Already OTT, new characters raise the stakes in season 4 of The Boys

Corporate superheroes are in the crosshairs again in a new season of superhero show The Boys. Steve Newall looks at the new satirical elements fueling these new episodes.

When we last caught up with our sweary, splatter-happy mates in The Boys nearly two years ago, it was at the end of a typically OTT third season that had continued to milk its premise for the maximum superhero and societal satire possible. Last season saw America’s Cold War misadventures in Central America come home to roost in the form of rampaging fallen hero Soldier Boy—but lest you think The Boys was taking itself too seriously, this narrative also collided with legendary all-supe orgy Hero-gasm, cartoon hallucinations and more piss-taking of corporate superhero patriotism than you can shake a stick at.

It all culminated in the election of a new President and a secretly supe VP, who you’d think likely has designs on head-popping her way to the top job. The excesses of Homelander met an approving audience in the world of the show too, the increasingly polarised America of The Boys (mirroring real life, but as with everything else in the show dialled up past 11) giving him a fanbase even more rabid than MAGA could dream of.

The viewing audience of The Boys has grown accustomed to Homelander’s mask slipping, revealing the petty brute within, but it’s generally only been seen by an unlucky few in the show. This all changed in the season three finale after Homelander lasers a protestor to death. There’s a beat… then it was met with cheers of approval (and a chilling smile from his son).

Given the public nature of his indiscretions, Homelander is on trial this season (not that anyone in the know is really expecting any consequences). Like a recent high-profile defendant in our headlines, he comes across bored by proceedings, but as we know in this show, he’s one of a number of characters in The Boys who actually could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Protestors square off outside Homelander’s trial, and the continuing divisions in society offer a vicious opportunity to exploit—and new characters come on board to do just that.

Viewers of spinoff Gen-V can expect some supe youngsters to make an appearance later in the new season, but until then the ever-thinning/exploded ranks of departed characters is bolstered by the arrivals of Sister Sage and Firecracker. We meet the former holed up in a small apartment crowded by stacks of books as Homelander tries to recruit her to his cause. Sage’s power? Neither spectacular nor outwardly violent, it’s her smarts.

As Sister Sage (Susan Heyward) corrects on a couple of occasions in early episodes, she’s not the smartest woman in the world—she’s the smartest person. “We wanted a Black woman who was raised in a low socioeconomic area, so no one f—ing listens to her,” showrunner Eric Kripke told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s both commentary and satirical that you have literally the smartest person in the world that could cure all of society’s ills, but she just can’t get anyone to listen to her.”

Homelander is listening though… kinda. Thanks to Antony Starr’s constantly entertaining performance we know he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed—but might just be the most pathetically dangerous. Together, the brainiac and the maniac have terrifying potential, and before long season four sees them fueling the fires of division by starting violence between rival protest groups. Just a couple of episodes in, an aggrieved mob of everyday Americans is beginning to bay for blood… egged on by rich and powerful forces.

This is amplified further by Firecracker (Valorie Curry), one of the most prominent in the “alt-supe”(!) movement. The time for overt Nazism is over—welcome to the world of social media and conspiracy theories about Hollywood paedophiles, supe scandals, and fearmongering about race and religion. Seemingly cut from the same kind of cloth as a Marjorie Taylor Greene or Kristi Noem, she’s one of many doing well from loudly decrying godless non-binary socialists.

“It turns out, there’s always crazier,” Kripke also told EW. “Firecracker represents both members of the conspiracy-minded movements and the super extreme right-wing news media.”

Firecracker may or may not be playing up her down-home qualities, but in a rare thing for The Boys, perhaps doesn’t have the sort of secret agenda we’re used to. As recalled to Starlight, there’s plenty of personal motivation in her past to court popularity in the present—and tear things down.

Don’t let this focus on the new characters suggest that the core ensemble of The Boys is absent in season four. The ragtag heroes are still the gang you love even as they have to navigate new challenges. Marvel may no longer be the apparently dominant cultural force it was when the series started, but luckily The Boys has always had more going for it than just being a grubby superhero parody.

Leaning into this further this season pays off—but don’t worry, it’s still as shocking and amusing to see people get splattered in all sorts of gratuitous ways as ever (and Karl Urban still loves dropping abundant C-bombs as Butcher. Thank fuck).