The Boys Season 4 Review: Politics As Usual

The satire is as sharp as ever in The Boys season 4 but the storytelling cracks are starting to show.

Homelander (Antony Starr) in The Boys season 4.
Photo: Jasper Savage | Prime Video

This The Boys season 4 review was based on all eight episodes and contains no spoilers.

Since it first premiered in the summer of 2019, Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys has been nothing short of a cultural necessity. Somebody needed to rise up and poke fun at the MCU-ification of superheroes and all the subsequent corporate bootlicking it encouraged. And no, it couldn’t only be Marvel’s in-house Greek chorus, Deadpool.

This (increasingly loose) TV adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic series wasn’t just up to the task, it was perfect for it. The Boys has turned in three great seasons of satire on the superhero industrial complex that at times feels like a 1:1 comparison to the real world, albeit with some names changed, some superpowers added, and some penises exploded. It’s only fitting then that, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins to lag as a culturally dominant force, so too does The Boys finally start to show some signs of exhaustion in its fourth season.

The Boys season 4 isn’t bad by any stretch, but it’s easily the series’ weakest batch of episodes thus far. The satire remains as trenchant as ever but the storytelling begins to flag in some noticeable ways. Fans who have long argued that The Boys needs to keep a closer eye on its endgame will feel vindicated, while TV nerds (like me) who believe in the magic of the medium to churn out quality evergreen episodes forever will come away licking their wounds.

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As the show’s (always brilliant) marketing campaign has teased, The Boys season 4 is indeed its “political” outing. While all art is political (and satire particularly so), this season delves into the government as a mechanism of power – in addition to culture, money, and actual superpowers like in seasons’ past.

The presidential election is days away, with Robert “Dakota Bob” Singer (Jim Beaver) campaigning for the country’s highest office on an anti-Vought platform. Complicating things is that his running mate, Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), was just discovered to be a secret supe by Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid). The Boys are now bound and determined to keep a head-exploder one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Of course, there’s also the matter of Homelander’s (Antony Starr) impending criminal trial for killing a guy in broad daylight. And yes, The Boys‘ marketing team was on the ball for that one too as it relates to another public figure’s recent trial.

It’s a chaotic set up to be sure, but there’s a lot to like in these eight episodes. Starr remains pitch perfect as the fascist ubermensch – building a character who believes the world revolves around him so vividly that the series itself has no choice but to revolve around him as well. Starr plays with the subtleties of Homelander’s psyche particular well this season, as the discovery of a gray hair upon his mons pubis sends him spiraling. His more overtly psychotic moments suffer from some diminishing returns but far be it from us to complain about Homelander killing people on the “Homelander kills people show.”

Season 4 is also buoyed by two welcome additions in the form of new supes Firecracker (Valorie Curry) and Sister Sage (Susan Heyward). Curry channels the dregs of AM radio and YouTube comment sections to craft a terrifyingly believable right wing commentator who also just happens to have supernatural abilities. Heyward, meanwhile, is the linchpin of the whole season as Sage, the smartest person in the world (she will correct you if you say “smartest woman in the world.”).

Our own media-saturated reality has become so bizarre that conspiracy theorists could be forgiven for thinking there must be an author behind all this madness. On The Boys, Sage becomes that author and it’s to the actor’s credit that it works. Firecracker and Sage likely won’t become as beloved among fans as season 3’s Soldier Boy (the people simply adore Jensen Ackles) but they are arguably even more important to the show’s longterm mission.

Where The Boys season 4 runs into trouble, however, is with the nuts and bolts of its usual plotting. By season’s end, it’s hard to think of many characters as having logical, emotionally satisfying arcs. Poor Hughie in particular gets badly abused, literally and figuratively. While it must undoubtedly be fun to cover the jovial Quaid in blood, bruises, and all manner of goo on-set, on-screen it increasingly comes across as bullying for the lad. He’s also saddled with the season’s most ill-advised and discursive midseason plot.

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And while the social and political satire of The Boys almost always works for me personally, it’s not hard to imagine viewers finally concluding that there is such a thing as “too on-the-nose” this year. There’s a reference to a certain date this season that can evoke only a chuckle or an eye-roll.

Thankfully, the season’s ending suggests that The Boys realizes it is inching closer to some kind of firm conclusion, one way or another. When that time comes, it will be supremely welcomed. Not because the show doesn’t deserve to continue on, but rather this balancing act of high level satire and superhero storytelling has been so effective that it’s shocking it ever pulled it off this long in the first place.

The Boys season 4 premieres with three episodes on Thursday, June 13 on Prime Video. New episodes premiere Thursdays culminating with the finale on July 18.

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3 out of 5