In the pilot episode of Amazon’s “The Boys,” Annie January (Erin Moriarty), a newly minted member of Vought Corporation’s elite superhero group The Seven, is introduced to the world as Starlight. With the ability to emit a blinding light, she is a welcome addition to the publicly adored team, which consists of fellow super-powered citizens Homelander (Antony Starr), Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), Translucent (Alex Hassell), The Deep (Chace Crawford) and Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell).
Following her initiation, however, Starlight comes to see the true behaviors of these celebrity “supes” when The Deep, alone with her in The Seven’s headquarters, pulls down his pants and starts masturbating after she tells him she had a poster of him in her childhood bedroom.
Starlight reacts with horror, while The Deep chuckles. “What?” he asks. “I mean, you said you had a crush on me. I figured that, you know...”
She begins walking away only to be manipulated into performing oral sex on him after he threatens to tell Vought she attacked him. “Just roll with the punches for like three minutes, maybe. It’s not a big deal,” he says. “And then you know what happens? All your dreams come true.”
The next we see of Starlight she’s vomiting in the bathroom, mascara dripping down her face.
“It’s a big moment that catalyzes the storyline with my character about sexual abuse,” Moriarty told HuffPost this week. “Her visceral response is not the one most people would deem morally correct, but she’s unambiguously a good person. And so it brings up the idea that good people can do bad things and that so many of the choices we make can lie in the gray area.”
In the Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson graphic novel on which the show is based, Starlight is actually the victim of gang rape as Homelander, Black Noir and A-Train sexually assault her as a hazing ritual. Moriarty said “The Boys” showrunner Eric Kripke and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg initially thought the original scene might be too jarring for viewers, but the women in the writers room wanted to include this pivotal part of Starlight’s story in one way or another. As Kripke told Entertainment Weekly, “This was my female writers and producers saying, ‘This is something that happens, we think it’s important to talk about.’”
Moriarty completely agreed.
“What does align with the TV show we want to make is creating a story of sexual abuse that shines light on women and exactly what they go through, and how they don’t always have to just purely play the victim,” Moriarty said. “They can become stronger people as a result, while also condemning the men who have been perpetuating sexual abuse.”
Here’s the concept of the dark, satirical show: the scorned Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) leads a group of vigilantes called The Boys, who have been personally affected by the actions of superheroes, in a violent quest to take down The Seven. Billy’s wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten) was allegedly raped and killed by Homelander, and so he’s on a revenge mission to reveal the horrendous nature of the beloved supes.
“That shocking event really polarizes him to the extent that he refuses to comply with the rest of society and live in this world which he knows to be false,” Urban told HuffPost. “I was really drawn to the tragedy of the character. You can empathize and understand how he’s come to be the way he is.”
However, Butcher’s sensitive new recruit Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) makes things slightly more difficult for the avengers as he falls for an unknowing Starlight, supporting her through her trauma.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017, there’s been an uptick in Me Too-era storylines on screen that thoughtfully address the unfortunate situations women face in male-dominated industries, including the entertainment business. “Fosse/Verdon,” for example, aired the “troubled behavior” of legendary choreographer and dancer Bob Fosse. And “The Loudest Voice” recently portrayed the real-life experiences of victims of late Fox News executive Roger Ailes.
“I keep coming back to the same saying, ‘sunlight is a really good disinfectant,’” Moriarty said. “I think the reason why things are changing is because so many women primally stood up against what was going on and refused to be stifled. And I think Starlight’s storyline goes hand in hand with that.”
“I think ‘The Boys’ operates on a multitude of levels,” Urban added. “It’s great escapist entertainment that has shock value with humor and great characters, but it’s also a great metaphor for not only the current political situation but for the celebrity culture that is currently prevalent. It’s probably always been like that, it’s just we’re living in a time where, thankfully, celebrities are getting called out for their atrocious behavior and ‘The Boys’ is a wonderful way to thematically explore the insidious flaws of celebrity.”
As a celebrity superhero herself, Starlight has her own flaws, as well. Still, she is, as Moriarty calls her, “the emotional heartbeat of the show.” She snaps back when Vought tries to get her to trade in her conservative costume for a barely there bodysuit. She questions religion onstage at a “Believe” expo before sharing her sexual assault story. She refuses to back down after her female boss (Elisabeth Shue) tells her to “cut the petulant diva shit.”
“I’m just so sick of that sort of typical ingénue role that we tend to see in comic book shows and movies: the sex object,” Moriarty explained. “And when you meet Starlight, you kind of assume she’s going to be that young ingénue, really goody two shoes, almost excessively earnest and nice. But it turns out, she’s really not that. As far as female superhero characters go, they’re either the love interest or the badass, straightforward, all-hard-edges chick, and she’s sort of a combo.”
Like Moriarty, Jack Quaid appreciates Starlight’s personal journey, especially within the show’s crazed premise.
“With a show called ‘The Boys,’ you definitely need to equalize that with as much girl power as possible, and I think we have that in spades,” he told HuffPost. “It’s a surprisingly deep character study of everybody ― not just the good guys, but the bad guys, too.”