The Boys mid-season report: Amid the gleeful excess, an endgame is now in sight

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We’re now part-way through season four of OTT supe-satire The Boysstreaming on Prime Video. With an endgame now in sight, the continual ramping up of stakes is taking on greater weight, writes Dominic Corry.

Contains spoilers for the first four eps of the new season.

A show very much celebrated for its gleeful excesses, The Boys usually goes out of its way to deliver an ante-upping moment of violent insanity within the opening moments of each season.

Notably, the current fourth season, kicked things off with a little more restraint, following our titular anti-superhero squad on a mission that, despite going awry, somehow didn’t culminate in an orgy of exploding blood.

That’s not to say that the new season doesn’t have its fair share of creatively messed-up set-pieces—the icky Human Centipede-inspired sequence featuring Splinter (Rob Benedict) in episode two being an instant classic in this regard, and the ice rink slaughter in ep three was particularly sadistic—but by opening with something a little more character-focused, The Boys suggested that all this craziness is heading somewhere tangible.

The show also usually takes its time in building up to one of the semi-regular showdowns between the main protagonist and the main antagonist (hilariously played by two New Zealanders), but by putting Butcher (Karl Urban) and Homelander (Antony Starr) in front of each other almost straight away, it suggests that their longtime stalemate could be heading towards a real resolution, a notion supported by the recent announcement that the series will end with the upcoming season five.

They’re certainly giving Homelander some interesting material this year—episode four’s trip down to the basement is perhaps one of the most chilling scenes in the show’s history. Not just for its extreme violence and gore, but for how it actually manages to make you feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the murderous psychopath.

It often amuses/perplexes me how the “Supes” on this show are ALWAYS wearing their superhero outfits, even in the most mundane situations. So I got an inordinate thrill when Homelander donned civvies to go and recruit Sister Sage (Susan Heyward).

I’m enjoying Sage’s disruptive presence in The Seven—she’s a breath of fresh air by dint of her sheer competence alone. Her unlikely chemistry with The Deep (Chace Crawford) is fun, too. They have made “lobotomy sex” a thing. Crawford remains the show’s secret comedy weapon—his attempt to show support for Sage during the meeting in ep four was delightfully pathetic. And Sage’s withering stare in response was gold, too.

Indeed, season four has perhaps seen the show at its funniest. Every single scene with Black Noir II—who can’t shut up, despite his predecessor never speaking once—kills me. That Will Ferrell cameo in ep two was peak that sort of thing, and who wasn’t delighted by the inspired casting of Tilda Swinton to play the voice of The Deep’s octopus lover?

The other new addition to The Seven, loony conspiracy pundit Firecracker (Valorie Curry), is central to another key aspect of The Boys’ appeal: that it’s one of the few contemporary series that actually engages in the current culture wars.

Most shows are too afraid to go near this stuff, and although The Boys isn’t exactly a paragon of nuance, the fact that it’s willing to makes it an often cathartic watch. Even hamfisted satire can be satisfying.

It’s also nice to see Simon Pegg return to the role of Hughie’s father, barely spotted since season one—don’t forget that Pegg was the physical model for Hughie in the comic book source material. Although he’s thus far been silently confined to a bed in a coma, developments at the end of ep four suggest Pegg may have some fun stuff to do in the coming episodes.

The second half of the season also looks like it will touch on some of the threads from college-set spin-off series Gen V, characters from which have so far this season only been glimpsed on a TV news report.

There are also juicy dangling threads for Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), whose past has come back to haunt her, Frenchie (Tomer Capone), whose past has come back to haunt him, Starlight (Erin Moriarty) who let Firecracker provoke her into a violent public display, and A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who’s dancing with death by secret providing intel to our heroes.

But the central conflict remains the dance between Butcher and Homelander, which this season is manifesting more than ever in their battle for the soul of Homelander’s son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). With Butcher seemingly on death’s door and guided by visions of his dead ex/Ryan’s mother Becca (Shantel VanSanten), and Homelander more emboldened than ever at the end of episode four after having “resolved” his issues with his upbringing, these two are headed for some kind of showdown, be it literal or metaphorical.

Either way, it’ll definitely be bloody.