The following contains spoilers for The Boys season 2 episode 7.
The ongoing presence and practice of politics within democratic societies should represent the pinnacle of human achievement: the fair and equitable ordering of communities, city states and nations; the voluntary outflow of power from the people to their chosen representatives.
In reality, however, the true power rests not in the hands of the people, but in the gloved fists of major institutions: including corporations and religions, the balance of power between those two behemoths varying from country to country, all around the world, western or otherwise. Certainly in the U.S., no man or woman can ascend to the presidency without the backing of at least one of them, and Amazon Prime’s superb superhero satire The Boys understands this bleak state of affairs perfectly. While the show is at heart a reaction against the implausibly virtuous world of the comic-book superhero, it’s also a searing indictment of the intersecting worlds of corporate power, consumerism, and celebrity culture.
Vought International – the business-suited big bads who keep the show’s superheroes in their pocket in order to fatten their own – is savagely adept at using its corporate power to flatter, curtail and manipulate both the populace and its own employees. It’s hard to keep God-like beings in check, but Vought management is smart and cynical enough to understand that even potentially planet-ending supes aren’t immune to the allure of celebrity.
The Boys season 2 introduces the yang to U.S. corporatocracy’s yin with The Church of the Collective, a none-so-subtle parody of the Church of Scientology. The Deep (Chace Crawford) has been pulled slowly in by the tentacled embrace of the church to the point where we find him, in the penultimate episode of the second season, brainwashed into following its codes, without really understanding its purpose, aims or reach. We, the audience, are similarly in the dark, though the parallels to The Church of the Collective’s real-world counterpart, plus the narrative hints we’ve already been given, can help us imagine what this mysterious cult might have in store for the supes, ‘the boys’, and the world at large.
Cultish Context – Scientology
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953 by the pulp sci-fi writer and former Naval Officer L. Ron Hubbard. Throughout the early 1950s Hubbard popularized a branch of pseudoscience called Dianetics, which slowly evolved into the core tenets of his new religion, coincidentally not long after the therapeutic applications of Dianetics were uniformly rubbished by academics and psychologists. This became something of a trend with Hubbard. Don’t like my contribution to the field of modern psychology? Fine. I’ll use it to start my own religion. Don’t want me in the Navy? Fine. I’ll start my own navy (which he essentially did with Scientology’s naval-based fraternal order “Sea Org”).
Scientology gets its hooks into prospective church members – usually the needy, the narcissistic, the unfulfilled, or the damaged – by promising them enlightenment through auditing. This process – part talk-therapy, part spiritual confession, part future blackmail – works by breaking down and analyzing a subject’s life (and past lives) in order to purge them of those traumatic, or unhelpful, memories (engrams) that may be negatively influencing their behavior in the present. While Scientology needs a large rank and file to sustain itself it’s also shrewd enough to target celebrities – it has a whole department dedicated to their pursuit – whose presence in the church guarantees money, media attention, and free, recruitment-based marketing. Scientology knows that it’s celebs and profits, not saints and prophets, who will rally crowds of the spiritually empty to their doors.
The Church of the Collective uses similar strategies, both of which converge on The Deep at the start of the second season, being that he’s both a celebrity, and a damaged vessel. Things have never looked worse for the disgraced submariner: cast aside from The Seven; isolated; reviled; drunk; full of doubt and recrimination. He’s also the #metoo poster boy.
Simply put: he’s easy prey.
The Church offers him a way back into The Seven via a journey of self-and-bodily acceptance, ostensibly a combination of talk-therapy, interrogation and mind-altering drugs. The Deep is quickly broken down then built back up again. The Church even stage-manages him a wife (an allusion, perhaps, to a certain fighter-jet-flying, cocktail-mixing actor who’s long been Scientology’s most famous recruit) to repair the PR already done.
The Deep is recruited by Eagle the Archer (Langston Kerman), a washed-up, Travolta-esque supe who dangles the story of his own success and redemption before him like a hypnotic carrot. The Deep, in turn, brings A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) to the Collective, although A-Train’s entry into the fold is a little less wide-eyed and willing. He can see past the bullshit, and wants no part of it, but nevertheless is ensnared by the Church’s smooth-toned, immaculately-groomed leader, Alastair Adana (Goran Visnjic), who knows all about A-Train’s spiraling debt, drug abuse and heart condition, and implies that such knowledge could only be kept private for a price.
“The church knows all kinds of things,” he tells a suddenly cognizant A-Train, “But don’t worry. We also know how to be discreet… especially for our members.”
Adana is a thinly-veiled approximation of David Miscavige – Scientology’s current leader – in that he’s a man who projects a smiling, sophisticated veneer to the world, beneath which lies barely concealed torrents of ruthless cruelty and rage. Allegedly.
When Eagle the Archer refuses the Church’s request to break off contact with his mother, the organization releases a damning and embarrassing sex tape to the media. Adana declares Eagle a toxic person (Scientology labels its enemies “suppressive persons” or “SPs”) with whom no-one in the Church should associate. The Deep doesn’t hesitate to cut his new friend out of his life, showing that even supes are susceptible to the power of suggestion and a little psychological surgery. A-Train observes all of this with quiet but troubled detachment, doubtless wondering how high a price he’ll have to pay for his past… and for how long.
What Is The Collective Up To?
So far it seems that the Church has been biding its time, waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate Vought, or The Seven. Each time a smaller fish has been sent to catch a bigger fish. There’s little reason to assume that this chain will stop with A-Train. Who’s next? The CEOs and head honchos of Vought itself? Black Noir – leveraged into the fold with the threat of revealing his crippling tree nut allergy to the general public? Maeve – if the Church gets its hands on the footage that was filmed onboard a certain doomed civilian airliner? And who, or what, is its ultimate target?
While the loony, laser-eyed lout regularly expresses a desire to unleash his unrestrained fury upon the helpless world, adoration and popularity really are important to him, which is probably the only reason he’s held himself back from going full superhero postal. Vought, however, can only fluff Homelander’s vanity insofar as it doesn’t upset the shareholders, whereas the Church of the Collective can offer him the one thing he truly craves: uncritical, unquestionable, unending Godhood and adulation.
This wouldn’t be Homelander’s first religion rodeo. In season 1 Homelander bent Christianity to his, and Vought’s, will, claiming that superheroes like him – living miracles – had been chosen by God to carry out His plan for America: so why shouldn’t they join the War on Terror? The discovery that supes were created by Compound V rather than God destroyed that useful illusion, but perhaps The Church of the Collective represents a second chance to co-opt a religion. A marriage made in heaven this time.
Stormfront is the only snag here, given that she already has her claws into Homelander and there’s bad blood between her and the Church. Once a member, she rejected it on the grounds that its inclusive membership criteria was an affront to her deeply cherished Nazi ideals of racial purity. If she was declared a toxic person by the Church, though, what was her punishment? Why is she allowed to operate with impunity? Is it possible that she’s secretly working for the Church – or at their command – to recruit Homelander, and the whole eugenics angle is part of their true and hidden design for the planet?
Unlikely. It’s more likely we’re about to see The Church of the Collective try to take down their fallen angel. Or take over Vought. Or both. Corporate might versus religious zealotry, with supes on both sides, and the boys trapped – as always – somewhere in the middle.
And if that’s the case, who should we put our money on?
The Church of the Collective, like its real-life counterparts Scientology and NXIVM, apes the marketing methods, structure and language of the modern corporation, projecting the power and seriousness of the boardroom rather than the prattling of the pulpit. While these quasi-religious entities need money to survive and grow, and indeed mercilessly pursue it, money is but an adjunct to the real prize of power, which makes them at once more deadly and much harder to defeat (that isn’t to say that The Church of the Collective isn’t set on getting what The Church of Scientology already has: tax exempt status).
You can bring down a business; it’s a little harder to snuff out faith, especially at its most zealous and jealously guarded. It’s the reason The Sparrows were able to take over Kings’ Landing in Game of Thrones. It’s the reason you’d rather meet a Ferengi in battle than a Klingon.
Whatever chaos the Collective is about to unleash on the world of The Boys, you can guarantee that it’s going to be messy. And a whole load of fun.