3 out of 5 stars

The third season of The Boys was a masterclass in political satire delivered through the lens of the overworn superhero genre. It was politically smart without seeming preachy, bold without feeling like it was trying too hard to shock.

Despite its astonishing finale and the events of its spin-off Gen V, Season 4 of the gritty superhero drama is filled with too many storylines that fail to pull the focus. Instead, episodes of The Boys pass by with seemingly nothing happening. The unresolved issues are brushed under the carpet so new but smaller storylines can be explored.

The most significant problem with the fourth season is the pacing. The satire and desire to reflect America’s far-right issue have stalled any significant character or plot development. The show has always liked to pastiche real-life politics, but Season 4 doesn’t even try to conceal the scandal it’s mocking. This becomes tiresome, especially for those looking for escapism and not to be reminded about the tragic state of world politics.

Another storyline that drags is Ryan’s (Cameron Crovetti) decision to either join his biological father, Homelander (Antony Starr), or Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and his vigilante team. This plot goes round in circles, without bringing anything new or exciting to the season.

Starr’s performance as Homelander remains one of the most chilling on television. He’s smarmy and evil, with no remorse whatsoever. It’s bold for a TV show to present a character who’s unapologetically evil, with no attempt to explain his actions or offer a redemption arc. The writers find ever more incredible ways to make him despicable and shock audiences. However, the gore and sex are beginning to feel a bit tiresome after four seasons.

But when it comes to the much-loved titular vigilantes, their character development and arcs have begun to feel stale. Butcher is put on the back burner after his life-threatening abuse of Temp V, forced to confront his mortality away from the action. His burgeoning relationship with Ryan helps to soften Butcher, although he’s lost none of his crudeness.

Starlight (Erin Moriarty) has now left The Seven and encounters a figure from her past as she grapples with who Annie January is without her Starlight persona. Frenchie’s (Tomer Capone) dark past also lies in wait, threatening any semblance of future happiness. Hugh (Jack Quaid) is given a much more reserved role in the proceedings, dealing with his ever-unfolding family drama. The mute Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) comes more into her own during this fourth series, although her nuanced performance gets lost in this large cast.

There’s a lot of character detail to cover for an eight-part season; it’s simply impossible for it all to be covered in the way it deserves. Hughie and Butcher, two of the show’s undoubtedly most-loved characters, get sidelined, much to the detriment of the season. The events of the season make their character development feel like it’s regressing, retreading old ground.

The frequently underused A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) goes on an interesting journey this season; it just feels like the writers don’t quite know what to do with the speedy superhero. The Deep (Chace Crawford) is a highlight of the superhero team, continuing his unusual relationship with sea creatures and his inability to read the room. But aside from an octopus joke or two, The Boys lacks a strong direction for The Deep’s story. Thankfully, Black Noir mark two (Nathan Mitchell) is on hand to add humour when things get dry.

Whilst the fourth season struggles with established characters, the new arrivals are a joy to watch. The Seven have vacancies to fill, with Starlight defecting to the vigilantes and Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) going into hiding after losing her eye. Firecracker (Valorie Currie), supposedly modelled on MAGA politician Marjorie Taylor Greene, embodies every Trump-supporting stereotype. Her unapologetically right-wing, racist, conspiracy theory-laden persona feels a touch too heavy-handed in light of real events, even though Currie is having a whale of a time playing her.

The smartest woman alive, Sister Sage (Susan Heywood), is the season’s highlight. She finally feels like a good match for Homelander, always one step ahead of the supe. A rare find, she can tell him the truth without getting her brains blasted out by his laser vision. As the season progresses, different sides of Sister Sage emerge, proving that intelligence in a world of cruelty and selfishness can be more of a curse than a superpower.

Homelander isn’t the only big bad for The Boys; corrupt politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) returns. How the superheroes navigate the political game is one of the more interesting facets of the new season. Unfortunately, there are simply too many characters and storylines, leaving the writers struggling to focus.

With so much happening, time is wasted on minor details and repetitive scenes. The upcoming fifth and final season of The Boys needs an injection of something fresh to revitalise proceedings and tie all the different story threads together. Exploding heads and octopus love interests (voiced by Tilda Swinton) just aren’t enough to maintain the show’s appeal.

USA | 2024 | 8 EPISODES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

Cast & Crew

writers: David Reed, Jessica Chou, Ellie Monahan, Geoff Aull, Judalina Neira, Anslem Richardson & Paul Grellong.
directors: Phil Sgriccia, Karen Gaviola, Fred Toye, Shana Stein & Eric Kripke.
starring: Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, Jessie T. Usher, Laz Alonso, Chace Crawford, Tomer Capone, Karen Fukuhara, Nathan Mitchell, Colby Minifie, Claudia Doumit, Cameron Crovetti, Susan Heyward, Valorie Curry & Jeffrey Dean Morgan.