The Boys season 4 is bold, brash, and brutal – but I’m worried the hit Prime Video show might be losing its superpowered edge

The Boys season 4 makes its Prime Video debuts on June 13 – here are my spoiler-light thoughts on its first three episodes.

Jun 11, 2024 - 16:30
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The Boys season 4 is bold, brash, and brutal – but I’m worried the hit Prime Video show might be losing its superpowered edge

There was a time when The Boys was top dog of the Prime Video TV-show world. In the years following its 2019 debut – and especially since season 3 aired in mid-2022 – though, there’s an argument to be made that it’s been usurped by other critically-acclaimed series (Reacher), shows with similarly huge viewing figures, (The Rings of Power), or offerings that succeed in both areas (Fallout).

With The Boys season 4 launching on June 13, the brutal, melodramatic, and darkly comedic superhero show has a chance to show its siblings who the streamer’s real daddy is. Based on its first three episodes, though, it struggles to do so. It's still an excellent series; one that successfully marries superhero satirization with unambiguous scorn for real-life issues that plague our society and politics. But, in a glorious golden age of television, season 4’s three-episode premiere lacks that extra-special spark that made The Boys such a devilishly entertaining and innovative show.

Boys will be boys

Mother's Milk leads The Boys through another mission directive in the titular group's fourth season on Prime Video

The Boys are led by Mother's Milk at the start of season 4. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

Picking up after The Boys season 3 and Gen V season 1, we find the titular group in a race against the clock. Now led by Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), The Boys continue to try and thwart Homelander’s (Antony Starr) efforts to consolidate power and usher in an autocratic era where Supes reign supreme, and halt secret Supe Victoria Neuman’s (Claudia Doumit) charge towards the Oval Office as vice-president.

But The Boys wouldn’t be the lovable ragtag group of dysfunctional renegades they are without their individual and collective issues. Occasional bouts of insubordination, the past coming back to haunt Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Hughie (Jack Quaid), and the delightfully despicable Billy (Karl Urban) wreaking havoc following his deposition as team leader means they’re ill equipped – their confidential funding courtesy of the CIA notwithstanding – to deal with the approaching storm.

The Boys tries to spin too many plates at once with the titular group

Unlike previous installments that favored methodical storytelling, The Boys season 4 throws us straight into the fray. Indeed, I found my immediate reunion with the group mid-mission as they infiltrate a party celebrating Neuman’s vice-presidential election win to be an unusual but pleasant surprise. We're well versed in what The Boys delivers as a show, so the lack of superfluous plot exposition is not only a welcome development, but also enables its next entry to hit the ground running.

And when I say it races out of the traps, I mean it. It takes less than 20 minutes for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s mystery character, who was teased in The Boys season 4’s first trailer, to make his entrance with peculiarly little ‘new character’ fanfare. Regardless, the lively scenes he shares with Billy, and the natural chemistry exhibited by Morgan and Urban during said scenes, are an early highlight, and I’m fascinated to learn more about their shared history and see how this swaggering sibling-like dynamic evolves. 

Joe Kessler interacts with Billy Butcher in The Boys season 4

Billy (right) meets a familiar face from his past in Morgan's enigmatic individual. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

Speaking of Billy, his humanization is unmistakably far richer this season than in prior entries. His all-consuming personal vendetta against Homelander still looms large, but, with Billy terminally ill following his excessive V24 consumption last season, a steely sense of self-reflection notably emanates from the usually merciless and wisecracking Brit, not least in his attempts to make amends with estranged surrogate son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). 

The sensitive poise and clear vulnerability with which Urban imbues the normally cocksure Billy’s persona adds an unexplored emotional dimension to his multifaceted persona; one that’s displayed during genuinely tender moments he shares with Hughie and Ryan. Viewers who fear that Billy trades self-assuredness for submissiveness, though, need not worry: Billy’s cut-throat, provocative bravado also shines through with amusing and vulgar regularity, as do his covert attempts – with expectedly comical results – to form unlikely alliances with his enemies, such as Neuman, in order to achieve his self-serving goals.

Billy’s cut-throat, provocative bravado also shines through with amusing and vulgar regularity

As much as Billy would want to arrogantly steal the season 4 limelight, The Boys’ other members follow similarly dramatic character arcs. For Hughie, Frenchie, and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), season 4 focuses on their tramua-laced histories – Hughie’s mom Daphne (Rosemarie DeWitt) suddenly reappearing in his life, for example, is an incendiary moment that upends his world. That subplot, alongside the resurfacing of emotionally scarring memories for Frenchie and Kimiko, adds a substantial psychological edge to their individual journeys and partnerships, with Kimiko and Frenchie’s dynamic still the group’s most engrossing pairing.

Hughie looks shocked as he crawls through a vent duct in The Boys season 4

Hughie has got plenty on his plate in season 4. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

The evolution of these characters and their relationships are pleasing developments, but while such side stories season the overarching narrative with delectable spice, it make things feel bloated from a storytelling perspective. There’s a sense that The Boys tries to spin too many plates at once with the titular group – a problem it similarly suffers with the Seven (more on them shortly). Commendable as it is to give more screen-time to specific characters, the decision not to focus on the power struggle within the Supe fighting syndicate, or make full use of their eccentric personalities bouncing off and clashing with each other, occasionally diminished my enjoyment of season 4's early episodes.

Rebuilding the Seven

Homelander smiles as he puts his left hand around Ryan in The Boys season 4

Homelander continues to try and mould Ryan into his successor in season 4. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

The fractious nature of The Boys (when it’s explored anyway) juxtaposes the near-perfectly aligned Seven. Indeed, the undercurrent of fear within the superpowered group – nobody wants to fall foul of the draconian and vindictive Homelander – maintains a superficial air of harmony. As The Boys season 3 finale teased, however, there are jaded Vought employees who'll risk it all to take clandestine action against the Seven’s autocratic and nihilistic commander. No spoilers, but Butcher and Neuman’s all-too-brief collaboration isn’t the most surprising and captivating coalition between members of The Boys and The Seven. 

Starr gleefully immerses himself in the role as the series’ immoral mischief maker-in-chief

That isn’t the only issue plaguing Homelander, mind you. Fed up with The Boys’ guerrilla-warfare tactics, a spiraling Homelander becomes increasingly reckless and manipulative in his attempts to control the narrative through the press. His impatience over Ryan’s trepidation at being installed as his successor is of equal frustration, leading an already techy relationship becoming more strained as Ryan’s impulsive and insensitive father demonstrates how ill-suited he is as a parent. As in previous seasons, Starr gleefully immerses himself in the role as the series’ immoral mischief maker-in-chief with an elasticated performance that cements him as The Boys’ most beguiling character.

Sister Sage and Firecracker have a chat in The Boys season 4

Sister Sage and Firecracker join The Seven in season 4 – and immediately upset the status quo. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

That said, he’s given a run for his money in the Prime Video show’s ‘best character’ stakes this season. Tired of his peers refusing to challenge his authoritarian decision-making, plus the Seven’s dwindling numbers, Homelander bolsters the group’s ranks with two incendiary additions – Sister Sage (Susan Heyward) and Firecracker (Valorie Curry) – who immediately add reams of rope melodrama to the male-only superteam.

Positioned as an alt-right conspiracy-theory nut, Firecracker’s introduction is ideal canon fodder for The Boys’ sardonic takedowns. Determined not to make Firecracker a one-note character, though, Curry and showrunner Erik Kripke infuse her with a surprising pathos and depth that bleeds through in rare intimate moments – scenes that further speak to the series’ ability to make you sympathize with its more obnoxious characters.

Interactions between The Boys and The Seven are disappointingly kept to a bare minimum

It’s Sister Sage, however, who's the stronger inclusion of the show’s two wholly original Supes. An intriguing foil to the domineering Homelander, with whom she engages in a Machiavellian working partnership, Sage soon sets about upsetting the Seven and Vought’s entire enterprise with her abrupt, truth-bomb-laden take on their hierarchies of power. Her opinions are certainly polarizing to Vought employees and viewers alike, but Heyward's ability to balance Sage’s bristling self-importance with sincere charm – mostly through her ‘not giving a hoot who I upset’ attitude – had me, to my surprise, rooting for this puppeteering mastermind from her debut scene.

Underpowered occurrences

Annie January flies down to aid her fans during a fight in The Boys season 4

Annie January (aka Starlight) struggles to move past her time as a member of The Seven. (Image credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video)

As my introduction alludes to, The Boys season 4 isn’t faultless. By focusing on the soap-opera elements enveloping each faction, interactions between them are disappointingly kept to a bare minimum. There are interesting tête-à-têtes involving characters we’ve not seen before, such as an episode 3 encounter between Mother Milk’s and A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) but, given the brevity of such instances, I found myself underwhelmed by these rendezvous when they occurred.

There’s an overriding sense that The Boys might be starting to lose its superpowered edge

Equally, while there are cursory references to Gen V season 1’s ending – there will be more in future episodes, based on The Boys 4's official trailer – and the important plot threads it established before season 4's arrival, they’re not thoroughly explained in its first three episodes. Kripke claims you don’t need to watch Gen V to understand these active story beats, but I believe some light plot exposition about, say, the creation of a Supe-killing virus wouldn’t have been misplaced for non-Gen V viewers, or those who have seen the spin-off but may need a slight refresher on its unresolved narrative threads.

A-Train looks at something off-screen in The Boys season 4

A-Train has the most notable character arc in season 4's early entries. (Image credit: Jasper Savage/Prime Video)

Audiences hoping for heaps of action should temper their expectations, too. There’s a creatively thrilling set-piece in episode 2 that sees The Boys face off against Firecracker and her megafan – and fellow superhuman – Splinter (Rob Benedict), plus a short-lived and suspense-filled chase sequence in episode 3, to whet the appetite, but that’s as bold as season 4's opening episodes get in the high-stakes confrontation department. Sure, its politically-charged game of cat and mouse arguably takes precedence in said episodes, but I won’t be shocked if other fans feel a tad short-changed from an action viewpoint, particularly as The Boys continues to slowly ramp up towards its hopefully explosive endgame. 

My verdict

Having lavished The Boys season 4’s first three episodes with praise, you might be puzzled that I’ve not labeled it as the show’s best entry yet. Well, the short answer is that I expected more from it. That doesn’t make it a terrible show all of a sudden, nor does it endanger The Boys’ position as one of the best Prime Video shows around. There are plenty of reasons why I picked it out as one of 10 epic series I couldn’t wait for in mid-2024, too – many of which I’ve mentioned above.

Maybe I set my expectations too high. Maybe season 4’s remaining episodes will prove me wrong and show that The Boys is still the jewel in Amazon’s TV-show crown. Maybe I've become desensitized to the R-rated content that it (and other Prime Video series, including Invincible) contain. As pleasingly ultraviolent, emotionally charged, dramatic, and shockingly funny as its latest entry is, though, there’s an overriding sense that, based on season 4's opening episodes, The Boys might be starting to lose its superpowered edge. 

Its pot of simmering tension has been threatening to boil over during four seasons’ worth of gripping storytelling, gratifying character development, and pulsating unadulterated violence now, and I’ve just got a nagging feeling that, if it doesn’t hit its crescendo notes in its already confirmed fifth season, this fan-favorite series may begin to outstay its welcome – and I would hate for it to do so. 

The Boys season 4 arrives on Prime Video with a three-episode opener on Thursday, June 13. New episodes air weekly.