that sexual assaulters don’t necessarily present as horrible people in everyday life. They can also be doofy, insecure, and desperate to please.As the first season progresses we see how The Deep struggles to actually make a difference in ways he finds meaningful. Much like Aquaman, he can often be treated as a joke. He’s forced to promote a second-tier water park that abuses his fish friends and his rescue missions often end in disaster. And once his assault goes public, The Seven ships him off to Sandusky, Ohio, to languish—where a fan forces him to show her his gills and forcibly penetrates them with her hand, in a scene that’s viscerally uncomfortable to watch.Most of the time, The Boys renders its moral questions in stark black-and-white contrast. Homelander? Bad. Starlight? Good! Karl Urban’s revenge-obsessed, superhero-hating ringleader Billy Butcher has plenty of questionable moments, but the show still clearly wants you to root for him. But what are we supposed to make of The Deep? This season’s premiere episodes find him crying through his self-hatred and talking through his insecurities with his own gills (voiced by Patton Oswalt) while on a drug trip. At one point he even holds a mirror to his torso to examine his gills, which he’s hated his whole life. He even cries softly and sings a duet of “You Are So Beautiful” with them. It can be hard to discern whether The Boys wants us to take The Deep’s pain seriously or laugh at it in certain moments; some scenes can come dangerously close to mocking the experiences they seem intended to represent. Maybe we’re meant to laugh right up until the point we realize what we are watching—or maybe these are just casualties of the show’s general allergy to earnestness.Either way, The Deep’s pitiable streak emerges front-and-center as the season goes on—especially as he becomes more entangled with the Church of the Collective. Our wet-suited merman, like several of his fellow supes, is a self-loathing creature who somehow also feels entitled to a seat of incredible power. The question becomes what nefarious use he might serve to the people who promise they can get him there.
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