The Boys Season 3 Makes It Clear What This Series Has Always Really Been About

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This post contains spoilers for episode 5 of "The Boys" season 3.

One of the most interesting characters on "The Boys" is A-Train (Jessie Usher), who is introduced on the show in the first episode when he accidentally runs through Hughie's (Jack Quaid) girlfriend Robin (Jess Salgueiro). He then fails to apologize for the action in any meaningful way, which spurs Hughie to join an underground anti-supe organization. 

Narratively speaking, A-Train running over Robin serves the same basic purpose as Jaime Lannister pushing a child out a window in the first episode of "Game of Thrones." It's a clear-cut evil act that kickstarts the plot and gives audiences an easy villain to root against. Much like Jaime, A-Train is eventually fleshed out as a character, goes through some hardships, and has to deal with the loss of something that defines him. As Jaime loses his hand and is forced to adapt, A-Train's heart condition takes away his fastest-man-in-the-world status. In season 3 in particular, we watch as A-Train tries to find a new identity that doesn't rely solely on his super speed. 

The difference, of course, is that A-Train isn't on a redemption arc. He never learns to take responsibility for what he did to Robin, and even as he tries to become a Black Lives Matter activist, it's clear that he doesn't actually care about the cause at all beyond boosting his image. This is shown beautifully in the commercial he shoots in the season's fourth episode, which is an almost beat-for-beat parody of that godawful Pepsi ad from 2017. Things get worse in this week's episode, "The Last Time to Look on This World of Lies," where he attempts to hold a racist superhero (Blue Hawk, played by Nick Wechsler) accountable for terrorizing majority-Black neighborhoods.

The worst apology ever

The first red flag is that A-Train doesn't try to get Blue Hawk to stop over-patrolling Black neighborhoods, or even try to explain to him why what he's doing is wrong. All A-Train asks is for Blue Hawk to give an apology; much like the Pepsi ad the show was mocking, this is a symbolic gesture that means nothing in any material sense. The apology itself is predictably tone-deaf; Blue Hawk barely even looks at the people he's talking to, and he doesn't really apologize, for that matter. The closest to an "I'm sorry" he gets is "Superheroes often have to make split-second decisions when fighting crime, and I apologize if any of mine have been perceived as racist." Add on the fact that he's lifelessly reading all this off a pre-written script with an I'd-rather-be-anywhere-but-here tone (similar to A-Train's tone in his season 1 apology to Hughie), and it's not surprising it doesn't go over well.

The crowd yells at him to take responsibility for the specific people he hurt. Things escalate to the point where people are chanting "Black Lives Matter" at him, and he responds with the familiar "All Lives Matter" chant, followed by him screaming "Supe Lives Matter!" before going on a violent rampage, throwing people into walls and nearly killing A-Train's brother. Blue Hawk is later seen on the news, downplaying what happened as him being attacked by Antifa thugs. 

The parallels to the police — and right-wing talking points about the police — in this scene feel particularly pointed, perhaps more so than they have at any point in the show so far. But despite what the one-star reviewers are saying about season 3, none of this social commentary is new for "The Boys."

Starting from the pilot

Blue Hawk might be the most blatant example of the show using supes as a vehicle for critiquing real-life police, but "The Boys" has been a thinly veiled metaphor for the police as early as its opening scene in the pilot episode. 

The show's introduction to Homelander and Queen Maeve, after all, feature them chasing down a couple of bank robbers. This is one of the only times in the whole show where we see the supes actually do their jobs and stop a crime, and already they're going about it terribly. Even fan-favorite Queen Maeve uses excessive force, beating a guy up to the point where he's vomiting blood, even though the robber literally poses no threat to her and she could've easily restrained him without the extra violence. 

And then there's Homelander, who even at his most heroic-looking, still tortures a dude by melting his hand and then throws the other criminal into the sky. The show takes the heroic music and the way the two kid civilians in the scene idolize Homelander's actions, and juxtaposes them with the shot of the criminal falling from the sky and crashing on top of a random car in the background. In addition to being an act of murder, it also involves needless property damage that'll cause the owner of that car (who did nothing wrong!) a lot of headaches, but of course, that isn't any of Homelander's concern. All the problems a normal person would have with the way these heroes handled the situation are glossed over with the simplistic, comforting "good guys punishing the bad guys" narrative, which certainly sounds familiar. 

ACAB includes A-Train

One of the primary criticisms of the police by reform activists is the lack of accountability for police officers who harm people. This is often the case even when the victims aren't Black, such as the 2016 incident where Officer Philip Brailsford killed an unarmed, drunk but clearly harmless man. The video footage of the event is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen, as victim Daniel Shaver is clearly trying his best to follow the officer's needlessly hostile and often contradictory instructions. Officer Brailsford was looking for an excuse to kill, and when Shaver didn't give him one, he killed him anyway.

Despite this, Officer Brailsford was never punished for it in any meaningful way. He was acquitted of all charges, and would later be rehired by the same police department for 42 days, for the purpose of making him eligible for a pension. Most people get sent to jail in these situations; he gets $2,500 a month. 

This murder of Daniel Shaver and the lack of consequences for it are, unfortunately, not that rare, and you can see that reflected in "The Boys" as early as season 1. After all, A-Train starts off the show by killing a woman, all because he was recklessly running at super-speed while high. Vought goes out of its way not to discipline A-Train but to pressure Hughie into signing a nondisclosure agreement about what he witnessed. They also lie about the details of the incident to the public, which the media accepts uncritically. Basically, the show's inciting incident is Hughie having his girlfriend murdered by a cop who thinks (correctly) that he's above the law.

A complicit media landscape

It isn't just A-Train's actions in early season 1 that motivate Hughie's quest for revenge; it's the way A-Train and the rest of the Seven are glorified by the world around Hughie. He has to see A-Train's face everywhere, from cereal boxes to magazine covers. This man who killed his girlfriend isn't just free from legal repercussions; he's being idolized. The scene halfway through the pilot where Hughie can't make a simple trip to a convenience store without seeing A-Train's face a million times feels particularly loaded; it's like the writers are trying to get you to imagine how a victim of police brutality would feel walking into a store filled with Thin Blue Line flags.

The glorification of Supes in the world of "The Boys" runs deep. The writers make it clear that the big media outlets in this world are capable of criticizing superheroes in extreme cases — like if one of them turns out to be a literal Nazi — but when it comes to anything less than that, the news is more than happy to take the supes at their word. When A-Train falsely claims that Robin was in the middle of the road when he hit her, no journalist is ever shown stepping forward to question the merits of the claim. It feels like a deliberate parallel to the way media outlets will often uncritically accept the police department's version of events, despite it being proven over and over again that police departments can lie. (If you look at the Minneapolis Police Department's original statement on the murder of George Floyd, for instance, the lies and manipulative half-truths are obvious, but they went unquestioned by the press until the video of the incident went viral.)

'You got powers, they don't'

As Blue Hawk claims to be brutalizing people in self-defense in this week's episode, a woman in the crowd yells at him, "You got powers, they don't!" With this, the show's drawing a parallel to the massive power imbalance of real-life police and civilians. When Blue Hawk claims that his dangerous job requires him to make these "split-second" decisions, it mirrors the real-life excuse used to justify so many infamous police shootings. And while real-life police officers do certainly have to face dangerous situations that legitimately call for split-second decision-making, cases like the murder of Daniel Shaver make it clear that this excuse is often just that: an excuse, not a real justification. 

And like with the supes, the danger of a police officer's job is often exaggerated in politically motivated ways. As a way to fear-monger about calls to defund the police (which never materialized into actual policy), certain political figures lately have pointed to the fact that a record number of policemen died in 2021, 458 in total. That sounds really bad, until you look at the stats and realize that oh, the majority of those deaths were due to Covid and other health problems, not from getting killed on the job as the statement implies.

Likewise, the supes on "The Boys" are often referred to as brave despite the fact that they typically have all the power in their interactions with criminals. The show takes the often-flimsy self-defense excuse and exaggerates it to an absurd degree: even if someone was reaching for gun, Homelander is literally invincible. We know he'd never need to crush a dude's skull with his hand, but he does it anyway and people still worship him for it. 

The divisiveness of Homelander

Perhaps the clearest parallel to the police in America is the characterization of Homelander, who is shown to be idolized by a lot of people within the country, and feared by plenty of others. The real Homelander, the one we see interact with the other characters, is terrifying. The audience is never allowed to forget that Homelander could murder everyone else in the scene with him if he wanted to. He's both the most invincible and most powerful person in every room he's in. 

The fear this character invokes is similar to the fear recounted from first-hand witnesses and victims of police violence, as well as the fear induced in Black Americans during things like seemingly routine traffic stops. As video footage from the murder of people like Philando Castile show, it often turns out to be the civilian's responsibility to de-escalate the situation, not the other way around as it should be. Homelander's marketed as someone who protects people from evil, but the characters in "The Boys" are doing everything they can think of to protect themselves from him.

But just as many white Americans don't feel fear in the presence of the police, a lot of people in the universe of "The Boys" don't think of Homelander as someone to be feared at all. Yes, they know Homelander kills people, but Homelander kills the bad guys, the people who have it coming. Just as the "he was no angel" excuse gets thrown around in real life every time a police officer kills someone, Homelander benefits from the primal desire many Americans have to see the bad guys punished. Sure, he doesn't need to kill anyone, but his victims are "no angels" after all.

Indulging revenge fantasies

One of the reasons Homelander's unhinged "I'm better than all of you" rant early this season was so terrifying was the show's understanding that, to a lot of Americans, this speech wouldn't be seen as terrifying at all. The show cuts to Monique's new boyfriend Todd (Matthew Gormon) watching Homelander's speech on TV, and Todd isn't just approving of Homelander's words; he's enthralled by it. It's almost like he's getting some weird sexual thrill over Homelander declaring he's better than everyone else and how Americans need to get out of the way and let him do whatever he wants. 

When Homelander did this, it was commonly (and correctly) interpreted as a commentary on Trump-era conservative politics and white nationalism. But it can also be taken as a specific parallel for the police. Judging from the rhetoric spouted by so many conservative figures in the U.S., to them, it's not just that police are good people doing their best in a tough job; they're our guardian angels out to deal out vengeance to the Bad Guys who are out to get us. 

It's the sort of child-like worldview that leads to real-life police officers slapping Punisher logos on their police cars. From the way many on the right defend the murders of people like George Floyd or Michael Brown, it seems that they don't view the purpose of the police being to protect and serve, but primarily to punish. (And considering that the Supreme Court has ruled that the police aren't constitutionally required to protect anyone, they may be right about that.) Homelander deliberately leans into this vision to help his poll numbers. He represents many things, but most of all he's a parody of what the right wants the police to be.

Cozying up to white nationalism

Another case where you can see "The Boys" being influenced by real-life events is the introduction of Stormfront (Aya Cash) to the show in season 2. Although the Seven were being used as a critique of police in season 1, Stormfront's introduction gave the show an opportunity to critique how the police interact with white nationalists. There's been a concerning and well-documented trend of more and more police officers (and police trainers) being sympathetic to extremist, white-supremacist ideals, if not having those ideals themselves. One recent case involves a suburban Seattle police chief with seemingly clear-cut Nazi sympathies — even placing a Nazi insignia on his office door — who was paid over $1.5 million to resign. Even when white supremacists among the police are disciplined, it tends to feel more like they're being rewarded. 

So goes the case of Stormfront in season 2, a literal Nazi (born in 1919 Germany) who would brutalize minorities under her original superhero identity Liberty. This was first shown when she beats a Black civilian to death in a flashback scene that's a blatant nod to the many phone recordings of police shootings that have gone viral. Instead of being thrown in jail or fired for good, Stormfront is later rehired under a different identity, much like how real-life officers fired for misconduct will simply get hired by another police department and continue to be allowed in the same situations. Just as one police officer originally fired for "dangerous lack of composure" during firearms training went on to get rehired in Cleveland and subsequently kill 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Stormfront goes on to kill even more people once she's re-hired. With that in mind, the storytelling choice to have Homelander and Stormfront become a couple feels particularly symbolic.

Starlight: the disillusioned rookie

By this point, you may be thinking that man, "The Boys" must really hate police officers. If supes are a metaphor for the police, then the showrunners must think that cops are inherently evil. It's with the introduction of Annie (Erin Moriarty) in season 1 that the show makes it clear its focus is more on critiquing the police on a systemic level. It's not that supes are born bad; it's that there's little incentive for them to be good. 

Annie joins the Seven as an optimistic newbie who genuinely believes she's here to stop crime, to help innocent people, and to make the world a better place. Annie's first few episodes on the show are dedicated to her learning, one horrifying moment at a time, that she's here to help Vought's bottom line, nothing more. The one time we get to see Annie prevent a real-life crime, she's swiftly yelled at and disciplined for doing it in a way that hurt her optics. 

Annie eventually starts working with Hughie's group and tries her best to change things from the inside. But can Vought — or the larger system that allows supes to break the law with impunity — really be fought effectively from within? "The Boys" doesn't seem to think so. Annie's ambitions for her new role as the Seven's co-captain this season were swiftly crushed by Homelander, and it's worth noting that Annie's most effective work so far in taking down supes took place at the end of season 2, when she was an outlaw fully disconnected from the Seven. Much like with Hughie's attempts to fight supes by working within the system with Neuman (Claudia Doumit), season 3 Annie has come to the conclusion that fixing things from within is a fool's bet. 

The Boys has always been this way

A lot of superhero stories are intended as a commentary on the police in some way, so it's not a surprise that "The Boys" is no exception. Things grow ever more complicated in season 3 with the development of Butcher (Karl Urban) and Hughie becoming supes themselves, albeit temporarily. The show is critical of Butcher's violent, all-or-nothing approach to taking down the supes, but Hughie and Starlight's peaceful strategies have been revealed to be deeply flawed as well. It's not clear yet what exactly "The Boys" solution is for the problems inherent to police, but incrementalism doesn't seem to be the answer.

None of this is to say that "The Boys" is only about police, or that any of the scenes and character arcs mentioned here were written into the show as some kind of one-to-one parallel to them. "The Boys" also sets its satirical sights on corporate greed, celebrity culture, evangelicals, the way in which capitalism monetizes and trivializes social justice movements, and so on. The show has never been about just one thing.

But to those complaining that "The Boys" has suddenly "gone woke," that the show has been ruined by an unexpected shift towards making fun of the police, I have to ask: what show did you think you were watching? "The Boys" has never been all that subtle, and it's never been shy with its social commentary. At this point, if you're surprised or disappointed by the showrunners clearly making fun of the police, you might want to give the first two seasons another watch. When it comes to supporting Black Lives Matter, this latest episode is nothing new.