The season finale of “The Boys” Season 3 has all the over the top fight scene showdowns we would expect from a finale episode – but it also has so much more. And much of that is a dizzying mix of heartbreaking and hopeful.
Those emotions are so far apart that rocketing back and forth between them is what I called in my review of last week’s episode a mindfuck, and this week is even moreso. Back on the roller coaster for the finale, though – I’ve admitted that the twists and turns and speed are both terrifying and exhilarating, so I keep opting to climb right back on.
There are a lot of reckonings in the final episode. Some of the characters find their lines and then pick a side – and it’s not always the one we’re expecting them to pick. I went into watching this episode holding my breath, because despite all of us knowing he’s a Class A asshole, most of the show’s fans do not want Season 3 to be the last we see of Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy.
The character is a big departure from Soldier Boy of the comics, from his overt cowardice to his origins (and now being the father of Homelander). That left Kripke and company the room to create a character that is much more nuanced and complex, and then to cast someone as brilliant as Ackles to portray him. The cast has been effusive in saying that Jensen “fit right in” and Ackles, in his customary humble way, has said that he was just hoping not to mess up a dynamic that was already working perfectly. All of that shows. Soldier Boy, Butcher and Hughie was the trio I had no clue I needed until they were on my screen – and now I definitely want MORE.
As I pushed play on this episode, now knowing that Homelander is Soldier Boy’s son, I had about a thousand hypotheses of which direction things could go. Suffice it to say, I bit my nails a lot while watching – and that I was still shocked. And once again, I felt more than I anticipated and more than I wanted to. No spoilers in this article for tomorrow’s episode, but HANG ON TIGHT! Here are my non-spoilery thoughts after watching the season finale, now that I’ve (sort of) composed myself. (This episode will actually air tonight (Thursday) on Amazon Prime.)
The final episode revisits the main themes of the season, including toxic masculinity, which Kripke and many of the actors have talked about in interviews throughout the season. Almost every character struggles with what that means and what that role entails. Is masculinity inextricably linked with ‘strength’ and ‘saving people’ and if so, how is that defined? Who gets to define it?
The theme extends beyond gender. “The Boys” has an interesting twist to the “saving people, hunting things” mantra that Kripke wove into “Supernatural,” asking if it really matters who’s doing the saving. And there’s an underlying theme that’s deeper, and one that struck me as very real life – what does it do to the person who needs to be saved?
Does being saved translate to weakness and saving to strength? Would we even be asking that question if we weren’t as a culture obsessed with being badass in some oddly strict definition of the word, no matter how we identify?
It’s part and parcel of the whole superhero genre, but is that a message that’s actually helpful? Sometimes being strong isn’t about being able to laser someone in half or throw them across the room. Sometimes it’s about being there for someone else when they need it, even if that doesn’t look very badass. As a psychologist, I am awed when I see that kind of strength in my clients – ordinary human beings doing extraordinary things to help others. That’s a whole different definition of badass.
And what of the definitions that our culture instills in us? All those gendered stereotypes about what strength looks like, the strict boundaries of “what it means to be a man”. As this entire series has vividly shown, and perhaps this season especially, some of those rules and norms are toxic, harming the individual and everyone around them. Driving people away.
The idea that you don’t need anyone, that relationships aren’t important, that everyone is a threat to your place in the hierarchy. That you can never be the one who needs saving. The reiteration of a hierarchy that says someone has to be the alpha male and everyone else has to fall in line – and that if you are that alpha male you have to hang onto that spot no matter what or who gets sacrificed. Do you have to internalize those rules you learned from a flawed parent and live by them, or can you decide to make your own rules? And will it be too late if you do?
I said in my review of the last episode that “The Boys” comes from a very Freudian perspective – that we are inevitably shaped by our pasts, whether we want to be or not. Especially, as Freud believed, those early years and our first caregivers. But neither Freud nor “The Boys” would say that there’s no escaping that early experience, even if it was traumatic. As Kimiko says in this episode, “Our past is not who we are. I thought I’d always be broken, but you saw something in me.” The question is, which of these characters can see that something in themselves, and will it be enough for them to break away?
The heartbreaking answer is that for some, no it will not.
One of the reasons this season, and especially these last few episodes, hit me so hard is because they also echo some of the main themes of “Supernatural.”
There’s a reason I was and always will be so emotional about that show. This season of “The Boys” looks at family and its importance in our lives and its many definitions, just as “Supernatural” did. Family by blood, family by choice, family by shared time in a foxhole trying to survive. Family as the support system who gets you through, and family as abusive and controlling and ultimately soul-destroying. Family as the people who give you those ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman without leaving any space for any other options, and demonstrate those rules with the abuse that makes them unforgettable.
Sometimes. Sometimes the cycle doesn’t get broken – and I hate that.
There are vivid reminders that abuse doesn’t always mean beating the shit out of someone (though sometimes it does). Words can do lasting damage just as easily, and sometimes those are even harder to forget or fight back against – because it’s your own self you’re talking back to. (“The Boys” makes that literal at times, which I invariably love an unreasonable amount).
The voices in our heads can talk us out of irrational thoughts that hold us back, or they can talk us into staying afraid and trying to stay safe the only way we’ve learned. With all the trauma and PTSD in “The Boys,” it’s inevitable that both of those voices exist – and are sometimes given voice themselves!
The messages about fathers and sons in this show are Freudian in their flavor too. There’s a tremendous fear of betrayal, the darkest side of competition, mixed with heartbreaking longing, very Oedipal. Sometimes I hope desperately that the message will be different, but this show has never been one to avoid the dark side.
The season ultimately turns out to be all about choice – as Kripke’s shows often are. Do you choose to have power if you can, or do you turn it down? Is there something worth giving it up for? Conversely, is there something worth holding onto it for, even if there is a price? There are no easy answers for any of the characters, and that holds true in the real world too.
I love that a show that’s entirely ‘out there’ rings so true for what is right here in front of us every single day. I love that it reflects the worst of humanity, specifically mirroring the things that make my stomach turn on a daily basis – and that it also reflects the best.
It’s dark as hell, and disturbing, and sometimes truly painful to watch, but it makes me think and it makes me feel. It gets the wheels turning as fast as that roller coaster barrels down the steepest hill and leaves me just as breathless.
One more ride? Sign me up.
Do not miss the season finale of “The Boys” this Friday, and be prepared for some of the twists and turns not being what you expect. Season 4, anyone? Again, you can catch “The Boys” early Thursday night here.