This review contains spoilers for The Boys season 3 finale.
The Boys Season 3 Episode 8: The Instant White-Hot Wild
The Boys’ third run finale largely continues the two big themes of the season, setting up Season 4 to be another set of stories focusing on terrible father figures, and political satire. But it also provides closure to several running story threads, giving ‘The Instant White-Hot Wild’ a good sense of closure on this chapter, and it injects some much-needed joy into the show’s bleak universe.
The Boys TV show (as opposed to the original comics) has always been about satirising celebrity culture more than anything else. But this season, it’s increasingly shifted into political satire. That’s an entirely logical step, since the political culture it’s satirizing is precisely one where celebrities not only become politicians, but use their celebrity as the basis for their political career. It’s also tied up with the use of social media for political campaigns, not just campaigns for office, but political activism and social movements on both sides – and we’ve seen both used frequently throughout Season 3 in various ways.
Over the course of this season, Homelander has discovered the power of showing people who he really is. The show has moved from satirizing celebrities hiding who they really are behind lies, to satirizing the popularity of celebrity politicians who openly behave in ways not generally considered acceptable, but who are nonetheless loved for it by their supporters. Throughout the season, the show has also repeatedly asked the audience to consider a key central question – who is worse, Soldier Boy or Homelander?
Soldier Boy vs. Homelander
It’s this key question that’s brought about a lot of this season’s conflict between our protagonists. Some consider Homelander the biggest threat they face, and they’re willing to team up with Soldier Boy to bring him down. Some think Soldier Boy is an even bigger threat than Homelander. This ties in to the political themes of the season. In a two-party system, elections can feel like a choice between the lesser of two evils; “the lesser of who-cares?” as Leo put it years ago in The West Wing. Obviously, no real-life politicians are as bad as Homelander or Soldier Boy (though the similarities between Homelander and former President Trump have been played up all season), but the choice between them can seem like an exaggerated version of this political reality.
As for the answer to that question – the jury’s still out. This final episode leans towards the implication that Homelander is the marginally lesser evil. His power tends to be more targeted and certainly he’s more in control of it than Soldier Boy, who sets off radioactive explosions without even meaning to. Homelander also has the occasional moment where he shows actual care and empathy for another human being, albeit only for Ryan, whose attempt to get his father to work with him is a fun reversal of Darth Vader trying to get his son Luke to come over the Dark Side in The Empire Strikes Back.
Most of our protagonists aren’t really weighing up the pros and cons of each superhero leader dispassionately, though. Just like voters in real-life, they’re primarily concerned with their own interests. Maeve and Butcher think Homelander is the worse threat because he has hurt them more, personally. MM and Noir think Soldier Boy is the bigger threat because he has hurt them more, personally. Right up until the moment Homelander kills Noir, anyway. That was the episode’s only slight disappointment, as it was a bit of a damp squib ending to Noir’s story, but the moment when Homelander pointed out that he can see Noir’s face was nicely chilling.
While the finale suggested Soldier Boy was the bigger immediate threat, Homelander may represent the worse evil longer-term. After all, Soldier Boy doesn’t seem to have Homelander’s political ambitions. He seems happy enough eating, drinking, and having a lot of sex – when he’s not tracking down and killing all his former teammates. But Homelander has already come up with a plan to take over the USA if he has to, and for the moment he’s using Victoria Newman as a political proxy. And even more dangerously, he’s got his followers to a point where he can openly murder someone right in front of them and be cheered for it.
The fact it’s Janine’s step-father Todd who starts the cheering also ties those final scenes to the season’s other big theme of Daddy Issues and terrible father figures. Much of this has covered frequently treated themes around cycles of abuse and neglect. In fact, one of the nicer scenes in this episode was Hughie’s description of his own father, providing a counter-example of really good fathering that’s mirrored in MM’s conversation with his daughter at the episode’s end. And Butcher switches sides when Soldier Boy threatens Ryan, because although he’s willing to sacrifice thousands of innocent people to kill Homelander, he’s not willing to sacrifice his step-son, his more positive fatherhood pulling him back from the brink.
But then, of course, these are also mirrored in Homelander actually being a good father, which is a bit more chilling. Homelander is clearly a terrible, evil person, but there’s no denying he has, in this episode, been a somewhat better father figure to Ryan than Butcher, offering him unconditional love and support instead of a horribly misguided attempt at “tough love for his own protection” earlier this season, that has predictably backfired. And that’s why Ryan now looks set to follow his biological father down a very dark road in Season 4.
If this episode was nothing but set-up for Season 4 it would risk feeling unsatisfying, but thankfully it provides enough closure on several story threads to be a really effective season closer. The Seven is down to Three – possibly Two, judging by A-Train’s discomfort and the portrait of Homelander and The Deep alone in the The Deep’s bedroom. Maeve and Starlight are both out, meaning that even though they didn’t succeed in killing Homelander, they did achieve what they really wanted, which is freedom from him. Frenchie and Kimiko, who have been off doing their own thing for much of the season, are much more confident in themselves and their abilities. Soldier Boy is contained once more, albeit by the CIA rather than the Russians – he’ll no doubt turn up again, but he’s gone for now.
The fact that several of these are happy endings – or happy pauses in the middle of the action, perhaps – is also really important. The Boys is a bleak universe, and viewers are well aware of that. The show started with the brutal death of Hughie’s girlfriend and nearly all its superheroes (with the exception of Starlight) are either deeply flawed or outright evil. But if all an audience ever gets is death and destruction with no moments of hope and no one to root for, they will eventually lose interest and switch off. If all the characters are too awful to care about, or likely to be killed in the next five minutes, why bother watching?
Showrunner Eric Kripke knows this, and that’s why we get little victories in this finale. The scene in which Hughie turns up the power so that Starlight can really earn her name in a beautifully shot display of her abilities is properly moving and exciting. Maeve, who is by far the most sympathetic of the superheroes after Starlight, gets a real happy ending, earned by the incredibly traditional superhero feat of (potentially) sacrificing herself for the greater good. (We wouldn’t be surprised if Homelander finds her and kills her horribly at some point in a future season, but for now, she has a happy ending). Even Ashleigh shows some humanity when she deletes the file that could lead Homelander to Maeve. And the two couples who are the heart of the show and, with MM, among the nicest people in it – Hughie and Starlight, and Frenchie and Kimiko – seem to be on relatively solid ground again.
There were also some lovely small touches in this episode to enjoy. Ryan’s red, white and blue T-shirt in the opening scene is a great bit of foreshadowing that he is about to go over to join with Homelander, since it matches his father’s costume and flag-cape. For Supernatural fans, Kripke slipped in the fact that Dakota Bob’s campaign is based in Bobby Singer’s home town of Sioux Falls (I will claim this as proof of my theory that The Boys is a parallel universe in which Bobby is a politician) – thank you, Kripke. And Kimiko’s invented sign for the word “asshole” is a thing of beauty. So, we head into The Boys season 4 with a feeling of satisfaction mixed with anticipation about what the next season will bring, and that makes it a pretty darned good season finale.