'The Boys' Keeps Confronting the Struggle to Hold Onto Humanity in Its Bleak and Brutal Must-Watch Fourth Season

With just one more season to come, this page-to-screen series remains as laser-focused as ever on the consequences of letting the quest for power run riot.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 13, 2024

"Superheroes, they're just like us" has been an unspoken refrain humming beneath what feels like millions of caped-crusader tales that've reached screens in recent decades. Possessing great powers doesn't mean inherently and instantly knowing how to wield power, or greatness, or how to navigate the daily elements of life that don't revolve around possessing great powers, as movies and TV shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe and beyond have kept stressing amid their planet-saving, evil-vanquishing, existence-defending battles. Even as it dispenses a much-needed antidote to superhero worship's saturation of big- and small-screen entertainment — even as it has made distrusting the spandex-clad and preternaturally gifted its baseline — The Boys has also told this story. Across the entire extent of human history, what's more recognisable than power and dominance bringing out the worst in people?

As brought to Prime Video from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's comics series of the same name by showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) since 2019 — with season two arriving in 2020, season three in 2022 and now season four streaming from Thursday, June 13, 2024The Boys has stared unflinchingly at the grimmest vision of a world with tights-adorned supposed saviours. This is a series where murder at the hands of supes, which is then covered up by the company profiting from elevating them above the masses, is an everyday reality. It's a dark satire. It's gleeful in its onslaught of OTT violence and sightings of genitals. But with what it means to grapple with the struggle to hold onto humanity firmly at its core since its first episode — and likely right until its last, which will hit with its fifth season, Kripke has announced — The Boys remains a mirror.

It has never been hard to see where art imitates life in this account of its namesake rag-tag crew saying "enough is enough" to the US' downward spiral. With flying, laser-eyed, super-strong, supernaturally speedy and otherwise-enhanced beings commercialised by a behemoth of a company called Vought International, The Boys has never been subtle at pointing its fingers at the many ways in which pop culture and the corporations behind it hold sway. The show's parallels with American politics in its portrait of a factionalised nation torn apart over a polarising leader who considers himself above the law are equally overt. Of course, the series is just as blatant in unpacking the consequences of letting the pursuit of power run riot. In its narrative, in chasing supremacy above all else, humans and supes really are just like each other — a truth season four doesn't ever let slip from view.

At the end of 2022's batch of episodes, Vought's invincible leader Homelander (Antony Starr, Guy Ritchie's The Covenant) — the chief of its prime superhero team The Seven, but also calling the shots everywhere — unleashed his fiery gaze upon a supporter of his ex-colleague Starlight (Erin Moriarty, Captain Fantastic). The watching world saw the fatal ramifications, as well as the shattered pretence that caped crusaders can do no harm. But in a culture war, most folks' downright murder is Homelander and his devotees' justified act and fuel for more horrors. While there's no humanity in the Captain America-esque figure's quest to rule — and to his son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti, Boy Kills World), who is just learning to use his abilities, the unhinged ringleader is scathing in his perspective of people as disposable toys — does battling back by Butcher (Karl Urban, Thor: Ragnarok), Hughie (Jack Quaid, Oppenheimer), MM (Laz Alonso, Wrath of Man), Frenchie (Tomer Capone, One on One) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara, Bullet Train) need to entail resorting to the same mindset?

As it thrusts its reflection of IRL US politics even further into focus not just via Homelander's trial, but also a presidential election and the certification of its results, The Boys season four proves as bleak and brutal as the series can get (although this is a show that treats every season as a challenge to top the last, so expect season five to double down again when it surfaces). Can only oblivion await? Again, as The Boys tells of a fight for control where the media is weaponised, fascism threatens democracy, billionaires pull strings and an oligarchy is the preferred outcome for many — a dictatorship for some, too — the comparisons with today outside the screen couldn't be more glaring. There's also an urgency to this season above and beyond its predecessors.

Taking Homelander's sadistic lead is the status quo within Vought, where the ultra-brainy Sister Sage (Susan Heyward, Hello Tomorrow!) and conspiracy theorist Firecracker (Valorie Curry, The Lost Symbol) are the fresh faces among The Seven. The former is charged with masterminding a new world order, and the latter is enlisted to corral the internet public to the cause. Among The Boys themselves, Butcher now has mere months to live and encouragement (via Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Walking Dead) egging him on to take the most-drastic actions. For the whole gang, death, trauma and past mistakes haunt their every move. And if Hughie and co stick to the path that they're on, what they're rallying for — and against — could fade out of sight.

If it sounds as if the fourth season of The Boys is as jam-packed as one of the series' orgies — with characters, including returning The Seven members A-Train (Jessie T Usher, Smile) and The Deep (Chace Crawford, Gossip Girl), Vought PR head-turned-CEO Ashley (Colby Minifie, I'm Thinking of Ending Things), and supe-in-hiding politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit, Where'd You Go, Bernadette); with storylines weaving them all in, too — that's because it is. And, it's that full to the brim before connecting to the events of college-set spinoff Gen V, which dropped its first season in 2023 and has already been renewed for season two, becomes part of the plot. The Boys has never been short on ambition, either, as is especially the case the bigger that the franchise and its stakes get.

For all of its similarities with real life, the buzzing chaos pulsing through its scripts and vibe, and the feverish determination to emphasise the point with raucous, gross-out violence and comedy, The Boys as a show practices what it preaches: it doesn't forget the humanity coursing through its frames itself. Staring into a mirror is an empty gesture if you don't feel like you truly see a person staring back, after all. From the most-empathetic traits to the most-sociopathic, this cast takes its job of reflecting what makes us human — for better and so often for worse — seriously. Its two acting MVPs haven't changed, however, including as big names continue to make cameos. Starr and Urban are exceptional once more, still tussling to prove the idea beating at The Boys' heart: that Butcher and Homelander, and their respective crews and crusades, aren't fated to be two sides of the same coin.

Check out the trailer for The Boys season four below:

The fourth season of The Boys streams via Prime Video from Thursday, June 13, 2024. Read our reviews of The Boys season three and Gen V.

Published on June 13, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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