The Boys wraps up season 3 with a weirdly merciful finale

I was on the edge of my seat during the climactic bits of this episode, “The Instant White-Hot Wild.” For a show that brutally skewers all things Marvel, The Boys got on a proper Avengers-style roll here. We have a group of superheroes storming Vought Tower! Starlight discovers new abilities! Maeve and Homelander finally throw down! It was good stuff.

But the more I thought about it afterwards, the more I was a little disappointed in The Boys for not going further. For as many explosions and sucker punches as there were in this finale, I don’t feel like enough happened.

Let’s get into specifics. SPOILERS for The Boys season 3 finale ahead.

The fall of Black Noir

The first chunk of the episode is spent quickly resolving conflicts I was hoping would have messier outcomes. Remember last week when it looked like Butcher might let Hughie take more of the 24-hour V even though he now knew it was terminal? Well, he doesn’t; he clocks Hughie in a gas station bathroom and leaves him behind as he and Soldier Boy go to finish the job.

And that I bought, lacking in drama though it is; despite his protestations, Butcher has come to care about Hughie, so I didn’t think he would let his surrogate little brother continue down this path, not after what happened with his actual little brother. What I did have a hard time buying was Hughie and Starlight’s lickety-split reconciliation after she picks him up. Hughie was struggling with some corrosive, toxic feelings this season; it got to the point where Starlight had to blast him with her superpowers when he wouldn’t let her do her job. But once in the car, the two make up like nothing ever happened. Is this where that arc was leading? Don’t like it, not for me.

Then there’s Black Noir. Season 3 finally gave us a look inside his addled, cartoon character-filled brain, and it’s been weird. I was hoping he’d get to face down Soldier Boy and get some closure, but Homelander kills him partway through the episode for never revealing the secret of his parentage. I didn’t see that coming, which I think is a good thing in this case. Sure, they killed off Black Noir just as he was becoming interesting, but they wrung a lot of incident out of him in a short  amount of time, and it evened up the odds ahead of the big Avengers brawl.

Evil Superman vs Evil Captain America

And the brawl is really what this episode was all about. So we have Butcher, Soldier Boy, and a newly released Maeve going to kill Homelander; Mother’s Milk, Frenchie, Hughie, Annie and a newly empowered Kimiko catching up to them; and Homelander bracing for impact. The Deep is off killing a politician for Homelander, which foreshadows big moves to come in season 4, and A-Train is…I honestly don’t know where he is. He has a meeting with Homelander beforehand and gets told off, but I figured Homelander would still want him around for a superpowered brawl.

This all leads to a pretty fun confrontation that has a hefty emotional component; namely, Homelander tries to connect with Soldier Boy by trotting out Ryan, whom he seduces to the sociopathic side of the Force at the top of the episode with alarmingly little difficulty; Butcher, you should have made more of an effort with the kid. Homelander figures that this will bind the three of them together as a family, but Soldier Boy cruelly dismisses Homelander’s feelings, which I thought was a bit much. I get that Soldier Boy is supposed to represent all things toxically masculine, but even tough guys can get a little misty over their sudden grandchildren, right?

Anyway, Soldier Boy has no problem killing both Homelander and Ryan, which means Butcher joins the rest of the crew in trying to stop him. The battle is fun. In one room we have Maeve vs Homelander. This fight has been a long time coming, although I think the show could have done more to build to it rather than sidelining Maeve this season. It gets pretty brutal, especially when Homelander digs his finger into Maeve’s eye.

In another room we get Soldier Boy vs everybody else. The best moment is when Hughie, who’s in the control booth up above, floods the room with electric light, which supercharges Annie to the point where she can fly. C’mon, that’s cool.

The Boys loses its nerve

I do have some issues, though. The first is that Vought Tower seems weirdly empty this whole time. They make some noise about evacuating the place, which is what Annie wanted to do to begin with, but the completely empty hallways still feel weird, especially when we do get a brief glimpse of an evacuation scene where extras are scurrying hither and thither. I’m gonna chock this up to pandemic filming difficulties.

Then there’s the climax. In a great moment, Maeve tackles Soldier Boy out a window just as he’s about to explode the way he does, saving everyone and seemingly sacrificing herself…only later we find out she’s alive, de-powered just like she always wanted, and absconding to a farm with her girlfriend. Sure, she’s missing an eye, but I guess I’m tired of fake-out deaths. A high-stakes story has to put its characters in real danger, and I was surprised that a show as daring as The Boys pulled its punches when it came to this character death.

Soldier Boy is also spared; he gets put back into storage, I suppose so they can save him for a later storyline if they want. There’s basically very little cost to this battle, as dramatic as it was. I wanted more.

Verdict

“The Instant White-Hot Wild” does inch some plots forward. Annie gives up her Starlight identity and officially becomes one of the Boys, which feels right. After using too much 24-hour V, Butcher is dying, although we’ll see if that sticks in season 4. And Homelander tumbles deeper down the black hole and outright murders a protester at a rally, which gets cheers from his sycophants. They like him, they really like him, and it could put the entire world at risk. And it looks like Ryan might be coming around to Homelander’s way of thinking, which is doubly dangerous. Oh god, someone needs to keep that kid from becoming the Antichrist, and fast.

As ever, Homelander’s slide into insanity is the most compelling thing about The Boys. It was compelling here and I expect it to be compelling in season 4. I just wished this season finale had pushed things further.

The Bullet Points

  • Ashley taking off her wig was a good moment. The show had set up a couple of times that she was tearing out her own hair from stress, and the visual was powerful.
  • No appearance from Little Nina in this episode, or anything from Frenchie’s mob subplot. Let’s keep it that way.

Episode Grade: B

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