The Boys

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 3 reviews.

tl;dr: Another solid attempt at a "realistic"/gritty world of superheroes, this time with a strong anti-capitalist and anti-fascist narrative. Despite the shock factor, not as dark as it's made out to be.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

A thoroughly enjoyable dive into a world of corporate superheroes, which drip-feeds the dirt and darkness in a way that keeps you hooked without feeling overly ridiculous. There are a lot of solid characters, and some not-very-subtle jabs at existing franchises, but the thing that really makes this work is that neither side is good or bad. Sure, you have Hughie and Annie in the middle, paragons of, if not virtue, then at least a generally positive moral compass. They take the actions that we would take, or at least want ourselves to take, whilst neither ever become true saints or outright sinners, nor fully lose the high ground (which is kinda impressive when Hughie straight up murders someone very early on). But everyone else is a complicated mess. Frenchie and MM are both addicts, in their own ways, with complicated pasts that we still don't fully understand by the end of the season. Maeve, A-Train, The Deep, they're all pretty awful people, but each has a glimmer of who they could be, if the world hadn't moulded them into arrogant, self-interested arseholes through a mixture of fear and adulation. And then you have Homelander and Butcher, two sides of the same coin, neither really caring about anyone else and yet simultaneously unable to completely forego their humanity, in spite of what they each believe. It works because you never quite know who to root for. Homelander may be the clear villain, but it's not exactly like Butcher is the good guy, either. It's a line the show treads well, and does so without having to get all emo-Daredevil about it, or overly obvious.

Of course, it helps that the plot is solid, the writing is generally quite fun, and the cast is great. Again, Homelander and Butcher are the standouts here, but there isn't a bad casting between them, and whilst the supes all get to act defiant and fairly lofty, the Boys more than hold their own against Karl Urban's gritty charm and "British" wit. The show isn't badly paced, either. It keeps rolling ahead quite rapidly, with major revelations every episode, but still finds a good amount of time for quieter character moments, which is no mean feat.

That said, it isn't flawless. The Deep's arc is a particularly weird one: from utter douchebag scum to comic relief. There's more than a hint of Jamie Lannister here – a character written in the first chapter as pure evil with no real means of redemption, who the author then decided they actually quite liked and tried to flesh out. The result is someone whose early actions feel fundamentally at odds with his later portrayal. I mean the sexual assault is still believable, but the assuredness of it, the cruelty of it, doesn't seem to ring as true.

The show also ignores some slightly odd world-building issues. So the Supes all believe that they're "chosen" by God, and yet apparently they're all American? There are none anywhere else? And none of them turn to crime or villainy? (Beyond the obvious evils of those shown.) Why isn't that being questioned more? And how hasn't a single physician or doctor cottoned onto the whole Compound V baby conspiracy, or are we to believe the entire medical industry is in on this? There's something about a conspiracy so large it can't possibly keep itself hidden in that. Plus, some of the character's abilities are a little, well, odd. Annie can redirect electricities into pure photo pulses (or so it seems) but she's also able to take an RPG round to the chest and survive? She doesn't appear to have super healing or anything else at other times, so what the hell is going on there? She certainly seems to fear Homelander and even Maeve, yet it appears she can't really be killed. Are all of the Supes bulletproof? The Deep doesn't seem to be, he can just breathe underwater and talk to fish (but also can propel himself out of water at great speed). There's more than a little deus ex going on to suit the story beats, which is largely fine but it slightly makes Homelander less of an issue. If the Supes can't really be killed, is he that big of a threat?

These are minor niggles at best, though. Honestly, my biggest sort-of disappointment is that I've postponed watching this show for years because I thought it was going to be ultra-violent and kinda gross, but strong language aside it's not that bad. Sure, there's some guts and blood, and it can be a little gratuitous, but for the most part this is used either for comedic effect or to hammer home just how brutal this world would actually be. I'd say Daredevil actually showed worse; The Boys tends to do the curb stomping off-screen and just show the splatter afterwards. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad it isn't a gorefest, I just wish I'd started watching it sooner.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

We hit the ground running in season two with a lot of fairly big revelations. After the (literally) explosive end to the first season, and the reveal that Becca is still alive – and with Homelander's son, no less – there were quite a few answers up in the air. But honestly, the show twists so fast about itself with each episode that I'd largely forgotten that this is where the season started by the end. If season one carefully crafted a plot that all felt interlinked and relatively consistent, season two feels like its more of a bridging narrative, tying off loose ends from the first season whilst setting up a huge number of new possible stories moving forward.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to finally meet Mallory, or find out what Frenchie did that everyone was so pissed about (and why he did it – spoiler, it was for good reasons, not just being a druggy fuck up like they'd let us believe), or meet Kimiko's brother, even if they do immediately kill him off (yeah, that was all this season too). But after how good the villain dance was in season one, never quite knowing if Homelander was the ultimate evil or if the lass in charge of things was really the one to fear, with all the build-up of the mysterious Edgar, and the conspiracies layered in conspiracies, the rapid-fire answers and breakneck pace of season two don't quite have the same impact. Edgar is introduced and almost immediately upstaged. Stormfront is just getting interesting and we find out she's a literal Nazi, who immediately gets exposed by everyone at once, killing any tension in the room (and settling any question on whether Homelander is redeemable). Okay, I know that the showrunners felt like the odd hero worship that was building up online around Homelander was getting a bit worrisome for a character so clearly intended to be disliked, but I do wonder if making him a literal Nazi (rather than strongly alluding to it) was perhaps too on the nose?

Still, within all of that pace we do get some really fun world-building, a lot of answers to the bigger questions from the first season, and more than a few decent character moments. I don't love that they killed Becca at the end of it all, nor that Butcher gives the kid up, but the show delivered some great moments. The whale? Gross but brilliant. The look on The Deep's face when he realises how he's fucked up, the crunch, Hughie just sitting inside the creature's guts, it could have been a shark-jumping moment and it's just funny. (No, the prehensile penis is the shark-jumping moment, but thankfully it was shortlived and quickly forgotten.) I also loved the whole "the girls are getting it done" moment; it's rare to really get a fist-punching beat down of someone in a show these days and watching the Nazi get slammed about – just really great choreography. It wasn't fancy, but you felt every hit, and it felt good.

That said, I'm not sure where season three is going to go. Homelander is increasingly deranged, which should be fun, but I don't think I fully understand the twist reveal about the congresswoman at the end. This isn't the same person that escaped the asylum, so we now have two people running around with head-exploding powers? Or was that Supe able to also shapeshift and replace her? I guess we'll find out, but I didn't really need it. Nor did I need the subplot about The Church of not-Scientology (wink wink) but I guess they're really doubling down on The Deep as a major character for... reasons? Also, Black Noir was not a satisfying ending. You don't get to show a character openly weeping at the news that they were an unwitting lab rat and then just have them act like a robot-ninja for the rest of the show. What even are their powers? There's clearly a person under there, one with a nut allergy of all things, but I would like to know quite a lot more, please.

So I'm interested to see where the show goes, especially with A-Train and Maeve finally acting like three-dimensional people with backbones, but I do hope we can get back to a little bit more character-driven plots, rather than breakneck pacing jumping from one set piece to another.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Well, Maeve got a solid arc. I didn't hate A-Train's, but wow, dude is just not able to break his own complex neediness at all. Still, overall, I feel like the third season gave us a decent number of solid sidequests. Frenchie's whole Russian-mob backstory was a little contrived at times, but it stuck the landing, whilst MM and Starlight getting to bond a little more felt like a good direction for both characters, particularly as MM doubles down into the whole OCD. And whilst the return of Soldier Boy could have been a little more built up, it was a solid mystery for the show to get stuck into. In fact, there was little I didn't like here. It would be nice for Butcher to generally sort his shit out a little more, as the whole addiction to power/Temp-V arc was really enough, and I liked that Hughie went along for that ride, but overall, a solid season.

So why did it feel a little flat? I'm not sure, but maybe it was a bit more of a filler season. Season one introduced a lot of stuff and generally had a fairly wild ride for you to hold onto. Season two did a lot of solid backstory work and kept the main character relationships constantly evolving with the revelations around Butcher's wife/Homelander's kid. But season three doesn't have as much to pin itself on. Homelander continues to spiral towards a fascist takeover, with an increasingly on-the-nose parody of Trumpist politics. Butcher is still circling a self-destructive drain, even with Ryan as an opportunity to break that cycle. Hughie and Starlight are somehow still deeply in love and constantly self-sabotaging their relationship. And most of the new characters get killed off before the season comes to a close. It drives forward just enough to be interesting, but at the end of the season, has much changed? One of the big villains – Edgar – has been removed, but in a fairly boring way that still doesn't make a huge amount of sense (surely he could have gotten the Senator some V?) and also isn't touched upon again. And sure, the Senator is a lot more interesting as a second player for Homelander, but at this point it almost makes less sense that she's still trying to hide her powers. I don't know, Soldier Boy was fun, and the fight scenes where Homelander gets his ass handed to him are hugely entertaining and well done, but it never hits the highs of either previous season.

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