Source: Amazon Studios Press Kit

The Boys Season 4 gets uncomfortable, and a little wayward

This season is having trouble finding its way forward.

The last two episodes of The Boys have been a display of some of what the show does best- making entertaining bloodbaths out of situations that are complex and nuanced. Despite that, they have also demonstrated some of the biggest flaws that the writers just can’t seem to shake this late into the game. 

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Content warning: This piece discusses issues of assault and non-consensual sexual acts.

For all the fun that episode 5 of this season brought, it didn’t get much done. The plot with Hughie’s dad isn’t relevant to the main plot, but it was a great way to show how Hughie has become more pragmatic. In addition, he’s come to accept life in a world where Compound V is normal. After being injected with V by Daphne, Hugh Campbell Sr. went on a rampage that parallels the way A-Train would literally run through people. Ironically, the flipped circumstances were used much more for shock and comedy this time around. That drives some of The Boys’ central messaging home, though. The life Hughie used to lead is similar to everyone else’s in-world. People die all the time for no reason and some never get justice. 

Image via Amazon

The rest of the team went to hunt for the virus that was tested on Godolkin University students, and it sets up a long sequence at Stan Edgar’s old home. A lot of this demonstrates just how effective the virus would be against a regular supe. This part of the episode feels like a lull, but it leads to Butcher grabbing Neuman’s boyfriend and forcing him to come up with a way to get more of the virus. It’s just as much of a distraction to the audience as it is to Neuman about what’s going on under the surface. Based on the way this specific story has flowed, it feels like its main purpose may be fleshing out the stakes in the world to contextualize any threats coming in season 2 of Gen V.  Further on, this side plot allows Butcher to have his Tyler Durden-esque reveal alone in the following episode.

Forgetting to stick the landing

Hughie draws the short stick in episode 6, and he’s forced to infiltrate and bug Tek Knight’s home at a party. As the boys find ways to listen into the way politicians and shareholders want to shape the future, Hughie gets whisked away by Tek and forced into his dungeon. What unfolds after this point allows for some fun jabs concerning Tek’s political affiliations. It also leads to sequences more uncomfortable than anything covered in Herogasm. This episode raised plenty of eyebrows from its audience, and it’s more than warranted.

Image via Amazon

Hughie has suffered a lot. Entire articles have been written pleading The Boys’’ writers to give him a break. While that is something the audience has gotten used to, sensitive issues like assault isn’t. Scenes where people’s autonomy and consent are violated that populate the comics have been altered or cut entirely. In most cases, this has seemed like the right call. Annie’s assault in the beginning of the series was changed so that it could fully point out the gravity of what’s taking place in the narrative. 

Hughie is forced into what is implied to be hours worth of non-consensual sex, and it’s mostly played for laughs. Rightfully, fans were upset by the fact that Hughie hasn’t been treated with the same grace as Annie. These scenes are used to catalyze Hughie’s acceptance that he’s dealt with his father’s death so poorly that he barely addressed it. The way that these serious issues are covered by a show that has handled them with more tact has left fans confused. Many believe that this is especially evocative of material from the comics that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Even from a narrative standpoint, the scenes with Tek Knight and Ashley don’t really advance the main plot. 

These scenes leave a sour taste around one of the best scenes of this season- A-Train gets a save that feels right out of a Spider-Man movie. A confrontation with Sister Sage leaves M.M. fixated on what the direct consequences his actions have, and continue to have, on his daughter. It’s brutal manipulation on Sage’s part, some of her best work yet, and it triggers a panic attack for him. When A-Train gets called in to drop him off, a kid spots him. The look of wonder on his face and the pride A-Train earns here is heartwarming. It’s also far too optimistic for this show, which feels like it’s cementing that A-Train’s secrets will come out in the open and he’ll be killed next episode.

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Not so scary anymore

When Sister sage recovers, she makes even bigger slip-ups this episode, and it only took being a little brain-dead. After taking a bullet, Sage spends the episode without her greatest ability, and it kind of kills all of the aura she had as a threat. Sage has mentioned that if she’s stabbed in the heart, she dies, but when taking a blow to the brain, it’ll grow back. Her rapport with Homelander may be gone after she failed him when he needed it most. Neuman stepping up and helping out may have been prompted by Sage, but had she been ready to explain their plan, it could have saved Homelander the humiliation. Homelander’s anger has been more hair-trigger than before lately. Unfortunately for Sage, this could lead to her meeting a similar fate as the original Black Noir did last season. Even if she doesn’t, we now know for sure that most of the boys could handle her in a fight.

Although Annie and Kimiko don’t get a huge amount of time, what we do see of them shows us even more of their growth. Kimiko is forced to think on her feet again when she breaks her phone. The scene where she uses book titles to convey meaning is fluff, but it feels like the humor of The Boys at its best. It’s goofy, and it balances lightheartedness during a serious situation. Annie’s scene with Firecracker feels like she’s becoming a bit more complex. While she apologizes to her again, it feels like much of what she’s saying is genuine. It’s equally possible that she’s forced herself to become craftier after accepting that her enemies won’t be any kinder. 

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During all of this, it was easy to ask: where’s Frenchie? The funny thing is that the show has already answered this question. He’s in jail. Frenchie turned himself in for the murders he’s been agonizing over, but it doesn’t feel like anything has come of this. He hasn’t made this decision at a pivotal moment where it would be more dramatic to. The boys seem to be functioning just fine without him (aside from a couple hiccups in their mission). We haven’t seen any of his experience in the prison, outside of rejecting Kimiko’s request to see him. It feels like the character has been long-finished and nobody knows what to do with him anymore. Normally when they’ve served their purpose, a character gets killed off, but that hasn’t happened either. Maybe Frenchie will come into use later; perhaps they’ll use him to create a stronger version of the virus. 

We have a pacing issue

This ambling around with some beats brings us to a larger issue with the show’s pacing. In Season 1, it took two episodes from Hughie to transform from a meek, apprehensive everyman into someone who is ready to kill when he’s cornered. One of the best parts about that short arc where he kills Translucent is how believable his feelings and motivations are in such a small window of time. Now we’re in Season 4 and he’s been backed into so many corners, where taking the same actions have been just as—if not more—viable, but he has refused. 

Eventually, by episode 4, he takes the initiative and grows. The problem is that because of all that’s happened between those changes, it feels like it’s taken seasons to get there, regardless of whether the key moments of his development have actually been prompted over similar amounts of on-screen time. 

That’s not to say that Hughie hasn’t developed. Watching him grow and own that his motives are influenced by the killers he spends time around has been a highlight of the season. In Episode 6, he mentions Frenchie and Kimiko to his mother, and she’s bewildered at what comes out of his mouth. This is likely why Hughie and Butcher have spent so much time apart this season. Their on-screen chemistry as a duo is incredible, but the writers appear aware that their dynamic was risking getting stale. Spending time this season inverting their philosophies is smart. As Hughie grows a backbone, Butcher loses his grasp on reality and with that, his self-assuredness. 

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The Butcher twist is fun, but the more time spent after the fact, it kind of begs the question of whether it needed to be a reveal, since we already knew he was hallucinating Becca. Was it just to shock the audience? Is that really worth it in a show that used to prioritize quick and entertaining exposition? Things like Season 1’s Ezekiel convention moved the plot while telling us about Annie’s background and Homelander’s current opinions. Here, episodes take the same amount of time and do less. Elements like that twist have begun to feel like padding. They make for what could be a very interesting Season 5, but why are we waiting?

What’s next?

A lot of this season feels like a buildup, and perhaps it will pay off. But pacing media this way runs the risk of making those standalone build-up installments less satisfying. Although The Boys S3 finale was great, it was panned across the board for being underwhelming in the same ways that Season 4 spends some of its time dawdling. It makes it reasonable to ask whether Season 5 will deliver. Will The Boys spend their time on Compound-V fueled wild-chicken/goat/dad chases, or will they finally get to the point and knock Homelander down? 

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