In retrospect, maybe anticlimax was inevitable. It was always a shaky idea to center a season of The Boys on a plot to take out Homelander because the show clearly wasn’t getting rid of him. Nor should it! Antony Starr’s performance is the most consistently complicated and entertaining on the show; more importantly, he’s the main villain. I did not expect that he would die this early anyway.
But at this point in the series, the cast is so large and the plot so tangled that a big status quo shift feels necessary — and “The Instant White-Hot Wild” really doesn’t have one. The stakes here feel curiously low compared to season two’s finale when it felt like anything could happen when one big plot win (defeating Stormfront) and one big character win (Butcher promising to take care of a child he never wanted) came with one devastating loss (Becca). This time, there are explosions, lasers, and deadly nerve agents, but when the smoke clears, you remember that not much has changed.
Don’t get me wrong; the finale has plenty of thrills. The Boys are still dealing with a schism, and as a result, there are different, contradictory missions at play. Butcher and Hughie are still a go on transporting Soldier Boy to Vought Tower to find and kill Homelander and Black Noir. But Mother’s Milk, Frenchie, Kimiko, a newly retired Annie, and a newly escaped Maeve are more focused on Soldier Boy, knowing that his standard explosion trick could wipe out thousands this time. The divide becomes further complicated when Butcher knocks Hughie out before he can take more V24, leaving him to hitch a ride with Annie.
In the car, Annie tells Hughie the news about the deadliness of V24, making him realize that Butcher actually saved his life. When they return to home base, he makes the case that they should save Butcher’s, too. But when the team arrives at Butcher’s hideout, their plan falls apart. Maeve switches back to Butcher’s side and throws out Frenchie’s one dose of Novichok, and the gang is briefly locked in a safe.
Of course, none of Butcher’s plan will work unless Soldier Boy sticks to his word. That’s the other biggest question of the episode: How will Soldier Boy’s knowledge of his relation to Homelander affect the mission? Butcher is disconcerted as he trades stories with Soldier Boy about their cold, abusive fathers. Soldier Boy always thought he’d be a better dad than his own.
Homelander is genuine in his desire for a real family, an option that didn’t seem available until now. But it’s also a shrewd tactical move to win over Becca’s son Ryan again and use him to appeal to Soldier Boy — and he can do that now because he got Ryan’s location from Neuman (in exchange for having the Deep kill Dakota Bob’s veep pick, clearing the way for her).
It’s heartbreaking to watch Ryan turn back to Homelander, the monster who abused and imprisoned his mom. And it hurts because it makes sense, even if Ryan’s absence from most of the season makes the turn feel a bit abrupt. Just compare his last interaction with Butcher (his last scene in general, in fact) to his interaction with Homelander: Butcher pushed Ryan away by acting disgusted with him, explicitly blaming him for killing his own mother. Homelander, on the other hand, helps Ryan understand that Becca’s death wasn’t his fault, that sometimes these accidents happen with their abilities. Here’s Ryan’s actual dad, telling him that he loves him unconditionally. Of course he’s susceptible.
The final blowout of the season happens, as expected, at Vought. Soldier Boy ends up sticking to the plan, attacking Homelander despite his impassioned pitch for a two-strongest-people-in-the-world alliance. To Soldier Boy, Homelander is just a “weak, sniveling pussy starved for attention,” “a fucking disappointment.” It’s the same language Soldier Boy’s own father used, going directly against Soldier Boy’s earlier musing about breaking the cycle. And it connects back to Butcher, whose flashbacks in the last episode showed exactly how violence can become normalized to the point that hurting someone becomes automatic.
But Ryan blasts Soldier Boy before he can finish the job, and then Soldier Boy hits Ryan back. It’s the final, personal element needed to wake Butcher up to the reality of what he’s compromising by partnering with Soldier Boy. So we get a brief rematch of the Homelander-Soldier Boy-Butcher fight from “Herogasm,” except this time, Butcher and Homelander are, oddly enough, on the same side. Maeve gets in on it, too, though she’s still focused on the initial mission — and in a gnarly shot late in their brawl, Homelander takes out her eye.
The rest of the Boys arrive just in time to save Butcher and immediately get to work. Frenchie throws together a last-minute Russian nerve agent, while Kimiko happily gets back to brutally killing whoever comes anywhere near him. Hughie evacuates the building, but his biggest win is blasting the studio lights to boost Annie’s power enough to incapacitate Soldier Boy. Hughie’s ego trip lasted far too long this season, and his revelation in this episode is predictable — strength doesn’t always come from superpowers, and sometimes it’s heroic just to be there and support the people you love — but it’s still a triumphant moment.
In the end, MM administers the Novichok to Soldier Boy, and Maeve makes the ultimate sacrifice by flying him out the window during his final blackout explosion. Except, of course, Maeve doesn’t die. Like Kimiko, the blast wasn’t enough to kill her, but it was enough to take away her powers. That frees her to hit the road with Elena, the happy ending the two of them deserve after years of heartbreak. If this is the end of Dominique McElligott’s time on the show, it’ll be sad to lose one of the ensemble’s more complicated, morally conflicted characters — especially since she had so little screen time in recent episodes. But at least she’s going out with some mercy after a dark season.
Black Noir is actually the only character who doesn’t make it out of “The Instant White-Hot Wild” alive. The man’s earnest desire to confront his demons leads to his entrails spilling on the floor of Vought when Homelander learns Noir knew the truth about his parentage. RIP, I guess!
Other epilogue things take up the final minutes of the finale. Soldier Boy, knocked out but still not dead, is returned to the CIA’s custody, put away in suspended animation like a toy the writers can take out again whenever they get bored. MM has a touching moment with his daughter Janine, finally deciding not to hide the truth about supes anymore. Cassandra turns on her husband/pawn the Deep to promote her own juicy autobiography. Annie is officially inducted into the Boys. Dakota Bob announces Neuman as his veep pick.
Most people will remember the final image as an eerie smile crosses Ryan’s face upon seeing his father venerated for killing a protester in broad daylight. But the biggest development is the reveal that, as promised, V24 is killing Butcher. In fact, he only has a year to live, 18 months at most. It leaves Butcher in an interesting place at the end of the season: He knows he’s going to die, but he’s still dedicated to fighting Vought. What’s unclear is whether Butcher still plans to accomplish his vision by any means necessary or if he’s reconsidering his way of thinking after this latest loss.
Because it is a loss, even if everyone managed to subdue Soldier Boy before he could kill thousands. There’s still the collateral damage of all his previous blow-ups — deaths that wouldn’t have happened if Butcher hadn’t brought Soldier Boy back to begin with. The Boys may be back together, but they’re still in a worse spot than they were at the beginning of the season, with fewer allies and more powerful enemies.
Perhaps most tragically, Butcher’s relationship with the boy he began to think of as his son may be tarnished forever. He lost the kid to Homelander — a scenario even darker and more dangerous than Ryan actually dying would be — and it’s because he pushed Ryan right into the monster’s arms. That’s the most delicious irony: In compromising all his relationships in pursuit of some “scorched-earth” attack, Butcher ensured he’d lose everything that really mattered. And now he’s dying.
These are ideas I wished this episode — and this season in general — had the space to explore in more depth. Season three worked great on a mechanical level, with so many interlocking pieces that fit together to create a quick-paced, fun batch of episodes. I’ll remember it as a good, at times heart-stopping season. But as a collection of storylines, it was rushed, only rarely stopping to really linger in the emotions.
There were beautiful and touching moments here, to be sure. But too often, this season’s focus flitted around too much, and interesting storylines got left by the wayside. We never saw Hughie confront his close friend Neuman about the betrayal he felt when he learned the truth about her. (We did see Annie talk to her about it for some reason.) Little Nina disappeared, Maeve was too often a plot device, and the Deep’s storyline was more of a series of comic-relief scenes. For all the discussion of death tolls, only one named character died in the finale, and he was in a vegetative state at this time last season.
The Boys is a big show with a big ensemble and big ideas. Like all of season three, “The Instant White-Hot Wild” is fun, grisly, and neat. It tees up plenty of storylines for season four. But the longer the series goes on, the more difficult it becomes to slow down — and the more I want it to try just the same.
• Nathan officially asks A-Train to stay out of his life, disgusted with his brother for selfishly killing Blue Hawk. It’s a sad, effective ending to A-Train’s arc for the season, though I still think it deserved more space. Very curious to see what direction his character takes from here.
• MM says that Soldier Boy “killed a lot of our family members a long time ago.” Is this true? As far as I know, we only heard about his grandfather being directly killed by Soldier Boy, but maybe more people were killed in the same incident. In general, the show has played strangely coy about MM’s dark backstory.
• Thanks for reading! I loved watching and writing about this season.
More From This Series
- The Boys College Spinoff, Gen V, Promises a Superhero Euphoria
- ‘This Show Is a Lot of Things, But Subtle Is Not One of Them’
- Some Pointed Questions for The Boys