The action isn’t subtle on ‘The Boys,’ but the politics have all kinds of shades
July 8th saw the release of the final episode of the third season of The Boys. At this point possibly the flagship franchise of Amazon Prime, The Boys is an adaptation of the Garth Ennis comic of the same name, which ran from 2006 to 2012. The Boys posits a very revisionist take on the superhero genre, suggesting that the typical heroic depiction of such characters is marketing spin. In a real world with superheroes, The Boys posits, they’d just be celebrities, in and out of rehab, and always getting into trouble. But this is trouble of the rape and murder variety. And what do you do with a Superman analog, Homelander, who commits such awful crimes yet can’t really be brought to justice even if his corporate sponsors wanted to punish him ?
A few weeks ago, some folks managed to lionize him as misunderstood hero:
The Boys subreddit is chaos right now. Threads getting locked, users rage-deleting whole accounts. It’s amazing. Right-wing users are whining about “no politics,” but it’s impossible to talk about the show without them now. Fans who thought Homelander was cool are in a meltdown. pic.twitter.com/w4YyWVuWIW
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) June 18, 2022
At the time, naturally, public reaction was a sort of incredulity, naturally lending to mockery. Despite The Boys being a fairly incredibly unsubtle piece of fiction, this isn’t even the first time fans have gone nuts over an obviously terrible person turning out to be, well, obviously terrible. The second season of The Boys introduced Stormfront, a superheroine, or supe, with weather themed powers. If your first thought was, wait, isn’t Stormfront the name of a famous Nazi website, well, let’s just say that not everyone had that same first thought.
The Boys tends to attract the attentions of a certain class of politics news-poisoned fans. But seen through that lens, Homelander’s bizarre fandom isn’t quite so strange as it may seem at first glance. The first two seasons of The Boys had two fairly clearly defined factions. The Boys themselves, and their CIA backers, see supes as a menace and seek to destroy them. Then there’s Vought, the corporation led by CEO Stan Edgar, played impeccably as usual by Giancarlo Esposito, which represents the superheroes and cleans up for them.
The third season throws a lot of curveballs to this previously straightforward dynamic. Stan Edgar tells the Secretary of Defense Robert Singer that he’s actually sick of dealing with the supe aspect of his industry altogether, and wants to transition to pure pharmaceuticals. It’s still evil, just a different kind of evil. Subsequently Homelander, feeling stifled and emasculated by his losses in the second season, stages a corporate takeover.
In a hilarious twist, an Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez-styled character pushing for supe accountability, Victoria Neuman, actually helps Homelander in this goal. Within the first couple of episodes the interseason plan The Boys have been running of trying to deal with the superhero problem with the help of the government, instead of just coming up with convoluted murder schemes, has fallen apart. Victoria Neuman had been running this effort. As it turns out, though, she was a supe herself all along, with connections to Vought, and ultimately another agenda entirely. Although much like Homelander, we increasingly get the sense that she’s just making up new plans on her own without regard to the long term.
If the Victoria Neuman as AOC angle wasn’t enough, the Homelander as Trump angle is even more glaring–there’s a blatant reference to Trump’s infamous taco bowl tweet. And here, I think, is where I don’t blame certain people for getting confused into thinking The Boys was aiming for a redemption arc with Homelander. Yes, Homelander is a bad person. We’ve seen him murder people, and even plot with an actual Nazi (Stormfront, just in case I have to be explicit) to take over the world with a supe master race.
But up until the third season, Homelander was only ever really the villain in the sense that he was the most directly physically dangerous character. Stan Edgar is the person actually responsible for nearly every terrible thing any supe has ever done. He has treated all of the events he’s facilitated, from injecting children with dangerous superpowered drugs to enlisting supes to fight in an illegal war centered around dangerous normalpowered drugs, with horrifyingly businesslike dispassion. His downfall at the beginning of the season is thus startlingly anticlimactic, particularly as the show strongly implies that all that really happens to him is forced early retirement.
Stan Edgar is the villain the alt-left and the alt-right can both agree on, a despicable example of corporate malfeasance. Consequently, the most Trumpian thing Homelander does isn’t his promotion of taco bowls. It’s the fact that he attacks a massive power structure with inordinate sway and influence over people’s lives, which makes those people’s lives worse solely for financial reasons. Now granted, Homelander was one of, if not the, biggest beneficiaries of this power structure. But Trump presaged his entire reputation on being rich. Indeed, it was his main claim to credibility. Trump knew the system was rigged because it was being rigged in his favor. While Homelander, like Trump, may not care about actually solving the problem, at least he correctly identified it.
In the long run the Redditors may have had the last laugh after all, in terms of wanting this monstrous, obvious Trump stand-in to get a redemption arc. The third season finale of The Boys gives us the long-hyped showdown between Homelander and Soldier Boy, a Captain America analog and also, apparently, Homelander’s biological father. Earlier hints suggested that Soldier Boy might not be so keen on killing Homelander after all upon learning this secret. But in the end it’s Homelander who makes the strongest familial entreaties, bringing along his own son (a child of rape), speaking earnestly of the importance of fathers and family.
Then Soldier Boy, in a hilarious expression of toxic masculinity he himself had earlier criticized, calls Homelander a pathetic weakling and tries to kill him and his son anyway. Which is all quite on-brand for The Boys really. Just because Homelander is bad doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone who opposes him is good. And vice-versa.