exit interview

Eric Kripke Is Clear About Whose Side The Boys Is On

“This show is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them.”

Photo: Jan Thijs
Photo: Jan Thijs

Spoilers for The Boys season-three finale, “The Instant White-Hot Wild, below.

In the final scene of the third season of The Boys, Homelander, a superhero whose “patriotic” right-wing rhetoric is a cover for his sociopathic villainy, arrives at a rally of his supporters. He has brought his son, Ryan, with him, signaling a frightening future in which father’s and son’s powers are aligned. The gleeful crowd holds signs and wears shirts unmistakably echoing the language and iconography of a Trump rally. These aren’t just Homelander supporters — they’re fans whose identities are built on a foundation of tribalistic loyalty to what he represents. A few minutes into the rally, Homelander spots a lone protester. Enraged, he blasts his detractor to bloody pieces as the crowd cheers wildly.

This scene is the series’ most explicit, unquestionable declaration that Homelander is a stand-in for Trump, but it’s also an illustration of how fandoms embrace anti-heroes even more after their villainy is exposed. Therein lies the trap: By telling a story about how fans adore monsters, The Boys becomes a new source of monsters for factions of the show’s own fan base to adore. Showrunner Eric Kripke is no stranger to overwhelming fandoms; one of his previous series, the long-running CW show Supernatural, has a notoriously intense base. He’s wary and respectful of the power of these communities but is baffled that this season of The Boys has been accused of sudden “wokeness.” “The show is a lot of things,” Kripke told me, “but subtle is not fucking one of them.”

When did you have a sense of the season’s final scene? 
Reasonably late. I’m not sure we had that end point when we were in the middle of breaking the season. In seasons one and two, we knew those cliffhangers from the start. For season three, we knew where all the chess pieces ended, but we needed to end on a cliffhanger, on a What the fuck!? We knew Ryan would end up in Homelander’s hands, so let’s further illustrate the danger of what that implies.

We absolutely talked about that infamous Trump quote — that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still love him. Well, let’s see that. It’s a hint of the very clear and present danger Ryan is in. A lot of the focus of season four is on Ryan because the way that kid turns goes the fate of the world. It’s whether there’s a second Homelander or somebody who can actually fight Homelander.

It’s been clear throughout this season that you’re positioning Homelander as a Trump analogue. 
I’d argue from about episode two or three of the first season!

But this scene is about Homelander finally unveiling his true self for his fans and waiting to see how they respond. In some ways, this scene does the same thing for The Boys as a series. We’ve known this guy was bad for a long time, but when he shows up at what is clearly a Trump rally, with all the signage and conspiracy accusations and someone yelling “libtard,” that comparison is no longer subtext. 
Look, I fully admit to it being a little less elegant and more urgent than what we’ve done in the past. But I would argue that society is a little less elegant and more urgent. January 6 was happening while we were writing the season. We’re a product of the time when we write it. And January 6 scared the shit out of me. It scared the shit out of everyone but scared the shit out of me in ways that few things during the Trump Administration did. To have the scariest part be after he lost his election scared the shit out of me.

I read an interesting thing once, which is that people don’t love Trump in spite of his horrific behavior; they love him because of it. He’s an anti-hero. The wilder he acts, the more he bullies people around him, the more they love him. It’s the reason people love everyone from fucking Jesse James to Andrew Dice Clay. You love someone who’s a huge asshole because they smash society for you. So we discussed that psychology where the worse he acts, the more fans he’s going to get. Just look at what Lauren Boebert is saying daily.

So those were the types of thoughts we had around the last couple of episodes, this notion that leaders are actually full-on willing to fracture society if it means they can move up a little bit in power and popularity.

Let me ask you, then, about thinking that way about anti-heroes but then writing a show full of anti-heroes. A segment of people watching this show legitimately loves the characters who are obviously monsters. 
You’re asking about the guys — or the fans — on Reddit? Suddenly surprised that the show in season three has gone woke, and it turns out Homelander and the superheroes are villains? I don’t know, man. This show is a lot of things, but subtle is not fucking one of them. Mel Brooks has this quote, which I’m totally paraphrasing, but it was that his strength was to be loud and obnoxious, and I was always like, “Yeah! It’s all right to be loud and obnoxious. It can be funny!” The Boys is loud and obnoxious, and if you’re watching that show from episode one and not understanding the politics of it or the people making it, I can’t help you. Just thanks for watching. Think whatever you’re going to think. My guess is, like everything online, it’s a pretty small minority.

But like everything online, that group can be very vocal. 
Yeah, the echo chamber of social media and how it’s able to make the voices of a few people so much louder than they would’ve been before, it’s not great for the world. Or for people’s overall happiness.

It was one thing to see people not picking up clues about Homelander.  
Clues like he brought down a plane of innocent civilians! He’s so bad! He’s so horrifically bad from the start!

Yes! But there were a lot of responses to that Blue Hawk scene, where a racist C-list hero ends up spouting what is clearly an echo of “blue lives matter” rhetoric. The Boys is a show about fandom in so many ways, and there aren’t that many shows right now with sizable, vocal fandoms like this. It was fascinating to watch people take that Blue Hawk speech at face value, or to point out the way the show makes fun of corporate diversity initiatives, and use it as evidence that the show is taking shots at both sides. 
First and foremost, if I were smart, I’d say, “Think whatever you want to think.” That’s usually wise. But then this would be a short interview. It’s no secret what my politics are, but I really do believe in questioning and satirizing people in authority. You’re supposed to be critical of the country. Criticizing it and pointing out flaws so it can be better is a patriotic act. I do think we take shots at the left … speaking as someone who skews that way, the left can be a little feckless. We’re getting outgunned in almost every sphere, and there isn’t anything they can’t overintellectualize or find a way to turn off most of America about. They have a real PR problem. So we point out that there are bullshit diversity initiatives or tone-deaf heroes singing “Imagine.” The left can be a little hapless, and the right is doing everything in its power to destroy democracy.

So I’ll take shots at both, but in terms of where my urgency is, my target is usually the right. That’s an existential threat in the way that some of the ridiculousness and absurdity of woke politics are not going to destroy society as we know it.

I have to believe that after working on Supernatural, you have a lot of feelings about fandom as a cultural phenomenon. 
It’s such an overwhelming beast, and I love it. I think it’s possibly the most positive thing to have come out of Supernatural. And in the exact same breath, let me tell you: I am afraid to cross them. It’s this force that is elemental and, mostly, benevolent. Even with what I just said, I’m sure there will be some heated opinions.

For The Boys, what we talk about most, and what we learned very, very early on, came from adapting Garth Ennis’s comic. Even just breaking the first episode, a lot of things Garth put forward as shocking secrets that you could use to blackmail the heroes in 2005 aren’t shocking now. A character is gay. A character likes to cross-dress. There was a lot that didn’t apply anymore — rightfully so. So it came from the very simple idea: How are the Boys going to get leverage on these heroes if the stuff they’re doing behind closed doors is fine?

Where we landed was that the secret is hypocrisy. The secret was, whatever public face they’re putting forward, their private face has to be the opposite of that. The mask has to be the opposite of the real thing. So it became about this two-faced celebrity. If I were in that universe, it’d be hard not to be fans of these guys. I don’t view the fans in the universe of the show as stupid. It’s what happens here and now. There’s a machine, and once you’re in this industry, you see the size of the fucking machine to present a palatable image of some truly horrific people because that keeps the machinery humming and the money flowing. I can only assume politics has that same machine, even bigger. The public doesn’t have a chance. They’re up against an entire system of capitalism. They’re not wrong for liking the heroes on the show. They’re just fucking overwhelmed.

Could you talk about the decision for Soldier Boy to be Homelander’s father? 
For anything I do, I view it through the lens of family, whether that’s families you’re born into or found families. If you look at anything I’ve ever done, if there’s one unifying theme, it’s that, over and over and over again.

But especially when dealing with genre and science fiction and bizarre concepts, it really helps to always ground it in something I can be confident every single viewer knows, which is the frustrations and strength of family. I don’t think I could make This Is Us, but to make a weirdo superhero show ultimately about family relationships grounds it in a way that is emotionally important.

For this one specifically, we didn’t know going into the season that Soldier Boy was Homelander’s dad. But in our room, we’re a big believer in being able to put our fingers on the themes. They’re guideposts that tell you when you’re headed in the right direction or not. I knew I wanted to tell a story about Butcher and Ryan, and one about Homelander and Ryan, and I knew a big part of Hughie’s arc was how he views his own father. It was like, Boy, there’s a lot of father-son shit happening this season.

So it wasn’t me, for the record. Someone said, “What if Soldier Boy is Homelander’s father?” You know when an idea locks into place. Your first reaction is to be scared because it’s huge. Then you let that sink in and you’re like, Oh, wait, I’m scared of it in a good way. That was about mid-season.

It does seem like the potential drawback is the Star Wars problem, where the universe starts to feel small because everyone is related to one another. 
Yeah, I mean … it’s really a shame that Star Wars turned into such a huge failure because no one liked it and it continues to fail and be obscure because everyone hates the family stuff.

I mean, people dig that shit. It’s awesome! Everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Supernatural — that Joseph Campbell stuff works every fucking time, over a thousand years now. I could point out all the ancient myths where it’s the father and the son. You don’t mess with success. That’s not a Star Wars problem; that’s a thousand-year-old structure-of-campfire-stories thing that I have zero problem plugging into.

Fair enough. When I spoke to you for a panel when The Boys first premiered, I asked how you thought about episodic structure while writing a season of streaming TV. Three seasons into a huge streaming series, how do you think about these things now?
Look, I love streaming. I can’t see ever going back to network. It’s the ability to do two things: have most of your scripts written before you shoot a day of film, and then have all the episodes finished before you turn them over to air. There are logistical benefits that would be impossible to give up because you can tell a coherent piece in a way you simply cannot with network TV. It’s already aired; you threw it out the door. You’re locked in. It happens all the time: We’re in the middle of filming episode seven, and we realize there’s a different story line we need. We still have time to go back and shoot it for episode one and drop it back in.

The downside of streaming is that a lot of filmmakers who work in streaming didn’t necessarily come out of that network grind. They’re more comfortable with the idea that they could give you ten hours where nothing happens until the eighth hour. That drives me fucking nuts, personally. As a network guy who had to get you people interested for 22 fucking hours a year, I didn’t get the benefit of, “Oh, just hang in there and don’t worry. The critics will tell you that by episode eight, shit really hits the fan.” Or anyone who says, “Well, what I’m really making is a ten-hour movie.” Fuck you! No you’re not! Make a TV show. You’re in the entertainment business.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

‘The Show Is a Lot of Things, But Subtle Is Not One of Them’