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A World Full of Killing and Blood Spilling

‘The Boys’ Season 4 Boasts Extra Bite

Eric Kripke's action-satire returns as bloody and bold as ever, but the latest battle between average Americans and an encroaching fascism feels all the more dour in these trying times.
'The Boys' Season 4 stars Anthony Starr as Homelander and Cameron Crovetti as Ryan, his son, shown here walking down the street
Antony Starr and Cameron Crovetti in 'The Boys'
Courtesy of Jasper Savage / Prime Video

Late in “The Boys” Season 4, there’s a relatively minor moment that carries major weight. A hero (it’s best not to say whom) brings an injured person to the hospital. As they turn to go, they see a little boy watching nearby. At first, the kid is awestruck. You can almost hear him thinking, “Wow, a real superhero! Right in front of me!” Then, as he realizes that the hero may have just saved someone’s life, he smiles. And the hero smiles back. That’s it. That’s the scene — so classic it could’ve been from any number of comic book adaptations over the last half-century, and so unironically sweet that “The Boys” may have been one of the last super-stories to be guessed.

Showrunner Eric Kripke’s Prime Video series isn’t averse to earnestness. After all, one hero’s journey starts with the soul-shattering loss of his girlfriend. But the action-satire also spends a majority of its time skewering the insipid yet treacherous nature of Hollywood’s prim-and-proper caped crusaders, whether it’s pointing out the profits reaped from the corporate infantilization of Disney adults, or colorfully outlining what superpowers could really do to the bodies (and minds) of ordinary human beings. If our reality is dominated by superheros onscreen, then why not lend our onscreen superheroes reality’s sharpest edges?

So amid all the buckets of blood and everything they entail (like entrails), a sincere exchange between a kid and his new favorite hero stands out. Not only is it a quiet moment amid the chaos, a sudden dose of purity between sullied figures and their corrupted ideals, but their shared moment of admiration also speaks to Season 4’s broader theme: What’s next? If we can all agree that our political and cultural climates are pretty much fucked — and if we can’t go that far, then it’s certainly evident things are leaning that way — what’s preventing the good guys from giving up the high road and taking the expressway to the Wasteland if it’s the quickest way to eradicate everything and everyone threatening our personal and artistic freedoms?

For “The Boys,” the answer is the little boy — both the one being inspired to do the right thing, and the one who’s been so demoralized, he may lead the world to Valhalla.

The second young’n in question, of course, is Ryan Butcher (Cameron Crovetti), the son of Homelander (Anthony Starr), whose budding abilities may tilt the balance of power in or against daddy’s favor. Oblivious to his father’s sadistic tendencies, though growing more suspicious by the day, Ryan starts Season 4 in Homelander’s care — the “chosen one” in training — and Vought’s marketing machine is working overtime to warm him up to the masses. There was, after all, a little snafu at the end of Season 3, when an outspoken citizen called Homelander a fascist and threw an empty bottle at him, which missed and struck Ryan instead. In unthinking retaliation, Homelander zapped the man into oblivion, and now must stand trial for murder.

No matter. Much like the infallible felon he so often sounds like, Homelander can do no wrong in the eyes of his fans. When he killed that innocent, bottle-tossing bystander in cold blood, there were cheers — cheers that confuse yet tickle Homelander, as he parses out what to do with his newfound freedom from public scrutiny. For years, he hid his fury and contempt of John Q. Public from John Q. Public. But if he can be himself, sans censors, and still be worshipped as the god he believes himself to be, then… what else can he get away with? What more can he control? What else does he want?

Starr’s nefarious turn remains a highlight of “The Boys,” as his villainous tyrant rampages through a mid-life crisis, all while absentmindedly keeping Ryan in check. But Season 4 is absolutely bursting with storylines. Hughie (Jack Quaid) is torn between his missions with The Boys and caring for his ailing father (which is made all the more complicated with his long-absent mother shows up). With her heroic alter ego tainted by her time in The Seven, Annie (Erin Moriarty) is trying to become an icon on her own, leading an activist group by day and tagging along with The Boys by night. Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) are trying to do the friend thing while dealing with revelations from their past. M.M. (Laz Alonso) is taking on a new leadership role, now that Butcher (Karl Urban) has betrayed the team one too many times — oh, plus he’s only got months to live.

And that just covers the good guys. Season 4 also dives into more icky (but funny) issues with The Deep (Chace Crawford), plenty of political machinations with Vice Presidential frontrunner (and superhuman-in-hiding) Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), and introduces two new members on Team Vought: Firecracker (Valorie Curry) and Sister Sage (Susan Heyward). The former is a right-wing podcast star (a la Alex Jones) with an extreme loyalty to Homelander specifically, while Sister Sage would prefer you drop the “Sister” and just call her Sage. As the smartest person in the world, she’s highly aware of Vought’s efforts to Blacken up her image (courting the African American demographic while using a catchy moniker to let all the white folks know there’s a Black woman in the room).

Susan Heyward and Valorie Curry in ‘The Boys’Jasper Savage/Prime Video

What’s less clear is why she’s so eager to go along with it. “The Boys” gives a cursory nod to Sage’s motivations, but her curiosity-spiking character is the most notable casualty of Season 4’s overcrowded conditions. Frenchie suffers, too, as does Ryan and a few others. Even Homelander feels a bit slighted, although not for lack of attention. He’s starting to face the same kind of plausibility questions that plague his inverse inspiration, Superman, in that it’s hard to figure out why he doesn’t fix more problems himself.

Still, it’s mostly impressive how deftly “The Boys'” dramatic side balances its many arcs, while the black comedy’s demented inventiveness helps distract from any lingering deficiencies. Rattling them off would spoil the weekly joy of discovering each bizarre development, but rest assured: My notes on Season 4 are littered with “oh god’s” and “hoo boy’s,” all of which denote a particularly gnarly set piece or horrific marvel of creature design. Far less prodigious, though still present, are the universe-expanding easter eggs for those who watched last year’s spinoff, “Gen V.” Kripke & Co. seem to realize their core show is still growing, keeping the tie-ins either plot-related or extraneous enough to not get in the way of casual enjoyment. (In other words, the series built to take down the MCU doesn’t fall into the same traps.)

“The Boys” always aims to go mano a mano with current events, and Season 4 is no exception. From Homelander’s opening trial to a central thread over certifying the presidential election, it’s impossible not to see our roiling present and imminent future in between bursts of laser vision and super-speed. Fittingly, it makes for a bleak season, and just as fittingly, there’s no easy fix waiting in the finale. The Avengers aren’t going to turn back time. Batman’s not going to fly the bomb out of Gotham City. There’s no single hero to save us. Instead, there’s an ideal — an ideal that may be rapidly fading, but will always be vital to a functioning society. An ideal “The Boys” finds a way to embody, even when things get truly nasty. You have to be able to spot it through the bedlam. You have to cling on as it slips in and out of your grasp, and then you have to find a way to pass it on.

Something good. Something pure. Something truly… heroic.

Grade: B+

“The Boys” Season 4 premieres Thursday, June 13 on Amazon Prime Video with three episodes. New episodes will be released weekly through the finale on July 18.

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