From the start, “The Boys” has packed so many ups and downs and twists and turns into its eight-episode seasons that I invariably end up feeling dizzy afterward – in a good way. (If you love rollercoasters like I do, you know what I mean.) Once the adrenaline rush has subsided, the best thing about “The Boys” is that it makes me think.
My brain was working overtime the night after watching the first three episodes of Season 3 so instead of sleeping, I was mulling over all the things that happened. Trying to make sense of each character’s evolution, trying to suss out the real-life parallels this show makes unapologetically. Where is the story going? What’s it setting up for the rest of this season?
I love getting to the end of an episode and having questions like these rolling around my brain, keeping me awake. But if it just made me think, I probably wouldn’t have been bouncing in anticipation for this season.
I think for a living as a psychologist, and then try to make other people think as a professor – so sometimes I just want to sit back and be entertained. One of the teaser trailers for this season of “The Boys” was set to Imagine Dragons and asked repeatedly, “is this entertaining?” Well, the answer is a resounding YES. I laughed, I was sad, I was horrified. I had to turn away a few times when it was too much. I scratched my head with a hypothesis slowly forming, and then sometimes did a triumphant fist bump being right – and sometimes gasped out loud being wrong. This is one of the few times when I’m happy to be fooled. Surprise me, Show, and I am here for it!
For those of you who haven’t been reading my reviews of “The Boys” here for the past two seasons, I came to the show via “Supernatural.” Eric Kripke, the showrunner behind “The Boys,” was the creator and first five years showrunner of “Supernatural” also.
He changed my life with that show, and I will basically watch anything he puts his creative touch to and at least give it a chance. Was I ever glad I did that with “The Boys! From the very first episode, I was intrigued. And then I was hooked. When “Supernatural’s” own Jensen Ackles joined the cast for Season 3, I was beyond overjoyed.
So, let’s just say I could not wait for this season to drop!
Without giving away any of the truly gobsmacking events of the first three episodes, because you need to experience those yourself (so NO BIG SPOILERS), here’s a synopsis of where we find the characters as Season 3 begins and as they progress through these first few episodes.
A lot of time has passed in real life since we’ve been in this universe, and the show includes a time jump as well. It’s a year later – a year that, unlike the constant turmoil that we’ve experienced in real life – has been relatively calm for the boys. It’s heartbreaking that the calm, as is inevitable for this series, is mostly on the surface and about to be shattered. Somehow that makes it all the more devastating when that happens.
In the first episode, ‘Payback’, on the surface at least, things are going well for most of the boys. Mother’s Milk has a warm relationship with his daughter again, which is what he wanted most. His exploits with Butcher and company haven’t left him unscathed, though, when it comes to his marriage or his OCD. He still feels compelled to line up the forks at his daughter’s (painfully supe-themed) birthday party. And it turns out obsessions with revenge aren’t all that easy to walk away from either – MM has got an entire walk-in closet papered with old newspaper articles about a supe who died decades ago – Soldier Boy. It looks a lot like John Winchester’s hotel room walls, yellowed newspaper clippings proclaiming Soldier Boy cleared of various – and yes, we already doubt that.
Frenchie and Kimiko have been together for the past year. They can communicate seamlessly now, Frenchie fluent in her unique sign language and Kimiko also using her phone to text messages to him and express herself. They seem closer than ever, but we get a clearer look at how much the trauma of Kimiko’s past has affected her. She might not have words, but Kimiko can be eloquent, whether it’s carving FUCK into the furniture or playing an increasingly discordant melody on a laptop keyboard piano as other members of the team argue. There’s a poignant scene at an amusement park where Kimiko glimpses a brother and sister sharing cotton candy, smiling sadly knowing that she and Kenji never got to live that life and longing for it still. Sometimes this show is brutal with the “we don’t get to have nice things” and you just know this is gonna be one of those times.
Hughie and Annie have also been living a relatively quiet life. They’re spending most nights together, having a lot of sex (with the euphemism of don’t forget the AquaFresh), and getting along fine. Hughie finally feels like he’s getting some respect too, working alongside Victoria Neuman at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs. His coworkers are a little bit in awe of him, giving him accolades for helping bring down supes, and he looks dapper in his well-fitting suit. He has a collegial relationship with Neuman, the two of them eating lunch together, joking, and supporting each other. United in their mission.
Even Butcher reluctantly plays by the Bureau’s rules, deferring to Hughie though it clearly grates on him. When you think of how far Hughie’s come, how shattered he was after his girlfriend’s death, and how helpless he felt, it’s easy to imagine just how heady his new life must be. He doesn’t have to get his hands bloody and he genuinely feels like he’s doing some good in the world.
Unfortunately, he’s on the wrong show. Of course, we all know that Neuman is the one who’s responsible for all the exploding heads of the past season, so watching how close she and Hughie have become was immediately ominous. Poor Hughie. Like I said, on this show, you really can’t have nice things.
Even Butcher has been living a relatively calm life, following the Bureau’s rules as far as who the boys can go after and how (no murder or dismemberment) and visiting Ryan at Grace Mallory’s heavily guarded and hidden away house. Though it’s a painfully awkward fit on Butcher, there’s a clear affection between Butcher and Ryan that makes even Mallory acknowledge that maybe Butcher isn’t a total asshole after all.
Or is he? As we move through the first few episodes, the line between Butcher and Homelander is more and more blurry as the differences between them narrow. They are both rage-filled, on a hair-trigger, and capable of brutality. Neither puts a scorched earth policy off the table. Is there a line that Butcher won’t cross to get his revenge on Homelander? Is he willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone to do it, including in a very real sense, himself and who he is?
Time will tell.
Once again, because this is “The Boys.” Things fall apart dramatically and all of the boys are drawn back together, reluctantly understanding that in order to effectively fight a system that is much more vast and integrated than they suspected, they can’t keep playing by the rules. We’ve all seen Butcher’s laser eyes in the trailers, so it’s no spoiler when I say things go south in a dramatic way.
For all of them, but for Hughie especially, I found that evolution heartbreaking – because it requires him to turn off his natural empathy and sacrifice some of his humanity to do it. From the beginning, Hughie has been the one hanging onto that humanity, being the canary in the coal mine, willing to speak up even if he got punched in the face for it to try to find the elusive balance between morality and power. Can he keep hanging onto it this season?
That’s painful to contemplate. However, that’s one of the things I like best about “The Boys” – it makes me feel.
Things are changing rapidly on the other side of the fence too. Most of those things I won’t spoil but suffice it to say some of them are jaw-dropping. It’s no secret, since it’s been in the trailers, that Homelander is becoming even more unhinged than he was before – which is really saying something considering what we’ve seen him do. The more alone he is, the more unloved he feels, the more desperate he becomes, the thin thread keeping him from just doing what he wants – whatever the hell he wants – fraying with every loss.
Like any narcissist, he magnifies and tantrums over every perceived slight, no matter how small. He threatens and snaps and lashes out – verbally with the perfect words to go straight to a rival’s self-esteem – and physically if they don’t back down quickly enough with their tail between their legs. The brutality with which Homelander abuses his supe colleagues is one of the most sickening things about him. He torments A Train and The Deep ruthlessly with targeted comments about their appearance, with words like ‘disgusting’. (The gender roles continue to be flipped alot this season – we don’t often see men ridiculed for their weight or subject to control over their appearance.
Except, of course, celebrities, which all these actors are, which makes the whole thing really meta and even more disturbing). Homelander excels at putting supes in the position where they have to do something they very much do not want to do, with others watching so they’re forced to go along with it. He knows each of their vulnerabilities and exploits them with precision. For Annie, it’s a familiar trauma, being forced to “go out there and smile” when you want to cry or scream or say no. Those well-done moments are when the show makes me sick to my stomach, not the blood and guts everywhere.
The hate that boils inside Homelander is more and more obvious, and more and more terrifying. He’s a loose cannon who doesn’t believe he has anything left to lose, and there is nothing more dangerous than that. The other supes are afraid of him, stumbling all over themselves not to offend him and to put themselves in a one-down position that might keep them alive, but they are also increasingly resentful of his abuse and control. (Ironically, Homelander is also sick of being controlled, not wanting to tow the company line anymore).
Mirroring what has been happening with the boys, as this show often does, the other supes have also been living relatively quietly. A Train reconnects with his brother, the voice of reason in his life. The Deep is maybe-supported-maybe-controlled by his cult-arranged wife Cassandra, who quite literally puts words in his mouth to try to get him in Homelander’s good graces.
And then there’s Soldier Boy. It’s Queen Maeve who finds the yellowed file with the description of his demise and kicks off the search for answers – and hopefully for the weapon that was powerful enough to kill him (and thus Homelander). I admit to gasping out loud when that report and photo appeared on screen, even though we had already seen it in a teaser. Still – this is it, Jensen Ackles has arrived on “The Boys!” I think I was entitled to my scream. You can check out my interview with him here.
You’ll have to watch the investigation with its unexpected twists and turns and revelations for yourself, but by the end of the third episode, Barbary Coast, the boys have enough clues to know where to look for those answers. We also get some flashbacks of Soldier Boy and his team Payback that are absolutely priceless. I mean, horrifying. Ahem. But priceless. Ackles’ Soldier Boy is a misogynistic asshole who apparently treated his sidekick like shit, but he’s a charming one. And I cannot wait to see more of him!
There’s a lot more going on in these first three episodes – in fact, so much happens in one episode of “The Boys” that it leaves my head spinning. The American Hero search for the next supe is going on, with Starlight’s old boyfriend Supersonic competing, which means a little bit of the song and dance that we’re apparently getting a lot of this season (also cannot wait because Chris Lennertz never disappoints – I mean, the second episode has a ballad called ‘Chimps Don’t Cry’…)
There’s plenty of humor too. Kripke excels in the unlikely combination of horror and emotion and humor, which is one of the things that made me fall in love with “Supernatural” too. That combination works well here. The character of Ashley carries much of the humor that delights me, and Colby Minifie is brilliant in portraying her. It’s often Ashley’s reaction that is the audience’s reaction, and Minifie makes it so obvious with her priceless facial expressions that I laugh every time. Ashley gets an assistant this season. Also named Ashley. You cannot make this up. Oh, and there’s a Payback supe named Swatto. Who flies, with comically small wings. Again, you cannot make this up. But Kripke and company can.
And this would not be “The Boys” if we didn’t have some graphic violence and some explicit scenes of various flavors of sexual depravity. I tend to be in the ‘hey to each his own’ camp, but there were times I laughed out loud at the poking fun at the lengths people will go to in order to get off. No judgment though!
I could probably write a whole psychoanalytic article about the sexual acts the show likes to depict and the consequences of those acts and what that says about the people who came up with those ideas, but I’ll spare everyone that. Some of the sexual humor doesn’t work for me, but I admit to laughing at times. You’ll know those when you see them.
Kripke kept saying he pushed the envelope this season with the most out there scene ever on television in the first episode, and I can confirm that yes, that envelope was pushed so far it fell right off the desk. That’s not really why I watch the show, but I appreciate their guts in going wherever the hell they want to go.
It works best for me when it’s a scathing parallel for the things that are happening in the real world that are upsetting every single day, from the old adage ‘power corrupts’ to the outcomes of racism and homophobia and misogyny. From mass media manipulation to political corruption to the NRA – I mean, the Vought Rifle Association – I frequently find myself nodding in response to something going on in the show. It feels cathartic to see that reflection, validating.
So, three episodes in, and I am not disappointed. AT ALL. There are plenty of surprises that I didn’t see coming, and some subtle dropped hints that have me intrigued. In fact, I cannot wait to see what the rest of Season 3 brings us!
Check out the first three episodes now, and hold on tight. New episodes drop each Friday on Prime Video.