July 17, 2022

“The Boys” Has Become an Intensely Engaging, Reality-Driven Nightmare (Spoiler-Free Season 3 Review)

Rarely does a television series set itself apart so starkly from the rest of its genre, while simultaneously mastering what makes the genre special in the first place. When The Boys arrived on the scene in 2019, it led a resurgence of shows and films that asked “What if superheroes were real, and they were ruthlessly violent?”

And through the influx of sub-genre entries, The Boys is still king. In June, its third season burst onto the scene after a two-year hiatus, and it’s like no time has passed at all. The world still feels lived-in, with the characters fulfilling their respective roles — even though circumstances change faster than usual in Season Three.

Image courtesy of Amazon Prime

A year after the events of the previous season, the titular group has gone straight, working for the Bureau of Superhero Affairs to track down potentially dangerous Supes. The conflict with the major superhero group the Seven, led by the murderous Homelander (Antony Starr), is on hold, until Boys leader Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) decides to hit the “play” button when he begins searching for Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), one of the first-ever superheroes and a more bigoted version of Captain America. Butcher intends to find a way to kill Homelander for good, a nigh-impossible mission that could yield fruitful results. Meanwhile, Hughie (Jack Quaid) is working for mysteriously homicidal congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), and internal changes at superhero corporation Vought threaten the security of their confident facade.

Once again, Antony Starr manages to be the season’s MVP, intensely chilling and undeniably hilarious every second he’s on-screen. Homelander’s arc in Season Three perfectly continues everything that’s come before, and in a bizarre twist of fate, it mirrors our recent history in some genuinely scary ways. All that Homelander needs is to be adored by the people, but as the finale confirms, it doesn’t need to be all of the people. Like a certain former government official, Homelander has his devotees that will root for him and cheer for him no matter what he does, even if — rather, especially if — it contradicts the message and values of the company that employs him. The direction of this arc made itself apparent very quickly, and as recognizable quotations from recent history began surfacing, it started to feel more and more like real life.

Image courtesy of Amazon Prime

However, instead of being an upsetting reminder of the awfulness of human nature, this is a story confined to the limits of our television screen that is simply showcasing how real-life stupidity fits into a fantasy world of superpowered heroes and villains. For some, this will be a reminder, and for others, a satire that might hit a bit too close to home.

This is all to say that The Boys is still grim, but it never quite strays into the realm of nihilism. There’s plenty of excessive violence (as the series has garnered a reputation for), oftentimes for the sake of shock value, but Season Three has a particular focus on the line between making mistakes and being a bad person, and how the hero within ourselves can be amplified if given the right opportunity. The show clearly isn’t interested in showing the best of humanity, deferring to depictions of how we can fight back against the worst. As it goes on, The Boys has become more allegorical, and though I’m not sure how long it can sustain its upward trajectory, I’m happy to report that the series is better than ever — and as each season seems to be exploring the consequences of the previous finale, I’m fascinated with the prospects of next season’s story.

Image courtesy of Amazon Prime

The Boys
Season Three throws subtext out the window in favor of telling a story directly inspired by the horrors of reality, uninhibited by the taboos of modern culture. Saying that this tactic is a strength for the series feels unfair, because that implies that The Boys is incapable of telling a story with subtlety and cleverness, and that simply isn’t true. In fact, the way that Season Three utilizes recent real-world events and applies them to figures with the god-like ability to actually practice what they preach is nothing short of terrifyingly genius.

The first three seasons of The Boys are streaming on Amazon Prime.

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