Season 3 is bold in its storytelling, visual effects and action sequences, complete with outrageous plot lines and captivating comic-inspired scenes
“The Boys,” the twisted, warts-and-all superhero series on Prime Video, is as shockingly deep and resonant as it is disturbingly (and humorously) graphic and visceral. The six-time Emmy® Award-nominated drama’s fictitious world of crass, venal, uber-violent and superpowered characters is seen through the lens of the simmering tensions and crises of the real world. And that ethos has never been more apparent than in the show’s ambitious third season.
Even the plotline’s most outrageous elements — including a sprawling superhero orgy sequence; a size-changing hero accidentally growing to full height while inside another man’s urethra; and animated talking animals populating the psyche of one of the most mysterious supes — are balanced by intimate character-driven grace notes, razor-sharp social commentary and an array of pitch-black comedic moments.
“We always try to go deeper and dig even more into the characters and reveal new facets for them,” says executive producer, showrunner and writer Eric Kripke in a video interview with Variety. (The video interview was filmed before the WGA strike began on May 2.)
Even seemingly irredeemable characters like Homelander (Antony Starr) often inspire empathy, while noble supes like Starlight (Erin Moriarty) become compromised by certain decisions or succumb to human foibles. “A lot of the season becomes about this moral question of can you defeat your enemy without becoming worse than your enemy?” Kripke says. “All the different characters deal with that with some varying degree of success or failure.”
Detailing the show’s reverse approach to the notion of going high when your opponent goes low, Kripke adds: “We got interested in the notion of ‘Do you have to go lower to beat the low? What happens when you do, and what do you sacrifice? How important is it to hold onto your humanity and morality? And can you when you’re fighting monsters?’”
With those questions top of mind, Kripke and his team focused on further developing three-dimensional characters by putting protagonists in morally questionable situations and having antagonists do surprisingly sympathetic things.
“I like writing people who genuinely think they’re doing the right thing, even though they’re doing something completely awful,” says Kripke. “I don’t need you to sympathize with my antagonist, but I need you to at least understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. The same goes for the protagonist. We just don’t live in a world where you can only do the right thing every time. We’re driven by petty jealousies and little tics that cause us to sometimes make the wrong decision. To me, it’s just trying to depict humans in an honest way.”
For the third installment, Kripke and his team fleshed out the sense of lived-in history infused in the comic book source material. “The first two seasons really showed how our world was, and then [in] Season 3, we wanted to explain how it came to be,” says Kripke of the choice to explore “the generations of mistakes and ill-advised wars and toxic masculinity that sort of got us to the shithole we can so often be in.”
Season 3 called out the “masculine hero myth” that has, in Kripke’s eyes, corrupted and corroded the way generations of men have interfaced with the world. “None of it was ever real,” he says. “But men have convinced themselves of this lie, and they pass it on to their children, and so much violence and pain, societally and individually, as a result.”
The return of Vought International’s first supe, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) — a pastiche of flag-waving heroes, but with a toxic twist — revealed that masculine mythology and also served as a springboard for one of the show’s other thematic touchstones: father-son dynamics.
“We had this character who took you through all these decades of thought, and he was just what guys were really like,” Kripke explains of Soldier Boy. “They weren’t necessarily the greatest generation. Once we knew that that was the theme, we knew that it was how that’s getting passed down over the generations. It became a really relatable way to tell that story.”
Kripke says “The Boys” also revels in subverting some of the already-subversive comic book’s most talked-about moments, including the infamous orgy interlude, Herogasm. “It’s wildly graphic. You cannot read that book in public. All the fans of the comic and the show were waiting to see how we handled it,” chuckles Kripke, noting that a faithful adaptation would’ve been “straight-up porn.”
Instead, the show loaded up the Herogasm episode with an abundance of dramatic, game-changing character moments: Starlight and Hughie (Jack Quaid) addressing the tension between them; Hughie confronting A-Train (Jessie T. Usher); Mother’s Milk, aka M.M. (Laz Alonso), revealing his family connection to Soldier Boy; and Homelander facing his first-ever near-loss in a physical fight.
On wanting to “really blow people away” with that specific episode, Kripke says “it felt like it needed to be an event, but it couldn’t just be an event by people boning. It had to be an event by huge changes to the story. It’s every bit as shocking as [fans] are expecting it to be, but not at all in the way they think it’s going to be. And that was really intentional; I enjoyed having something that had that much event in it.”
Another Season 3 highlight that served as an event was Kimiko’s (Karen Fukuhara) musical number, a creative decision that changed what audiences expect from the superhero genre. Musicals are “every bit a stylized world as any genre. They’re these amazing fantasies where people can just suddenly launch into this crazy, stylized, visually trippy moment at the drop of a hat and no one blinks at it,” Kripke says. “For Kimiko as a character, her big multiple-season story is finding her voice. This was the right time for her to express to the audience what her inner voice sounds like.”
Indeed, even though the comic book precedent and the success of the initial seasons might suggest that “The Boys” can operate utterly without boundaries, “there is a guardrail, actually,” says Kripke. “We ask ourselves, ‘Are we just being shocking for shocking’s sake?’ And if the answer is yes, we don’t do it. That’s not to say we don’t have shocking things happen: The season opens with a man climbing into another man’s urethra and blowing him up!”