‘The Boys’ Season 4 Review: Amazon’s Demented Superhero Series Still Fires on Most Cylinders

Showrunner Eric Kripke keeps the violence and political satire fresh, but some storylines are starting to feel repetitive

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Antony Starr and Cameron Crovetti in "The Boys." (Credit: Amazon's Prime Video)

“The Boys” Season 4 delivers mass quantities of wild plot turns and nerve-blistering suspense.

But one nagging question hangs over the latest episodes of Amazon’s demented superhero series. Is there enough imagination left — on the planet, let alone in this particular writers room — to keep it up?

It feels like we’ve already seen every conceivable riff on the fascist agenda at the heart of the comic book genre and how it relates to corporate controlled, media addled, early 21st Century America. Homelander (Antony Starr), the chemically mutated Superman/Captain America/Donald Trump figure who heads the evil Vought conglomerate’s top-rated supergroup The Seven, has already ravaged and schemed to such horrific extents, isn’t it time he retired to some sort of Phantom Zone? How many more new members with conflicting loyalties can the title’s anti-Vought vigilantes cycle through before it all gets as repetitive as 1970s “Avengers” comics? Are there any more sexual kinks left for the show’s pervs to explore? Can the current event references keep pace with our mad reality, or on the other hand will they jump the shark?

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Claudia Doumit and Jim Beaver in “The Boys.” (Prime Video)

Indeed, Season 4 can often feel like it’s reaching for more sickening violence, outré deviance and Republican talking points than there are left to grasp. Impressively, however, showrunner Eric Kripke’s creative team gives the expected stuff fresh, urgent spins, even if they can’t prevent some plot beats from seeming familiar. What’s key, though, is how we’re constantly surprised by new, deeper emotional dimensions for many of the main characters. There’s a contemplative quality to the personal dramas and, no, we’re not talking about the drug-laced enema, auto-human-centipede and coming to terms with one’s needy octopus girlfriend scenes.

If the season’s political allegory is broader and more obviously informed by every damn upheaval of the 2020s than before, well, this is the election year when the fate of our democracy will be decided, right? The power struggle metaphors play like something we’ve simultaneously earned, deserve and ought to appreciate in quivering awe.

Matters commence on Election Night, when self-closeting head-popper Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) becomes vice-president-elect. Boys’ battering ram Butcher (Karl Urban) wants to kill her before a supe becomes a heartbeat away from leading the free world, but he’s got bigger problems. The ex-CIA operative’s testing of powers-bestowing Compound V on himself has left Butcher with a deadly brain tumor, other weird things in his body and an angel and devil on either shoulder.

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Susan Heyward and Valorie Curry in “The Boys.” (Prime Video)

Homelander is all for Neuman ascending to power, even if her ambition can’t quite overcome her wariness of the psycho supe. To further his aims, Homelander adds a terrific new character to The Seven, Sister Sage (“Orange Is the New Black” alum Susan Heyward). “Just Sage,” says the Compound V-created Smartest Woman on Earth. “Smartest Person,” she corrects anyone who calls her the former — primarily Homelander, whose balls she loves busting because they both know he needs her brain to get what he wants. Simmering with Black female rage and exulting in her skill at … let’s call it 20-dimensional chess … Sage is always running her own agenda, could be good or could be evil, and even exploits her greatest (and hilarious) vulnerability for pleasure.

Plus, she’s naturally hostile to the other new Seven recruit, a Christian Nationalist who goes by Firecracker (Valorie Curry). Virtually every awful quality of Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert poured into a tight-fitting, star-spangled suit, Firecracker may not have much in the way of powers, but her gift for conspiracy-spinning makes her a rising star on the Fox-like Vought News Network. She’s also got bottomless hots for the uninterested Homelander and her own hate-boner against Annie January (Erin Moriarty).

For her part the former Starlight, who quit The Seven last season to join The Boys, is now losing her powers as she leads a popular opposition movement against the right wing supes complex. While other troubled Boys members Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) wrestle with their formidable past demons — and Laz Alonso’s Mother’s Milk, who replaces Butcher as the group’s official leader, struggles to assert authority — Annie’s arc this season transcends the others by reflecting Moriarty’s own, demoralizing struggles with reactionary trolls. And that’s just one reason why this may be the actress’ most devastating performance yet.

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Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty in “The Boys.” (Prime Video)

As for the show’s traumatized audience surrogate, Jack Quaid’s Hughie Campbell, his storyline is one of several steeped in this season’s parenting theme. The Campbells deal with a lot here, as do Neuman and a surprise father figure. But the real custody struggle is between Homelander — suddenly, ridiculously concerned about his legacy as he collects his graying pubic hairs in a jar — and Butcher over the soul of adolescent Ryan, whom both consider their son. Confused, petulant and sometimes wiser than any adult, Cameron Crovetti could not be more poignant as the first natural-born supe, whom Vought wants to exploit and Homelander tries to mold in his sociopathic image, while Butcher strives to preserve his mother’s decency (while also grooming Ryan to be The Boys’ ultimate weapon).

Additionally, just about everyone gets accused of being a pedo. The generational concept is also represented by elements from last year’s teen spin-off “Gen V,” which make their way onto the grownups’ stage in smart and scary ways.
Other running themes this season include the quest for forgiveness and need for love, possible balms in this shrieking, sundering universe that so grotesquely mirrors ours. They generate some lovely moments, but are hardly sustainable in the Vought world. Nice try though, Boys.

Don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that Season 4 climaxes on — when else? — January 6. Reversals fly fast and land hard as events spin in and out of control, while Kripke and company set up what looks to be an even stronger, already greenlit Season 5 in masterful fashion.

Let’s just hope that, after this November and maybe beyond, we’ll still be allowed to watch it.

“The Boys” premieres Thursday, June 13 on Prime Video.

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