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The Boys Season 4: Satire and Showdowns | Review

A bridging season between the spin-off and what we know will be the final act: Eric Kripke's bad boys are back, hitting the core of contemporary society.

TV SERIES REVIEWS

The Boys

There comes a moment when the new normal simply becomes normal, especially when depicting contemporary society. This happened, for example, with Modern Family and other comedies, but it also occurs with dramatic series like The Boys, which returned on June 13 on Prime Video with its fourth (and penultimate) season, releasing new episodes every Thursday. The series by Eric Kripke, once again drawing inspiration from the comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, aims to satirize American society and by extension, contemporary global society. It offers a harsh, unfiltered critique where graphic elements like hair, sperm, sweat, tears, blood, and internal fluids no longer shock viewers. These elements have become the new norm for the series, which has set a new standard for splatter on TV.

Just like in House of the Dragon—another leading show in current programming—there are two clear factions to root for. On one side are the increasingly narcissistic and out-of-control Supes, driven by their ambitions and greed: Antony Starr’s always-excellent Homelander, Jesse Usher’s remorseful A-Train, Chace Crawford’s sleazy Deep, and Nathan Mitchell’s no longer silent Black Noir. On the other side are the titular Boys, determined to eradicate what they see as the existential virus of superheroes created by Compound V: Karl Urban’s battered Billy Butcher, Laz Alonso’s torn-between-work-and-family Mother’s Milk, Jack Quaid’s increasingly confident Hughie, and the complex Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara). Lastly, Erin Moriarty’s Starlight, who has reverted to her birth name Annie January, has switched sides and stands openly against the Supes and everything they represent. The Seven also welcome two new members: Valorie Curry’s Firecracker, who embodies the modus operandi of keyboard conspiracists, podcasters, and influencers louder than they are accurate, often praising Catholic values and thus linking back to Annie’s origins, leaning towards the grotesque; and Susan Heyward’s Sister Sage, the world’s smartest woman who thinks four moves ahead, reminiscent of Dr. Manhattan from the comics, never revealing the full truth because no one could grasp the bigger picture, not even Homelander. Each character must confront past traumas to move forward, resulting in a somewhat repetitive cycle for the series but one that remains effective thanks to the over-the-top characterizations and performances, as well as its increasing proximity to the societal satire it aims to parody.

The geopolitical critique that was part of the show’s backbone now seems to reflect reality. Current politics and the rot of society are not dystopian but sadly tethered to modern ugliness and distortions. This is evident in the storyline involving the U.S. Presidential candidates Robert Singer (Jim Beaver, a familiar face from Supernatural, another series by the creator) and Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), nodding to the X-Men. Legacy works in reverse in The Boys, as the future is represented by Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), the first superhero born not from Compound V, torn between two father figures, Butcher and Homelander, the most charismatic characters in the show.

The beginning of the end is clear, not only due to Butcher’s illness, numerous cameos enriching the season from the show’s past, references and crossovers with Gen V, a successful spin-off from last year expanding this narrative universe; but also because it sets the stage for a grand finale, with both teams blending and confusing more and more, preparing for an explosive conclusion. Another Supernatural veteran, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, joins as Butcher’s former CIA colleague. “Once, blood made me sick; now I barely flinch seeing it flow,” Hughie says at one point, reflecting our own desensitization as viewers to the graphic violence in the more extreme action scenes, heightened by the dynamic direction that has always characterized the show. We have assimilated and accepted this new, raw, brutal, sadistic, and unfiltered way of portraying superheroes today. They are products of an image-driven society that spreads like a virus.

This season also hints at something that could eliminate the Supes, laying the groundwork for the grand finale, as we come out of a global pandemic addressed in the storyline, once again nodding to the present and updating Ennis’s visionary take on future heroes. The history of the United States is intrinsically linked to the figure of the hero (and anti-hero), and perhaps the only solution is to look to the stars because on Earth, one finds only rot and corruption. The Boys have no intention of going quietly. After all, why should they?

Federico Vascotto

Cinematografo, June 20, 2024

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