The Boys- Season 3 Episodes 1-3
The Boys has returned for a third season with a lot of radical shifts for the characters. Season 2 ended with Hughie (Jack Quaid) taking a government job where he can actively bring down powered people who cause harm to others. Unknown to him is that his boss, Victoria (Claudia Doumit) is the one responsible for making heads explode. Butcher (Karl Urban) works for him which shifts the power dynamic in their relationship. Season 3 is about exploring what these changes mean for the characters and the complications that come from them.
Prime Video is dropping the first three episodes on the same day so my coverage of those won’t be as detailed as the normal episodic reviews due to the volume of content. Instead, there will be analysis of the highlights with more detail being delivered as the season progresses with single episode reviews.
Episode 1 – “Payback”
The opening episode of the season spends a lot of time exploring the new status quo with hints of the changes that will soon follow. Hughie has shifted to a more considered approach in combatting Supes in keeping with his legally sanctioned role. This means he is free to attend premieres with Annie (Erin Moriarty) while enjoying some protection from Homelander’s (Antony Starr) more violent tendencies. There’s a particularly tense exchange at the premiere where they have to play nice for the cameras but there is obvious contempt on both sides.
Hughie is established as doing very well in his professional life as well as his love life. He’s respected at work and has a good handle on how to do the job he has. His role makes him the brains of the operation while Butcher is the brawn which seems to work well as a dynamic. It’s not a perfect setup as there’s a large amount of negotiation involved. Victoria makes a case for letting a Super off the hook in exchange for bringing down lower-level ones. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but it comes with the acknowledgement that they have done a lot of good in the time they have been doing this. There is mention of a 60% reduction in Supe related collateral damage which means that far more people are safe than were previously. Losing a high-value target is less than ideal but Victoria’s point is that sometimes they have to compromise in order to continue working as they are. This is another example of the complex morality that defines the show with the argument that idealism has to give way to realism and an awareness of the bigger picture is required.
This fits with the universe The Boys inhabits as Vought are established as a monolithic corporate entity that have no equal. Any attempt to bring them down has to be carefully considered and achieved over a very long time frame. The concept of a “superhero” in the traditional sense doesn’t exist in this universe as it’s a fantasy concocted by Vought that hides the horrific reality of who those symbols really are. It’s a commentary on celebrity culture in many ways with a wholesome outer image being presented to the public with less than favourable traits being evident in private while being a grim indictment of the moral standing of the world we live in and the divide that exists between the rich who exploit the public and the public who are exploited.
The counter to the pragmatic argument comes from Butcher who refuses to compromise as he believes that Supes should be brought down regardless of the P.R. upheaval that might be caused by it. Working within official channels is new to him and he isn’t comfortable with letting someone go when he can do something about it. His stance does come with the caveat of major prejudice against Supes; something he has never been shy in expressing but his point remains nonetheless valid.
His views are supported by a hallucinatory conversation with Homelander where they discuss both of them being relics of a bygone age that may not be relevant in the world as it exists now. The real Homelander is doing everything he can to force himself to be relevant as he refuses to accept that. Butcher also struggles with the notion of there being no place for him in this new era of fighting Supes which is personified by the temptation offered by the compound that can give him powers for 24 hours. He is offered the chance to operate on a different level and embracing that means he is willing to embrace change. The operate question is whether he can bring himself to do so.
Added to this is the constant reminder of what he is lost through Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). He promised Becca in her final moments that he would look out for her son and he is keeping that promise. Butcher is very much a nurturing presence in Ryan’s life -in his own way- and sees a lot of his mother in him which rubs up against the fact that he is also Homelander’s son. Ryan is simultaneously a representation of what he loves and hates in a single person as he comes from Homelander and Becca. He chooses to ignore the Homelander connection though he does assure Ryan that one day he’ll be strong enough to take him on. So far it’s a compelling connection that they share and acts as a representation of the changing world that Butcher struggles to deal with.
Homelander is struggling with his own relevance. He is simultaneously powerful and powerless as he has an image to maintain which means not doing everything he wants to do despite how easy it would be. The clearest example is the clear contempt he has for Hughie as they collectively smile for the cameras so that Homelander’s heroic image remains intact. His relationship with Stormfront (Aya Cash) has done him some damage which necessitates the repetition of particular phrases in every interview in order to save face. It does seem that her declaration that people share her views but don’t like the word Nazi struck a chord within him. When he visits her in hospital any reminder of her being a proud Nazi tempers his arousal and forces a double-take on his decision to go to her for support.
His dwindling relevance is further exemplified by the decision to move Annie into the position of Co-Captain. This makes sense from a marketability perspective as she is relatively untarnished and popular among the consumers of Vought’s product so putting her in a central position is good business sense. Homelander sees this as a betrayal because he regards Annie as a traitor and doesn’t want to share the limelight. He has always been the leader and now he shares that with someone else. It’s something he sees as a personal insult and it greatly adds to the unravelling that began in the previous season.
Vought as an entity is looking to get out of the superhero business and transition to being an established pharmaceutical giant. They can offer temporary superpowers and monetise that to the point that the Seven become irrelevant. There are many reasons for this but superheroes are unpredictable with their vices and behaviour that threaten to tarnish the image of the company. So much time and money is spent covering up what they really do that it is fast becoming unsustainable. Pharmaceuticals are clean and don’t cause problems. They are starting the process of futureproofing which will greatly change the world as it exists now. There is no sense that the general public are losing faith in the Seven or any other so-called superheroes so this addition is free of context but the prospect of the corporate entity enabling people like Homelander and covering up their misdeeds no longer doing so is an interesting one.
Episode 2 – “The Only Man in the Sky”
The second episode builds on the temptation Butcher experiences around his access to temporary superpowers. His nightmares encourage him to be more reckless and embrace that potential even though it’s against everything he is supposed to stand for. The nightmares are a poor device to show this as they are overt in their imagery but lack the subtlety that a more measured approach would supply. It’s already evident that Butcher would be conflicted about giving himself temporary powers so very little needs to be done to explore this in more detail.
Ultimately he makes the decision to take the compound so that he is a match for a Supe. It’s in service of learning the truth about Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) and finding information that will discredit him while throwing in some surface-level commentary on gun control and how the same arguments can be applied to both regulated and unregulated super-powers. The show doesn’t really have anything to say on this beyond the obvious though the point is very clearly made if muddled by the fact that the only way to defeat a madman with superpowers is to deploy powers of your own. If the intention was to have Butcher occupy some kind of moral high ground then it completely fails in this regard.
The Soldier boy background provides strong content for Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso); one of the few innately decent people on the show. He has an axe to grind against Soldier Boy and the anxiety around the lack of justice perpetuates his OCD. There are some really effective moments where he is shown to be visibly struggling because the obsession is so prominent in his mind. Meanwhile, he has to watch his ex happily in a relationship with another man who serves as a stepfather to his daughter. It’s a near-perfect visual representation of what his obsession has cost him while his daughter reminds him of what he’s fighting for. Beneath the surface there exists shades of an unshakeable sense of responsibility as his desire for the truth is motivated by wanting to ensure others don’t suffer the same uncertainty he does.
Hughie is suffering complications in his professional and personal life. On the professional side he has to deal with the knowledge that Victoria isn’t who she says she is and could represent a threat to him as well as others. It’s something he finds difficult to understand because over the time they have worked together a bond of trust has developed. He fully believed they were united in a common cause but now he has cause to fear her. For now he decides to keep the information to himself until more is known. There is a genuine threat of the truth about her undoing the good work they have done together with another issue being that her intentions may be far from what she stated them to be. At the very least she is a murderer who has manipulated events to work in her favour though Hughie is far from innocent in that regard.
The complications in his personal life are entirely created by him. He is jealous of Annie and Supersonic (Miles Gaston Villanueva) because they were a couple when they were much younger. Despite assertions that he has nothing to worry about, Hughie is unable to hide his jealousy which creates a rift between him and Annie. This furthers the notion that Hughie struggles to make the transition into adulthood on an emotional level. In the very first episode it was mentioned that his late girlfriend had to make the first move and there was a general reluctance on his part to move out of his father’s home to live with her. Since then he has experienced a lot and been forced to grow up but there are things that he remains unable to move beyond. This results in something of a possessive streak where Annie is concerned which causes her to become agitated with him. As conflicts go it’s an uninteresting one but it does highlight that Hughie still has a long way to go before achieving maturity.
Annie has greater concerns following her appointment to Co-Captain of the Seven. Homelander makes no secret of his displeasure with this development and puts a lot of his energy into destroying Annie’s credibility by trying to humiliate her at his birthday special. This is in service of the public seeing her as a bimbo who doesn’t deserve attention or respect but it backfires on him when Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) backs her when she refuses. As in the previous episode, Homelander is a powerful man in terms of ability but is powerless because he is losing the notoriety he once enjoyed and Vaught are at the point of reducing their support for him. Antony Star brilliantly portrays Homelander growing progressively more unhinged as he rapidly loses the grip he had on Vaught and the public.
This leads him to deliver a brutally honest speech where he ditches any pretence around being the virtuous superhero. He outs himself as a bitter and selfish man feeling that he deserves power, attention and universal adoration. It’s a speech that could be a career breaker but it’s easy to see how he would be driven to this because he is reaching the point where he feels as if he has nothing to lose. Notably it’s a similar approach to the one Stormfront employed in the previous season though she was far more measured and tactful where Homelander is impetuous and entitled. Obvious connections can be drawn to the real world where people in positions of power speak their mind regardless of how repugnant those views might seem. How this will be taken by the public is unknown but it’s a strong ending to the episode and a logical development for Homelander when considering his mindset over the two episodes.
The third episode delivers a slice of history while dealing with the aftermath of Homelander’s honest speech. His outburst pays off in a big way and tracks well with many people so he immediately shifts from being on the verge of losing everything to being more powerful than ever. This contributes to his unravelling as he starts to believe that he’s invincible in every conceivable way. As far as he knows he can say anything and it will be accepted so he sets about testing the limits of this.
This manifests in a few different ways; one of which is re-appointing the Deep (Chase Crawford) to the Seven but doing so with the opposite of noble intentions. For him it accomplishes two things; messing with Annie and providing him plenty of opportunity to torment the Deep in horrific ways. Allowing him to rejoin the Seven seems to be purely so that Homelander can humiliate him by dangling the membership over his head. This is best exemplified in a really horrific scene where he forces the Deep to eat an octopus that he bonded with earlier in the episode. Prior to this he was tormented by a feast of nothing but seafood. It’s grotesque and mean spirited. Antony Star plays the sadistic delight brilliantly and Chase Crawford perfectly conveys the reluctance and horror.
Annie finds herself in an increasingly difficult position due to being adjacent to Homelander’s rapid unravelling. She threatens to leak the video of him letting the plane go down in season 1 but he no longer cares if it gets out because he realises that he is so powerful that nobody can stop him. Losing the support and resources of Vought means that he will simply go to War with America and use all of his abilities to tear the country apart. Annie’s leverage no longer works and actually becomes a leash that keeps Homelander from crossing the line. His promise flips the script completely and allows the video to work for him in service of his agenda. The current status quo isn’t sustainable but bringing down Homelander is going to require finesse and Annie has no choice but to tolerate her current situation until an opportunity can be found.
Flashing back to her pageant career as a child neatly connects to her current situation. A lot has been said about how much she resents that time in her life because she was being paraded around to perform for the masses. Her present situation with Homelander is no different as she has been drawn into a fake relationship with Homelander. Her performance as she kisses him for the cameras conveys that brilliantly. She is back to be being paraded around with no choice or agency just as she was as a child and has lost control of her life once again. Sticking it out feels like a necessary evil for her because she has no way to bring down Homelander at this time.
Spinning out from this is Hughie’s lost faith in the government sanctioned approach to bringing down Supes. Knowing the truth about Victoria has destroyed his belief in what he has been doing so he concludes that going back to taking the “low road” with Butcher is the best way. He fully commits to this by allowing his arm to be broken to legitimise his excuse for not being work and he gets back to the old way of doing things. This acts as commentary on how everything in this world is tainted by corruption in some way and that true altruism is impossible. Even Butcher has succumbed to corruption through taking on temporary powers and he is being punished for that by brutal withdrawal effects that may or may not be killing him.
Everything being tainted by corruption is supported by Mallory’s (Laila Robbins) flashback account of the event that prompted her decision to devote her life to bringing down Supes. In her youth she encountered Soldier Boy and other Supes flaunting their powers with no regard for the collateral damage they were causing. Soldier Boy is the case study for her decision as she is completely disgusted by his behaviour and bravado; something she has no problem telling him. Soldier Boy is largely reflected through her perception of him and she sees him as an arrogant chauvinist. Jensen Ackles impressively conveys the casual arrogance and successfully makes Soldier Boy completely unlikeable while still being an engaging presence. Mallory’s observation that people fear him more than like him sums up the power he has over others. As an introduction to this character it’s a promising one as a strong sense of how he sees himself is delivered through how he is reflected in the eyes of those who can see right through him. Mallory is the perfect point of view character for this and this prompting her decision to work to put a stop to Supes acting without boundaries or control works well. The wanton disregard for life and merciless glee taken in inflicting violence is a powerful motivator.
A strong start to the season that impressively sets up the new status quo while compellingly tearing it apart gradually and pushing the characters into uncomfortable situations. The narrative through line is Homelander feeling less relevant and lashing out as a result. He becomes more unhinged as the episodes progress and comes to understand how much power he truly has when an entitled outburst is heavily favoured by the public. The leverage Annie has becomes worthless as it is reframed as a leash that keeps Homelander from using his powers to go to War with America. Hughie’s legitimate government position is very quickly tainted by the truth about Victoria and his relationship with Annie is put at risk by his jealousy. Butcher compromises his principles by giving himself temporary powers which shows nobody is untainted by corruption in this world. Mother’s Milk continues to struggle with the Soldier Boy obsession and how that makes his OCD worse. Soldier Boy himself is shown to be an arrogant chauvinist and a very dangerous man through a flashback featuring Mallory. So far this season is continuing the trend of making obvious yet relevant points about the society outside of the show and the characterisation is relatively simple but neatly reflects that.
- the through line of Homelander unravelling due to his perception of his own relevance
- Hughie’s success being marred by the truth about his boss and his own emotional immaturity
- Annie being uncomfortably returned to being paraded with no control over her circumstances
- the Mallory flashback brilliantly conveying the reason for her decision to work to bring down Supes
- Jensen Ackles brilliantly bringing Soldier Boy to life
- Butcher compromising his principles and being punished for doing it
- his complex relationship with Ryan
- Mother’s Milk’s obsession with Soldier Boy negatively impacting him
- much of the social commentary being surface level
- character development lacking in places
- some needlessly gratuitous moments
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