The Boys’ Homelander (Antony Starr) is handsome. He has a confident stature, a cut jaw, a muscular physique emphasized by the costume he wears at all times — one that has the shading of his abs and pecs built into the front, one that has a sizable cup to both smooth and emphasize his groin. He’s blond, blue-eyed, white-teethed.
Homelander is media-trained, too. He smiles, he laughs, he’s polite. He doesn’t publicly drink, or do drugs, or have sex. He laughs with practiced precision, high-fiving fans. His catchphrase is a cloying “you are the real hero,” a faux-humble insistence that despite his immortality, laser-eyes, super strength, and ability to fly, the mere mortals who support him are really the ones that hold the power.
Homelander is super-powerful. Homelander is proud to protect the American public. His superhero costume — the one he seemingly always wears unless he is ass-naked—includes a gauche stars-and-stripes cape. Homelander is an all-American hero, palatable as can be. His aesthetics are that of traditional Americana — baseball, Coca-Cola, strong men, nuclear families… plus the ideals that tend to hum beneath it (whiteness, heterosexuality, late-stage capitalism, scapegoats and “others” to backdrop “good Americans” against).
But despite all the precise media training, the handsome features, the multi-million dollar PR train that orchestrates his fake crime-fighting, his propaganda movies, his live televised birthday bashes with guests like Dame Judi Dench and the cast of Riverdale, something about Homelander tastes wrong. From the very first episode, even before we know the truth — that Homelander is an abusive psychopath, a sexual predator, a racist, a misogynist, more aligned with neo-Nazism and dreams of a superior race than anything else — there is something off about him. His eyes are a piercing blue, his teeth a glistening white; yet his smile, publicly ever-present, never reaches above his grimacing lips. There is no light or love in his eyes. He seems sensitive, tense, incapable of fully warming up.
Homelander is both uncanny and terrifyingly familiar. Homelander is the ultra-conservative pundit you see on TV, the neighbor leering at you from across the way, the man that lights up your lizard brain and gives you the urge to cross the street.
And that urge, in the case of Homelander, is correct. He’s a cruel bully. He yearns for a maintaining of the status quo —a vision of “good old days” America with a social hierarchy that includes him on top and a scared public who submits to the superhero equivalent of a police state below him. He has a temper. He likes to intimidate. He likes to control.
Homelander’s very name — a name he first used as a way to keep his identity secret, before he eventually opted to use it full-time and replace his equally all-American, vanilla birth name of John — reeks of an imperialist double entendre. “Homelander” as in from the homeland (if one can even say America is his land originally), but also “Homelander” as in landing within someone else’s home — taking what he thinks is his, killing without discretion for the ideals of a larger, manifest destiny mission.
When Homelander fears he will not be able to keep the public in his graces, he concocts new enemies, secretly offers super-abilities to enemy countries so that we can now cower in fear over “super-terrorists” and “super-villians” that he, in fact, created. This, too, is founded in American history — higher powers that create scapegoats, ensuring there is always a “bad guy” so that we can cower in fear under our great savior, our highest power.
In addition, Homelander, in spite of his public-facing image of mass power, in spite of his attempts to stand for everything he deems right and pure about America, is also a little freak. Homelander is a thumb-sucking, milk-drinking weirdo. The only woman he truly feels affection for is Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), head of the company Homelander works for. She is also the only person who willingly treats Homelander like a baby… though he clearly feels not enough affection to spare her during one of his tantrums, ending up melting her brains with his laser-eyes, sharing a parting kiss with her only when he knows she’s so scared of him that she’ll kiss him back. Stillwell permits him to sprawl across her lap like a little kid, pretends to be his mommy while they fuck, two fingers in his mouth and coos of “you’re my good boy.” He misses his fake mommy once she’s dead. He drinks the remnants of her breast milk. He is so vile.
He fails at all-Americanism in this sense — he is not really a powerful man, but an aching inner child with a need to be babied. His greatest weakness is that he is not truly loved, that he never had a mommy or daddy. This makes him cry sometimes, but his tears come so petulantly that one can’t even care.
Eventually, Homelander tries his best to play house like a good American with a good family, though the vision is immediately and inherently twisted. His “family”: a woman he raped and the super-abled child she bore for him. He grows frustrated with his son’s inability to embrace his own powers, his own birthright, his own specialness among mortals. He pushes him off the roof as punishment, doesn’t worry about checking to see if he’ll survive.
For the first few seasons, Homelander’s desire to force submission, to insist on feeling like a god, is a relatively private urge, one enacted directly only upon those who he knows would keep their mouths shut, or who could slip through the cracks without noticing. He enjoys scaring women — he holds his coworker in an elevator with a finger pressed against her guts, threatening and willing to disembowel her, or forces his ex-lover in a holding cell in hopes of eventually “harvesting her eggs,” promising her that he’ll do it so that he never has to “force himself” upon her. Yet that restraint is not a given on his part, considering the fact that he raped and impregnated a woman without care before. Homelander’s vision of America sees women as things to be handled, to be used as incubators, or to be done away with.
In these senses — his familial failings, his freakishness, his desperation to be loved by the Mommy and Daddy he never had, his sadism — Homelander is as untethered from the myth of wholesome American values that he claims to perfectly represent as the rest, increasingly aware of its complete meaninglessness, but refusing to acknowledge it. In fact, he eventually opts to double down.
As time passes, his public persona cracks. While the coldness within him at first only comes out in controllable rages — still fatal and traumatic for his victims, but able to be covered up by endless amounts of money and resources and government assistance and corporate power — his palatable outward mask begins to slip over time.
Homelander’s outward appearance, a white, blonde man in tacky red, white, and blue, stands as a constant visual reminder that Homelander, his powers, and all that he stands for, palatable or not, are as American as blue jeans and apple pie. His stars-and-stripes cape trails behind him always — while he fucks, while he terrorizes women, while he invades other people’s lands, homes, bodies — a constant reminder of the land he represents. His hair is seemingly ever-blonder, until the top of it is entirely bleached to an almost-white. He stands for the American value of getting away with whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, if you are at the top of the food chain.
When the notion of accountability even skirts near him, Homelander has a meltdown and stops pretending to be one with the people. He announces on live television that he is smarter, stronger, better, that he refuses to be a “weak-kneed fucking crybaby that goes around apologizing all the time.” He snarls outwardly that higher powers are trying to “muzzle me, cancel me, keep me impotent and obedient like I’m a fucking puppet”, claimed that he is being “persecuted for [his] strength.”
To taste accountability, to perceive a life of immeasurable power and an ability to rape, pillage, and kill essentially without discretion and have any pushback be considered “persecution for strength” when you are asked to consider your harms, when you are asked to consider being held accountable, that too, is as American as can be — a raving clinging to the idea that one can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and to be called out is to be wrongfully cancelled, silenced, oppressed.
But what is most haunting about Homelander is once all the layers are peeled back, when his “all-American” aesthetics and rhetoric are revealed to be directly aligned with pro-white, borderline-fascist, pro-“good ol’ days” ideologies, he is not reviled, but celebrated by a small but mighty faction. This desire to suppress, to force American values to “look” a certain way, to rail against those who want to disrupt the order as it currently flows, and to do so though violence and threats and the maintenance of a social structure where certain people end up on top (most notably, the white, blonde, blue-eyed, and strong), while others suffer and perish, is, to his fucked-up group of supporters, true American behavior.
And to ensure that the message is not lost, to highlight that these “free speech” ravings can so easily turn to something more, our most recent season ends with Homelander facing no repercussions at all when he gives into his most violent and oppressive desires. Previous fantasies of mowing down those who have disagreed with him are finally acted upon, a counter-protestor murdered in cold blood by him in front of his fans, in front of cameras. A confirmation that Homelander will do anything and everything to keep control over America, keep it looking how he wants it to. There is only a brief pause before his fans begin to cheer over the protestor’s dead body, a celebration of the fascist belief that we can simply take out those who do not serve our purpose. The evil shit thrumming beneath Homelander’s (and the current ultra-conservative political groups and ideals he so obviously represents) long-term facade finally said out loud and outright, to the horrific sounds of group adoration. Homelander is the satirical, handsome face of the cultural shifts we’re looking at, feeling, experiencing, and man, does it look grim.