“Barbary Coast,” the final episode of The Boys’ three-episode season three premiere, opens with a flashback: Baby Starlight (Maya Misaljevic), in full pageant regalia, preps to perform a borderline obscene dance routine to “…Baby One More Time” while her mother (Ann Cusack) tells her to ignore her discomfort because “pain is weakness leaving the body.” (The parallels to Spears are obvious in Starlight’s storyline, making the performance all the more troubling.) We see what her adoring audience doesn’t see: a tightly clasped hand behind her back as she waves, attempting to squeeze all her anger and pain and fear away.
She’s making the most of her new role as co-captain of the Seven, doing her best to select genuinely good people into the squad during her tenure as the judge of American Hero. Her ex Alex is a production favorite, but in a bid to protect him from the grim reality of a Vought-owned life, she presses for other contestants. Later, having been unsuccessful at convincing the crew that he’s not the right candidate, she pulls him aside and explains the situation to him: Homelander’s crazy, Vought’s evil, and he’d be better off cutting his losses.
Homelander, meanwhile, is moping around his apartment after losing his shit on live television at the end of the previous episode—until Ashley comes barging in to tell him he’s up 21 points with “white males in the Rust Belt.” (The Trump commentary here is effective but predictably on the nose.) He uses the rapid increase in popularity as a power grab, setting his sights on getting The Deep back into the Seven—not because Homelander misses him, but because he’s so easy to manipulate and desperate to recover from being #MeToo’d after assaulting Starlight. An unsettling Welcome Back to the Seven dinner scene sees Homelander force-feeding The Deep a live octopus while The Deep calls said octopus by its name (Timothy) and describes how it’s begging for its life.
A-Train, the prodigal Seven member, gets a visit from his brother and finally admits he’ll probably never run again. His brother’s kids mock his new “corny” costume, naturally styled in Pan-African colors in accordance with his attempted rebrand. It becomes ever clearer that despite his desire to be seen as “down for the cause,” he has no real interest in committing to a politic or speaking up against injustice.
On the other side of town, the Boys are finally, officially back together: After a genuinely sweet reunion between Hughie and M.M., Hughie has Kimiko break his arm so he has an excuse not to show up to work without further rousing Neuman’s suspicions. Found family at its best and bloodiest. Butcher, Hughie, and M.M. head off to Mallory’s to press her about her past experience with Soldier Boy, whereupon Butcher realizes he’s having some sort of aftershocks from the V24—withdrawal? Lasting effects? Only time will tell. Ryan’s super-senses tell him there’s something physically wrong with Butcher, but Butcher plays it off.
When Butcher’s finally back from vomiting his guts up and making laser eyes at his own reflection, Mallory describes her experience with Payback: They showed up to her clandestine camp in Nicaragua, where she’d been trafficking drugs in exchange for weapons at Reagan’s behest. (She shamefacedly admits to M.M. that those drugs were ultimately filtered into communities of color—again, an effective but again unsubtle satire of Reagan’s racist war-on-drugs policies.) Immediately, they made everything much, much worse, as supes tend to do: show-boating, partying, and overall drawing attention to the camp.
Here, talking to a young, fresh-faced Stan Edgar (Justiin Davis), we see a young Black Noir (Fritzy-Klevins Destine)—unmasked at last. Spoiler alert: He’s a fairly normal-seeming young Black guy hoping to eschew the mask and get a little credit for his good (eh) deeds. Looks like that idea won’t last very long.
We also finally meet good old Soldier Boy in the flesh: a swaggering parody of toxic masculinity whose only lines so far are copied straight from the misogynist playbook. (I’m excited to see what Ackles does with the role when he’s given lines that are more infuriating than eye-roll inducing.) He tells Mallory to smile more and calls her “Captain Lesbo,” putting the Soldier Boy Homophobic Slur Counter at 1 (I anticipate there will be a lot more—I’ll be keeping track and having a great time doing it).
All this carrying on eventually does attract the attention of an enemy camp, and in the chaos, Payback indiscriminately mows down 116 of Mallory’s men. Surveying the damage, Mallory discovers Black Noir with half his face melted off and reaching for his helmet- the no-helmet idea definitely didn’t last long. It’s one mystery solved, though I have to admit it’s a little disappointing to know after all that build-up that Black Noir is mostly just some guy who got a bad battle injury and wears a mask about it. Maybe more layers will be unraveled. And, of course, she finds a distraught Crimson Countess, screaming that she “saw” some Russians kill Soldier Boy and take his body away. I’m looking forward to finding out what she actually saw.
As the flashback goes on, Ryan and Kimiko are out on Mallory’s porch bonding over a mutual hatred of their powers. It’s charming to see them together—Ryan, the actual kid, and Kimiko, the young at heart whose childhood was stolen from her. Beyond Kimiko and Frenchie’s relationship, the most consistently heartwarming element of the show is how hard everyone’s trying to make Ryan’s childhood as normal as possible. And it seems to be working: All things considered—superpowers; abusive rapist, fascist, deadbeat father; dead mother whom he killed on accident, grouchy alcoholic stepdad Butcher—he’s remarkably well-adjusted. Even when Butcher disappoints him yet again, he charges up his eye lasers, then takes a deep breath and runs inside the house instead of blasting them. It takes a village indeed.
Speaking of Frenchie, he’s off getting harassed by a sexy Russian drug lord named Little Nina (Katia Winter) who’s been threatening his on-off lover Cherie (Jordana Lajoie). I feel for Cherie, and Frenchie’s always fun to watch, but all this mostly seems like a plot catalyst to connect the Boys to Russia so they can hunt down the weapon that killed Soldier Boy—and, presumably, instead find Soldier Boy himself.
On the set of American Hero, Alex tells Annie that he’s officially signed on to join the Seven, clarifying that he’s doing it so he can have her back. I’m hopeful (a dangerous game in this show) but suspicious about his true motives—they may involve a pure, selfish desire for the spotlight, or possibly something darker. She also gets a call from Hughie, telling her he’s back with Butcher (bad) but they’re trailing a possible way to kill Homelander (good)—all she needs to do is lay low and cause as little trouble as possible until they figure it out (awful). Eventually, she agrees—it’s ultimately a sweet moment, demonstrating that Annie trusts Hughie to work in her best interests as long as she does her part, but I worry about their ever-wavering power dynamics (especially with hunky yet ominous ex Alex back on the scene).
Not content to leave the game of love to amateurs, Homelander gets in on the action, announcing not just that Supersonic and The Deep will be the new(-ish) members of the Seven, but that he and Starlight are in love. (“Hashtag… #Homelight.”) It’s a crucial element of his recovery from Nazi-contamination, and the co-captain set-up plays right into the scheme. To Alex’s apparent dismay and confusion, she plays along, kissing Homelander, doing just as she’s been told her whole life: Don’t make waves. And, of course, we again see one hand clutched behind her back, squeezing and grasping, making a valiant effort at sending weakness out of her body.
Now we wait for the next one. The Boys will return with weekly episodes starting this Friday on Amazon Prime.