'The Boys' Finale Proves the Kids Are Not Alright

'The Boys' might be going in circles, but a chilling Season 3 ending proves there's still some narrative juice left.

the boys karl urban cameron crovetti anthony starr
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video

Spoilers ahead for the season finale of Amazon Prime's The Boys.

The future generation is fucked, according to The Boys. In the last episode of the third season of Amazon's raucous superhero satire, showrunner Eric Kripke and his team of writers make their bleakest statement yet: The kids are not okay. It's a chilling vision of what's to come from a series that keeps doubling down on its real-world allegories.

Antony Starr's increasingly terrifying warped Captain America, Homelander, has evaded destruction yet again, with the Boys having to make sure his literal sire Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) doesn't destroy New York through a nuclear combination of rage and PTSD. In the aftermath of the Vought Tower-set showdown, Homelander's son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti)—conceived via rape—decides to seek his protection and love rather than use his mother's husband, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), as a father figure. Homelander's quest to win over the child, which began in Season 1, is finally complete, and he brings him to a rally where his MAGA-esque supporters are introduced to his spawn. When a counterprotestor challenges him, Homelander blows his head off. Ryan smiles.

It's a thoroughly haunting image. The quest to save Ryan's soul has been hanging over The Boys ever since he was introduced. When Season 2 drew to a close, he inadvertently killed his mother while trying to stop the not-so-secret Nazi Stormfront (Aya Cash) from strangling her, and began this year in a retreat where Butcher attempts to keep him grounded despite his guilt and budding violent tendencies. But the allure of the power his biological father wields is too great, and Ryan now seems forever lost.

It's a conclusion that helps solve a problem that The Boys appeared to be running into as it headed into its fourth batch of episodes: What to do about Homelander? Starr's performance as the sociopath is magnificent, a deft portrayal of male toxicity mashed up with emotional impotence and simmering rage. And yet Homelander's unkillable nature has made him start to seem like a narrative hurdle. This year, Kripke made the parallels between Homelander and Donald Trump glaringly obvious, which rang as almost comically unsubtle to viewers who had been paying attention and pissed off dummies who, for some reason, thought he was an antihero and not an outright villain.

Ryan's allegiance gives the writers a new angle on Homelander, and feeds directly into the themes of generational rot that the season had been teasing out. Homelander was created using the DNA of Soldier Boy, who the Boys accidentally unfroze in time and planned to use as a potential weapon. Soldier Boy's brand of self-involvement has a Reaganite bent, and one "make America great again" begets another, resulting in Homelander's specifically 21st century type of horror. But even beyond this legacy of nationalist evil, The Boys has grown increasingly interested in how abuses are passed down. In the penultimate episode, Butcher contends with his father's mistreatment, while secretly superpowered politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) throws her surrogate father, Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), under the bus to protect her own daughter. Victoria also injects the girl with Compound V, a substance which will give the child abilities but will almost certainly corrupt her in one way or another.

There is the chance that The Boys might be going in circles. Victoria, who can explode people's heads, still feels like an idea more than a fully fledged character, and the season ends with another tease that she's up to something in the long term without offering any concrete details. Elsewhere, Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), has essentially been retired as a character, presumed dead by the world and headed out to almost literal pasture, an unceremonious quasi-ending for a character who felt underserved by the narrative. (In the source comics, Homelander kills Maeve.) Her other female teammate and former member of the Seven, Starlight (Erin Moriarty), remains the only morally pure entity on the show, and has joined up with the Boys to take down Vought from the outside in another reset for the plot.

Despite these nagging doubts, Ryan's unnerving smirk tells us The Boys still has the power to make our skin crawl. Just how screwed we are—both in The Boys and in life—remains to be seen.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.