The Boys Is Back: “Payback” 3×01 Spoiler Review

The three episode premiere of the long-awaited third season of The Boys has finally landed on Amazon Prime, and things are already weird. Here’s what everyone’s been up to in so-called “peacetime.”

After a veritable two-season Rough Go Of It, everything finally seems to be coming up Hughie (Jack Quaid): He’s got a sickeningly sweet relationship with superhero Starlight, real name Annie (Erin Moriarty); a mostly mended relationship with his dad (everyone’s favorite Brit, Simon Pegg); and a job working for AOC pastiche Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs, which allows him to feel like he’s making real progress on fighting superhero corruption the “right” way—and which also lets him swing Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and the eponymous Boys, Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a cushy government gig tracking the aforementioned corrupt supes.

Butcher’s having some trouble adjusting; he’s used to doing things the hard (and extremely illegal, and extremely violent) way. He struggles not to kill a mark, and Neuman implies he’s lost that struggle more than once. But he’s doing his best—mostly, it seems, for Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), the son of Butcher’s assumed-dead-then-estranged-now-really-dead wife Becca through rape by Homelander (Antony Starr). Meanwhile, Ryan is living with Butcher’s old friend Grace Mallory (Laila Robins), former CIA Deputy Director and fellow supe-hater.

Fifth Boy M.M. (Laz Alonso) claims to be out of the game, feeling sorry for himself at his daughter’s superhero-themed birthday party while his ex-wife cuddles up to some normie white guy named Todd. But back in his apartment, he’s got a closet full of Soldier Boy-related newspaper clippings and files, indicating a personal vendetta related to the traumatic background he’s frequently hinted at. He’s probably not going to be able to stay away for long—especially if Butcher comes knocking.

And Butcher will definitely come knocking: When Maeve (Dominique McElligott) witnesses Homelander having a mid-hallway meltdown, she goes to Butcher, and together they conspire to find the weapon that killed legendary superhero/war hero Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) and use it to kill Homelander once and for all. (Given the immense press tour showrunner Eric Kripke’s fresh-from-Supernatural golden boy has received for his role and discussion about his unfrozen-Captain-America-style arc, I sincerely doubt he’s really dead—which will be very bad news for everyone but Homelander.)

Maeve gives Butcher a vial of V24, temporary super-juice for the regular person that Edgar has attempted to sell to Secretary of Defense Robert Singer (Supernatural’s Jim Beaver, in yet another role named after Supernatural producer Robert Singer) to transform regular soldiers into super-soldiers. Singer and Edgar don’t see eye to eye about the role of superpowers and superheroes in the military; see every conversation they’ve ever had on screen. But Edgar inches a little closer this time by arguing that temporary superpowers don’t come with the pitfalls of trying to slot established supes into the military: These soldiers won’t be rich, spoiled, egomaniacal reality TV stars with minimal backbone playing pretty for the camera; they’ll just be soldiers, but super.

Homelander is having just as rough a time as Butcher. Laid low by his public association with super-Nazi Stormfront (Aya Cash), his ratings are way down, and he’s kicked on the floor by Vought CEO Stan Edgar (Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito) through the promotion of Starlight to co-captain. Homelander is repressed, downtrodden, and taking it out mostly on A-Train, who’s currently medically unable to run at risk of his life, and who Homelander insists is gaining weight and bullies thusly with immense vitriol.

He’s still secretly dating the bed-ridden and disfigured Stormfront, who was curb-stomped at the end of last season (in a send-up of Avengers: Endgame’s infamous “girl power” scene) and ultimately taken most of the way out by Ryan (with Becca as collateral damage, ultimately devastating both Butcher and Homelander and turning up the man-pain to 11—Kripke’s specialty).

Meanwhile, Annie—with ratings higher than basically any superhero ever—is girlbossing it up. Though she initially resists her promotion, she heeds Edgar’s (somewhat reasonable, mostly manipulative) insistence that she could act as a balancing force against Homelander’s fascist rage. He gives her full veto on the next two members to join the Seven (chosen, of course, through reality show American Hero). One contender is her ex-boyfriend Alex, a former boy band star now known as Supersonic (Miles Gaston Villanueva), whom she reconnects with, much to Hughie’s chagrin.

Naturally, Hughie’s good mood couldn’t last too long. He and Annie get into an argument, not just about his jealousy of Alex but her promotion. Hughie thinks she’s selling out; she argues that it would mean a lot for little girls to see a woman in a position of power, apparently completely forgetting the goal of keeping Homelander in check. (Again: Girlboss.)

Then, when he’s at his lowest point in a year, he finally discovers that Neuman isn’t who she says she is. A disheveled guy named Tony (Kyle Mac) has been hanging around the office, calling Neuman “Nadia” and insisting he knows her. Assuming Tony is delusional, Hughie ignores it—only to stumble across Neuman meeting with Tony in an alley, responding to her other name, and eventually blowing him to smithereens with her superpowers. For Hughie, that’s one mystery solved (who’s been blowing up people’s heads left and right?) and a million problems created.

In this premiere, we’re also formally introduced to the aptly named Payback, Soldier Boy’s former super crew, who I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of. The Supernatural reunion tour continues with not just Ackles and Singer, but director Phil Sgriccia and writer Meredith Glynn (two fan-favorite Supernatural holdovers, I might add, that Kripke was smart to bring on and keep on). As for other crossover potential, Jared Padalecki is probably too busy filming Walker and throwing fits on Twitter, while Misha Collins’s schedule may be booked by coming out as bisexual, then un-coming out as bisexual, then filming Gotham Knights—but a girl can dream because it would be very, very funny.

The Boys, as always, has a knack for asking the question, “What’s the most awful, disgusting thing you can imagine?”—and a drive for following through with the answer. Sex and violence, often combined for maximum shock value, are this show’s primary motors. This episode features a sex act gone horribly, terribly wrong—I won’t describe it here, not just for propriety but because it’s probably better (using the word “better” loosely) seen than described. I look forward to seeing what other psychosexual horrors Kripke has cooked up for the rest of the season, and how many of them specifically involve Ackles’s Soldier Boy. (Years of running Supernatural will drive a man to madness.)

The first three episodes of The Boys season 3 are now available to stream on Amazon Prime. We’ll be back soon with recaps for episodes 2 and 3—and after that, every week as the rest of the season is released.


About Ellie Black

Ellie Black is a poet, essayist, screenwriter, critic, and performer from the South. She’s been involved in fandom spaces for over a decade (RIP LiveJournal) and has a love/hate relationship with horror movies and the CW’s Supernatural. Find her on Twitter at @elliekblack.

View all posts by Ellie Black

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