The Boys season 4 premiere: The line between satire and reality blurs

“Department Of Dirty Tricks” hits way too close to home

The Boys season 4 premiere: The line between satire and reality blurs
Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Karl Urban in The Boys Photo: Jasper Savage/Prime Video

[Editor’s note: The recaps of episode two and three publish June 14 and 17, respectively.]

Oh good, to help us brace for an actual (and dire) election in a few months, The Boys is taking us through a similar cycle this summer. It’s not surprising season four opens on election night—the third-season finale promised intense political warfare—but it’s draining anyway. Prime Video’s superhero satire boasts a crisp, funny grasp on the state of the world. Since its 2019 debut, the show has unabashedly poked fun at everything while still being gory and inventive. But as seen in “Department Of Dirty Tricks,” it’s inching dangerously close to reality in a way that threatens to dampen its unique, most welcome commentary.

Look, satirizing any topic without succumbing to its tropes is tough. To embrace what you’re ridiculing, you have to also embrace it. The Boys has impressively treaded those waters so far but the lines are getting blurred more than ever before. (The direct references to Pete Buttigieg and Ron DeSantis are eyebrow-raising.) It’s partly the weariness from real news and partly The Boys spinning in circles but episode one lacks the show’s trademark energy and promise. It often feels as dreary as the current climate, not an insightful escape from it.

It’s not like the hour-long opener isn’t enticing. There’s action, cool visuals, and Antony Starr’s utterly scary performance as the supervillain Homelander. It’s always horrifying to watch him parade that fake smile, made worse by his teen son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) now accompanying him everywhere as Homelander imparts his wisdom (comparing humans to cockroaches, etc.). “Department Of Dirty Tricks” is a standard season launcher: New arcs are set up (hello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan!), and old ones are closed (goodbye, Homelander’s freaky fanboy, Todd). Yet the pacing feels off with some rushed introductions and characters drifting with no agenda.

The throughline remains Homelander’s rivalry with, well, almost everyone. People either want to obey or obliterate him. But no one wants him gone more than Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), who has six months to live—a sad aftereffect of injecting Compound V to gain temporary powers. Billy pushes through bodily pain, a mental breakdown, potentially aligning with another enemy, and getting all but kicked out of his crew for this goal. The Boys, except for Hughie (Jack Quaid), are tired of his pissy attitude, including the next de-facto leader Mother’s Milk, a.k.a. MM (Laz Alonso) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty).

So Billy suffers some losses: Ryan refuses to reconnect with him. Grace Mallory (Laila Robbins) hits him with a verbal gut punch (“There are people who, because of ignorance or insanity, still believe you have something to contribute.” Oof.). The Boys also spectacularly fail to kill VP candidate Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), who rightly points out they keep getting worse at their jobs. Meanwhile, her stardom rises. She’s one step ahead even if it means turning her daughter into a murderous supe, as Frenchie/Kimiko find out. Her own POTUS boss is secretly working against her to no avail yet. Hate her as we must, but Victoria remains The Boys’ fascinating secret weapon.

There’s still hope for Billy in the form of an old colleague, Joe Kessler (Morgan). They “bump” into each other, and Joe hints at needing Billy for a secret mission before supes cause more destruction. In the comics, Joe is a CIA analyst dubbed “Monkey” with a wild sexual fetish. The Boys doesn’t follow the source material beat-by-beat, so we might be in for a surprise or two with him. But at least the seeds are planted for them to join forces because, at the end of the hour, Billy chooses not to team up with Victoria to bring Homelander down. He just sends her a butthole photo instead of the blackmail files she wanted as leverage. (What an image to end the episode with, huh?)

Homelander’s other nemesis, his former Seven teammate Starlight, went public in season three about her hatred of Vought. She’s discarded her superhero personality in favor of her real self, Annie January. Not only does she work with the Boys, but she’s also running an anti-Homelander campaign. The masses are also split into two factions: raging, loud misogynists who support faux Superman and relatively normal humans who are Team Starlight. And folks, a violent war brews between them all thanks to Homelander’s new pal.

You see, even he’s concerned that he’s applauded no matter what, whether he saves a life or takes one. He’s bored in the workplace because there’s no one to challenge him (miss you, Queen Maeve!). To put this to the test, he orders The Deep (Chace Crawford) to give A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) a blowjob. (They get this close to doing it). Meanwhile, Ashley (Colby Minifie) blindly listens to Homelander because it’s better than risking his wrath or, worse, pulling all her hair out again. In short: The dude’s having an identity crisis and some strange dreams about the women in his life who’ve died—we get brief glimpses of Stormfront (Aya Cash) and Madelyn Stillwell (Elizabeth Shue).

So what does he do to remedy it? Seek out another woman, of course. Homelander dons his casual best to visit Sister Sage (Susan Heyward), a new addition to the Seven. Her very cool and sexy power is that she’s the smartest person. Yet she acts incredibly stupid in “Department Of Dirty Tricks.” Here’s where I have trouble believing The Boys’ logic. Why would Sage, an uber-intelligent Black woman, so quickly say yes to work with a viciously racist antagonist? He lures her with the notion of testing her theories about democracy on a global scale. She doesn’t display fear and goes along with him, but we know nothing about her so their entirely rushed conversation is random. The Boys doesn’t do a good job of building her up here. What is her agenda? She better have one to make this plot sensical.

Her idea to boost Homelander is so basic, even Hughie could’ve come up with it. They round up his three maniacal followers, including Todd (Matthew Gorman), who spent season three dating MM’s ex. He’s killed and used as a prop to aggravate a riot in front of the courthouse where Homelander is declared not guilty at his murder trial (duh). The blame is promptly put on Starlight, whose haters now say she murdered Homelander worshippers in broad daylight. That was the grand plan of the smartest person on Earth huh? I sure hope the next few episodes treat Sage with the sensibilities and a fleshed-out arc that she deserves.

To close out the hour, The Boys sets up other key elements: Butcher is having visions of Becca (Shantel VanSanten), Deep is still dating his octopus (no shocker there), we finally meet Hughie’s mother, who arrives in town after his dad suffers a heart attack. Welcome to The Boys, Rosemary DeWitt, let’s see if you can help elevate Hughie’s storyline because he desperately needs it.

Stray observations

  • Kudos to all the music choices in the episode. Opening with “God Save The Queen” and throwing in a Smash Mouth song goes well with the vibe.
  • How long until Jared Padelecki joins The Boys for a proper Supernatural reunion after Jim Beaver, Jensen Ackles, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
  • I didn’t get into the Frenchie and Kimiko situation but remind me again why they cannot be together? What is the purpose and point of setting them up for three seasons only for her to nudge him towards a new man, whom Frenchie clearly has sordid history with?
  • It must be noted that the slow-motion of scene of Kimiko falling from the window and Starlight failing to grab her still tiny, fast-growing baby hand was phenomenal (and very funny).
  • Tilda Swinton voices the octopus Ambrosius, by the way. If there’s one thing The Boys will do well, it’s stunt casting (as we’ll see in episode two, too).
  • Another new supe debuts in “Department Of Dirty Tricks,” the Q-Anon right-winger Firecracker, played by Valorie Curry, via her YouTube. She’s a popular social media influencer who hates Starlight’s guts. With her, Sister Sage, Homelander, and The Deep, I sense misery coming our way.
  • “Who the hell is this Black Noir?” you must be wondering, consider Homelander tore his guts out in the season-three finale. And this Noir talks?! I’m sure there’s a reasonably good explanation coming our way.
  • Here’s a quick refresher on what Ashley meant when she thanked Homelander for saving her life at Godolkin. The season four premiere clearly picks up soon after the Gen V finale.
  • Also hi! I love The Boys. I’m more disappointed in the season-four premiere than I anticipated, but I’m crossing my fingers for a fucking great run of episodes. Let’s go, lads.

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