Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Boys Season 3, Episodes 1-3For much of the first two seasons of The Boys, Anthony Starr’s terrifying and tyrannical Homelander had been steadily slipping more into his more sociopathic tendencies. The only thing keeping him in check had been his narcissism and desire to be loved by the broader public who would turn on him if they knew what he really was like underneath his creepily fake smile that remains plastered on his face as a cover. At the end of the second episode this season, we see his mask slip as it never has before. While this has been a long time coming, we have now finally seen it all fall into place. Fittingly titled “The Only Man in the Sky,” a reference to an earlier monologue Starr gives where he expresses Homelander’s growing God complex, it sees the all-powerful superhero lash out at his faux birthday celebration.
You see, the events of the last season have meant he has to do a whole lot of damage control that required him to lie about whether he really knew how despicable Stormfront was. Not only did he know exactly how hateful she was as a secret Nazi who wanted to quite literally create a master race via superheroes, he is keeping her hidden from the world where he can go to her for sad handjobs and whine about his declining popularity. Thus, when someone shouts at Homelander from the crowd at the televised celebration to taunt him about her, he snaps. He proceeds to go on a childish tirade about how people have “tried to muzzle me and cancel me” even as he remains convinced that he is superior to everyone. It would be pathetic if he didn’t have the power to kill everyone in the room in the blink of an eye. Still, the initial reaction is panic by his handlers as it seems he is tanking his reputation through this insecure outburst.
However, most unsettlingly, we see that doesn’t happen. Many actually embrace Homelander, something he himself didn’t expect to happen. In episode 3, he had been lying naked and despondent until he was informed that his all-important polling numbers actually have gone up. The response reinvigorates him, validating his worst impulses and convincing him to go even further with his growing authoritarian tendencies. Later that episode, he warns that he could take over the country if he wanted to and just begin destroying entire cities, a threat that raises the stakes of the show higher than ever before. Gone is the leverage that everyone thought that they had over him. Instead, he is no longer going to be kept in check as his shamelessness and hate knows no bounds. It was already a tenuous check, though now it has been completely destroyed as quickly as it was created. There is no stopping him now.
This descent marks not just an escalation for the show in a plot sense, but in a thematic one as well. It hammers home how, even when we would hope the opposite, Homelander has come to embody the worst part of ourselves. Cold and self-centered, he is still able to paint himself as being a victim in order to further gain power. This is, even against the backdrop of the absurdity of the show, a pretty grim reflection of our own world. He is a walking hypocrite, creating a grievance out of thin air that will only allow him to further take control of others. It pushes the show further into an endgame based around ego where Homelander can destroy us all at a moment’s notice. It is, whether we like it or not, the villain we deserve. I say this both in the sense in that it makes for good television while also, more importantly, establishing how he is an embodiment of all the most dangerous undercurrents of our own world. When we see who Homelander becomes, we see our own collective capacity for cruelty staring right back.
The Boys has always been rather explicitly blunt about this, though this most recent season becomes the most pessimistic. There has been some discussion that this can feel repetitive in its observations, a worthwhile criticism in terms of its plot mechanics. Nevertheless, what keeps it so engaging, is the way Homelander has continually gotten only more and more menacing. Much of this is due to the utterly unhinged yet completely convincing way Starr plays the character, though it goes deeper than that. Homelander has never been above taking innocent lives and, if backed into a corner, he will do so on a mass scale. No reform or government regulation can stop him. He has become an existential threat that everyone wrongly believes is an anomaly that can be stopped. People underestimate him and even stand behind him at the collective peril of us all, a crisis that feels all too familiar. We like to delude ourselves into thinking that people are all good-natured, though the reality of both our history and future shows us that is very much not the case. There are those among us that are quite like Homelander and are complicit in the depravity he represents.
He is a distinctly American creation, an atrocious and arrogant being who creates a cult of personality around himself under a guise of populism crossed with good ol’ corporate nationalism. Sure, he is a character in a fictional world, though he is running a playbook that is as old and as bleakly inevitable as time itself. It isn’t new, but it remains terrifying to see how nightmarish it becomes. It works just as well as it always does, though this time with an unstoppable superbeing at the helm of it. Without going into detail about the way the final episodes this season play out, there is plenty of mayhem and spectacle that sees the show continue to be as audacious as ever. However, beyond that, the aspect that remains the show’s best and most impactful remains where it all goes with Homelander. Even when there are any missteps or repetition, there is no escaping the desolate direction this is all going. Homelander is the destruction we all are facing, a monster of our own creation that remains all too human in what he shows us about ourselves and our undeniable callousness.