The Boys season 4 review: Elon Musk’s Twitter feed come to life

Spinning wheels and packed with ideas and subplots that are neither engaging nor thrilling, Prime Video’s anti-superhero series is a mishmash of culture wars with precious little to say.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic, who has watched three episodes of The Boys season 4. He has been reviewing TV series since 2015 and has written for NDTV and SlashFilm.

Antony Starr, Cameron Crovetti in The Boys season 4
Antony Starr as Homelander and Cameron Crovetti as Ryan Butcher in The Boys season 4 // Photo: Jasper Savage/Prime Video

In one of the early episodes from The Boys season 4, a white woman—dressed in a tight-fitting red and blue outfit, who describes herself as an author, filmmaker, political activist, commentator, and leading voice of the alt-supe movement on YouTube—addresses a small audience at a conspiracy theory convention. In her opening rant, which she says will last the next two hours, she claims that Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is working with the “Hollywood paedophile cabal”. She plugs in a false flag operation, references to Satan, and implies that Tom Hanks had a whistleblower killed. Sitting amidst the audience, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) asks Frenchie (Tomer Capone) if people really fall for this kind of nonsense. He replies: “People will believe anything. Even something as ludicrous as the moon landing.”

The Boys season 4 is too much and too long

The joke, of course, is that Frenchie too is liable to fall for tinfoil hat conspiracies. After all, what kind of grasp on reality can you expect from someone who’s high on one drug or another every day? Alas, this level of self-awareness is a rarity in The Boys, not the norm. Watching the Amazon Prime Video series, at times, makes you feel like all the bats••t wild stuff that’s spewed in far-right loony corners of the internet is assembled and packaged for your entertainment. But The Boys season 4 mostly cannot find the funny amidst it all. So, to what end? What point are you trying to make? It’s like watching Veep—the fantastic HBO satirical series—struggle to retool and figure out its identity in a world where Donald Trump had become the US President.

Except The Boys has been caught in that conundrum from the start. Its desire to commentate on the American culture wars—that have spun ridiculously out of control and encompass a spectrum that’s impossible to cover—feels like trying to make a dozen different dishes with the same base sauce. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, sorry. Pick a battle. In its current maddening state, watching The Boys is like being forever online. It is Elon Musk’s Twitter feed (or that disastrous single-letter rebrand he opted for) come to life. It’s like having slime poured on you. It doesn’t help that The Boys is spinning in season 4. It’s revisiting ideas it’s tackled before. And it doesn’t seem to have enough narrative content for eight hourlong episodes. The Boys is too much and too long.

The Boys are a giant mess in season 4

At the start of the fourth season, Marvin “M.M.” Milk (Laz Alonso) is trying to turn The Boys into a more serious outfit. Marvin, for his part, looks a lot more professional with better hair and beard trim. But the other team members are a giant mess. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is drinking on the job. Slowly dying from all that V24—the temporary Compound V he took in season 3—Butcher has months left to live and only listens to himself. Kimiko is super drunk on one mission, while Frenchie is high out of his mind on another. Both are dealing with issues from their past—either because of what was done to them or what they did to others. Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) has family problems, while Annie January is grappling with the legacy of being Starlight and figuring out how to carry the torch.

Two main plots concern The Boys. The CIA is bankrolling the team to kill Vice President-elect Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) because they don’t want a supe one heartbeat away from the White House. (While The Boys season 4 is running through June and July, the narrative means it’s set between November and January.) Neuman offers a truce to Hughie, noting that engagement will lead to mutually assured destruction. Naturally, though, that doesn’t stop The Boys.

Meanwhile, Butcher has only one mission in mind: save Ryan Butcher (Cameron Crovetti) who flew off with his maniacal biological father at the end of season 3. His illness has pushed him overboard and he’s developed an imaginary friend (it’s his conscience basically). But he’s getting no help from The Boys. Having lied to them—again—and blown their cover in the opening mission, he’s kicked off the team by Marvin. Thankfully, he’s got the support of a veteran CIA agent, Joe Kessler (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose interest in Ryan isn’t about the father-son dynamic.

Homelander’s puppet crisis

The Seven, on the other hand, is down to four at the start of season 4. Or rather, one. Homelander (Antony Starr) is annoyed at how he’s surrounded by “sycophants and imbeciles”, with A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), The Deep (Chace Crawford), and Black Noir II (Nathan Mitchell) mere puppets who’ll agree to anything he says out of fear. Homelander himself is going through an existential midlife crisis of sorts. He’s having nightmares. He’s upset at being on trial for his daylight murder (at the end of season 3). He’s annoyed at how Starlight is publicly advocating against him and Vought. And he’s confronted by his own mortality—there’s grey hair everywhere. He’s grooming Ryan to be his successor but he’s looking more like his future replacement. After all, there’s no “i” in Homeboy or Homelander.

Susan Heyward, Valorie Curry in The Boys season 4
Susan Heyward as Sister Sage and Valorie Curry as Firecracker in The Boys season 4 // Photo: Jasper Savage/Prime Video

In response, he turns to the smartest woman person on the planet: Sister Sage (Susan Heyward). Or as Homelander likes to think of it, his equal. Using her deep well of knowledge, Sage crafts an elaborate scheme to move the country to his side. (Honestly, for all her acclaimed geniuses, her plan isn’t too dissimilar to the one enacted by much less smart people in our world.) Sage brings in Firecracker (Valorie Curry), the leader of the alt-supe movement who’s been spreading crackpot conspiracy theories. More importantly, Sage is the only one who isn’t afraid to speak up in front of Homelander. That’s a lot more useful to a guy trying to take over America, given all he gets from everyone else is a variation of “yes” and “what a brilliant idea!”

Adrift in a playground that lacks new ideas

Alongside all that, The Boys season 4 makes room for a few subplots. A-Train is struggling to patch things up with his brother’s side of the family. The Deep is struggling to move on from his octopus debacle—a thread that brings in a quite unexpected voice guest star. Kimiko is trying to work on her childhood trauma. Hughie’s mom (Rosemarie DeWitt) is back to take care of his hospitalised father though he doesn’t trust her (naturally) given she how abruptly left when he was six. Frenchie gets sexually involved with a man he knows from his Narcotics Anonymous days.

But neither of these subplots is engaging. Frenchie and Deep’s are likely the weakest. There isn’t enough going on with Hughie’s. And Kimiko’s ends up being used as a source of drug-addled combat humour. It might be interesting from a comedic perspective, but it never feels like The Boys is committed to any of it.

The truly funny moment in the first three episodes of season 4 involves another one of Amazon’s famous original series. It’s woven in a way that will delight fans of the other show. Speaking of tie-ins, The Boys season 4 also features references to the spin-off Gen V that would make no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen that show. At least two Gen V characters are expected to cross over though there’s no presence of them in the opening three episodes.

Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty in The Boys season 4
Jack Quaid as Hughie Campbell and Erin Moriarty as Annie January in The Boys season 4 // Photo: Jasper Savage/Prime Video

But for all its adult humour and posturing, The Boys is adrift in a playground that lacks new ideas. Most of its ideas are ripped from the headlines. Where is the commentary that cuts close to the bone? The filler is made up of warped-beyond-belief social media chatter. It’s too close to the ugliness of the real world. And it’s stuck with a bunch of characters whom it refuses to let grow. The Boys is more like a sitcom, at times. Were they to actually fix their collective trauma, there wouldn’t be a show. The fourth season is cobbled together from those pieces but it’s never quite clear what it means to do with them.

The first three episodes of The Boys season 4 are out Thursday, June 13 on Prime Video. A new episode will release every week until July 18.

Akhil Arora