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‘The Boys’ season 4: Still ultraviolent, raunchy, and over the top

Carljoe Javier

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‘The Boys’ season 4: Still ultraviolent, raunchy, and over the top

SEASON 4. 'The Boys' return for another action-packed season with more violence and antics.

The Boys' Instagram page

'The Boys' is in the enviable position of being a superhero property that is independent of major studio demands and has the ability to take viewers in directions that these studios would never go

MANILA, Philippines – As one of Prime Video’s flagship titles, The Boys has carved a space for itself in the whole “prestige TV” format.

Knowing that people love violence and gore, and also that people love raunchy sex scenes that cross into the taboo and perverse, and matching that with the superhero backdrop of its source material (and we know even despite all the superhero fatigue, people still do love superheroes), it’s got a winning formula. What occurs to me while watching the first two episodes in advance of the release is that the series doesn’t have to be as good as it is.

If you asked me about Marvel TV shows, I’ve watched most of them. And on the whole, I’ve enjoyed them within the scope and limitations of their ambitions (big budget but often ancillary to larger machinations in the MCU, with a hit-and-miss ratio that can be expected of something pumping out so much content). And if you asked me about DC, apart from HBO’s Peacemaker and some animated stuff, I would have to say that the lot of it has been kind of mid too.

Of course, DC has been trying to figure itself out for over a decade. Its hit-and-miss ratio is not as good as Marvel but the hits have been enough to keep fans going.

The Boys is in the enviable position of being a superhero property that is independent of major studio demands and has the ability to draw in audiences. It takes things in directions that the major studios would never go, and it’s this irreverence and over-the-top attitude that made both the comics and now the series so effective.

Different kind of superhero story

At the start of season four, we find things feeling like they are driving toward inevitable resolutions. The power that Homelander wields is tremendous, and yet he needs more. Butcher’s dealing with the effects of Gen V, which gave him superpowers last season but has also given him cancer. He has a limited amount of time to accomplish whatever it is he hopes to accomplish before he goes. Thankfully, Huey is given a different storyline to deal with here as opposed to his drama with feeling insecure as the boyfriend of Starlight.

In this season, too, we are offered a number of interesting new characters on both sides. In the episodes screened, we were shown Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s CIA operative, but not much more than a conversation. And on The Seven side, we have one of the most intriguing new characters in Sister Sage (Susan Hayward), who is basically a Steve Bannon to Homelander’s Trump. She escalates everything in this series and makes it feel immediate.

We get what we want from these first two episodes, and if the rest of the season goes this way, then it’s going to be a really entertaining one. There are big fights that are interesting. I don’t use the word interesting lightly.

Whether superhero genre or not, a lot of action is becoming a kind of formless blob of mid, like you know everyone is working now with stunt teams and CG, and there’s a kind of quality-mediocrity that you can expect in everything you watch. Sure, the fight scenes are now almost always proficient. But are they creative?

In the case of The Boys, there’s always been a level of brutality to them, but they take the extra time to factor in what the characters’ powers could actually mean in the context. In addition to that, it’s not just brutality for its own sake, but the degrees of violence actually communicate the story, whether it’s how awfully someone is maimed or the ease at which human life is vulnerable and can be taken – and taken for granted.

Same goes for the raunchy sex stuff, which, while sometimes is just there to shock, at other times helps to build narrative and understanding of characters through their proclivities. One might worry that some of the schticks might get old. After all, how many times can you go over the top before “over the top” either leaves you with nothing to go over or it’s so expected that it’s no longer interesting?

Yet, again, at least with the first two episodes, The Boys manages to continue to give new and interesting things. I think it’s largely because it isn’t just the events that happen but the way that these events are so effectively anchored to characters and the very real and very human emotions that underpin them.

For however awful and villainous Homelander is, you can see that there’s a fragility and vulnerability that he, like all of us, continues to struggle with. That’s a hard balancing act, especially with a character who is so villainous and awful – kudos to Anthony Starr for being able to portray all of these layers through glares and forced smiles. This contrasted with Karl Urban’s portrayal of the insufferable Butcher, an antihero if there ever was one, someone so frustratingly self-sabotaging that you don’t know why The Boys still keep him around until the moments when he can overcome himself.

One thing I was left thinking a lot about, and which I’ve saved here for the end because it does need more thinking and it’s something I’m still not sure about: The Boys as a comic book was a commentary on the military-industrial complex, a collection of “what if superheroes were true” alongside “what if conspiracy theories were true,” and the superhero revisionism perspective that superheroes, if they did exist with those kinds of powers in the world, had to be awful people. In its current incarnation, especially with season 4, it leans into our current world of conspiracy theories, the alt-right and fascism on the rise.

I kept wondering if it was still satire and if what it was portraying and making fun of was actually real. I mean, sure, they filter it so that it makes sense in “their world,” but honestly, the show so effectively captures the familiar American cable news and podcast histrionics that, if it weren’t for there being different names, it would be a one-for-one. And yes, these characters have superpowers, but it would seem that the corrupt and powerful fascistic politicians have similar powers of charisma, mind-control, the ability to “bend reality,” and the kind of money and other resources.

This is all to say that the political commentary is thinly veiled, if even veiled at all. Sad to say that we do live in a world where there’s very little difference in the awful ways that humanity is portrayed in The Boys. That’s a downer to end on, but maybe that’s also me hoping that if The Boys can find a way through the morass of contemporary politics, maybe we can too. –

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