This review contains very minor spoilers.
It was Marjorie Pay Hinckley who said, "The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh." For a solid two seasons, Amazon's The Boys has lived by this ethos... that, and if they can't make you laugh, they're sure as hell going to make you cringe and squirm. It is through this unashamed boldness that the show has become so beloved and acclaimed, and Season Three of the superhero series continues to up the ante.
From the season's opening scenes, director Phil Sgriccia (who directed episode one and two of this season), reminds us how he hasn't come to play, with a gruesome scene involving a parody of Marvel's Ant-Man and DC's The Atom, a drug-fuelled party, and an ill-advised sexual encounter up (but not in the way you're probably thinking) a bodily appendage that ultimately culminates in someone no longer in one piece. It's gory, trippy, and made all the more crazy by the fact that it's probably something that would happen if superheroes existed in real life.
The debauchery and corruption that would certainly occur in many sectors of society if superheroes did wander our Earth has been The Boys playground since the beginning, but the show had to spend an extra year away from screens as it - like many other productions - had to also navigate the complications of the pandemic. In that time, it is clear that the show's producers and writers have also used that time to run with all the social issues that came to the fore during this period.
From the PR manager of superhero team The Seven, Ashley (Colby Minifie), claiming how much #BlackLivesMatter means to her since her feed is all black squares, to the use of newcomer Soldier Boy (a fabulously unhinged Jensen Ackles) demonstrating how 'the good old days' really should not be romanticised, the show continues to target and strip away the performative gloss surrounding many issues and tropes we see around us. Some moments will make the audience laugh more than others - there are parodies of many a cringeworthy advert or celebrity video - while other moments are much darker and heavier for the viewer. Such scenes round out the show's universe by grounding the viewer in its reality, whilst also shuttling us through past versus present, and real-life versus media spin, at breathtaking speed.
The Boys has often underlined the nuances and issues that crop up due to toxic masculinity, especially given that machismo, ego and image are all part of the superhero world. Season Three continues on with this thread, especially in the storylines of the show's female characters. Erin Moriarty's turn as Starlight is one of the strongest performances of the season, as episode on episode we see her battle with not just the evolution and conflict within herself, but also with how she relates anew to the men she has to deal with. Given Starlight's background as someone marketed as an 'all-American sweetheart', she has always struggled with her inner strength and how this is sometimes at odds with her drive to survive in difficult environments. Moriarty's display of Starlight's growth in both her power and self-determination is fascinating to watch and a foil to the silent way that Dominique McElligott's Queen Maeve grapples with deciding how to finally break out of the system she has been a part of her entire life in order to finally, truly, be free.
Outside of The Seven, Karen Fukuhara's Kimiko Miyashiro and Tomer Capon as Frenchie continue to be two of the most fascinating and loveable characters on television. Due to their great chemistry, the two continue to serve as a great example of a healthy and relationship-friendship that at no point takes away from both characters' own storylines and personalities. Are they just friends? Are they soul mates? Even now, I'm not entirely sure, but the way they both interact is so earnest that I don't think it even matters. Fans of both characters will in particular be delighted to see more fun sequences with both characters and without spoiling too much, Fukuhara is given means to expand Kimiko's means of communication beyond her sign language in simply the best (most musical) way possible.
If Moriarty's Starlight is given space to level-up this season, then by contrast the slow, slow decline of Antony Starr's Homelander is palpably terrifying. Episode by episode we see another crack form in the psyche of the superhero team's leader; he has always been an egotistical, selfish character, but this season Starr adds a few more levels to the hero's loathing, lack of self and general mania. Other characters also manage to get their moment in the sun, with The Deep (Chace Crawford) continuing to draw pity and disgust every time you see him on screen, whilst many will empathise with the confusion felt by A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) as a Black superhero conflicted and isolated whilst stuck in a system that does not give a damn about the issues that plague him and his community. That is, unless they benefit the team's public image.
The fact that all of this is played against a backdrop where the majority of the world idolise and obsess over heroes and their antics is somehow even more unnerving. In the same way many of us admire and follow a variety of celebrities or public figures online on a scale we have never been able to before, the showrunners of The Boys utilise their superhero characters to suggest (often to depraved and hedonistic levels) how much we really do not know about the people we read so much about. Every single character - no matter how noble or ignoble - are once more given arcs this season to remind us that they really are just people as messed up as the rest of us, no matter how good or bad they yearn to be. The world of The Boys is chaotic, as are the people in it. Very much like our own world, then.
There is no side of the political or social spectrum that does not have some shot or commentary aimed at it by the show and perhaps that's really the whole point: for when times are uncertain we all yearn for heroes to save us. But at the end of the day, any such hero is only a fantasy we create for ourselves. Idolise them at your peril.