If there’s one member of The Boys with the most tragic backstory, it’s almost certainly Butcher. Each member has their own sad story to tell, and while Kimiko or Mother’s Milk may relate, Butcher’s traumatic past is the one that rules him the most in his daily life. But before Season 3 of the show, those painful memories were only hinted at, with the most explicit references coming from a heated conversation between Butcher and his father during Season 2.
“Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed” changes that thanks to the telepathic hero Mindstorm, who imprisons Butcher in a prison of his own memories. Butcher is forced to relive his saddest moments, but this time with the meticulous knowledge of how they all end – and on screen for viewers to see with their own eyes. It’s clear how much Butcher regrets the mistakes of his past, most of which revolve around his younger brother Lenny.
Lenny was also first mentioned in Season 2, when Butcher’s aunt pointed out how much Hughie reminded her of. The comparison between Lenny and Hughie is made even more explicit in Butcher’s reverie, as the camera rapidly cycles back and forth between scenes of Lenny and scenes of Hughie. This is a common cinematic technique known as the Kuleshov effect, first developed by Russian pioneer Lev Kuleshov.
Sometimes also known as montage, the Kuleshov effect describes a simple principle: viewers derive more meaning from the combination of two shots than from either one alone. If he shows a man’s face with an expression of despair, and then a steaming bowl of soup, the audience might infer that the man is hungry. When shown the forlorn face of a fallen soldier, the same audience can infer that the man is mourning a fallen comrade. Different shots can be used in a number of different contexts, but when combined they tell a specific story.
Quickly going back and forth between Lenny and Hughie, The boys can convey to his audience how Butcher feels the same way about both characters, without ever explicitly stating it. The show also uses this technique with Butcher himself…and his abusive father. Butcher’s father beat him and Lenny when they were growing up, telling them they had to be tough to survive. While Butcher despises his father, he still uses the same philosophy as he struggles to survive against ever-increasing odds.
As Butcher lashes out at those around him, his own mind connects his angry bravado to the abuse inflicted by his father. Butcher hates his father, but also hates himself for acting the same way. It is easy to put such ideas into words, but The boys makes a smart move by letting the audience put two and two together. A quick cut between Butcher and his own father acting similarly makes the comparison obvious, but still allows fans to pick up an implied message without taking the time to say it out loud.
These themes also give a dark context to Butcher’s actions at the end of the episode. Butcher initially left home to escape his father, leaving Lenny behind. Lenny committed suicide a few months later, and his death has haunted Butcher ever since. Annie calls Butcher to tell him how dangerous the V-24 really is, both for him and for Hughie. But instead of telling Hughie about the danger, Butcher lies to his face and lets them both keep taking it. Despite all the horror and trauma of the memories he is forced to relive, Butcher once again abandons a man he considers a brother.
The boys season finale premieres July 8, 2022 on Prime Video.