It has been an intense 48 hours in “The Boys” fandom. For those of us who were “Supernatural” fans before discovering the wonder that is “The Boys” (back in the first season for me), this season is extra special – because it has “Supernatural’s” Jensen Ackles joining in the fun as Soldier Boy. The first three episodes of the eight-episode season had flashbacks of Soldier Boy, but as far as the boys knew, the original supe was killed back in the 1980s by some mysterious weapon. If it’s a weapon powerful enough to kill Soldier Boy, the boys figure it might be powerful enough to kill Homelander – and by the fourth episode, they set out to find it.
Of course, all of us know that Soldier Boy is more or less alive, thanks to Jensen’s casting and the teaser trailers that show him awakening in some kind of chamber and ripping off a mask and breaking his shackles. All sans clothing. If you’ve ever met an Ackles fan, you know that amped up the anticipation for this episode exponentially.
Ackles made the rounds of talk shows leading up to his character’s memorable entrance this week, chatting with Good Morning America, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and Late Night with Seth Myers. There was so much buzz about Soldier Boy that he even got his own hashtag emoji – with Ackles own face!
Prime Video, The Boys TV and showrunner Eric Kripke made it worse (better?) by teasing the reveal of Ackles’ bare ass, showing off their fandom savvy by using the popular peach emoji and even a photo from the actor’s own Instagram of his backside in a revealing wet bathing suit. Well played, everyone.
The fandom didn’t really need any assistance getting worked up over Episode 4, however. So, by Thursday evening, anyone who was able to had logged into their Prime account and was breathlessly awaiting the drop of the new episode. And waiting. And waiting. The hours ticked by and no Episode 4! Some lucky fans found the episode on their Fire sticks, but others had to wait a while – which caused a lot of teeth gnashing, understandably. And a lot of memes.
Kripke and company were using the hashtag #TheHuntForSoldierBoy and suddenly it was literally that! The hunt was on, and lots of people were frustrated with the not finding. Eric also quipped that Jensen Ackles’ ass had broken the internet, which I guess we all should have seen coming.
Friday morning Prime had fixed the glitch, so I spent the day grinning as my social media feeds posted screencaps and gifs in appreciation of Soldier Boy’s various assets (and argued about them too because…fandom.) There was also, to our credit, a lot of gushing about Ackles’ acting, because even in his first scene, he shows us so much about Soldier Boy and who he is, – and he is so obviously NOT Dean Winchester or any other character that Jensen has played. Ackles manages to convey a formidable sense of power and at the same time clear twinges of vulnerability, confusion and hurt. As soon as this episode ended, I wanted to know MORE.
Before you read on, make sure you’ve watched Episode 4, Glorious Five Year Plan, because there be spoilers ahead. Not all the spoilers, because just in case I’m keeping some things unspoiled for now, but some of them.
Prime Video has a nifty feature that allows you to see (and hear) longer versions of some of the musical numbers peppered throughout this season, many of them by the brilliant Chris Lennertz, whose musical talents also enriched “Supernatural.”
This episode starts out with Mother’s Milk watching old video footage of Soldier Boy on the classic 80s TV show ‘Solid Gold.’ remembering happier times with his family before it was violently torn apart. As someone who has been a big Blondie fan since back in the day (and remembers Solid Gold and the Solid Gold dancers with some nostalgic fondness), it was an absolute treat to see Soldier Boy destroy Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ – and I do mean destroy. Ackles (who I’ve seen sing live many times and impromptu rap to some Ice Ice Baby so I know how musically talented he is) managed to make it hilariously bad, while letting Soldier Boy be his cocky ridiculous self and eat up the adoration of the scantily clad dancers fawning over him. If you haven’t watched the extended version yet, do it!
It may have been an… unusual…version of ‘Rapture’, but it did get the official seal of approval on twitter from Blondie’s Debbie Harry herself, so pat yourself on the back, Jensen!
Even that little scene shows us quite a bit about the character and his addiction to the celebrity that becoming Soldier Boy has brought him. It also hints at his isolation and insulation from any genuine feedback, about his musical talent or likeability, as young Grace hinted at in a previous flashback. He eats up the worship of the paid dancers and clearly thinks he’s doing a bang-up job with the rapping. Ackles sells all of that, ending the segment with a wink to the camera that is not at all self-aware.
Other than that kind of little interlude, this is a dark dark episode, written by “Supernatural” alum Meredith Glynn. As I’ve written before, the title itself seems like a shout-out to Eric Kripke’s former show, which he originally had a “glorious five-year plan” for wrapping up in five years. The fact that it ran for a decade more has probably taught Kripke never to make those kind of predictions!
This is an incredible episode, in which Season 3 really finds its stride – and it’s not about insane sexual act depictions or lots of blood and gore. It’s about character. Every single character has an evolution that plays out in this episode, and none of them are going in a positive direction. The sense of hopelessness is pervasive, broken only by some dark humor and some moments of mirroring things that are dark in the real world, which always feels therapeutic to me.
Butcher’s evolution from trying to be a father figure to Ryan and stay on the straight and narrow, to being sucked right back into revenge as all that matters and willing to make himself a monster to achieve it, was heartbreaking to watch. The parallels between Homelander and Butcher get more glaring all the time, and it’s terrifying.
It’s not just taking the Temp V either – it’s Butcher’s willingness to muscle everyone and anyone into doing what he believes needs to be done, no matter the cost to them. It’s wielding power without concern for who gets squashed in the process. He sends Kimiko on a murderous mission as pay for Little Nina’s help, even though she does not want to go and Frenchie tries to stand up for her.
Kimiko: I’m not your fucking gun!
Butcher: That’s exactly what you are. In case you two forgot, I tell you what to do and you fucking do it.
Hughie following the same path into prioritizing revenge over everything else was even more heartbreaking. Completely demoralized from finding out that the year he spent working with Neuman was just him being manipulated by one more dangerous homicidal supe, all he cares about now is bringing them down. And doing whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it means putting Annie’s mental health on the line by asking her to play along with Homelander. I felt sick to my stomach when she had to kiss him for the cameras, hand clenched into a fist behind her back just like she had to do at those long ago pageants her mother forced her to fake some love for. Hughie, who had managed to hang onto his moral compass, letting so much of it go – that hurt.
I figured it was coming, but when Hughie finds out Butcher is shooting up Temp V (purposely looking exactly like he’s shooting up heroin), he is far enough down the road of revenge-at-all-costs that he wants some too.
Butcher: It’s poison. I have to do this, you don’t.
Hughie wants the power it seems V can provide for a different reason – for who he hopes it can make him as a man. He wants it in part because Homelander humiliated him in front of Starlight. He felt weak and helpless, flashing back to being a kid at school, bullied unmercifully and just taking it. The fact that Starlight had to save him is intolerable to him – and we’re right back to themes of toxic masculinity. Hughie says he’s so angry that he can’t even breathe, and doesn’t that sound frighteningly familiar?
Butcher: Oh Hughie. This shit, it’s not power – it’s punishment. You don’t deserve it.
That’s a recurring question on this season of “The Boys.” Is Compound V something that makes you powerful and potentially keeps you safe, or is it a curse that turns you into a weapon to be controlled and wielded by others to keep their own power? Multiple characters struggle with that question by the mid-point of this season.
Frenchie and Kimiko, by this episode, are tired of being wielded as weapons. Frenchie is increasingly fed up with being treated like a dog by everyone – as Little Nina points out, starting with his father, continuing with her, and now playing out with Butcher. There’s a pointed moment when Butcher literally pets him like a dog to calm him down and to insist that he go along with what Butcher wants him to do – you can see him bristle at it. Such good, subtle acting by both Tomer and Karl.
Kimiko is fed up too, obeying Butcher reluctantly when he orders her on that mission – which gives her the chance to take out the bad guy in an epic fight scene with The Seven-themed dildos as her weapon of choice – but realizing that to the prostitutes she just saved, she’s more terrifying than the bad guy was. She and Frenchie grow even closer as they share their frustration and disillusionment.
Kimiko: I can’t do this. Those girls, they were bought and sold, same as me. Butcher sold me. He doesn’t treat any of us as people. We only have each other. It’s you and me.
“Supernatural” fans recognize that line as a Kripke-ism, one of the main themes of that show. There’s a reason I love all of Kripke’s shows – the themes he tackles are universal ones, and I invariably relate. It’s always a compelling story when it’s you and me against the world.
Mother’s Milk hangs onto some sense of morality for a little longer, Butcher’s treatment of Kimiko and Ryan prompting him to say what we’re thinking – what an asshole Butcher is. We get more of Marvin’s backstory as a result, Butcher confiding that the reason they picked “some gruff Marine stuck in the brig” for the team was because every single person he went through basic training with said he was the one who held their platoon together. Butcher pulls MM back in, telling him he’s the one that is here to look after the boys. Butcher’s manipulation may sometimes be more subtle than Homelander’s, but they are both damn good at it.
There is just as much chaotic evolution on the supes side.
Homelander continues his downward slide, buoyed by the realization that he really can do whatever he fucking wants – including being his powerful, violent, vengeful self – and his followers will eat it up. He’s the enactment of their own rage and racism and misogyny. He’s also a master at manipulation, constantly using the “lighten up, I’m just kidding” excuse after overt threats. He has a key to Starlight’s apartment, insinuates that he’s been watching her sleep, signs his name on Hughie’s cast like he owns it, knowing it’s unwanted. It’s chilling. Antony Starr is brilliant in his ability to make all of us profoundly uncomfortable.
A Train’s desperation to be relevant again leads him to try to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement and claiming he wants to explore his background. His motivation is mostly selfish, but his brother convinces him that there is a very real problem in their neighborhood (that reflects a real life one) and A Train actually tries to convince Ashley to do something about it.
A Train: He’s brutalizing black people in Trenton, and Vought has a responsibility here.
Ashley: (laughing) Oh, wait, you’re serious? Oh, of course, social justice is so important around here. Black Lives Matter is my favorite hashtag. My Insta? Nothing but black screens.
Priceless exchange skewering every disingenuous social media post ever. (Also we get more priceless Ashley content in this episode, including Homelander demanding to know “is your idiot brain getting fucked by stupid?” and Ashley turning that around on Cameron Coleman, who seems happy to say yes if it will get him fucked for real by Ashley’s impressive Homelander themed strap on. The big corporation literally in bed with the network…)
Vought’s response is an ad for A Train’s Turbo Rush energy drink in which he joins a march and gives a can to an officer confronting the protestors – and suddenly everyone is smiling and dancing. It’s a deliberate reflection of the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, and it was one of those dark humor moments that I so appreciate.
A Train even gets up the guts to talk to Homelander about the racist supe Bluehawk and the over patrolling of black neighborhoods, which is quickly foiled by The Deep parroting Cassandra’s message of “don’t we need more supes, not less?” which Homelander is much more receptive to. A Train is furious at the sabotage, and he and the Deep end up in a fistfight in the hallway, trading threats and then punches. Homelander breaks it up and gives the Deep a hand, leaving A Train on the ground and telling him to “rest those useless fucking legs.”
Queen Maeve, after giving Butcher the lead on Soldier Boy and the weapon that supposedly killed him, has also been on the straight and narrow – constantly training instead of sex and drink and drugs – hoping to at least buy the boys a second or two to get in a good shot at Homelander. Starlight confronts her about her hopelessness and willingness to sacrifice her own life for that shot at revenge.
Starlight: You really care that little about yourself?
“Supernatural” fans recognize that as another Kripke-ism, an iconic line from “Supernatural” in similar words when Bobby confronts Dean about his determination to sacrifice himself to save Sam.
Starlight pulls an informal team together against Homelander, with Maeve and her own supe ex-boyfriend Supersonic and even A Train seeming like they’re on board with the take down. I won’t spoil exactly how that goes, because it packs a gut punch and needs to be seen and experienced.
Meanwhile, no one can be trusted not to betray anyone else, and I don’t think anyone saw it coming that Homelander would ally with Neuman and she would turn on her father figure/mentor Stan Edgar. It’s a recurring theme that when you manipulate people and use them as a weapon, they will eventually turn on you – Edgar learns that the hard way. Homelander echoes the same theme that Kimiko and Frenchie recognized.
Homelander: You’re not his daughter, you’re his weapon. That’s what they do, all of them.
He leaves Neuman with some original recipe V, saying he’s glad she chose “your own kind.” What do you suppose she wants that for? I won’t spoil it, because it made me gasp.
Edgar is defiant even if he’s no longer in charge, forgiving Neuman since he’s the one who taught her to “play all sides”. When Homelander tries to gloat, Stan retorts that if he gave Homelander respect it would just go into that “bottomless pit of insecurity you call a soul” and calls him out for looking for Edgar’s approval “like I’m your daddy.”
Edgar: You’re not a god, you are simply bad product.
And that constant dehumanizing has taken a toll, that’s for sure. Also, this show is all about the daddy issues, just saying.
And then there were the scenes many of us were waiting for with so much anticipation. Soldier Boy’s dramatic entrance scene did not disappoint – and could not have been more powerful. The boys break into the lab to hopefully find the weapon that killed Soldier Boy.
Instead they find a harmless looking hamster in a cage. Frenchie makes the mistake of talking to cute little Jamie, who turns out to be a supe hamster who goes suddenly crazy, bouncing off the walls and breaking the glass of his enclosure to escape. That brings guards and an epic fight scene ensues. Jamie helps out by flying through the air like the Monty Python rabbit in The Holy Grail and eating a guard’s face, but the boys run out of ammo and the guards are still coming.
The scene gets even more epic then, as the rest of the boys find out about Butcher’s temporary powers in a dramatic way. In a scene reminiscent of Castiel’s dramatic entrance in Supernatural, Butcher walks through the lab as the guards fire at him repeatedly, bullets shattering glass all over, flashes of light from the shots illuminating the room, rock music playing, laser eyes glowing green. We also get unexpected naked Hughie in this scene, for reasons I won’t spoil but that also result in him punching one of the guards so hard it has a….dramatic result. They take out all the guards, and then Butcher turns to a large container.
He pulls the door off with brute strength.
The boys all gather around as steam pours from the opened container with a hissing noise, and slowly we see there’s a person inside, oxygen mask on and tubes keeping him alive. Naked. He wakes slowly, raising his head, looking confused, disoriented, gradually figuring it out.
He takes off the mask, rips off the tubes and sensors, snaps the restraints that are holding him down like they’re butter.
Butcher stares, whispers “Soldier Boy.”
Much of the fandom also stares and whispers, more like “omfg those shoulders holy shit”…
The others gape, Mother’s Milk looking horrified and Laz Alonso making his expression memorable.
Soldier Boy staggers out, holding onto the sides of the container, then turns toward the boys. We get a full shot of Ackles in his birthday suit, most of us shocked into silence by that point just like the boys who are staring too. This is one of the steamier moments – no, not steamy as in hot, but steamy as in preserving a little modesty type steamy. There are lots of clearer ones out there, believe me.
He stumbles, and energy starts to gather, the room humming with it. Soldier Boy clutches his midsection and Kimiko realizes what’s about to happen, throwing herself in front of Frenchie just as a ball of energy explodes out of Soldier Boy, sending Kimiko flying backwards with such force that she breaks through multiple concrete walls.
“Supernatural” fans gasped a little extra at the exposed rebar protruding from the concrete, remembering all too vividly how Dean Winchester died.
Soldier Boy staggers out of the building, and the boys put a badly injured Kimiko in the van, Frenchie exclaiming over and over again that she’s not healing, Mother’s Milk trying desperately to save her.
Mother’s Milk turns to Butcher as he drives, Butcher and Hughie still frighteningly focused on their revenge mission instead of the gravely injured Kimiko.
Mother’s Milk: It’s over, Butcher. Ain’t no team for me to hold together anymore. You made sure of that.
If that scene doesn’t pack enough gut punch for you, the final one that I won’t spoil most certainly will.
The fandom has been busy doing what fandoms do best ever since the episode aired – giffing and screencapping the Soldier Boy scene from every conceivable angle and discussing the relative merits of Jensen Ackles’ ass. It’s not an unfamiliar discussion for “Supernatural” fans – way back in Season 1 of the show, this shot of Dean Winchester’s backside resulted in what the fandom called the Ackles Ass Equation. It popped up on my timeline again today, 16 years later – some things never change!
All the fuss about his ass notwithstanding, even without any dialogue, Jensen Ackles made Soldier Boy a compelling character right from the start. He has always been able to convey more with a facial expression than many can with a page of dialogue, and we could see his confusion and vulnerability as he wakes up from what looks like it must have been a pretty horrific captivity. Shades of Dean Winchester thrown into hell for 30 years!
The scene was also beautifully filmed and directed, the steam everywhere making everything surreal, and if possible, making Ackles look even more beautiful. He has talked about how intimidating it was to have your very first day on set involve you in a robe and then the director saying okay, take off your robe now, and then the only thing between you and your new coworkers is a sock! (Karl Urban posted this bts photo from that day with a robe-clad Jensen and some scary looking rebar)
I can’t even imagine how intimidating that is, but you’d never know that by looking at the expression on his character’s face – he is in the moment, and embarrassment is the last thing he’s feeling. I guess that’s the mark of a good actor!
Let me just say that if you were fascinated by Ackles’ performance and by Soldier Boy in this episode, you won’t be disappointed by next week’s episode of The Boys, which drops once again at some point between Thursday night and Friday for where I am in the US. Just another reason to look forward to Fridays!
And here’s some more good news that dropped today just to make the day even better – not that we were doubting it, but “The Boys” is renewed for Season 4 – congrats all!