Warning: The following contains full spoilers for The Boys Season 3, Episode 8, “The Instant White-Hot Wild,” which aired on Prime Video on July 8, 2022. To refresh your memory, check out our review of last week’s episode.
After last night’s Season 3 finale of The Boys, I’m looking at a different show than the high-energy smash ’em all of only a season ago where extreme violence was always the answer. “The Instant White-Hot Wild” concludes with a more mature, infinitely darker storyline where Butcher (Karl Urban) and the team confront personal hells dragging behind them since Episode 1. It’s not the climax of Season 2, where girl-gang montages and plotted sieges culminate in all-out warfare. Butcher, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), and Homelander (Antony Starr) finally collide, but it’s not about some royal rumble in Vought Tower where supporting casts are fighting on different floors. It’s a finale about atonement, reflection, and moving onward — (mostly) gone is the juvenility of old.
“The Instant White-Hot Wild” is about taking stands and confronting fears, whether that’s Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) marching back into Vought Tower or Frenchie (Tomer Capone) demanding respect from his employers. Butcher and Homelander both have miles to go before they become the leaders their squadrons deserve — how they recognize their demons is such a compelling story while reunions happen. Butcher reveals hidden colors by “compassionately” knocking Hughie (Jack Quaid) unconscious to save the lad from V24’s fatal effects. Homelander belittles what’s left of the Seven in A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), The Deep (Chace Crawford), and Vought International CEO Ashley Barrett (Colby Minifie). I don’t want to say The Boys is solely about Butcher versus Homelander, yet their sometimes parallel, other times divergent paths become the storytelling cherry on last night’s episode. Two heat-seeking monsters, both selfish, finally acknowledge those around them for better or worse.
Digging deeper, The Boys connects dots between upbringings, abusive or neglectful fathers, and the juniors who inherit those traits. All the groundwork laid by the now deceased Jonah Vogelbaum (John Doman) and Butcher’s father Sam (John Noble) to shape Butcher and Homelander’s hatred becomes clearer when Soldier Boy recalls his tragic fatherly relationship — Soldier Boy was forever a “disappointment,” then a “cheater” for gaining Compound V superpowers. Centering all the anger, abandonment issues, and outward gruffness is a childhood without love, damaged by figures who taught machismo with callouses. Bastards raised all three men, and now they’re squaring off for a possibly apocalyptic throwdown. Coincidence? The way showrunner Eric Kripke solidifies their bonds through upbringings is a chef’s kiss touch, finding a common enemy in generational failings where “men should be men” to massive detriments.
“The Instant White-Hot Wild” also catches us off guard because there are happier(ish) endings than we’d expect — especially if you’re used to Garth Ennis’ merciless comics. “But Matt, you said The Boys is now a darker and more mature show?” We’ll get “darker,” but let’s start with “mature” because Kripke allows his characters to (mainly) become better versions of themselves throughout adversity. Black Noir’s decision to stop running from Soldier Boy, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) exposing bloodline traumas to daughter Janine, Homelander and Butcher putting their rivalry aside for the good of Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) — I never expected to be moved emotionally more than thrilled by action as Season 3 ended. Genuinely heartwarming and protective moments born from sacrifice pull together all those essences of family, chosen or by relation. Hughie’s reconciliation of his father’s perceived “weakness” as actual strength shows how a parent who’s just there for his children in times of need earns his hero status. Exploding dongs are fun and all in practice, but Kripke’s writers confirm they need these outrageous distractions less and less.
Although, this isn’t a wish for The Boys to abandon its dildo-chucks or phallic punishment. Girls still get it done this episode as superpowered Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) blasts “Maniac” through her headphones and starts pumping her feet like in Flashdance before tearing through Vought Tower guards, and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) harnesses the mighty power of Vought News’ lighting rigs to stun Soldier Boy. Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) finally lands thunderous blows on Homelander, causing the meta-god to bleed his own blood Zoolander style. In an episode where the men are dealt crippling psychological haymakers (atop physical pain), it’s the women who stand tallest and battle ultimate evils no matter the bumps, bruises, and scars left as reminders. Starlight’s “I told ya so” moment to Hughie is so freeing and cathartic, much like the final scene Maeve appears in this episode.
Now to the darkness, because The Boys still has storm clouds swirling above. “The Instant White-Hot Wild” could simultaneously be the most hopeful and the evilest episode of The Boys yet. That [redacted] scene with Black Noir is gutting given how his imaginary cartoon friends react, and A-Train’s been ousted by his paralyzed brother for being a disgusting murderer. While Butcher’s gang seeks redemption, the Seven are tortured under Homelander’s supremely unstable reign. Whatever progress Homelander makes by finding out Soldier Boy is his biological father and playing the Grandpa card with Ryan by his side incinerates like the liberal protestor who fries in his laser beams. Trump parallels are in full force when Homelander congratulates mock Proud Boys who gather like it’s January 6th to protect him from corrupt media stations and woke agendas. Homelander’s smile after the crowd roars at the sight of outright murder is despicably fantastic. It’s the same as Ryan’s future arc becomes apparent when the supe offspring cracks the slightest smirk standing next to his father, who just got away with first-degree manslaughter. America is rotten from inside its government to its impressionable masses, and The Boys only intensifies its “patriotism as terrorism” commentaries.
Last up is the season’s biggest question: how did Jensen Ackles do as Soldier Boy? Better yet, how did The Boys do with Soldier Boy? Both answers are positive since Ackles delivers some of the season’s most memorable lines, whether crudely about Astroglide or sincerely broken as a superhero betrayed by anyone he’s ever tried to love. Some might question if he was utilized to his fullest — should he indeed be on ice again — but I’d argue there’s a complete story told once he reveals his childhood hardships to Butcher. The showdown in Vought Tower when Ackles scowls about Homelander being a “pussy” kickstarts enough excitement as titans throw down, which is surprisingly bloodless considering those involved. Soldier Boy’s massacres are reserved for earlier in the season when Payback gets eliminated, where “The Instant White-Hot Wild” crescendos by shutting down all of Soldier Boy’s detrimentally masculine stereotypes. Ackles serves the part of Soldier Boy well through grunted insults and bottomless boozing, nailing the unhealthy exacerbation of bottled turmoil that paints him the ugliest shade of shit.