It's been a year and a half since the explosive finale of The Boys season 2, and they haven't missed a beat, kicking off season 3 with a premiere that's as shocking as it is… well, really, above all else… it's pretty damn shocking.
Things are looking particularly bright for Hughie (Jack Quaid), and boy does he deserve it. We see him working the red carpet arm-in-arm with Starlight (Erin Moriarty), having gone public with their relationship. We see him working his swanky new job at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs (FBSA) as the right hand to the bureau's director, Congresswoman Victoria Neumann (Claudia Doumit). It's nice to see Hughie happy and… not covered in blood for once.
But in the world of The Boys, good things don't last. As you might remember, the final moments of season 2 revealed none other than the seemingly squeaky clean Neumann as the mysterious superhero that'd been popping heads around town. Poor Hughie's about to have his bubble burst, along with some very important body parts if he's not careful.
While Hughie's busy floating on cloud nine, not everyone's having such a good time in this premiere. Stuck in a particularly rough spot is everyone's favorite superhero (until you get to know him): Homelander (Antony Starr).
With Homelander's poll numbers dropping by double digits in response to the reveal of his ex-girlfriend Stormfront's (Aya Cash) Nazi ties, Vaught CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) decides to shake things up by promoting Starlight to co-captain of the Seven. With a little convincing from Edgar, Starlight accepts the job, but Homelander's none too pleased with this arrangement.
But it's not just Homelander's professional life that's in shambles. His ex-lover Stormfront is on death's door, resigned to a hospital bed, missing half her limbs and half her face… though that doesn't stop Homelander from taking a moment to get… intimate… with what's left of her. Stinging Homelander the most is the fact that he's lost track of his son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), who Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and CIA agent Grace Mallory (Laila Robins) have stashed in a secure safe house.
While Homelander's agonizing over his sinking poll numbers and his lost opportunity at fatherhood, Butcher's coming to terms with his own role as a father to Ryan. It's quite heartwarming to watch Butcher play Connect-4 with his pseudo-adopted-son, and it's a much needed moment of humanization considering all the horrible things we've seen Butcher do.
But Butcher's not just visiting Ryan for some daddy/son time. He's got business to take care of. After failing to arrest a superhero named Termite (in what's perhaps the most hilariously outlandish sequence thus far in all of The Boys, and that's saying something), Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) steps in with a potentially game-changing piece of intel:
Before the Seven held court on the 99th floor of Vaught Tower, it was a group of superheroes named Payback who kept America safe… at least until their leader, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) was killed in action. How exactly was Soldier Boy killed? Well, that's what Butcher will need to uncover if he wants a chance at killing Homelander and finally avenging his late wife.
Back at the FBSA, a guy named Tony (Kyle Mac) visits the office asking for Neumann, insisting her real name isn't Victoria, but Nadia. Suspicious, Hughie follows him through the streets as Tony's confronted by Neumann in a secluded back alley. Neumann confirms the two were once friends, but things quickly get out of hand and, to keep Tony quiet, Neumann a.k.a. Nadia blows him to smithereens — spattering blood all over Hughie's new suit. Because what would an episode of The Boys be without Hughie drenched in someone else's blood?
So… Homelander's losing his mind. Hughie's fetching oat lattes for a mass murderer. Butcher's trapping evil superheroes in bags of cocaine. Damn I've missed this show.
In this episode of The Boys, it's Homelander's birthday! Well, at least it's the day the marketing team selected for his birthday. Regardless, Homelander's thrilled to celebrate his greatness and to do, as he puts it: "Whatever the hell I want." But this year… things are changing. So when he tries pressuring Starlight into singing a super-demeaning, Marilyn Monroe-inspired rendition of "Happy Birthday" on national TV, Starlight refuses, and Stan Edgar backs her up. The days of Homelander doing whatever the hell he wants seem to be over. And, naturally, he's not too happy about it. But, as Edgar tells him: "It's your birthday, you can cry if you want to."
Meanwhile, we find Billy Butcher struggling with a difficult decision. In the last episode, Queen Maeve gave him a valuable piece of intel that could help him eliminate Homelander once and for all — but that's not all she gave him. To help him survive this dangerous mission, she handed over three vials of "V-24", an experimental serum that imbues normal people with superpowers for 24 hours. It's quite the dilemma for Butcher — to avenge his departed wife Becca, will he become the thing he hates most in this world?
For now, Butcher can't bring himself to take the serum. Instead, he sends Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) to the superhero-themed amusement park Vaughtland to investigate this Soldier Boy business. The mission puts them head-to-head with Soldier Boy's ex-partner, a superhero named Crimson Countess (Laurie Holden). But the Countess is none too forthcoming, and a disagreement in her trailer turns into a full on superhero battle between her and Kimiko in the middle of Vaughtland, ending with the Countess accidentally murdering a guy in a Homelander suit. Not a great omen for his b-day.
With Crimson Countess in the wind, Butcher decides to pursue another one of Soldier Boy's old allies — a superhero named Gunpowder (Sean Patrick Flanery). Finding Gunpowder at a gun show (that reads more chilling than comedic given recent events), Butcher presses the supe for information on Soldier Boy's death, but Gunpowder won't buckle. Instead, Gunpowder tries to murder Butcher in the parking lot after the convention, and nearly succeeds.
Butcher's at rock bottom. He's tried to do things by the book, to no avail. It's in this moment of despair that he gets a call from Hughie, who finally tells him the truth about Neumann. Not only is Neumann the head-popper they've been hunting… Hughie has learned that she's also the adopted daughter of Stan Edgar.
Hughie, it seems, has accepted that they'll never take down Vaught playing by the rules. Butcher was right — they've got to be as ruthless and corrupt as the superheroes Vaught employs if they want to succeed. Inspired and reinvigorated by Hughie's turn, Butcher decides to pay another visit to Gunpowder… who greets him with a barrage of bullets. But this time, the bullets simply bounce off Butcher's chest and fall to the ground… because Butcher's taken a dose of V-24!
After a super-powered Butcher serves Gunpowder with a brutal beatdown, he finally gets a piece of information on Soldier Boy: Years ago, Soldier Boy's super-squad Payback was in Nicaragua on a joint mission with the CIA. It's there that Soldier Boy was killed, though Gunpowder has no idea how it happened. But there's one person who might know: Payback's CIA handler — and Butcher's mentor — Grace Mallory. With that intel in hand, Butcher has a chance to let Gunpowder walk free, but with the combination of V-24 and blind rage flowing through his veins, he can't help himself — and he beats Gunpowder to death.
Back in the world of Vaught, there's a bunch of super-powered shenanigans going on. Homelander's "birthday save" is interrupted by the news that Stormfront has died by suicide. He's so traumatized that instead of saving the woman he's arrived to rescue (she's standing on a rooftop, about to end her life), he encourages her, no — threatens her — into jumping.
Later, at Homelander's birthday celebration, Starlight wishes her "best friend" a happy birthday, and touts Homelander's generous dollar donation to her new charity, Starlight House. But instead of clapping and smiling, Homelander grabs the mic — and absolutely loses his s—. He's done playing nice, he says. Done following the rules. Apologizing. Hiding who he truly is. Done pretending he's anything other than a literal god among men. Contradicting his signature catchphrase, Homelander tells the audience: "You're not the real heroes. I'm the real hero."
Off that chilling dictum, we're left to wonder: if the last two seasons of carnage were Homelander with guard rails… what the hell does he look like without them?
Homelander's polls have skyrocketed! It seems his base — white men in the rust belt — really responded to his self-aggrandizing, anti-regulatory, borderline psychotic rant at the end of episode 2. Who would've thought?
Much of the drama in this episode is centered around the superhero competition show "American Hero" and the decision of which heroes to add to the Seven. According to Starlight's new contract, the choice is hers, and she attempts to push through her selections — her ex-boyfriend/former pop-star Supersonic (Miles Gaston Villanueva), and the superhero Silver Kincaid. But Homelander's got other plans for his squad.
Homelander wants supes he can control, so he's working to get The Deep back on the team. But before he extends the invite, he'll need a show of loyalty. So Homelander takes The Deep to dinner. For The Deep's entree, Homelander brings out Deep's octopus pet and close friend Timothy. Deep begs Homelander to spare his friend… but Homelander won't back down, and Deep, desperate to earn back his spot, eats Timothy alive. It's… quite a scene.
With Deep having proven his loyalty, Homelander pitches his re-admittance to Starlight, who is, understandably… horrified. Way back in the pilot, Deep sexually assaulted Starlight, so the idea of working side-by-side with him is an absolute no-go. Starlight asserts her newfound authority over Homelander, but he won't back down. So she pulls out the big guns and threatens to release the recovered video from Flight 37, which as you may remember, shows Homelander refusing to save a young girl from the hijacked airplane that later crashed into the ocean. Historically, this threat has proven effective in controlling Homelander… but no more.
"Release the video," Homelander insists. He'll lose everything, sure, but then… he'll have nothing to lose. Homelander paints a grim picture of what'll happen if he's pushed into a corner — the White House, Pentagon, New York City… all gone. Utterly terrified, Starlight relents, and accepts his proposal — she'll allow The Deep to rejoin the Seven, along with Supersonic.
But now, Starlight cares too much for her old friend Supersonic to let him risk his life in the Seven, so she encourages him to turn down the invitation. Supersonic considers her proposition… but ultimately decides to join up. His choice isn't driven by ego or ambition. Supersonic truly cares about Starlight, and if she's in danger, he's gonna have her back. And so the love triangle between Hughie, Starlight and Supersonic heats up in a big way.
Hughie, however, is unaware of this encroaching romantic threat, as he's busy with Butcher and the Boys — including Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso) who's back in the ring after a few episodes of daddy-daughter time — pressing CIA agent Grace Mallory for insight into the cause of Soldier Boy's death. Mallory regales the squad with tales of her time in Nicaragua, peddling cocaine to minority communities to help the CIA fund America's war with Russia. The operation was going swimmingly (moral quandaries aside), until the superhero squad Payback showed up and drew the attention of Russian-backed forces in the area. In the ensuing firefight, Mallory's entire team was killed, along with Soldier Boy. Mallory doesn't have any intel on the weapon the Russian forces used to kill Soldier Boy, but Butcher knows someone who might.
While Homelander facilitated forced cannibalism (of sorts) and Mallory admitted to her role in destroying impoverished African American communities, Frenchie was dealing with a problem of his own. It seems his on-and-off flame Cherie (Jordana Lajoie) stole some drugs from a very powerful Russian mobster named Little Nina. Naturally, Little Nina wants Cherie dead, and she wants Frenchie's help to do it. Frenchie's unwilling to give Cherie up, but when the Soldier Boy investigation starts pointing to Russia… Butcher sees a synergetic opportunity.
However, Butcher's story in this episode is not all butterflies and rainbows. In the climax of the prior episode, he injected himself with V-24 in order to take on Gunpowder. But now… he's struggling to control those powers, locking himself in the bathroom for extended periods of time to avoid accidentally laser-eyeing his team to death. None of the Boys seem acutely aware of Butcher's condition, but Ryan's superpowers give him a hint at Butcher's altered state.
Butcher's desperate to keep Ryan safe, and he decides to do that by leaving and never coming back. This upsets Ryan, who's grown attached to Butcher, and doesn't want him to go. In classic Butcher fashion, he makes a bold move to push Ryan away for good — not by opening up about his feelings — by telling Ryan that he can't stand to look at the monster who killed his wife.
It's a gut-wrenching emotional low-point that's matched only by the climax of Homelander and Starlight's conflict… as Homelander announces on-air that he and Starlight are in love. After a moment of shock, Starlight goes with it, kissing Homelander to maintain her cover.
So… the Boys are going to Russia. Butcher's probably pushed Ryan one step closer to becoming a sociopath like Homelander, who's growing more and more unhinged by the second. The world of The Boys is in shambles… and I don't know what I'm going to do with the next week of my life while I wait for episode 4.
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