Just one part of The Boys‘ universal appeal comes down to the unpredictability of sociopathic superheroes like Homelander. Moments of humanity, like MM’s ongoing battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are just as powerful.
Many fans of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s original comic book series will have loved the sixth episode of the Prime Video adaptation’s third series. Daring to venture into unthinkable territory, it refers to the collection of comics whereby corrupt superheroes gather every year to engage in sexually explicit behaviour. Yet the Not Safe For Work nature of the episode shouldn’t rain (sorry) on Laz Alonso’s parade, as he gave a phenomenal performance detailing Mother’s Milk’s worsening OCD.
Stop reading now if you’re not up to date on the third series just yet, as the following paragraphs will contain spoilers. Those who have watched all six available episodes will know the first-ever superhero Soldier Boy (played by Supernatural‘s Jensen Ackles) was responsible for murdering MM’s family, and that’s why he’s been focussed on keeping things clean and tidy over the last two series.
As an OCD sufferer myself, I can’t help but roll my eyes at these tired and overused representations of the condition. Yes, there are those of us who are compelled to carry out rigorous cleaning or organisation, but there are also those of us like me who must constantly seek reassurance that they haven’t done this terrible deed or are not the monster their mind is telling them they are. Television is a visual medium, I get it, but honing in on the physical manifestations of OCD only paints half of the picture. The other half is the intrusive thoughts – the reason why OCD sufferers carry out these repetitive actions.
Granted, they aren’t the easiest thing to portray or explore on camera (albeit perhaps the tired ‘voices in the head’ trope), but Alonso has excelled so far this series. At the beginning of Series 3, we see an MM desperately trying to bat away “bad thoughts” and maintain a seemingly peaceful life with his daughter, but his collection of newspaper cuttings show he’s still ruminating about his family’s killer. For an OCD sufferer who decided to fight my intrusive thoughts rather than seek help for them, only for it to exhaust me completely and tear me apart, watching MM’s failed attempt to soldier on (pun not intended) despite his intrusive thoughts was particularly hard-hitting.
And the conclusion that MM needs to “go back to Butcher” and deal with “the steel sliver inside my brain” that is Soldier Boy is, effectively, exposure therapy. For those unfamiliar, it means facing and engaging with the source of your anxiety and compulsions directly, so as to minimise its impact. It’s a pretty big challenge for MM, as we learn from a conversation with Starlight in episode six that his compulsive behaviour stems from the fact that if he doesn’t do it, there’s a chance Soldier Boy could return.
So imagine the sheer fear and distress which comes with the actual Soldier Boy waking up from a deep slumber right in front of your eyes. As I say, we don’t get much of an insight into the intrusive thoughts experienced by MM, but we can certainly sense them – there’s no finer example of that than the look of horror on Marvin’s face when he sees his worst nightmare in front of him. OCD sufferers spend a lot of time reassuring themselves they are not their thoughts, or reminding ourselves of the reality (‘no, you didn’t scratch the door of a car on the other side of the road, thus committing a criminal offence’). The fact that intrusive thoughts are ego-dystonic – as in, they are deliberately the opposite of our morals and values in order to cause discomfort – offers some comfort, but any evidence that the fiction our OCD is offering up might be real is incredibly traumatic. In a single expression when Soldier Boy comes out of the chamber, MM is effectively terrified that he slipped in one of his compulsions in order for that to happen.
In actuality, Soldier Boy’s back because he never really died, and Billy Butcher needs him as a weapon to take out his arch nemesis Homelander – but OCD tends to linger even when cold, hard facts are staring it in the face.
When so much of OCD representation continues to falsely present the condition as just extreme perfectionism, The Boys‘ storyline of MM confronting the trauma behind his OCD is more than surface level, and it’s refreshing. If Soldier Boy happens to meet a grisly end in the series finale, then it’s essential that Series 4 (which has already been confirmed) continues to see MM dealing with his condition.
I’ve learned the hard way that OCD doesn’t just disappear after any serious intervention, and if The Boys wants to continue to offer excellent representation in this area, then Marvin must deal with the remnants of OCD in future series to come.
The Boys continues on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, with the penultimate episode of Series 3, ‘Here Comes A Candle to Light You to Bed’.
Images courtesy of Prime Video.