Brutal and unrelenting, The Boys is back for season 3. For the uninitiated, the titular “boys” refer to a disgruntled rag-tag team united in their desire to bring accountability to superheroes after being personally wronged by them. Their main target is Vought, a pharmaceutical/media company that handles the press and organization of people with superpowers, marketing and selling them as heroes to the public and covering up their sins. Season 3 starts off with the team in a relatively good place. They’ve sworn off the messier parts of the job (namely murder) and strive to do things “the right way.” But soon, that moral high ground is thrown aside as they grapple with just how corrupt the entire system is.
The strongest part of The Boys will always be its character work. The series has managed to juggle its ensemble cast well so far, and for the most part, each character’s path has been meaningful. Season 3 uses this strength and takes one step forward and three steps back. Frenchie, Kimiko, and MM have the executed character development, considering that MM’s stakes become a lot more personal this season as he begins to balance being a present parent with his dedication to justice. Frenchie and Kimiko both try to navigate new waters while trying to break free of the anchors of their past. Annie aka Starlight stays fixed as the moral center of the group, even as she grapples with difficult decisions and navigates complicated situations.
Characters like Hughie, Butcher, and Homelander are already fully formed and have reached the climaxes of their personal arcs in previous seasons, and so in these new episodes, they spin their wheels a bit. Especially as Homelander, a personified Oedipus complex with the powers of a god, dips further into the deranged as he desperately seeks love and validation; it’s just a simple continuation of conflict with not much specificity to the season. Homelander has always been the main antagonist of The Boys, and since so much of the plot is propelled by the main characters’ fear and hatred of him, the themes around accountability or the corrupt systems fall to the wayside.
New players such as Supersonic and Soldier Boy, while compelling additions to the narrative, are not imbued with the same intrigue as the main cast. And for good reason, since the ensemble is already reaching its limit of how many plotlines it can juggle. Season 3 of The Boys does not feel stuffed, and all the arcs have room to breathe. Among all the new additions, strangely, there’s an easter egg for fans of one of Eric Kripke’s (creator of The Boys) past shows. It’s well known that Jensen Ackles, one of the leads of Supernatural, makes his debut as Soldier Boy, though he is also joined by fellow alumnus Jim Beaver as presidential candidate Robert Singer, a character with the same name who he played in Supernatural.
Since so much of the strength of the show is contained in the individual characters and, at best, a handful of their relationships, the larger interpersonal political web seems weak in comparison. Succession-esque moves are made, but without Succession-esque stakes, because the biggest threat is and always will be the ticking time-bomb of Homelander’s sanity. And while that is compelling, so could the political back and forth with different characters exercising their own forms of power and manipulation rather than their different appeals to get on Homelander’s good side.
Whereas the last two seasons had a much clearer focus on themes such as the intersection between white supremacy, religion, and false idols, season 3 of The Boys loses itself a bit. The series does try to tackle some ideas; where Homelander goes, fascist rhetoric follows. Especially after it was revealed that he was dating a Nazi. The right-wing pipeline continues to have a presence. The Black Lives Matter movement is addressed and mainly serves as a subplot for A-Train to reflect on his narcissism. Much of the mirroring of our culture into The Boys exists as worldbuilding or parody. It’s something for the audience to see and recognize and remember, “Wow, wasn’t that messed up when it happened?” It does not inspire introspection and it does not say anything new. Bigoted or defective talking points are simply regurgitated in the most obvious allegorical framework imaginable. Vought exists to represent every evil corporation at once; from Fox News to some evil pharmaceutical company to Disney Parks to Lockheed Martin to the police to Warner Brothers (for releasing the #SnyderCut). But through generalization, The Boys loses the specificity that could make its parody powerful.
In one scene, a Vought-themed amusement park is shown as some sort of “woke” parody with eateries such as “BLM Bites” and “Woke Wok”. Yes, the same Vought that excuses white supremacy and has a network that rivals Fox News. The same Vought that actively employs people who terrorize Black and brown neighborhoods. This is, of course, commentary on how companies are two-faced and pander to whatever will make them the most money, yet it is too far removed from reality to say anything substantial of its own. Tucker Carlson is not streaming on Disney+. There are insights to be made into the hypocrisies of specific companies or industries, but by lumping them together, nuance is lost. It’s just a blunt reminder, in the broadest of strokes, of the world we live in while trying to coax a chuckle from us. The talking points are not wrong, even if sometimes misaligned, and they’re fair to point out, although they’re nothing more than props.
There is a desire to view The Boys as “this is what the world would be like if superheroes were real.” That is not true. Like any other piece of superhero-themed media, it exists in fantasy. In this fantasy, people go splat like water balloons when they fall from a great height. The framework of the show is specific and purposeful, and it centers on violence. The Boys delights in violence, and even the most grotesque of sequences are framed with a perverse delight. If you’re into that, Season 3 is going to be great for you. There is some truly bizarre gore, and much of the violence is in-your-face loud. It’s also more sexual and graphic than in past seasons. If The Boys were more introspective, it could comment on its place as a piece of media that delights in violence in a broader context, yet it is not concerned with such questions. The violence is the definitive tone of the series, however, it exists to entertain rather than say anything. This is no surprise to returning audiences, but to new audiences… it is nasty.
If you’ve enjoyed previous seasons of The Boys, you will enjoy this one as well. It follows the same trajectory, even if it loses a bit of steam and slows down as its schtick gets old. The series is still compelling though, and even as the characters venture into a more morally gray territory, they are still sympathetic. It understands itself as a cynical piece of work but has enough sense to highlight good people and understand that hope exists in the face of evil. All of the cast continue to give strong performances and fully sell us into the world of The Boys, as cartoonish, outlandish, and gross as it is.