Only one more episode of Season 3 of The Boys to go, and I don’t think anyone is ready for this wild ride to be over! This week’s episode, ominously titled “Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed” brought one of the biggest revelations of the series, and delivered it in a way that ensured it left a powerful impact. I know some people guessed what was coming, but I wasn’t one of those people, so it left me gobsmacked and repeating WTF more than once. Luckily I love it when this show can surprise me, so this is far from a complaint.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, SO BE SURE YOU’VE WATCHED THE EPISODE FIRST!
It’s been amusing, as a long time Supernatural fan, to watch the rest of the world discover Jensen Ackles’ acting brilliance as they watch this season of The Boys. He gave a tour de force in this episode, once again making me feel a ridiculous range of emotions that shouldn’t be possible for one character – especially one like Soldier Boy. And yet…
Look, even the official accounts can’t help but get a little heart eyed over this character (and the guy who so vividly portrays him).
More than anything, this episode was about agency and choice, as many of the characters confront their own fears and make decisions about their trajectories in life that acknowledge those fears but refuse to be constrained by them. Homelander and Vought (as now personified by Ashley) continue to hold power by wielding that fear, Ashley utilizing their voicepiece Cameron Coleman to cast doubt on Annie’s accusations. Surely no one can take her seriously when she’s clearly just a woman scorned, and oh by the way, doesn’t she have ties to known terrorists and human traffickers? No wonder she started a home for runaway girls! Imagine a world where the real bad guys take the moral high ground to silence a voice for change and people just believe it…oh wait.
Maeve is one of the characters who has faced the worst case scenario and decided she’s willing to lose it all to go up against Vought and Homelander. He visits her to see if he can find out where Butcher and Soldier Boy are, trying to scare her by saying that Soldier Boy has already killed seven supes and fried the power out of others – reminding her that could happen to any of them. His fear mongering doesn’t work on her anymore though.
Maeve: That’s the difference between you and me. You need to be a supe; I can’t wait til it’s over.
In one of the many parallels in this episode, Homelander recalls almost fondly that at one time he wanted to have kids with Maeve, just as Soldier Boy recalled the same about Crimson Countess previously. In an eerily prescient theme for what’s going on in the real world right now, Homelander assures her that he’d never force himself on her – but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t harvest her eggs against her will to make himself some kids. It’s a shocking attempt to control her body and her reproductive decisions and how the hell are Kripke and this show always so good at predicting the dystopian future?
Maeve refuses to give him the upper hand though, saying that the day is still a top three for her, because she saw him scared. Touche.
Later, Homelander speaks at a rally and attacks Starlight once again when he’s supposed to be rallying in support of candidate Robert Singer (Supernatural’s own Jim Beaver). Homelander is losing it a bit though, hallucinating Soldier Boy in the crowd, his eyes glowing for a second before he gets himself under control. Walking it off, he ends up in a nearby barn where a cow is plaintively mooing. As ‘Crimson and Clover’ starts to play, the scene goes surreal, Homelander milking the cow and looking positively orgasmic while doing it and then drinking the milk right out of the bucket.
Only on The Boys, seriously.
Neuman catches him at it and tells him to pull himself together, offering him some information and a working alliance. That should go well.
A Train wakes up in the hospital with a new heart and an Ashley-written fake news story about how he got it that involves Soldier Boy killing Blue Hawk just as he and A Train were getting along again. Nice cover story, tying up all the loose ends. A Train is ambivalent about going along with all this, but you get the feeling he’s going to cave, drawn back in by the fame and fortune – and Ashley knows it.
Black Noir, on the run and hiding from Soldier Boy, also faces his fears – with the help of Buster Beaver and his cast of cartoon characters. Nathan Mitchell somehow manages to convey all kinds of emotions without saying a word, and it’s a brilliant use of cartoons to depict Noir’s backstory (as this show has done before). Much like Homelander’s heart to heart with his own mirror image, Black Noir’s dream sequence in his head gives voice to his own self doubt and trauma without him having to utter a thing.
Buster reminds him of times in the past when he tried to hide (after apparently paralyzing some poor kid at an actual Buster Beavers – which brings back memories of way too many trips to Chuck E Cheese ball pits for me, frankly). He tries to avoid the memories, but the cartoon parts of his subconscious encourage him to remember and eventually he does.
It’s a damn good thing this part was in cartoons, because it was brutal and upsetting even animated. We finally see just how much of a controlling, abusive bully Soldier Boy was back in the day. Like any insecure narcissist, he can’t stand anyone else on his team taking the spotlight, yelling that he’s not good enough when Noir tries, that he’s not the movie star (like him). He threatens to put his own team in the ground if they don’t stay in line, terrorizing all of them through his brutality to Noir. It was a nauseating scene even in cartoon. We haven’t really seen Soldier Boy be like that in the present, so it’s a little hard to reconcile with what we have seen, which I suppose is the down side of not having Ackles portray him in the memory.
We learn that Edgar encouraged Black Noir to get rid of Soldier Boy once they had a replacement, at the time just a child but who would be stronger than Soldier Boy. And can fly. Hmmmm. Black Noir and Payback attack Soldier Boy, who didn’t see it coming, beating him brutally, but he eventually breaks free and attacks Noir, smashing his head to a pulp before Mindstorm arrives and they gas him and overpower him. Once again, violence results in violence, and it’s all equally hard to watch. Black Noir’s dream sequence ends with the cartoons assuring him that it’s okay to be sensitive and scared, that bravery isn’t having no fear, it’s doing it anyway…
Even The Deep confronts some fears in this episode – specifically his fear of letting his wife know he wants to spice up their sex life with a threesome. An unusual threesome. You can imagine how that goes, but it’s an amazing scene because it’s set to “More Than Words” and it includes the perfect line:
1) She’s a mollusk, and 2) She has feelings.
And it ends with Cassandra storming out with a very sincere “You’re an idiot, Kevin!”
Frenchie and Kimiko have their own journey about fear, love, family and making choices. They come to MM and Annie for help, saying Butcher is everyone’s problem now.
While Annie takes care of the still injured Kimiko, Frenchie and MM watch the old footage of the Russians torturing Soldier Boy, trying to figure out what they used to anesthesize him. Frenchie realizes it’s not halothane and eventually figures out what it is – a Russian nerve agent that they plan to go get.
Me, totally inappropriately as that happened: Oh no! Don’t kill the Danger Grampa Baby Murder Kitten!
Before that happens, however, MM confronts Todd about taking Janine to a Homelander rally. He tries to convince a brainwashed Todd that Homelander is lying to them, but Todd only believes the news he sees on the Vought channel. MM ends up punching Todd right in front of a shocked Janine when he says Todd isn’t her father and Todd retorts that someone’s gotta be.
Ouch. Also that scene may have been a wee bit cathartic for anyone who has had similar conversations in the real world with real world Todds…
Kimiko tells Annie and then Frenchie that she wants her powers back. Frenchie is at first confused about Kimiko’s choice, saying she can walk away, have her freedom and her humanity. But Kimiko has made a choice.
Kimiko: At first I hated having powers, because I didn’t choose. Now it’s my choice. I blamed my powers for my problems, but that’s not true. The V isn’t good or bad, it depends on the person using it.
She says she wants to do good with her powers, fight for the ones she loves. That their kiss felt weird because they are more than that – he is her family, and she wants to protect her family. Annie gets the V, and in the process discovers research notes that make it clear that Temp V is dangerous and will eventually cause brain damage and seizures. Homelander confronts her as she’s leaving, but she refuses to be intimidated by his threats.
Annie: I’m not scared of you anymore. I see who you are, how small you are.
She pulls out her phone and starts recording and he realizes he has to back off, letting her go.
Smart way to use your 1.9 Million followers, Starlight!
And then there’s Soldier Boy. What we find out about Soldier Boy and what we see of Soldier Boy in this episode is the most we’ve seen yet (well, not physically, because that first scene…), but it’s also as confusing and contradictory as you can imagine. We veer wildly from Soldier Boy singing and dancing in an old musical to finding out the horrific things he’s done in the past.
The first is footage that The Legend is watching of an old movie musical in which Soldier Boy sings and dances and cavorts while smoking a cigarette and making ridiculously adorable faces. Showrunner Eric Kripke tweeted that the musical number is his favorite Soldier Boy moment. It’s based on a very real album by Robert Mitchum back in 1957 and thanks to Ackles it looks and sounds a lot like the original (except Ackles is even more attractive and we get to see clean shaven Soldier Boy sans helmet with all that hair somehow slicked back). ‘The Logical Thing To Do’ is both offensive and ridiculous, and yet he makes it somehow endearing anyway.
Soldier Boy walks off camera with his characteristic “fuck this” and I snorted.
I read an article the other day about how Ackles brings an inevitable charisma to Soldier Boy that makes it harder to out and out hate him and I think that’s accurate. Soldier Boy was legitimately popular with the public back in the day, and he knows how to work the camera – just like Ackles does in real life.
Composer Chris Lennertz said that they had so much fun making the video that they collapsed in laughter between takes, which I do not find hard to believe at all.
The Legend laments that he actually produced that “piece of shit” as Hughie interrupts to say that Soldier Boy asked him to tell The Legend he’s out of Astro Glide. I took a moment to go HUH and OH when that line happened, wondering where we were going next. Hughie also takes issue with The Legend’s contention that you don’t make friends with ‘the talent’ because they’re all the same, still wanting to believe that “Solder Boy was a hero, right? He stormed Normandy?”
Turns out he stormed it two weeks later for a photo op, but he did see some action. Unfortunately that was in more controversial real life events like “some target practice at Kent State” and rumors about being at Daley Plaza. In other words, no, not a hero.
The Legend has some of the best lines, and Paul Reiser is perfectly cast.
The Legend: The thing is, to be American means knowing you’re the hero, so we sweep all our filthy shit under the rug and tell ourselves a myth like Soldier Boy. And I get filthy rich selling it.
Well, that was spot on.
Butcher returns and wants to know if Soldier Boy “is still at it” and sure enough, he is. We round the corner through an open door along with Butcher and Hughie and The Legend to find Soldier Boy cavorting with the two maids, who are mature women – who we rarely see naked and messing around with the likes of Soldier Boy on our screens!
I know there are people who have only watched Ackles in roles on The CW who were shocked by the compromising position they find Soldier Boy in, but this was a compromise for Ackles and Kripke and I thought it was a good one (see my interview with Ackles that touches on this scene for more). I won’t say I was expecting to see Soldier Boy jerking off wearing a floral silk robe, but I also won’t say I was complaining about it. I mean, that’s a lot of thigh…
Soldier Boy is strikingly unfazed by having observers, hoping they’ve brought him some more lube.
Hughie: Please don’t make eye contact…
I can’t really fault Soldier Boy for his passionate defense of older women either, comparing them to delicious fine wine (even if he does need more lube…)
The whole scene is priceless, with The Legend hurrying the women out with a ‘break time’s over’ and then complaining that he can never fire them and that now the Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed have to be burned.
The Legend: Girls, it smells like sex and Ben Gay in here…
I might have laughed out loud.
Soldier Boy in his silk robe is unimpressed, taking a drag on his cigarette since his other activities were interrupted. That also should not be hot, but here we are.
The poor fandom is terribly conflicted, trying damn hard to hate Soldier Boy and replaying his adorable musical number and drags on cigarettes and other substances that should not be sexy and oh right, there’s that whole bare thigh thing going on. Long-time fans of Ackles like me also immediately were reminded of another film he did even before Supernatural, in which his character Eddie G memorably wore a floral silk robe (and did some sexy dancing too). My timeline is full of stills from the two decades old film “Blonde” today, just like I knew it would be.
Butcher is frustrated that they’re having to check out all of Mindstorm’s hideouts and haven’t found him (the next member of Payback who Soldier Boy wants revenge on). Soldier Boy dismisses Mindstorm as a paranoid fuck who went crazy from hearing everyone’s “shitty thoughts”, but The Legend corrects him – Mindstorm is bipolar, not crazy. Hughie has the brilliant idea of checking out pharmacies near the hideouts to see who’s prescribing lithium, and Butcher grins, giving him a pat. You can see how much that means to Hughie; the two are becoming closer and closer, for better or worse (and for Hughie, that’s probably for the worse, let’s face it).
Butcher: Nice one, Hughie.
Soldier Boy: We’re gonna need more reefer.
He gives a sleazy (yet adorable) grin, and the title card pops up as “I can’t fight this feeling anymore” plays with perfect timing. This show is so damn good. (Also that song will always be a Supernatural call back, with Dean singing it in the car and Sam’s “you’re kidding, right?” ringing in my ears).
We get another Supernatural shout out with the famous ‘trunk shot’, this time of Butcher, Hughie and Soldier Boy as they go after Mindstorm, parking the car out in the woods so they can try to sneak up on him. (Soldier Boy with that joint dangling from those lips though….)
The Supernatural fandom weren’t the only ones who recognized that, one of Kripke’s favorite shout outs. Jensen Ackles also appreciated the homage to Supernatural.
He warns Butcher and Hughie not to make eye contact with Mindstorm and assures them that they’ll be fine if they do that. Because that has worked out so well for everyone in Soldier Boy’s vicinity so far!
Hughie: Why do you keep buying him Hefty bags of weed?
Butcher: Better high than mental, takes the edge off his PTSD.
Butcher says he saw it at Herogasm, that’s why Soldier Boy keeps blowing shit up. So his strategy is to keep him docile as a lamb.
Hughie: So, just to recap, he’s radioactive, highly traumatized and heavily self medicated? Feels right.
Butcher comes back with a pointed response that cuts. To me at least.
Butcher: Tell me about it. What sad bastard self medicates like that?
He hands Hughie a syringe of Temp V.
They make their way through the woods, Soldier Boy increasingly paranoid and asking Butcher and Hughie what they said when they were silent.
He suddenly steps on a trip wire and it blows them all to the ground. As Butcher wakes up, Mindstorm bends over him and makes eye contact, and Butcher is catapulted into the past, unconscious in real life.
Butcher’s nightmare is a powerful way to show us his backstory and how he got to be the violent, rage-filled man he often is. In the past we see him as a kid smiling and laughing playing cards with his little brother Lenny until their dad comes looking for them. Butcher hides them, as present day Butcher watches, yelling at his dad to leave off his brother – to no avail of course. Their dad finds young Butcher and demands to know where Lenny is, but Butcher refuses to tell him and takes a brutal whipping for it, intercut with grown up Butcher whaling away on other people the same way his father whaled on him, all the while calling him a fucking snotty little cunt. (Sound familiar? Intergenerational transmission, anyone?) When it’s finally over and their dad is gone, Lenny tenderly dabs at his big brother’s wounds while sad music that evokes the oh-so-familiar family theme from Supernatural plays and my eyes water. Shades of Sam and Dean Winchester, and oh, my heart.
Later we see young Butcher lashing out in violence just like his dad, who rewards him for it with the message that his violence was him acting like a man, that “some cunts need a slap.” Butcher is conflicted, not wanting to be like his father but still wanting his approval and with only that definition of being a man to guide him. Toxic masculinity is compelling and pervasive – no wonder it’s so easily handed down from generation to generation.
Their dad turns to Lenny derisively, telling him “you oughtta take a page outta his book, don’t wanna be a fucking little poof all your life.”
The pressure to “be a man” is kept in place by misogyny and homophobia, and it’s frighteningly effective. Butcher takes a drink even as present day Butcher tells Lenny not to listen to him.
As Butcher dreams, Hughie is distraught when Soldier Boy says Butcher will be trapped in an endless nightmare and then die of terminal hydration, saying there must be a way to wake him up. Soldier Boy admits that Mindstorm could snap him out of it and Hughie is relieved until he goes on.
Soldier Boy: But he’s about to be dead.
That delivery was priceless, Ackles.
Hughie begs Soldier Boy to let Mindstorm help Butcher first, saying then he can kill him and Hughie won’t care. The two face off as Hughie ignores his fear to confront Soldier Boy.
Soldier Boy: If you get hysterical, I’m gonna slap you like I’m Connery.
He reiterates that he’ll keep up his end of the deal and kill Homelander after Mindstorm though, saying that Butcher would’ve given his life for that in a heartbeat. Once again, collateral damage to Soldier Boy is just…. Well, collateral damage.
The next time he pauses and asks if Hughie heard that, Hughie snaps back that he might want to lay off the weed.
Soldier Boy: And you might wanna gargle my ball sack.
Once again, priceless delivery of lines it feels like Dean Winchester probably said a time or two but we never got to hear – until now. I don’t want to be laughing out loud, but come on. Grumpy grampa is amusing…until he’s just plain violent, that is.
Hughie continues to worry about Butcher, prompting Soldier Boy to ask him how hard Butcher sucked his dick for him to miss him that much.
Soldier Boy: His mouth must feel like a Hoover Deluxe.
Hughie: Every single thing you say is so gross!
It really is. And a perfect reflection of the fear behind toxic masculinity. If I care about someone, does that make me less of a man? If I care about someone, does that mean I want him to suck my dick? The homophobia that props up the toxic masculinity is perfectly conveyed in this little exchange.
Hughie doesn’t fall for it. He explains that Butcher saved him, more than once, and that he owes him. Soldier Boy calls BS, saying they’re on a mission and have to just get the job done, like he did when he fought the Nazis and stormed Normandy.
Soldier Boy: You wanna know what I do when I’m sad or scared? Fucking nothing. Because I’m not a fucking pussy.
That’s a pretty good description of toxic masculinity too, and its roots in raging misogyny, and it’s a mantra that Soldier Boy has adopted wholesale. It’s also tragic, leaving him with no outlet for legitimate feelings of sadness and fear and a lot of reasons to project so he doesn’t have to even recognize them.
(For more on Ackles’ thoughts on this scene and toxic masculinity, see my interview with him about this week’s episode).
Hughie has had it with fear keeping him back though. He gets in Soldier Boy’s face again, saying he didn’t storm shit and that his whole Marlboro Man act is fucking crap.
Soldier Boy punches him in the face.
Yep, that’s how toxic masculinity is enforced. Ouch.
They soon run into a nun and a priest whose car has broken down and they ask for help. Soldier Boy says he’ll take a look and then spins around and shoots the priest, just like that. Hughie screams and so does the nun, but Soldier Boy says that’s Mindstorm’s MO, that they were brainwashed and about to shank them.
Hughie insists the nun doesn’t look brainwashed and that Soldier Boy has PTSD and is super fucking stoned so maybe he’s mistaken, putting himself between the nun and Soldier Boy’s gun.
Hughie: She’s a human, a nun, and if there’s one thing I know…
The nun leaps on his back. biting him and yelling die you fucking cocksucker and Hughie starts jumping around yelling for Soldier Boy to do something and omg Jack Quaid and Jensen Ackles killed this scene. Much like Supernatural before it, The Boys excels in combining humor and dark dark themes.
Soldier Boy grumbles that if Hughie would just stay still…. Then finally shoots her.
Soldier Boy: What’s black and white and red all over? Also I don’t have shell shock, fuck you. This is being a soldier.
Because admitting you have PTSD would be admitting that you DO get scared and hurt and feel pain, and that you’re not an unfeeling automaton. And that would make you less than the man you think you have to be – as Hughie puts it, the stereotypical Marlboro Man.
The two enter a barn where Mindstorm is hiding, lots of wind chimes hanging outside making an eerie soundtrack. Jensen Ackles and barns will always be evocative for Supernatural fans thanks to the finale episode, so that added even more tension. Soldier Boy is scared, breathing hard, his shield up to partially cover his eyes. As much as he pushes it all away, the attack and betrayal by his former team traumatized him, it’s clear.
Suddenly Hughie teleports away, leaving shoes and clothes behind. And then he tackles Mindstorm and he disappears too.
Soldier Boy: Shit!
Hughie tries to convince Mindstorm to pull Butcher out of his nightmare, and then he’ll teleport Mindstorm away from Soldier Boy.
Mindstorm: I’ve been inside his head, and this guy’s a piece of shit.
Hughie: Doesn’t matter. I don’t wanna be someone who leaves family behind, and for better or worse, he’s family.
It’s the quintessential Kripke family don’t end with blood theme, a major part of this episode. And a reference to all the abandonments that have traumatized so many of the characters in this show, Soldier Boy and Homelander and Butcher included.
In the nightmare, young Butcher tries to sneak out but Lenny catches him leaving. Butcher promises that maybe at Christmas, Lenny can come to the barracks and see him, but Lenny pleads with him not to leave, saying he can’t stay alone with their dad, that he can’t hack it.
Butcher: You’ll be all right.
In the present, adult Butcher knows the truth, yelling at his younger self that no, he fucking won’t. When Lenny keeps pleading, young Butcher finally snaps at him, saying it’s not his job to look after Lenny – and telling him not to be such a fucking poof all his life.
It’s their father’s toxic hurtful words, absorbed and spit back, as Butcher has continued to do all his life when his back is against the wall. The haunting sad theme music plays again, and in the present, Butcher hangs his head in shame. He watches as young Lenny pulls a stool up to the kitchen counter and gets down the gun, saying that Butcher didn’t come to check on him, that months went by, that day in and day out their father beats the living shit out of him and he can’t take it.
Lenny: Everyone who ever loved you, you end up getting them killed. Me, Becca, now Hughie. Everyone who tries to stop you from being a monster, you drag them down to your level.
Once again, the show uses an imagined version of the self to voice the character’s deepest fears, guilt, shame. Lenny shoots himself in the head, blood splattering as Butcher wakes up – to Hughie bending over him.
Butcher: I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry.
Before Hughie can keep his side of the bargain, a knife flies through the air and stabs right into Mindstorm’s eye. Soldier Boy appears and puts a bag over his head and sits on him and starts punching. When Hughie says hey wait, he punches him too, sending him flying. Butcher’s eyes glow for an instant as he glares at Soldier Boy, the two alpha males facing off.
Both back down eventually, Butcher going to help Hughie.
Soldier Boy demands to know why Vought gave the green light to have him killed. Mindstorm tells him something we can’t hear, and Soldier Boy looks shocked, saying that’s impossible. In a fit of rage, he cuts Mindstorm to pieces with his shield, grunting with the effort. It’s another scene that’s hard to watch for its violence, even the sound effects nauseating.
In the relative calm after as they regroup, Soldier Boy looks traumatized. Sad.
Whatever Mindstorm told him, it’s had a powerful effect.
Butcher looks much the same, tears in his eyes that he wipes away impatiently.
Annie calls and tells him that the Temp V causes brain lesions, that 3 to 5 doses can kill you. She begs him to tell Hughie and he says he will. She doesn’t believe him.
When Hughie returns with fast food, he senses something’s wrong and asks if everything is all right.
Butcher: It’s the Temp V…
There’s a long pause and we think and fervently hope that Butcher is gonna fight off that stupid toxic masculinity trope and put revenge aside to keep Hughie safe – but, heartbreakingly, he doesn’t.
Butcher: We gotta swing by the office and get some more. And then you and me and Grannyfucker are gonna finish this fucking job.
Hughie: Fuck yeah.
Annie keeps calling, saying she’s going to save Hughie even if he doesn’t want her to.
Frenchie injects Kimiko with the Compound V, holding her hand as her wounds heal.
And then we get the bombshell. DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE END OF THIS EPISODE! Soldier Boy calls Homelander, who at first attacks him, saying he was just lucky to get the jump on him. Soldier Boy talks right over him, telling him what happened back in 1980 when he was called into Vogelbaum’s office for a genetics experiment.
Soldier Boy: I beat my meat into a cup. Turns out, Vogelbaum made a kid. Born spring 1981.
Homelander’s expression changes; he figures it out. His eyes water.
Soldier Boy is also tearful, speaking softly now.
Soldier Boy: A boy. You know what the bitch of it is? If they’d just kept me around, I’d have let you take the spotlight. What father wouldn’t want that for his son?
They’re tearful. I’m tearful. It’s all horrible and shocking and fascinating and sure to go very very wrong. But wow, what performances from Jensen Ackles and Antony Starr. So much of what drives Homelander is the longing for a father’s (and mother’s) love and approval. He never had parents; now he’s found out that the man trying to destroy him is actually his father, in a Star Wars-esque twist. What will this knowledge change, for both of them?
Soldier Boy seems sincere in what he’s saying, but it’s ironic because we’ve just seen him beat the shit out of Black Noir for wanting the spotlight, and it seems doubtful that Soldier Boy would easily give that up – to anyone.
One more episode to find out exactly what this bombshell will change, for all of them.
Stay tuned for the season finale coming up this Friday – and more of my exclusive chat with Jensen Ackles!
You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom
and Supernatural (along with chapters from the
other actors) in Family Don’t End With Blood and
There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. Links here
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