No, the latest episode of Gen V isn’t about collegiate supes stuck in a jungle-themed board game or cartridge. They’re stuck somewhere imaginary, but it’s not nearly as fun as Jack Black’s impersonation of a sassy high school girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body. “Jumanji” follows the Guardians of Godolkin after they learn their beloved mind controller Cate (Maddie Phillips) has been wiping their memories without consent on behalf of Dean Shetty (Shelley Conn). Cate attempts to atone for her actions but passes out crying blood in the process, and her closest friends are sucked into her thoughts – a fantasy realm of fractured memories where death is permanent.
Cate’s condition opens the door to an episode brimming with introspection meant to test the group’s still strengthening friendships. Gen V hasn’t undersold the graphic entertainment value of hormonal supes navigating horniness and substance abuse without supervision, but there’s more to the show than Jason Ritter cameos or pulverized genitalia. Last week’s “Welcome to the Monster Club” is a commentary on how characters like Cate see themselves in the mirror: Freaks genetically altered by Compound V with permission from their parents. The Boys takes a hardline, more cynical approach when showing Homelander’s laboratory upbringing, whereas Gen V – particularly in “Jumanji” – benefits from ditching Butcher’s guiding belief that the only good supe is a dead one.
It’s far more affecting to relive traumatic scenes where Cate or Marie (Jaz Sinclair) discover what powers Compound V has bestowed upon them or how Vought advocates manipulate impressionable outcasts like Jordan (London Thor and Derek Luh). “Jumanji” is a heartstring-plucking episode that tests Gen V’s ragtag heroes, questioning the situations these kids were forced into and the guilt they harbor as a result. Cate is robbed of the sensation of touch by a mother who, in turn, is horrified by the “monster” she created. That tragedy – the coldness she’s shown and never asked for – is what Marie and the rest help reconcile while also trying not to become victims of Cate’s crumbling psyche. Gen V is most compelling when broken superhero souls are allowed to mend, which “Jumanji” confronts with emphasis in each main protagonist.
But Gen V is still a spinoff of The Boys, and given that connection, there are expectations: the squelchy gore, the ridiculousness, the immorality. “Jumanji” brings back Jensen Ackles as Cate’s childhood crush Soldier Boy, who says some perversely icky stuff – Ackles is so good at playing an All-American asshole – while more felt puppets make their appearance with hilarious timing. An eye-beam from Cate’s furious, fabricated version of Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is blasted toward Andre (Chance Perdomo), but misses and causes collateral harm in an explosion of bloody limbs. The hallmarks of Gen V or The Boys are there, but not with the usual prominence.
“‘Welcome to the Monster Club’ drives Gen V’s ongoing story like a dagger to the heart of the show’s fans. Typical hijinks ensue – mindfreak games that transport characters through time, murderous Muppets – but this episode’s importance is all about what comes next. These characters have displayed their flaws before, but this is the compromised young adult decision-making that I’ve so wanted to see more of in Gen V. ‘Welcome to the Monster Club’ appropriately deals with heavy topics from consent to bodily autonomy, and the rampant action-forward hilarity is not missed – just like The Boys has easily accomplished time after time.” – Matt Donato
Read the rest of Gen V Episode 5 Review – “Welcome to the Monster Club”
Elsewhere, Sam (Asa Germann) and Emma (Lizze Broadway) reunite in their drive-in hideout with full memories in a sweetly romantic embrace that involves the aforementioned puppets mentioned (and a cheeky Titanic callback). Germann and Broadway are radiant in their portrayal ofa young, defiant love that’s pure enough to heal the wounds society causes. Then you have Dean Shetty and Dr. Cardosa (Marco Pigossi), who finally reveal what The Woods is developing – a virus to suppress superpowers. Sam and Emma’s bid for happiness clashes against Godolkin’s Vought-bred despair, pitting light against dark in a climactic commotion that only builds anticipation.
A groundswell of momentum at the end of “Jumanji” hits on everything Gen V is building towards. The trials and tribulations of Cate’s mental battleground end with a reunion of beleaguered, betrayed, and yet still resilient Godolkin companions readying themselves for a fight. Compassion wins in moments when Homelander would have splattered another Seven reject into an indistinguishable pile of muscle soup and brain fragments. That’s what’s most interesting about Gen V: “Jumanji” shows glimpses of humanity that The Boys (as a show) continually eviscerates, which I’m sure will come hurtling back in some way now that Dean Shetty and Vought are about to represent the big bad megacorporation we know they’ve been all along.