This article contains spoilers for The Boys season 3 episode 4.
Midway through The Boys season 3 episode 4 “Glorious Five Year Plan” Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) delivers a dire warning to Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) about the dangers of the new Compound-V spinoff drug, V24.
“Hughie, it’s not power. It’s punishment. And you don’t deserve none of it,” Butcher says.
Butcher’s words are powerful but they ultimately fall flat with the power-hungry Hughie – and not only because they resemble Tim Meadows’ “you don’t want no part of this shit” speech from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
No, Butcher’s warning fails because in the world of The Boys, much like our own, power is intoxicating. Who wouldn’t want to gain supernatural abilities? Especially if it meant keeping you and yours safe from other super-powered individuals. Thankfully for The Boys, the show’s premise allows its characters to both gain and lose supernatural abilities as needed, further exploring the dynamics of power that we often ignore.
As none other than (until very recently Vought CEO) Stan Edgar is fond of saying, Vought isn’t a superhero company – it’s a pharmaceutical company. All that separates the supes from your average Joe or Jane is a vial of potent chemicals. In season 3, The Boys finally allows that chemical into the bodies of two of our normal-powered heroes – Butcher and Hughie. Their response to the drug and their newfound powers helps articulate one of the season’s prevailing themes: when the bad guys keep winning because they won’t play by the rules, what’s keeping the good guys from doing the same? In episode 4 we get our first look at what that might mean and more importantly: what it might cost.
Butcher’s use of V24 was teased out in the Boys marketing material prior to season 3 and we got to see it fully in action with last week’s episode 2. Here, however, the rest of Butcher’s Boys’ teammates get to see it as well and many of them are properly horrified. According to Butcher actor Karl Urban, getting to portray a super-powered character is equal parts fun and frightening.
“I really enjoyed the challenge of operating superpowers into Butcher,” Urban says. “On a deeper character level, Butcher’s palpable sense of frustration got to the point where he was willing to turn himself into a monster to defeat the monster.”
One interesting aspect about Compound-V and its sister drug V24 is how it appears to affect each individual differently. Vought’s stable of superheroes is filled with people who all took the same drug and yet received an entire spectrum of disparate powers. In Butcher’s case, the drug seems to have granted him some superpowered classics. Butcher gets the Vought-standard invulnerability, struggling off bullets as though they were pebbles. He also gets Cyclops-esque laser vision, shooting beams from his eyes that will cut through anything in their path.
It’s worth noting that Butcher’s two big powers just happen to be ones he shares with his archnemesis and Vought’s biggest “hero”, Homelander. Perhaps Compound-V works by enhancing parts of its users personality and traits, meaning that Butcher is not so different from the evil he’s trying to defeat. Granted, that’s just a theory but it does seem to be supported by the powers that V24 gives Hughie.
Compared to the average citizen, Hughie Campbell is tremendously brave. Few others would have the courage to stand up to powerful superheroes after one killed their partner. Compared to his fellow Boys teammates, however, Hughie is a bit of an escape expert. The best trait any normally-powered person can have is the ability to run away to fight another day, which is something that Hughie often advocates for in his dealings with Butcher. Maybe it’s not a coincidence then that V24 gives Hughie the power to teleport from place to place, leaving nothing but his clothes behind.
“I always dreamed of being a superhero,” Quaid says. “I never dreamed about being a nude superhero.”
Like Urban with Butcher, Hughie’s use of V24 contains dramatic multitudes for Quaid to play around with, something that happens in episode 4 and will continue to pop up throughout season 3.
“I like from a character perspective that it comes with such a heady cost,” Quaid says. “How far are you willing to go down this path even though this thing is eating away at him? He very much likes the power. He’s kind of freaked out that he likes it so much. He needs to make sure it doesn’t take over him, basically.”
Of course, the thing about power in The Boys is that it can always be taken away. We see as much in this episode when a blast from Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) seemingly disables Kimiko’ (Karen Fukuhara) healing factor. The solution for Butcher and Hughie’s burgeoning power addictions is even more simple than that. They just have to stop taking the drug. Will they be able to? Or is it not just absolute power that corrupts absolutely but rather any power and all?