‘The Boys’ Season 3 Review: Fighting the Status Quo, But Perhaps Not Enough

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This season of The Boys remains as it always has been — satirical, sharp, cynical, outstanding in its ability to create a singular and atrocious moment. It continues to admittedly have the occasional structural bump, but is so fun and ridiculous that its weak spots almost always feel forgivable. 

What works in the latest season of The Boys are the safest and most well-developed bits. The razor-sharp satire shines. Homelander (Antony Starr), the series’ private-villian/public-hero, handles a PR clean-up after the reveal that his ex-girlfriend was a fascist. This process includes a film starring himself and Charlize Theron, in which his character’s heroic moment includes the catchphrase: “Die, you Nazi bitch.” The Deep (Chace Crawford) works to rehabilitate his image after sexually assaulting a coworker by getting married, creating his own version of a celebrity sing-along “Imagine” video, and writing a book. A-Train (Jessie Usher), in hopes of signaling racial solidarity as the only black member of his supergroup, recreates Kendall Jenner’s unfortunate protestor Pepsi ad. These moments are executed with precision and cheeky self-awareness, entertaining most every time.  

 The unhinged Homelander, whose shtick of sociopathy, narcissism, and violent cruelty is  upped a little each season, continues to be played to pitch perfection by Antony Starr, who offers a certain dead-eyed hollow smile with shocking skill. At his birthday bash that is televised life, Homelander goes on an anti-cancel culture, anti-criticism, highly-narcissistic spiel that should bury him socially, but instead only strengthens the way he is viewed by his (mostly conservative, white male) audience. By season’s end, Homelander is blowing up counter-protestors heads to his fans’ cheers at one of his bordering-on-fascist rallies, seemingly “un-cancelable” (if there even is such a thing) by his supporters.

The newest rotation of characters this season add continually fucked-up flavor to the show — the radioactive supe, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), is rescued during a Boys trip to Russia, returning to America with a hankering for weed and elderly women, and maintaining a cringeworthily 1950s mindset. Little Nina (Katia Winter), a former abusive and freaky beau/employer from Frenchie’s (Tomer Capone) past, comes back on the scene, and The Legend (Paul Reiser), a sleazy supe handler from the 1970s, helps find and house Soldier Boy while constantly regaling the group with unwelcome stories about past sexual conquests. While the titular vigilante group’s shaky allegiances with the likes of Soldier Boy, Nina, and The Legend only exist in hopes of taking down an increasingly insane Homelander, The Boys hold up their end of the deal with a multi-part sidequest — helping Soldier Boy find all the members of his old supe group, Payback, to kill them as revenge for selling him for experimentation. 

The graphic sex, violence, and general debauchery that The Boys is known for remains at an all-time high. Ex-Payback member Crimson Countess (Laurie Holden) and Seth Rogen (playing himself) talk dirty to each other over a superhero type OnlyFans, A-Train kills a racist supe by road rashing him to death, a superhero with the ability to shrink accidentally explodes another man from inside his penis, and to review this season without praising the “Herogasm” episode, which takes place almost entirely within a superhero orgy run by Payback’s “TNT Twins” (Kristin Booth and Jack Doolan), would feel almost disrespectful to the great efforts that The Boys goes to to produce the most appalling superhero content out there. Credit where credit is due. 

This season of The Boys is invested in considering how superpowers relate to other social privileges. All of our publicly-facing “good guys” (who are often the most repulsive sociopaths you can imagine, convinced to varying degrees that they are great and powerful chosen ones among mere mortals), end up being more interested in personal vendettas than world-saving. Even the likes of the seemingly left-leaning secret-superhero Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doimit) doesn’t truly believe that anyone without superpowers is worthy of making the higher-level decisions that she is making, so much so that despite the immense pain and complications of injecting a child with Compound V (the liquid that makes one a superhero), Neumann decides to begin administering it to her daughter anyways. 

When Temp V — a form of superhero compound that gives normal, non-superheroes powers for 24 hours — becomes available, Boys-members Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Butcher (Karl Urban) are instantly enthralled by the power it gives them. Suddenly, fantasies of ridding the world of superheroes entirely are replaced by justifications to be more like them in hopes of “evening the playing field.” In sharp contrast, marginalized groups are at higher risk of being harmed or targeted even if they do have superpowers. The likes of Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) find their powers to be a burden, a leg-up that leaves them to make choices and intervene in spaces they would rather not. 

Where trauma for women, people of color, marginalized groups, and even non-superabled civilians is run-of-the-mill in The Boys, what stands out in this season is the way the superhero system and culture even comes for those that have benefitted within it. A traumatized, hair-trigger Soldier Boy is at risk of literally exploding any moment after major experimentation, and a nervous Homelander begins to see enemies in the crowd where there are none. A-Train, once benefitting from a system that kicked everything under the rug — from quirky sexual fetishes to civilians murdered in collateral damage — suffers from the practice when his own brother is paralyzed during a fellow superheroes’ meltdown. 

That said, where The Boys is satirically sharp with interesting intentions in its political and social scope, it can have moments of structural and representational unsoundness. We cycle through the same aspects of Homelander’s arc — cruel, sociopathic, often bordering-on-fascist public fumble, then clean up, then the next fumble — again and again. Hughie (Jack Quaid), our supposed nice-guy protagonist, has some pretty repetitive issues. He and Starlight’s endless, seasons-long fight as a couple mainly surrounds his insecurity that he can never “save her” as a good man would — a topic worth exploring for maybe a fight or two, but exhausting when it occurs for the entire season, often at the cost of focusing on the bigger picture. 

Most notably, in spite of being a show that mocks woke virtue signaling (portrayed most in-your-face at the Voughtland theme park, where Queen Maeve, portrayed by Dominique McElligott, is forcefully shoved out of the closet by her bitter ex, Homelander, and now has her own section of the park, “Brave Maeve’s Kingdom”, slathered in rainbow colors), and seems invested in diverse and interesting representation,The Boys still occasionally stumbles in its own representations and trope reliance. 

Perhaps most frustrating in terms of trope usage is the portrayal of Kimiko, The Boys’ super-abled partner in crime who is considered a terrorist by the American public, but is a kindhearted and essential asset to the vigilante group, loved by her community. Fukuhara’s performance is fabulous, Kimiko and Frenchie’s relationship is heartwarming in its healing pleasantness, and Kimiko’s involvement in the anti-superhero group as regular savior and badass (not to mention her fantastic dream sequence musical number this season!) is great, but the usage of certain Asian stereotypes and tropes can be jarring. Kimiko swings between being a cold-blooded killer and almost infantilized, most notably only permitted a chaste kiss with her handsome French beau before deciding that they are better equipped to be “more” than partners and “family” instead (read as: totally desexualized). She is quiet, sweet, and docile when not fighting, not permitted to desire or even verbally speak (Kimiko is mute, communicating through her own sign language) about what she wants outside of her powers. It’s a weak spot representationally which stands out severely in a show that is, for the most part, more thoughtful in their writing and character development. 

The tension in The Boys between the vigilante, anti-superhero group and the status quo, pro-superhero culture, seems to continually splinter into smaller and smaller ideological factions throughout this season. There are more radical members of The Boys — the likes of Butcher, who is willing to begin considering revolutionary action to get to his goal of killing Homelander, or Queen Maeve, who is willing to bring The Boys information from Vought Tower as high risk — versus the series’ central romance and optimists,  mainly Hugie and Starlight, who fantasize often about fixing from the inside.  The more radical actors in The Boys are the ones that are most perpetually unhappy, and those that choose to assimilate at first seem more likely to live more naively, but more comfortably — in official government jobs, happy relationships, and heads buried in the sand. Yet as the season progresses, ideals shift, and more often than not those with hopes of fixing from within the systems are proven wrong and disillusioned, consistently thrown back into the more radical action deep-end. In turn, Homelander and his increasingly uber-conservative, police state cronies, seem to double down on their beliefs of elite classes and harsh doling out of unjust “law and order.”

The season is a good one — fun to watch, gross-out as all hell, satirically aware. Yet as the cycle continues with tensions rising and ideologies being doubled and tripled down upon over the last three seasons by both the anti-system vigilantes and the status-quo supes they’re desperate to take down one feels that at a certain point, it’s going to have to come to an actual head instead of the small battles and conflicts that fizzle out again and again, lest it run out of steam.

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