Back when The Boys released in the summer of 2019, the world of superheroes was a very different place. Marvel fans were busy dusting off themselves a few months into the afterglow of Avengers: Endgame, while DC fans still had a long two years left before the Snyder cut had to come out. In the time since, the context of superheroes in pop culture hasn’t grown as much as it has evolved — perhaps we’re a little bit tired of constantly idolizing suit-clad, larger-than-life figures. Perhaps we want to see them at their lowest, most depraved, and most vulnerable… so it’s no wonder that three years on, it’s The Boys, and its magnificent third season that provide a definitive last word on the world of comic book heroes.

Holding up a mirror to society, then using it to metaphorically bash its face in, the new season continues to set standards, tell meaningful stories, and especially, revel in directorial experiments that leave its bigger counterparts looking clumsy in comparison.

The Boys’ ‘Widest’ Season Yet

Jack Quaid The Boys

While the season of course excels in a variety of areas, one of the key points of focus is the script, which takes on a surprisingly large range of themes, conflicts, ongoing plot threads, and still somehow makes time for amusing segues and fan-service moments.

Consider the general plot synopsis, which seems impossible to fit into a mere eight episodes:

Hughie (Jack Quaid) starts off the season post-timeskip with a cushy government job, working under Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), only to realize that she’s a supe. Driven by insecurity and a desire for change, he joins Butcher (Karl Urban) by temporarily getting superpowers, and soon learning of the price he has to pay with both his health and his relationships.

Meanwhile, Homelander (Anthony Starr) deals with Stormfront’s suicide by getting more and more unhinged, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) and Frenchie (Tomer Capone) try to hold together and find love despite being hunted on multiple fronts, Maeve (Dominique McElligott) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) find more ways to fight their personal demons… it just doesn’t seem to end.

All of this doesn’t even mention the season’s ‘big bad’, Solider Boy.

Soldier Boy Tell Em’

Soldier Boy Jensen Ackles

While a Soulja Boy cameo or track drop would have been welcome (if a little outrageous), this season’s new villain Soldier Boy is a grade-A character, with Jensen Ackles stealing nearly every damn scene he’s part of. It’s a performance so strong, that I actually find myself wanting to revisit Marvel’s Captain America films — if only to unfairly judge them.

We’ve heard of America’s Ass before — The Boys simply gives us America’s Asshole.

With an origin story that’s about as fucked up as they come, Ackles’ portrayal of an 80’s action hero-cum-douchebag feels like someone snatched Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Chuck Norris, and tossed them into a blender – before adding a dash of extra cockiness and a quarter of whiskey.

Finally, Soldier Boy’s granny-philandering, PTSD-fuelled quackery manifests in one of the best battles the show’s had so far during Herogasm — where Soldier Boy mocks Homelander’s cape, only to use it a few minutes later to save Butcher’s life and slam his biological son into the dirt.

Exploring and Resolving Traumas

Credits: Amazon Prime Video

While Soldier Boy takes over the main interests of Season 3 following the half-season point, a common theme explored early on, and gradually layered with surprising levels of nuance is the fact that every single character – from the supes to The Boys – have unresolved, traumatic pasts that they must come to terms with.

Kimiko and Frenchie’s heartwarming story takes centre stage through the earlier arcs, as we learn of the former’s deepening resentment for her powers, and the latter’s long, dark relationship with abuse. Despite their horrific memories, the couple communicate and share their anxieties with each other – leading to perhaps the entire show’s most cheerful scene in Episode 5, pictured above.

It’s another testament to the show’s razor-focused commitment to pushing the envelope, resulting in every season feeling fresh and exciting. While we’ll get to Black Noir and Butcher’s past in a moment, one other character who undergoes a major reckoning is fellow ‘Boy’ Mother’s Milk (MM).

Laz Alonso’s MM was played pretty straight for the show’s earlier seasons, presenting a tough exterior with a heart of gold – the ‘good cop’ to Butcher’s ‘bad cop’. Season 3 dramatically raises the stakes for him – dealing with the aftermath of a divorce and watching a supe-sympathiser become his daughter’s stepfather isn’t easy, after all.

The beauty of MM’s arc is in how we see him break down, stress out, and have anger episodes in front of his child, exhibiting the very behaviour he’s trying to repress so much. By the end of the season, we see MM accept who he is as an individual and a father, and come clean to his daughter about his life, and the family’s history of tragedy regarding Soldier Boy’s murderous tendencies.

Handling Characters With Maturity

Karl Urban Anthony Starr

There’s another interesting thing at play here — while Soldier Boy seems confident that he’s the best and that no one needs him, his brutality towards Black Noir, terrified ex-teammates, and naïve confidence stand in contrast to Homelander’s own negative traits. While Homelander exhibits all and more of the above, there’s a fragility to him that’s portrayed achingly well in the series, exhibited through moments of delusion, fear, and a deep sadness that he aims to fill with family.

While he can’t win over Solider Boy, Homelander does manage to win Ryan to his side. As Becca Butcher’s son, he also holds great importance to Billy, who starts the season as a clean, sober man with a foster son, only to lose his health, his humanity, and even the one promise he made to his dying wife — to keep her son safe.

Billy’s mental decline is particularly well documented in the series’ penultimate episode Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed, which handles past trauma in two very different ways. While Billy, Hughie, and Soldier Boy track down Black Noir, we get to dive right into the minds of both Billy and Noir, both of whom experienced horrific abuse through their earlier years.

Billy’s trauma manifests in the form of flashbacks. Edited in a fluid style that meshes his present brutality with his past pain, we see a complex connection between his father’s abuse, his own toxic enjoyment of violence, his regret from abandoning his brother, and finally, seeing a second chance at redemption in Hughie.

Noir’s is equally brutal — we finally come to understand the character’s terrible history through his own hallucinations, which take the form of friendly cartoon characters. These figures play out Noir’s history of pain and terror under Soldier Boy’s influence, using a lighthearted medium to tell the season’s most heartbreaking story.

In finality, Season 3 of The Boys is well-rounded, consistently breaks the mold, and offers something new and exciting with every single episode. It also isn’t afriad to play beyond the realms of the source material in intelligent ways — especially with Victoria Neuman and Black Noir’s stories, the former of which seems to be leading into a truly magnificent Season 4 villain arc.

It’s going to be a long wait, but definitely a welcome one.

(Featured Image Credits: Amazon Prime Video)