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In the aftermath of Golden Boy’s superheated airburst suicide, and still reeling from Brink’s last living decree to expel her from Godolkin U., a dazed Marie sits with Andre as campus security sweeps bloody chunks of their late friend into a pile as Gen V Episode 2 (“First Day”) begins. Why he did it, Marie can’t even guess. Luke had all the adulation a young supe could want, plus an invitation to The Seven. And Andre wonders what his best buddy meant at the very end, when he hugged him close and said “Your dad has it.” In a testy conference call with the university board, Vought president Ashley Barrett (Boys favorite Colby Minifie) is wondering about something else. “I have 45 million dollars’ worth of Golden Boy merch in the Port of LA that I’m gonna have to set on fire. So what’s the fucking play?!”
It’s easy enough for Vought, the board, and Dean Shetty to concoct a story which will manage the media angle. Golden Boy was a chronic drug abuser, they’ll say, and he suffered a psychotic break that led to the violence. But there’s a bigger issue looming in the background. “If The Woods is exposed,” Barrett warns the dean, “we all have a big, potentially fatal problem.” And what about those Woods? It’s a thread of which we’ve only caught glimpses, like in Luke’s tortured dreams or the holding cell where another kid on campus was thrown, after Marie witnessed his desperate escape attempt. But Marie can’t dwell on that or Luke’s death, because the semester’s starting up. Not only has she not been expelled, she’s been slotted as a freshman into 300-level crimefighting classes at Lamplighter, with Indira Shetty as her professor in the wake of Brink’s death. Marie is psyched, but this is all part of Vought’s play. Alongside students like Andre and Cate, she’s being groomed as the all-powerful corporation’s next round of branded supe merchandise.
Sure enough, when the updated rankings are released, Andre’s the new number one and Marie’s the first true freshman to break the top ten. (Jordan is static at number five and pissed about it, since they fought Golden Boy at the end, not Marie.) A photo shoot is scheduled, plus a nationally-televised interview with a Fox anchor type, Vought News host Haley Miller (Leigh Bush), for which Marie is given a script that drags Luke and claims he acted alone. It’s a little uncomfortable – also a little flattering, she has to admit – but Marie is soon overwhelmed with the spectacle, especially when Haley says Vought contacted her estranged younger sister for comment. And to Jordan’s anger, Marie recites the script as written on live television. But that doesn’t mean she believes the constructed narrative.
In her acting class, Emma is partnered with Justine (Maia Jae Bastidas), a supe actor from Vought’s version of the CW who quietly earns her trust before completely selling her out. Emma shared how she has to purge to get small, sticking her fingers down her throat and getting smaller each time. It’s something she manages, but it’s an ordeal, and extremely private. Which is why Emma’s mortified when Justine and her “Spill the Tea” video podcast conflates her power with grandstanding about the patriarchy, beauty standards and the male gaze. All serious issues, but Emma never gave Justine direct consent. And after a confrontation, Justine remains unapologetic. “Getting likes is a grind…and no offense but you’re being really intense about this.”
Andre’s dad Polarity is pushing him to seize the spotlight. “Luke gave us what you got here – an opportunity,” he says. Because in Vought World, everything is marketing, and a number one ranking has the potential to send Andre into the supe stratosphere. Money. Endorsements. Love from the citizenry. Andre hits the bong instead of leaning into the photo shoots and interviews, meets up with a distraught Cate, and uses his metal-manipulating powers to pry open his dad’s campus statue at the crotch. (Cate: “That is really Freudian.”) And what’s inside but a phone with Luke’s last video message, a plea to save his younger brother, who he says is being held captive in The Woods. The two friends always understood that Luke’s schizophrenic brother had passed away. But when Andre infiltrates Brink’s office and searches his laptop, he finds a database with the name of every kid who’s detained in The Woods, including Sam Riordan (Asa Germann). It’s the same young man Marie saw trying to escape. Luke’s brother didn’t commit suicide, and he’s being detained right here on Godolkin’s campus.
Marie knows she’ll have to square what she said in the interview with Jordan. But she also wonders if Indira Shetty knew about Vought’s contact with her sister. Shetty, who’s been going full shrink mode on Marie about her traumatic past and yearning to become a hero, denies she knew anything with a hug. But the reverse shot shows us a set of shadowed eyes that reveal the truth. After all, this is a dean of students, a supposed ally, who’s also operating a secret subterranean lair full of illegal research into young supes. And that’s the lair to which Andre tracks a group of security guards, who use a pass card to access it through a hidden panel in a cement wall. Cate was trailing Andre, and she “pushes” the guards just as they’re about to discover him. (With her power, she convinces them to perform comical sex acts on each other instead of busting Andre’s head with their billy clubs.) The Woods is right there, beyond the wall. But there’s no way in yet. And before Andre can do anything else, Cate falls into a seizure brought about by all of that cognitive pushing.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges