The Boys Season 3 Shines A Light On Real-Life, Horrific CIA Activities

If the first three episodes are any indication, season 3 of "The Boys" is all about peeling back the layers of the characters who haven't had the focus yet. We learn the origin story of Black Noir's mask and his silent, aloof behavior. We find out more about M.M.'s (Laz Alonso) past with supes. Perhaps most importantly, we get the revelation that Grace Mallory (Laila Robins) isn't quite as noble as the first season made her seem. When Butcher (Karl Urban) finds out she knows about some sort of weapon that could potentially kill Homelander, he forces her to spill the beans.

"It was part of Operation Charlie," she explains. "Reagan's pet project off the books. Helped the contra rebels fight the Russian-backed Sandinistas." In order to pay for the operation, Mallory was put in charge of trafficking cocaine into the US and using the profits to buy weapons for the contras. "The unwritten policy was to sell the cocaine strictly to minority neighborhoods," Mallory reluctantly confesses, "To destabilize, demoralize, while staying out of white ones."

Although the superhero aspect of the flashback obviously never happened, "The Boys" draws on real history for Mallory's backstory. In the '80s, the CIA did in fact support the right-wing contras' fight against Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista regime, and are suspected of funding the operation through an illegal drugs operation that did longterm damage to minority neighborhoods across America. The details of what exactly happened are often obscured and disputed thanks to the secretive and taboo nature of the operation; Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Gary Webb was essentially blacklisted from the news industry when he broke the story in 1996. 

Killing two birds with one stone

The big point of contention with Webb's reporting on the issue was not the idea that the US illegally backed the contras (that's pretty much settled at this point), but the idea that the US government played an active part in bringing hard drugs into minority communities in the United States. Gary Webb's reporting never outright stated that they definitely did so, but included plenty of evidence that could lead readers to that conclusion. As one journalist who took part in the nationwide pile-on of Webb and later regretted it stated: "He documented for the first time in the history of U.S. media how CIA complicity with Central American drug traffickers had actually impacted the sale of drugs north of the border in a very detailed, accurate story."

Regardless of exactly how much of an active role the CIA took, it's not hard to see why the theory has become so popular: the United States had a clear financial incentive to interfere with Latin American governments and install American-friendly leaders (often dictators) regardless of what the actual people living in those countries felt about it. Likewise, there was a clear political incentive within the Reagan administration to disenfranchise Black communities. To do both at the same time? It's a level of cunning evil that many characters on this show are certainly capable of. 

So it's not surprising that "The Boys," a deeply satirical show that uses its superheroes to critique American culture, would draw on this when coming up with the backstory of Mallory, a character who would've been early in her career during the time period. Although her and M.M. previously bonded over the personal tragedies they've both suffered, their relationship is now strained with these revelations. 

The Boys and race in America

Although this all may seem like a bold storytelling choice, it's a natural extension of one of the show's season 2 storylines. Stormfront (Aya Cash) was introduced and quickly discovered to be a nearly-immortal racist supe who used to (and still does) brutally murder Black civilians under the guise of stopping crime. Stormfront's racism and brutality is routinely covered up by the state, making her storyline a not-particularly-subtle commentary on systemic racism in America. 

Season 2 also had Homelander forming an alliance with Stormfront after she stroked his ego and promised to help him be widely worshipped. The symbolism behind Homelander (the show's critique of conservative-style American nationalism) having zero qualms about cozying up to a literal Nazi for his own self-gain is very loaded, to say the least. 

Although a lot of season 2's social commentary maintained the on-brand cynicism of "The Boys," season 3 complicates things a bit. Whereas Stormfront was a clear-cut Nazi, easy to hate, Mallory is still a sympathetic figure on the show. She's tough and jaded while still clearly caring about the well-being of those around her, kids especially — audiences love this type of character. So, the idea that she played an active role in something so heinous cuts a lot deeper than the season 2 revelation of Stormfront, a character who seemed pretty suspicious from day one. 

Perhaps the most blatantly cynical storytelling choice "The Boys" made in season 2 was the reveal that Congresswoman Victoria Neuman was the mysterious headpopper. Vicky was seemingly one of the only clear-cut allies the Boys had in the government, serving as a glimmer of hope that maybe not everyone in politics is evil and self-serving, but the last minute reveal in the season 2 finale threw that away.

Ever increasing shades of gray

As these first few episodes of season 3 reveal, Neuman is Edgar's (Giancarlo Esposito) adopted daughter. She positions herself as being anti-Vought, but is working as their controlled opposition, putting up the illusion that people in power are willing to hold Vought accountable while never actually going after them in a meaningful way. But so far at least, Neuman has not been portrayed as a sadistic villain in the same vein as Homelander or Stormfront. When she kills her childhood friend in the premiere, she does so reluctantly to save her own skin, and feels bad about it afterward. ("Feeling bad about murder" is admittedly a low bar, but my standards for the characters on "The Boys" have never been high.)

As Hughie's investigation into Neuman's childhood reveals, it seems less like she's inherently evil and more like Edgar took her in when she was young and manipulated her into being his own personal secret weapon. It doesn't justify her season 2 massacre at the courthouse by any stretch, but it means we're not rooting for her death in the same way we're rooting for someone to finally kill Homelander. In a show where everyone's surviving in a world that seems to reward immorality, characters like Mallory and Neuman are here to question how much of that blame we can put on any individual person. 

It's a harder question to answer, but perhaps the most important question for a show like this to tackle. Considering the first season of "The Boys" suffered from being a little overly simplistic and cynical in its satire, the more nuanced nature of season 3 feels like a sign that the show's maturing. There are no more easy answers on this show, and that's probably for the best.