Did ‘The Boys’ Go Too Far With Hughie’s BDSM Storyline?

Hughie dressed as Webweaver on The Boys Season 4

In this week’s episode of The Boys, “Dirty Business,” Hughie (Jack Quaid) is still reeling from the death of his father when he’s captured and thrust through a series of fetish and BDSM-inspired scenarios thanks to the show’s version of Batman, Tek Knight (Derek Wilson). But did the show go too far with this storyline? Was it kink-shaming? Or perhaps even worse, sexual assault?

To set this whole thing up a little better before we break down the internet reaction to this storyline, The Boys are trying to infiltrate a right-wing soiree at Tek Knight’s house to find out what Sage (Susan Heyward) is planning for America. To do this, Hughie dresses up as Webweaver (Dan Mousseau), a Spider-Man-inspired superhero who is addicted to heroin. What our heroes don’t know is that Webweaver is auditioning to be Tek Knight’s sidekick — and that means he needs to go through a series of BDSM and kink “challenges” to nab the role from previous sidekick Laddio (Reid Millar), who is currently chained up to the wall in a red gimp suit.

In no particular order, Hughie is subjected to the following:

  • Cake sitting, aka he pulls down his pants and sits on a German chocolate cake.
  • Cake farting, where he farts in that cake.
  • Tickling with a feather.
  • A bunch of unspecified acts involving fluids (possibly santorum?) from Ashley (Colby Minifie), who comes down to torture him for a bit, as well as Tek Knight’s fluids.

As the capper on all of this, once Tek Knight discovers this isn’t Webweaver, it’s Hughie Campbell, he proceeds to restrain Hughie, put a clamp in his mouth, and then almost cuts a hole in his stomach so that he can have sex with it. Luckily, Annie (Erin Moriarty) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) save Hughie. And Tek Knight dies by the end of the episode after getting strangled by his butler Elijah (Tyrone Benskin).

Hughie’s not okay, though, and the last we see of him in the episode he’s sobbing as Annie cradles him. Ostensibly he’s crying because he’s not over the death of his father — not because of his torture at the hands of Tek Knight. But what we want to concentrate on is everything that happens in the middle of the hour.

Was This Kink Shaming?

We got into this discussion on this week’s episode of the Let’s Hear It For The Boys podcast, but to lay it down here in text… My take was that versus some outrageous, over-the-top sex acts on the show, a lot of what was presented here was “isn’t that funny?” when — value judgments aside — these are legitimate kinks that people have. Cake sitting, cake farting, whatever you think of them, people are into them.

And BDSM as well as tickling are pretty wide-spread fetishes that thousands of people enjoy. To present them in a point-and-laugh way makes fun of those folks, and what titillates them. The show often avoids laughing at, instead of laughing with, by presenting sexual fetishes like “Tek Knight must have sex with all holes,” a much more outrageous act than merely dressing in leather and lightly whipping someone.

However, my co-host Justin Tyler disagreed, and I do think he made the apt point that while the execution was up for interpretation, the intent of the storyline was to put Hughie in a place of danger, where he would be forced to engage in acts that could easily reveal him as not being Webweaver.

So, let’s talk about those acts.

Did Tek Knight Sexually Assault Hughie?

The Boys Hughie as Webweaver close up

A discussion I’ve seen bubbling up ever since the episode aired is that Hughie was a victim of sexual assault in this scenario. While I don’t think his sobbing at the end of the episode was intended to be an outcome of this, so much as an expression of his grief over his father dying bubbling to the surface, according to RAINN the definition of sexual assault is, “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.”

Hughie does indeed consent to most of the acts here, but it’s under duress because he doesn’t want Tek Knight to, you know, kill him. And the final act, that Tek Knight is going to cut a hole in his midsection and have sex with it is undeniably a violation, regardless of it being consummated. RAINN goes on to note several examples of sexual assault, with one being “Fondling or unwanted sexual touching.” It’s clear everything that happened in this episode was unwanted. So yes, Hughie was sexually assaulted.

In an interview with Variety, showrunner Eric Kripke didn’t exactly disagree with asked whether the show was “kicking him when he’s down by having him sexually assaulted by his childhood hero after his dad just died?” But he did look at it another way.

“Well, that’s a dark way to look at it! We view it as hilarious,” Kripke said. “Obviously, Tek Knight is our version of Batman, and we wanted to really play around with that trope: Batman’s fascist underpinnings as a really wealthy dude who hunts poor people, and then profits of the incarceration. So that was one. Tek Knight was already set up to be a freak, so we were kind of already halfway there. Then the notion came up of, he should have a Batcave — but let’s be honest, the Batcave would be a sex dungeon. Like, even the real Batcave is just this side of being a sex dungeon. It’s really dark, and there’s rubber suits everywhere. It’s not that much of a push to add a couple dildos and then a weird urinal that turns into a face mask.”

Sexual assault may not have been the intention, but it was the outcome here. And given the way that closing scene with Annie and Hughie plays out — he confesses that Ashley said “so many horrible things” while she tickled his feet and “rubbed one out,” but the waterworks come when he talks about his father’s death — I’d venture the storyline was used as a motivator for a different emotional catharsis, not an exploration of male sexual assault. Which is unfortunate, as sexual assault is sexual assault. And we really should not be using these sorts of storylines as a way of motivating characters, male or female, in 2024 — particularly if the goal is to get Hughie to express grief, something that can come out in different ways that don’t add further traumatic emotional damage to his already scarred psyche.

Whether the show continues to explore this in some way in the closing episodes of the season, of course, is TBD. But for now, we can argue about the kink-shaming; but as for the sexual assault, it’s something that I’m hoping The Boys deals with in a more responsible way going forward, rather than a means to an end.

If you or someone you know needs to reach out about sexual abuse or assault, RAINN is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online at RAINN.org.

The Boys Season 4 Premiere Dates And Episode Guide:

The Boys season 4 will officially premiere on Prime Video on Thursday, June 13 at 3 am ET / 12 am PT. The season will be eight episodes long, with three dropping on premiere day.

Here’s the full list of episodes in The Boys Season 4, with expected premiere dates:

  • Thursday, June 13, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 1 – “Department of Dirty Tricks”
  • Thursday, June 13, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 2 – “Life Among the Septics”
  • Thursday, June 13, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 3 – “We’ll Keep the Red Flag Flying Here”
  • Thursday, June 20, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 4 – “Wisdom of the Ages”
  • Thursday, June 27, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 5 – “Beware the Jabberwock, My Son”
  • Thursday, July 4, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 6 – “Dirty Business”
  • Thursday, July 11, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 7 – “The Insider”
  • Thursday, July 18, 2024: The Boys, Season 4, Episode 8 – “Assassination Run” *Season Finale*

Where To Watch The Boys:

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