“Barbary Coast” begins with a flashback to a young Starlight taking part in a super pageant. In the present, Ashley finds Homelander in the nude watching his own speech and tells him that it drove up his popularity. Hughie returns to the Boys, and after some ribbing from Butcher, they’re off to check on Grace Mallory’s connection to Soldierboy. Frenchie helps his former girlfriend leave the country. Annie asks Supersonic to reject the American Hero prize and run away from Vought. A-Train reconciles with his brother. Ryan and Kimiko bond over their harmful powers. Grace tells the Boys about the Nicaragua operation that supposedly killed Soldierboy. Homelander proposes a reinstatement for Deep instead of the winner of American Hero. Hughie encourages Annie to stay where she is until the Boys find out how to kill Homelander. A-Train’s brother tells him to stand for the cause for real. Grace tells the Boys that Soldierboy was presumed dead, and the Russians took his body. A drug dealer named Nina offers Frenchie a deal for his former girlfriend’s whereabouts. Homelander welcomes Deep back into the Seven with a seafood dinner. Frenchie tells Butcher about his meeting with Nina, and he tells him to call her back. Supersonic tells Starlight he’s staying to help her. On the American Hero finale, Supersonic and Deep join the Seven, and Homelander proclaims that he and Starlight are together.
The opening of “Barbary Coast” is a memorable one for sure, highlighting the exploitation little girls are subjected to in these baby pageants. Starlight can’t be much older than 10, but she’s stuffed into a suggestive outfit, told to ignore her physical pain, and forced to perform Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” complete with a provocative dance routine. This also reminds the viewer how much Annie’s mom sucks; this religious, conservative woman of all people thought it decent to use her child in this way at such a young age. She has a mantra for her daughter that “pain is weakness leaving the body;” wow, this woman needs therapy, and so does Annie, probably. It’s fitting that Starlight’s physical and emotional trauma is where “Barbary Coast” picks up because it’s a running theme throughout the episode. She gets only a brief reprieve here and there in the form of a phone call with Hughie or her ex choosing to join the Seven to help her. That was genuinely moving and surprising, but I just hope he wants to be her friend and not something more. Regardless of the American Hero crew saying that a love triangle will drive ratings up for the Seven, I don’t want one in The Boys. I hate that kind of childish drama. Starlight’s ultimate humiliation comes when Homelander claims her as “(his) girl” on live TV, forcing her to embrace and kiss perhaps her most hated enemy. Although welcoming the Deep back has to be hard, too, and contradicts Stan Edgar’s assertion in “The Only Man in the Sky” that Starlight would have the final say on all Seven inductees.
Speaking of the new (and old) Seven recruits, this was another reminder of where Vought’s true intentions lie. Ashley and Seth debate who should win American Hero based on how hot they really are, balanced with their values. For instance, one of the female contestants is described as “body positive, but still f**kable.” One can only imagine real media executives having such discussions behind closed doors. They even say in a rather crude way that Starlight’s ex is a “panty dropper” with the tween age group. Sometimes I’m almost shocked at how far this show will go with its script and visual gore, but I can’t say there isn’t some truth to what it’s saying.
I have to wonder why Ashley hasn’t quit at this point. This job and having to deal directly with Homelander are clearly having a disastrous effect on her mental health and sense of wellbeing. Look at the premiere and her angry sex with Bourke or her encounter with an “excited” Homelander in “Barbary Coast.” But then she does inexplicable things like stand up to Starlight, who, while at the mercy of Homelander, could still do a number of things to silence someone like Ashley. I’m disappointed we only see Stan Edgar in Mallory’s flashbacks in this episode, and played by a younger actor. He doesn’t look much like Giancarlo Esposito, but the voice and cadence of speech are on point. Very well done there. The younger actress for Grace is a dead ringer and does well at mimicking her speech patterns.
Homelander puts his inflated sense of self on display again in this episode, this time comparing himself to Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., “free at last.” If you’ve ever looked at someone in real life and wondered how they could possibly see themselves as the victim in the situation (I do this all the time), Homelander has them beat. It’s amazing how this character was broken and deranged from the star, but they keep managing to up the stakes. Season 1 Homelander certainly wouldn’t encourage Starlight to leak the video of him letting the plane passengers die. Heck, that’s what ended the conflict last season, three episodes ago. Could Stormfront dying have been the catalyst for this sudden carefree attitude? It’s also bizarre that Homelander’s outburst at the end of “The Only Man in the Sky” drove his numbers up. Some people respond well to tantrums and avowals of power, which could mirror the reactions to some real public figures. The most heartbreaking part of “Barbary Coast” is Butcher telling Ryan off and blaming him for his mother’s demise. I doubt he means this; it was probably said to keep the boy safe above all else. But it’s still painful to watch, and Ryan just lost his favorite (living) person in the whole world. Ouch.
“Barbary Coast” is pretty good overall. I would put it somewhere between “Payback,” which was just okay, and “The Only Man in the Sky,” which was unbelievably entertaining. Jensen Ackles’ brief appearance as Soldierboy didn’t lend much insight into his character, aside from misogyny. I hope we see him more, and not just in flashbacks.