It’s been obvious for a while that this season of The Boys was building toward one big blowout between Homelander and Soldier Boy. What was so exciting about last week’s “Herogasm” was that it gave us that fight early, with all the theatrics you’d normally expect in a finale. And what’s so exciting about the end of this week’s penultimate episode is that it upends everything all over again.
Looks notwithstanding, Soldier Boy being Homelander’s father makes sense. As far as I can tell, the timeline checks out, giving new meaning to the idea of Homelander being an “upgrade” of Soldier Boy. Of course the two strongest beings on Earth are father and son. But it’s also thrilling for how it alters the central character dynamics going into the finale. We’re still likely due for another big fight, but the context is different now. There are more variables and more possible endings.
But let’s back up and talk about how we arrived at that crazy twist. Mindstorm is the Payback-member-destined-to-die of the week, next up on Soldier Boy’s list for Butcher and Hughie to track down. Hughie is clearly getting uncomfortable with this alliance, especially after all the collateral damage from Herogasm (and his fight with Annie). But he still looks for ways to rationalize it, practically begging the Legend for reassurance about Soldier Boy’s heroism. Of course, there’s no reassurance to give; for all Soldier Boy’s war-hero posturing, he never actually saw action.
After Soldier Boy sets off a trip wire in the woods near Mindstorm’s home, Butcher makes direct eye contact with the attacker, allowing Mindstorm to “trap him in an endless nightmare until he dies of terminal dehydration.” (Shades of Black Mirror.) But when Soldier Boy insists they move on and leave Butcher to die in his memory coma, Hughie becomes the unexpected teller of uncomfortable truths, calling out Soldier Boy’s performative nature. Later, he even brings up Soldier Boy’s PTSD, which he won’t acknowledge himself. Soldier Boy has always functioned as a heightened example of old-school American masculinity, which continues here with his repeated refusal to admit any vulnerability.
Hughie eventually pulls off a pretty smart gambit: As soon as they have eyes on Mindstorm again, he lunges for the guy and teleports him back to Butcher’s body, out of Soldier Boy’s reach. Promising to take him anywhere he wants to go, Hughie convinces him to bring Butcher back — but moments after he does, Soldier Boy arrives to cave Mindstorm’s face in with his shield.
Butcher is no worse for the wear, physically speaking, but he’s been through hell. He was forced to be a bystander in his own memories, Pensieve-style, with no ability to reverse any outcome. The episode devotes several flashbacks to young Billy protecting his little brother Lenny from their abusive father, only to carry on the cycle of violence himself. The turning point, the moment that Butcher will regret for the rest of his life, was when he left home, leaving Lenny alone with his father and leading him on a path that ended in suicide.
Of course, Butcher shouldn’t carry that blame, and Lenny likely would’ve never wanted Billy to live with this guilt for the rest of his life. But the Lenny we see in the final flashback is no longer the real Lenny from the past; it’s a nightmarish invention of Butcher’s mind, a personification of his biggest regrets vocalized by his first earth-shattering loss. The final words he says before he inevitably pulls the trigger are taunting, a friendly reminder that everyone Butcher loves ends up dead because of him. Hughie could be next.
But after all that, does Butcher vow to act differently and stop putting his family’s lives in danger? Nope! When Annie calls to inform him that just three to five doses of V24 will kill him, he keeps the information to himself, doubling down on his anything-goes plan. Butcher and Hughie’s relationship this season has been stronger than ever before, so it’s sad to watch it threaten to fall apart here. But Karl Urban nails every tortured expression in this episode, allowing us to see every beat of the moral conflict that has defined the season for him.
In retrospect, Starlight’s dramatic live stream last episode was never going to have serious consequences for Homelander. He and Ashley easily take advantage of the news cycle to villainize Starlight, fabricating all kinds of QAnon-esque conspiracies and deeming everything else fake news. Still, there’s a desperation to Homelander now that hasn’t always been there. Still in captivity, Maeve receives the horrifying news that Homelander wants to harvest her eggs to create their perfect child — but she still gets a kick out of the bruise she can detect through his concealer and the obvious undercurrent of fear in his words. “Today is the day I saw you scared,” she says, satisfied.
Throughout the season, there’s been the sense that Homelander is slowly unraveling despite taking complete control of Vought. That continues in “Here Comes A Candle to Light You to Bed,” when Annie exposes Homelander for the second time over the live stream when he confronts her at Vought. Again, nobody seems too worried about this tanking Homelander, even though he basically admits to killing Supersonic, kidnapping Maeve, and threatening Hughie’s life. He has a devoted following now, and he and Ashley can probably spin and deflect easily enough. But there’s nothing to protect Homelander from the sudden shock of that call from Soldier Boy with the news that he was created from Soldier Boy’s DNA and intended to inherit the spotlight.
Homelander’s ascension was possible in the first place because of Black Noir, who flees to an old abandoned pizzeria from his youth in this episode. It makes for a creative origin story subplot, with the animal characters on the walls coming to life to comfort Noir and remind him of the memories he’s worked so hard to repress. There’s some predictable dark comedy juxtaposing children’s animations and startling violence, but the sequence is insightful in revealing the depth of Noir’s trauma and denial.
We learn that Soldier Boy purposely tanked Noir’s chances of starring in Beverly Hills Cop, likely insecure about being upstaged when he originated supe stardom. Noir publicly questioning Soldier Boy about this led to him getting brutally beaten down and verbally abused. Then 1984 rolled around and Stan Edgar arranged for Noir to remove Soldier Boy from the equation so young Homelander could eventually replace him. It’s fascinating to see the events in Nicaragua depicted in a new form, four episodes after “Barbary Coast”; it makes sense that Soldier Boy was the one who gave Black Noir the injury that scarred him forever.
Setting aside the final reveal, “Here Comes A Candle to Light You to Bed” is more concerned with character-based stories than fireworks; Butcher, Black Noir, and Homelander are all given stories that set up their main fears and drives going into the season finale. The same goes for Kimiko, who rededicates herself to the team when she reclaims her narrative, making the conscious choice to take Compound V and restore her powers.
I’ve complained a bit about the lack of lasting consequences in the storytelling this season, especially in Kimiko’s story, and that issue remains present here: Of course Kimiko would get her powers back only a couple of episodes after she lost them, just like A-Train inevitably got his running abilities back. Despite all that, though, this story really got to me emotionally, especially the scene when Frenchie reads the note explaining Kimiko’s reasoning.
Even if we’re ending in the same place we started, there was a meaningful change here: Kimiko was forced to get to the bottom of her feelings about her powers this season and realized that they weren’t inherently good or bad. She can use them to protect her family, to fight for the ones she loves, like Frenchie. It feels right when they agree that their kiss from “The Last Time to Look on This World of Lies” was weird, that the two of them are more than that. Maybe it’s just the piano melody working its magic, but I found myself tearing up as Kimiko did.
These little moments are what continue to make these characters so engaging, even when the ensemble has become so big and the intersecting plotlines so dense that certain relationships don’t get their due. It’s not just that Kimiko moves the plot forward by regaining her powers; it’s Kimiko taking a moment to dance with Frenchie and feel his arms, knowing it’s the last time she’ll feel their strength before taking V and they feel like bendy straws again. It’s not just Butcher lying to Hughie about V24 to milk tension; it’s Butcher reliving all his greatest regrets and still making the gutting choice to put his loved ones in danger because it’s the only way out.
If Soldier Boy does manage to kill Homelander, will it have been worth it, or will he easily fill his son’s shoes, becoming the same monster everyone already wanted to vanquish? At what point does clinging to one way of thinking start to catch up to you? In this game, maybe the winners are the ones who are most honest with themselves about who they are.
• The Legend: “To be American means knowing you’re the hero. We swipe all our filthy shit under the rug and tell ourselves a myth like Soldier Boy, and I get stinkin’ rich selling it.” A little on the nose, but true!
• The Deep tries to bring Ambrosia, the octopus, into his relationship with Cassandra, but she is not having it. It spirals into an argument about which partner got them here. Cassandra’s best line: “I gave up my tenure at Vassar!” Deep’s best line: “Then why did Dave Eggers say I have a formidable intellect?”
• Frenchie figures out that the vapor that knocked out Soldier Boy came from Novichok nerve agents, which would kill normal humans.
• Responding to Hughie’s judgment of Soldier Boy’s weed use, Butcher says, “What sad bastard self-medicates like that, eh?” before handing him a syringe of V24.
• I’m not sure what Neuman’s game is here, but it does seem smart on her end to align herself with Homelander after her proposal to Starlight didn’t work out.
• As always, I have to roll my eyes a little at A-Train surviving his heart attack and actually ending up better off, now that he has a supe heart. Still, having it be Blue Hawk’s heart is a pretty darkly funny twist.
• MM rightfully chews Todd out for taking Janine to a Homelander rally. But I’m worried that decking the guy in front of his daughter isn’t going to help their relationship, no matter how much he deserved it.