This article contains spoilers for The Boys season 3 episode 7.
In the Western pop culture canon, stories about fathers and sons will usually find an apt audience. Dating back to before even The Empire Strikes Back, (usually male) writers in genre storytelling have often used their art to unpack their history with their own respective fathers. What was the deal with that old man? Why was he so ornery all the time? Probably because he was secretly a space samurai killing people on behalf of a Galactic empire. Yeah, that’s it.
Through nearly three seasons now, Prime Video’s superhero satire The Boys has kept up that Skywalkerian energy. The show’s season 2 finale focused prominently on one son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), and the two men, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and Homelander (Antony Starr), who would attempt to be his father. Somehow we all know that the fate of the world rests in that boy’s decision of which paternal path to pursue. Thankfully he chooses the gruff, but decent Butcher (Karl Urban).
Now, in the penultimate episode of The Boys season 3, those themes of fatherhood come up again, this time surrounding Homelander’s own parentage. Before he crushes Mindstorm’s face into a mushy pile of gore, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) receives the news that he has a son of his own. At episode’s end, he pays Homelander a call to give him the news that we all should have expected.
“I beat my meat into a cup. Turns out Vogelbaum made a kid,” Soldier Boy says. “You know the bitch of it. If they just kept me around I would have let you take the spotlight. What father wouldn’t want that for his son?”
First of all, let us give a round of hearty congratulations to The Boys’ writing staff. For, while we certainly should have expected this development, we…or at least I didn’t. You’d think a lifetime of watching enough shows about fathers and sons to the point where you feel comfortable writing this article would allow you to foresee something such as this but hey, nobody’s perfect. And in my defense, this was a development that daddy Soldier Boy himself didn’t see coming.
“(Showrunner Eric) Kripke doesn’t really prepare us for monumental character developments. He just says ‘oh, check out this script,’” Ackles tells Den of Geek. “It was an awesome moment for me. (Soldier Boy) now has stakes in the game and it isn’t just a vengeful revenge journey. He has to make some fairly serious choices.”
The reveal of Homelander’s true parentage is a shocking moment and another development in The Boys’ grand story of fathers and sons. But what if it doesn’t matter as much as we think? The Boys is nothing if not an expectation subverter. What if the real thematic point that The Boys is trying to make isn’t about how fathers treat their sons but rather how brothers treat each other?
While The Boys season 3 episode 7 ends on a big father-related twist, the rest of the episode tackles family relationships from a much different, more affecting perspective. Early on in “Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed,” Butcher is placed into a mental prison of his own making by Mindstorm. Mindstorm’s ability allows him to lock victims away inside their own subconsciousness until their bodies wither away.
Perhaps taking a trip into the back of one’s brain wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for some people, but it’s absolute hell on Earth for Butch due to his tragic upbringing. The Boys takes us back through Butcher’s relationship with his father, Sam (John Noble), though to call theirs a relationship would be a stretch. Mostly Sam just tortures his son – breaking him down emotionally before bothering to break him down physically.
Sam Butcher is a monster but he’s not who makes Butcher’s subconscious a particularly dark place. Instead it’s Butcher reliving his relationship with his brother Lenny (Jack Fulton) that does the trick. Lenny is smaller and more delicate than his older brother Billy but Billy loves him all the same…probably because of those qualities. As we see in the elder Butcher’s memories, Billy routinely stepped in for his brother, taking abuse from their father that was originally meant for him. Yes, it was Sam’s violence that made Butcher the hardened, monstrous creature he would grow up to be, but before all that violence there was love. A love for one’s sibling so strong that they couldn’t bear to see them hurt.
Unfortunately, everyone has their physical and emotional limits and Butcher eventually hit his. Shortly into adulthood, Billy ran off to join the military, leaving Sam at home alone with only his favorite punching bag, Lenny. Unable to take his father’s abuse anymore and with no older brother to protect him, Lenny commits suicide.
Reliving this moment until his mortal body dries out and fades away is the fate that would have awaited Butcher if Hughie didn’t convince Mindstorm to snap him out of it. One gets the sense, however, that Butcher is always living through this hell anyway.
That memory informs almost the entirety of his relationship with Hughie – to the point where Butcher hallucinates Lenny in Hughie’s place earlier this season when The Boys were on a mission to find Soldier Boy. Mother’s Milk once described Hughie as Butcher’s “canary.” It’s only when Hughie is hurt will Butcher know that he’s gone too far. In that sense Hughie is more than a canary, he’s Butcher’s younger brother. And based on the information about Temp-V Starlight gives Butcher near episode’s end, he’s running the risk of watching his younger brother die again.
As stated before, relationships between parents and children tend to soak up a lot of the attention in our stories. That’s because the presence or absence of one’s parents is an experience all can relate to. Even with the shocking parental reveal at the end of this episode, The Boys understand that whoever or whatever you were born to doesn’t matter much. Whoever you choose to call your brother does.
The Boys season 3 finale premieres Friday, July 8 on Prime Video.