a dazzling, damning middle finger

the boys

the boys
photo: Prime Video

For all of its over-the-top topical references and ripped-from-the-headlines plot points, the boys‘ new season feels the most relevant during one understated moment from episode three. “We have to be as mean and as fucked up as they are,” says Hughie (Jack Quaid) in one of those defeated-but-somehow-still-fired-up speeches he delivers so well. “I’m tired of losing.”

It’s a fitting line for a TV show anchored in US politics, a practically bottomless cesspool that in 2022 has reached chilling new depths. Like viewers who may have entered this so-called “post-pandemic” year with high expectations, the titular Boys begin season three on an upswing. After discovering that Stormfront (Aya Cash), the newest member of tentpole supersquad The Seven, was really a remnant of the Third Reich, The Boys helped vanquish her Nazi ass in the season-two finale. One year later, they’ve settled into a semi-peaceful new normal. With The Homelander (Antony Starr) under control thanks to Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and some damning footage from Flight 37, Hughie and Starlight (Erin Morariarty) are seemingly free to start fresh. Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), Frenchie (Tomer Kapon), and even Butcher (Karl Urban) try to do the same.

Unfortunately, as plenty of real Americans can attest, disavowing bigots is only step one in the journey to saving the soul of this capitalistic hellhole. Plus, Homelander’s big “I can do whatever I want” jack-off speech at the end of last season always spelled trouble. So, in a painful action-packed drama of errors that never lets up, the boys season three takes aim at a daunting question: What do the good guys do when the bad guys just keep winning?

The answer is not entirely clear from the five of eight episodes provided to critics. But showrunner Erik Kripke’s consistent smarts, algebraic storytelling, roster of deft directors, and unwavering willingness to “go there” promises a killer conclusion guaranteed to make audiences feel some kind of way. It’s certainly not comfort TV in a time when we could arguably use it most. But as the world contends with too many horrors to even joke about, The Boys’ characteristically murky morality goes down extra smooth, like a shot of cynicism and schadenfreude sweetened by timely, knowing humor that at least eases tension.

Picking up with the head-popping revelation that Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) may be working for–and not against–evil corporation Vought, Hughie finds himself steeped in some, shall we say, diabolical dramatic irony. The sad boy sidekick-type stepped away from Butcher and his vigilante squad with hopes of fostering legitimate change from within Neumann’s office and the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs, pissing off his former found family in the process. But now, instead of doing that, he’s unknowingly working for the chick who squeezed the brains out of a former CIA director, a seemingly unstoppable cult leader, and dozens of innocent civilians.

Erin Moriarty in The Boys

Erin Moriarty in the boys
photo: Prime Video

To make even matters more bleak, Homelander can’t stay caged forever as Starr’s terrifying performance pushes the series’ Biggest Bad closer and closer to the psychological brink. A sharply written disinformation thread (complete with a Tucker Carlson knockoff) drives Homelander’s egomaniacal—and overtly Trump-inspired–narrative. But it’s Starr’s frantic eye acting that makes the slow burn threat seriously menacing. (If there’s an argument to be made for a the boys movie, then it’s seeing those cruel, icy orbs on the big screen.)

Still, there’s hope for stopping Vought and Homelander, maybe even for good. The promise (read: ill-fated horror) of an experimental 24-hour Compound V and rumors of a powerful weapon that killed former Vought poster child Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) during a mission in the 1980s reach our heroes early. But both of these potential “solutions” demand The Boys consider using, or at least taking advantage of, someone else’s superpowers, the show’s go-to symbol for evil thus far. So to get what they want, The Boys have to decide what parts of themselves they’re willing to lose. It’s the classic pacifist vs. radical philosophy debate, best explored by Ryan Cooglers Black Panther but touched upon by damn near every good vs. evil epic in recent memory.

what makes The Boys’ approach to this familiar territory stick—like a speedboat plunging straight into the innards of Lucy the Whale stick—is its unrelenting winks to the world in which we actually live. Not only does the boys season three take fearless swings at everything from socio-economic oppression to whiny white men crying about cancel culture, but it does so with a precision that makes joke after joke, scene after scene, glory kill after glory kill, land like a knockout punch. Whether it’s a massacre featuring a MAGA-inspired dildo or straight-up calling Lindsey Graham a “gooch licker,” the boys doesn’t give a fuck about pissing off the wrong people. Better still, Kripke’s knack for speedily tying these beats back to the main arc doesn’t leave us to languish in them.

There are some clumsier beats, like A-Train (Jessie Ushers) stumbling his way through the Black Lives Matter movement, The Deep (Chace Crawford) getting a not-entirely realistic rebrand, and Starlight eating an unjustifiable level of sexist shit in a story we really need to see go somewhere before the finale. But generally speaking, the boys remains one of the more in-touch satires in streaming, putting a fine point on a metaphoric dagger too many other shows wield like a blunt butter knife. Stellar performances by Giancarlo Esposito, as Vought CEO Stan Edgar, and Colby Minifie, as corporate whipping girl Ashley, are especially cutting. Enough to say: If the road to hell is paved in self-serving businessmen and mediocre white women, each sounds brick, looks, and behaves like these two narcissistic fuckwads.

Packed with fun-as-ever action, surprise cameos, and searingly salient commentary, the boys season three ticks nearly all the boxes for those seeking on-screen catharsis amid real-world frustration, impatience, and grief. Sure, Homelander’s the one comparing himself to Jesus this season. But in an America as screwed as ours, you could ask yourself: What would The Boys do?

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