How Ashley Became One Of The Best Characters On The Boys

This post contains major spoilers for season 3 of "The Boys" up through episode 5.

Colby Minifie seems to have a knack for playing high-strung characters. One of her first major roles was Jessica's neighbor Robyn in "Jessica Jones," a character who quickly made a (mostly negative) impression on fans. Robyn was bafflingly rude to Jessica and had a strange, vaguely incestuous relationship with her twin brother. Even after Robyn's brother died and Minifie was given some heavier material to deal with, the character could only really muster a sad mix of annoyance and pity from the audience. 

Not too long after, Minifie was cast in the relatively minor role of Ashley in the first season of "The Boys." And much like Robyn in "Jessica Jones," Ashley isn't particularly easy to like. Being the primary character whose job is to get Annie (Erin Moriarty) accustomed to her position as Starlight in the Seven, Ashley is immediately shown to be cold and uncaring, only really focused on the corporate bottom line. "I don't want me to make Ashley sound bad," Minifie said about the character, "but she really cares about her job and she will do anything to save her ass." 

When Annie saves a woman from being sexually assaulted, Ashley yells at her because she did it in a way that hurt her optics. Annie wanted to join the Seven because she wanted to fight crime and make the world a better place, but Ashley serves as a constant reminder that this is not what the Seven is really about. 

Season 1 Ashley

If I had one complaint about "The Boys," it's that most of the characters felt like caricatures in the beginning. Although Butcher is probably the closest thing the show has to a main character, the pilot episode establishes Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Annie as the show's dual protagonists, and they're both placed in very obvious black-and-white situations. Hughie has his girlfriend run over by A-Train (Jessie Usher) and then has to listen to A-Train's non-apology, followed by witnessing a clip of A-Train laughing at his girlfriend's death. Annie comes in as an oblivious, trusting person who immediately gets raped in a place of presumed safety by the Deep, the member of the Seven she looked up to most as a kid. 

The world of "The Boys" is unbelievably cruel and unfair, but it's never quite as ridiculously over-the-top cruel as that first episode. But with every passing episode, the characters within the Seven were fleshed out and turned into real-feeling people. By the end of the first season, neither the Deep nor A-Train had been redeemed in any sense (and they never would be), but now they're terrible in ways that are compelling and believable.

It took Ashley a little longer to get a similar treatment. She spends the season yelling at Annie, and gets fired after Annie speaks up about the Deep assaulting her. "At least I don't have to kiss your ass anymore," she tells Annie on her way out the door, which only further points to Ashley's delusion. That she thinks she was being nice to Annie this whole time isn't exactly an endearing note for the character to go out on. 

But luckily, Ashley returns with a vengeance in the season 2 premiere.

Season 2 Ashley

After Homelander (Antony Starr) murders Vought's Senior VP Stillwell in the season 1 finale, the second season opens with Ashley having just been hired to take her position. At first she's all excited and doesn't seem to have changed a bit. One of the first things she does is introduce Homelander to a new potential member of the Seven named Blindspot, a Daredevil ripoff who's blind but can fight thanks to his supersonic hearing. "A differently-abled member of The Seven," she excitedly pitches to Homelander. "We're gonna poll through the roof with millennials. Inclusion's a big priority to them right now. And then I think we find an ethnic or female or — fingers crossed — an ethnic female to replace the Deep, and we're golden."

It's all a typical conversation with Ashley, who only seems to understand the world through the lens of what will make the Vought corporation look good. But then Homelander casually shatters Blindspot's ear-drums, and gives her his first evil monologue of the season: "Let's get one thing straight. The only reason you're here and not doing corporate PR for f***ing Diva Cups is that I brought you here. You are dispensable, which means you answer to me."

This is the first real change in Ashley's character, as it's only now where she seems to be aware that these superheroes she's working for could easily kill her at any moment. She's certainly been aware of a lot of their covered-up crimes, but it's a real concern now that she could be the victim of one of them. In the space of a single scene where the focus isn't even on her, Ashley's understanding of her situation shifts: this new job is not an exciting new career opportunity, but the beginning of the most stressful period of her entire life. 

Hey, we've all had tough jobs

"The actors on the show are so good that it's not that hard to just respond to them, I don't have to do much, I just have to respond," explained Minifie in an interview for season 2. "Especially with somebody like Homelander, Antony Starr is so good that he scares the s*** out of me playing his character. I just have to look into his eyes and I'm there."

This is the core of why Ashley becomes so memorable in season 2: Minifie's terror feels painfully real. She's still not a good person by any means, but it becomes almost impossible not to sympathize with her as she's placed in increasingly impossible situations. Stormfront and Annie poke fun at her for being tightly wound, but how could she not be? The dangerous, psychopathic Homelander demands she run every decision by him first and that she tell him everything Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) plans ahead of time. Considering that Homelander and Edgar are in the middle of a passive-aggressive feud for power, this means Ashley has to navigate the contradictory wishes of her two extremely powerful, dangerous bosses.

As a result, Ashley spends most of season 2 seconds away from a total panic attack. By the end of the season she's got a bald spot from pulling at her hair too much. It's fascinating to watch because on one hand, yes: she's in a tough position. But on the hand: she'd probably be allowed to quit, right? Prior to Homelander's corporate coup in season 3, Ashley doesn't have to keep doing this horrible, stressful job, but she does it anyway. Despite the costs, there's a clear desire for the power the position gives her over anyone who isn't Homelander or Edgar. 

Season 3 Ashley

This factor comes into play more clearly in the season 3 premiere, where we're introduced to Ashley's new assistant who's also named Ashley. She treats the new Ashley like garbage, clearly reveling in her higher position of authority over her. The whole "pulling her hair out" thing in season 2 has shifted from a sign of stress to a strange fetish of hers, as the premiere features her hooking up with the "Dawn of the Seven" director and asking her to pull her hair out. It's weird, but hey, good for her. 

Season 3 finds Ashley growing into her position of power and finding ways to make the world's worst job a little more fun. Her main method of blowing off steam seems to be treating those below her the same way Homelander treats her, but in a sexual way. In episode 4, ("Glorious Five Year Plan") Homelander snaps at her and asks if her "idiot brain" as been "f***ed by stupid." It's absurdly cruel and crude thing for him to say, but it gets flipped around when she later says the same line in a private conversation with news anchor Cameron Coleman, who is clearly a parody of a Fox News pundit. "What if it has?" he says playfully in response. The scene ends with the implication that she's going to peg him with a Homelander-themed strap-on. Again: very strange, but good for her.

Season 3 as a whole seems to be about every character's attempt to adjust to the new normal established in the season 2 finale, and each character slowly realizing that the new status quo isn't sustainable. Annie realizes this once Homelander calls her bluff on releasing the plane video, but it isn't until the latest episode that we see Ashley grapple with the same problem. 

Briefly being human

Having gotten rid of Stan Edgar, Homelander installs Ashley as the new CEO of Vought. It's exactly the position Ashley's always wanted to hold, but in the worst possible circumstances. She knows she's just Homelander's pawn, and if she disobeys him on anything the best case scenario is that she gets fired. Annie tries to convince her to spill what happened to Maeve, saying, "He is out of control. Yesterday was Supersonic, today it's Maeve. Tomorrow, maybe it's me, or you."

For one of the only times in the series, Ashley lets the corporate mask drop and she lets Annie know she agrees with her. "I don't have powers," she says, and Annie tries to convince her that she doesn't need them. "You just need to be human," Annie says, and for a moment it feels like the line will work. It's similar to what Maeve told Ashley back in season 2, the last time Ashley managed to show some genuine compassion. Instead, the mask comes back on: "I am CEO," Ashley says coldly. "Next time go make a f***ing appointment."

Annie's disappointed, but she can't really be mad. Annie can't protect Ashley, and there's a chance Homelander's listening in on their conversation. If Ashley wants to not get burnt to a crisp by a pair of eye lasers, refusing to reveal Maeve's whereabouts is the smartest thing she could do. 

Just another cog in the machine

The way the show turned Ashley from a one-note corporate shill to a person we can clearly sympathize with (if not necessarily root for) is a testament to the strength of the "Boys" writing team. This is a character that could've easily been relegated to a simple comic relief role, or turned into just a mean-spirited parody of an overzealous corporate PR person. But even as she's refusing to help Annie rescue Maeve, it's impossible to hate her. She may have put herself into this situation in the first place, but we've long since passed the point where she can simply walk away from the position. 

Perhaps most notably, as the series went on, "The Boys" has focused its satire increasingly on institutions rather than specific people. With Victoria Neuman turning out to be Edgar's controlled opposition, to the public reveal of Compound V having no lasting negative affect effect on Vought's profits, "The Boys" grows more interested than ever in the idea that none of the problems happening on this show — or any of the solutions — come down to one person. Ashley could've been a one-note bad guy, but the show depicts her as someone trapped in a larger systemic problem. Just like everyone else.