This review of The Boys season 3 contains no spoilers and is based on all eight episodes.
Ever since satire was invented people have loved to claim that it’s dead.
The impulse is understandable as sometimes the world is so intensely bizarre that there doesn’t appear to be much point in comedically exaggerating it further. Articles claiming that the noble comedic art is obsolete dominate the internet right now just as much as the topic surely saturated discussion in Roman baths and coliseums.
What all of those discussions miss, however, is one very important point: The Boys. They’re back in town, you see. When The Boys season 3 premieres its first three episodes this Friday, June 3 on Prime Video, even the most satire-agnostic among us will have to concede that the show is onto something. While the series has always been…let’s say, ahead of its time, in predicting unfortunate American cultural trends, The Boys season 3 is a particularly astute observer of the current landscape and puts on an absolute master class in satirical storytelling.
Through two excellent seasons, The Boys has captured a barely hyperbolic version of our own world in which superheroes dominate Western culture and the unwashed masses forgive any and all of their excesses. Season 3 acutely elevates the show’s satirical game, becoming more specific, more incisive, and a hell of a lot more fun. No pop culture entity in living memory has better understood the human inclination towards hero worship better than The Boys and this third season puts that understanding to use in profoundly insightful and entertaining ways.
From the get-go, it’s clear that The Boys season 3 isn’t content to rest on its laurels and bask in the glow of its well-received second outing. The rubber meets the road quickly and loudly. In speaking to Den of Geek at SXSW prior to season 3’s premiere, The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke revealed that the first 15 minutes of season 3 was “by far” the craziest thing the show had ever done. And dear reader, the man was not lying. The first few scenes of this season should leave even the most jaded TV viewers’ jaws on the floor.
Just as important as the shock the opening minutes of this season provides, however, is how economically it catches viewers up with each character in the show’s sprawling cast. The creative convention used to begin the season renders any “previously on” segment unnecessary as the show helpfully reminds us all what the cast has been up to and where they are now. Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) has decided to go legit, working under Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs. There, he and “Vicki” (who is a secret brain-splattering supe, a fact known to the audience but not to Hughie) have successfully cut superhero-related collateral damage by a whopping 60%. Meanwhile Butcher (Karl Urban) and the rest of his Boys (save for Mother’s Milk, who is attempting to leave the life behind) struggle to adapt to their new reality working under Hughie and all the governmental red tape he brings.
Over on the supe side of things, Homelander (Antony Starr) is having a hard time adjusting to life after Stormfront (Aya Cash), his Nazi girlfriend who was dispatched at the end of season 2. Vought CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) has Homie (a nickname that Starr used in an interview with DoG and one that we’re stealing) on the interview circuit to assure people that he’s merely a human being, tragically capable of falling in love with the wrong woman just like any of us. There are only so many times that the arrogant god-like ubermensch can bear to hear those words come out of his mouth though. Something has to give with Homelander in season 3 and wouldn’t you know it, it eventually does in breathtaking fashion.
Though Butcher and Homelander drive much of the plot on The Boys by pure necessity, the show is good about giving some of its less powerful characters logical, satisfying arcs as well. While a lesser show might have long run out of things for supes like A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) or The Deep (Chace Crawford) to do, The Boys has plenty of fresh hell in store for them…particularly The Deep who becomes something of The Boys’ universe’s Job this year. Characters like Annie January a.k.a. Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), and Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) build upon the cheeky “Girls Get It Done” Vought campaign from last season to uh…really get shit done. First introduced as the audience’s eyes and ears inside Vought in season 1, Annie has beautifully transformed into their conscience as well and it’s her who grapples with the most provocative moral questions raised in season 3.
In fact, season 3 is filled with all sorts of provocative questions that may or may not have answers. The Boys has remained steadfast in its themes and motifs throughout its run, examining concepts like America’s historical footsie with fascism, the relationships between fathers and sons, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Season 3 adds another important theme to the ledger: how far should good people go to defeat evil? At one point in season 3, Hughie utters what could be the tagline for the season “The high road doesn’t work. I’m just so tired of losing.” It’s a valid question, borne of frustration that is eerily reflected in much of our political discourse today.
It’s in exploring that question that The Boys bumps into its first major character introduction of the year. Jensen Ackles’ Soldier Boy is teased early on and, once properly introduced, fits the show’s universe like a glove. Ackles leans into the inevitable Captain America comparisons his proto-superhero character invites, delivering lines with a heroic Evans-ian growl, though in true Boys fashion, most of those lines are bigoted, misogynistic, and just plain gross. Soldier Boy is the foundation upon which this satirical world is built and just like everything else, that foundation is rotten to the core.
The Boys season 3 really is a masterpiece of satire. More important than that, however, is that it’s also just a good story, told well. Kripke and his writing team have a strong grasp of TV storytelling fundamentals, stocking each episode with a proper amount of twists and turns while never sacrificing characterization. Perhaps it’s not insignificant that Kripke got his start in network television (creating The CW’s fandom superhit Supernatural) where every minute is precious and every moment must build into another bigger moment, lest a viewer grow bored enough during commercials to change the channel. In that respect, The Boys remains the rare streaming TV property that understands how to exploit both the advantages of streaming (accessibility, memeification) and traditional serialized storytelling (escalation, rhythm, and *ahem* consistent episode lengths).
And if neither sound fundamental storytelling nor satire be what ye seek, there are still plenty of blood, guts, and genitals to be found in The Boys season 3. Like we said, the show really does have a handle on the Western cultural landscape.
The Boys season 3 premieres with three episodes Friday, June 3 on Prime Video. New episodes follow each Friday.