Jensen Ackles on Finding the Nuance in Soldier Boy – Exclusive Interview

The season 3 finale of The Boys was a tour de force for the entire cast and crew, from the writing to the directing to the effects to the score, and certainly the performances from every single actor. I’ve been a Jensen Ackles fan since Supernatural premiered way back in 2005, so I know how powerful his acting is, but to see him bring to life an entirely different character in this season, who is so very not Dean Winchester, has been eye opening nevertheless. He brings to Soldier Boy not just the toxic masculinity we were expecting, but a vulnerability that is unexpected, with subtle expressions and gestures and tone of voice, showing us so much more than we would have understood from the dialogue alone.

SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SEASON FINALE!

In the finale, Soldier Boy opens up to Butcher as the two drink together, perhaps sensing that they share some big time daddy issues.  As a manufactured superhero who’s had to hold up a fake persona for literally a century, Soldier Boy seems relieved to tell the truth – the Soldier Boy Story movie was BS. He wasn’t a poor kid with a heart of gold on the streets of South Philly who woke up with abilities; his father owned half the steel mills in the state.

Soldier Boy: I went to boarding school. Got kicked out of boarding school. Because I was a fuck up. But he made sure I knew it.

This Butcher can relate to, intimately, asking if he used a belt (like Butcher’s father did).

Soldier Boy: Never laid a hand on me. He couldn’t be bothered. Said I was a disappointment. Not good enough to carry his name. So I went to his golf buddies in the War Department and they got me into Dr. Vought’s Compound V trials.  I became a superhero. Strongest man alive, fuckin’ ticker tape parades when I came home.

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He says it all with bravado, trying to keep the persona up even as he’s finally telling the truth. What did the old man say then, Butcher wonders.

Soldier Boy: Ah. He said I took a short cut. That a real man wouldn’t have cheated.

That toxic masculinity that Soldier Boy has been embodying all season laid out in his father’s brutal, intentionally cruel accusation, fueled with misogyny and homophobia, cut deep. That disgust that his son wasn’t a ‘real man’ and that complete rejection, even after Ben had transformed himself completely into what he was certain his father wanted him to be, must have been devastating. He must have thought that his father would surely love him then, only to be rejected once more.

The pain he still carries from that rejection is clear on Soldier Boys’ face, the way he hangs his head, suddenly feeling vulnerable.

I spoke to Jensen Ackles in an exclusive one on one interview about that scene in the finale, which is one of my favorites of the entire season. In typical Jensen fashion, he gave credit to all the talented people who collaborate to make the show so special.

Lynn: Hearing the backstory of how his father treated him, I felt like I started to “get it” a little. Not that it excuses his behavior, but it starts to explain it. And you made the decision to play the character with a lot of nuance, vacillating between vulnerability and trying to connect to others, and then just erupting in rage. It’s dizzying to watch all that happen within the space of seconds, but the best part of the character is that you really pulled that nuance off. Was that an explicit note to make that nuance part of the character or something you inferred?

Jensen: A lot of that is in the script, it’s just really good writing. Kripke is such a vivid storyteller with his words, and he does it in such a precise, almost surgical way, that in reading it – not just Kripke but his whole writing staff is so talented – that a lot of that nuance is either right there on the page or certainly implied. And they allow us to kinda navigate it and find it. So I definitely was looking for that, and that’s a note that he’s been giving me since the beginning of Supernatural.

Lynn: It was so much a part of Supernatural also, yes. A big part of why I fell for Dean Winchester so hard.

Jensen:  It’s nice to know he’s still encouraging us to find the nuances of the scenes and make those moments in between the moments count.

Lynn: Well, you did. I was a little angry at you, like damn it, I knew he was gonna put just enough vulnerability in there that I was not gonna be able to just outright hate this character. And the entire fandom has been flailing along with me with the same quandary, so good job, good job.

Jensen: It was fun to play those colors, to be just such an outwardly gross character, but to play him in a way that you do feel bad, you feel bad for this big guy’s journey even though you shouldn’t.

Lynn: I think that’s exactly it. I felt bad even though I kept saying, what are you doing? It got to the point when I thought he might die and I was yelling at the screen no no no no don’t die don’t die!

Jensen: (laughing)

Lynn: This episode was painful to watch because of all my conflicting feelings. But Supernatural was also painful, so I guess maybe that’s just me…. Don’t judge.

Jensen: (laughing) Maybe that’s what we should be delving into, Lynn. What does this say about you?

Lynn: Oh no, let’s not go there…

Luckily, he let me off the hook.

In the end, Soldier Boy can’t accept what his son is offering, even though he has wanted a chance to raise a child and “do it better”. But Soldier Boy is confronted with a son who personifies all the things he hates most about himself – all the things his father accused him of. It’s tragic that, in the final moment, Soldier Boy can’t shake loose of his father’s brutal definition of what it is to be a man. All he can see is Homelander looking weak. A disappointment. All those things that his father called him, and that he constantly fears in himself, and so he can’t bear to see that in his own son. So he lashes out, recapitulating his own father’s rejection and cruelty.

But he does it with no joy; his face reflects the pain he too is feeling, his inescapable disappointment in himself. And of course, there are tragic consequences.

At least he’s not dead – Eric Kripke has said that Soldier Boy will definitely be back at some point and Jensen has said that if Kripke asks, he’ll come running. I  swear, I could hear the sigh of relief from the entire fandom from all over the globe at that moment. Thanks for making us care so much, Jensen and Eric. I think.

Stay tuned for my deep dive on The Boys season finale – coming later today!

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– Lynn

You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom,

Dean Winchester and Supernatural in his chapters

in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be

Peace When You Are Done – links here or at:

The Boys Season Finale Is Almost Here – Non-Spoilery Thoughts on The Instant White Hot Wild

The season finale of The Boys Season 3 has all the over the top fight scene showdowns we would expect  from a finale episode – but it also has so much more. And much of that is a dizzying mix of heartbreaking and hopeful. Those emotions are so far apart that rocketing back and forth between them is what I called in my review of last week’s episode a mindfuck, and this week is even moreso. Back on the roller coaster for the finale, though – I’ve admitted that the twists and turns and speed are both terrifying and exhilarating, so I keep opting to climb right back on.

There are a lot of reckonings in the final episode. Some of the characters find their lines and then pick a side – and it’s not always the one we’re expecting them to pick. I went into watching this episode holding my breath, because despite all of us knowing he’s a Class A asshole, most of the show’s fans do not want Season 3 to be the last we see of Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy.

The character is a big departure from Soldier Boy of the comics, from his overt cowardice to his origins (and not being the father of Homelander). That left Kripke and company the room to create a character that is much more nuanced and complex, and then to cast someone as brilliant as Ackles to portray him. The cast has been effusive in saying that Jensen “fit right in” and Ackles, in his customary humble way, has said that he was just hoping not to mess up a dynamic that was already working perfectly (which it was). All of that shows. Soldier Boy, Butcher and Hughie was the trio I had no clue I needed until they were on my screen – and now I definitely want MORE.

As I pushed play on this episode, now knowing that Homelander is Soldier Boy’s son, I had about a thousand hypotheses of which direction things could go. Suffice it to say, I bit my nails a lot while watching – and that I was still shocked. And once again, I felt more than I anticipated and more than I wanted to. No spoilers in this article for the finale episode, but HANG ON TIGHT! Here are my non-spoilery thoughts after watching the season finale, now that I’ve (sort of) composed myself.

The final episode revisits the main themes of the season, including toxic masculinity, which Kripke and many of the actors have talked about in interviews throughout the season. Almost every character struggles with what that means and what that role entails. Is masculinity inextricably linked with ‘strength’ and ‘saving people’ and if so, how is that defined? Who gets to define it?

The theme extends beyond gender. The Boys has an interesting twist to the “saving people, hunting things” mantra that Kripke wove into Supernatural, asking if it really matters who’s doing the saving. And there’s an underlying theme that’s deeper, and one that struck me as very real life – what does it do to the person who needs to be saved? Does being saved translate to weakness and saving to strength? Would we even be asking that question if we weren’t as a culture obsessed with being badass in some oddly strict definition of the word, no matter how we identify? It’s part and parcel of the whole superhero genre, but is that a message that’s actually helpful? Sometimes being strong isn’t about being able to laser someone in half or throw them across the room. Sometimes it’s about being there for someone else when they need it, even if that doesn’t look very badass. As a psychologist, I am awed when I see that kind of strength in my clients – ordinary human beings doing extraordinary things to help others. That’s a whole different definition of badass.

And what of the definitions that our culture instills in us? All those gendered stereotypes about what strength looks like, the strict boundaries of “what it means to be a man”. As this entire series has vividly shown, and perhaps this season especially, some of those rules and norms are toxic, harming the individual and everyone around them. Driving people away. The idea that you don’t need anyone, that relationships aren’t important, that everyone is a threat to your place in the hierarchy. That you can never be the one who needs saving. The reiteration of a hierarchy that says someone has to be the alpha male and everyone else has to fall in line – and that if you are that alpha male you have to hang onto that spot no matter what or who gets sacrificed.  Do you have to internalize those rules you learned from a flawed parent and live by them, or can you decide to make your own rules? And will it be too late if you do?

I said in my review of the last episode that The Boys comes from a very Freudian perspective – that we are inevitably shaped by our pasts, whether we want to be or not. Especially, as Freud believed, those early years and our first caregivers. But neither Freud nor The Boys would say that there’s no escaping that early experience, even if it was traumatic. As Kimiko says in this episode, “Our past is not who we are. I thought I’d always be broken, but you saw something in me.” The question is, which of these characters can see that something in themselves, and will it be enough for them to break away?

The heartbreaking answer is that for some, no it will not.

One of the reasons this season, and especially these last few episodes, hit me so hard is because they also echo some of the main themes of Supernatural. There’s a reason I was and always will be so emotional about that show. This season of The Boys looks at family and its importance in our lives and its many definitions, just as Supernatural did. Family by blood, family by choice, family by shared time in a foxhole trying to survive. Family as the support system who gets you through, and family as abusive and controlling and ultimately soul-destroying. Family as the people who give you those ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman without leaving any space for any other options, and demonstrate those rules with the abuse that makes them unforgettable.

Sometimes. Sometimes the cycle doesn’t get broken – and I hate that.

There are vivid reminders that abuse doesn’t always mean beating the shit out of someone (though sometimes it does). Words can do lasting damage just as easily, and sometimes those are even harder to forget or fight back against – because it’s your own self you’re talking back to. (The Boys makes that literal at times, which I invariably love an unreasonable amount). The voices in our heads can talk us out of irrational thoughts that hold us back, or they can talk us into staying afraid and trying to stay safe the only way we’ve learned. With all the trauma and PTSD in The Boys, it’s inevitable that both of those voices exist – and are sometimes given voice themselves!

The messages about fathers and sons in this show are Freudian in their flavor too. There’s a tremendous fear of betrayal, the darkest side of competition, mixed with heartbreaking longing, very Oedipal.  Sometimes I hope desperately that the message will be different, but this show has never been one to avoid the dark side.

The season ultimately turns out to be all about choice – as Kripke’s shows often are. Do you choose to have power if you can, or do you turn it down? Is there something worth giving it up for? Conversely, is there something worth holding onto it for, even if there is a price? There are no easy answers for any of the characters, and that holds true in the real world too.

I love that a show that’s entirely ‘out there’ rings so true for what is right here in front of us every single day. I love that it reflects the worst of humanity, specifically mirroring the things that make my stomach turn on a daily basis – and that it also reflects the best. It’s dark as hell, and disturbing, and sometimes truly painful to watch, but it makes me think and it makes me feel. It gets the wheels turning as fast as that roller coaster barrels down the steepest hill and leaves me just as breathless.

One more ride on the rollercoaster? Sign me up.

Do not miss the season finale of The Boys this Friday (or tonight if we’re lucky), and be prepared for some of the twists and turns  not being what you expect. Season 4, anyone?

– Lynn

You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom

and his 15 years on Supernatural (along with the

other actors) in Family Don’t End With Blood and

There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done – links in

banner or at:

 

 

 

 

 

Walker’s Second Season Finale Fills In Some of the Blanks with “Something’s Missing”

The season finale of Walker tied up a lot of loose ends for Season 2 – and then kicked off a whole new mystery, and a dramatic one at that!

The episode is titled “Something’s Missing” and that is both literally and figuratively true throughout the show. (One of the things I like best about Walker is that they love to run parallel themes throughout an episode and then reference it somehow in the title, and it’s a fun game for a reviewer to pick out all the instances of that theme – or at least it is for this reviewer!)

The first thing that’s missing is Emily, because Stella Blue is about to graduate. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know that the toughest times are big life events, the celebrations that you always thought that special person would be at. I facilitated a grief counseling group at a university counseling center for many years, and I heard from so many students nearing graduation just how hard it was to approach that milestone without a parent they had always imagined there to be proud of them. Emily not being there is hard for Stella, and it’s hard for Cordell too. Cordell is every parent, wondering where the time went and saying that it seems like yesterday that Emily told him she was pregnant.

Later in the episode, they share a tender father-daughter moment over one of the games they used to play on family game night, something Cordell hasn’t been able to do since he lost his wife. Stella says it seems like a good time to start over, or to carry on where they left off. Cordell admits he would never have taken the game out of the box, that it’s so like her – and her mom – to make him face it.  That’s also a theme of the episode, going back to the exploration of grief and loss that I have always valued most in this show – that you can’t go over it or around it, eventually you have to go through it. Everyone does that differently and on their own timetable, but Stella and Geri and Cordell have all learned that it’s true. Cordell is proud of his daughter.

Cordell: You make all of us feel. You’re the one that keeps this family together. I ran, you stayed.

Stella: I ran a few times too.

Stella has grown up a lot over the past two years of real time, and on the show as well. Cordell gives her a gift, knowing she’s been struggling with individuation and the question of staying close or going away for college.

Cordell: I want you to know now…it’s okay to go.

That made me tear up partly because it was such a beautifully played father-daughter scene, and partly because that’s a line from the Supernatural finale too, when Sam gives his brother the gift of permission to go in a more permanent way. I don’t know if it was a deliberate call back, but it made me even more emotional than I was. I’m sure the parallel wasn’t lost on Padalecki, who understands intimately the importance of that finale to many fans.

Another thing that’s missing, but not for long, in this episode is certainty. The certainty of figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. While Stella seems close to figuring that out, both Liam and Trey are at a transition point in their lives and unsure of where they should be going.

James tells Trey that he has to stay out of official Ranger business if he’s not an official Ranger – which James offers him after making some calls. They’re willing to treat his military experience as time served so he could be an actual Ranger – which came as no surprise to most of the fandom, who has been expecting it. I feel better about that than them offering to employ him as a psychologist when he isn’t one, but that’s probably just me feeling bitter about all those years of a PhD program to get to that point. It makes sense to make Trey a Ranger so they can keep Jeff Pierre and his popular character on the show, and Trey certainly seems qualified.

Walker — “Something’s Missing” — Image Number: WLK220a_0392 r — Pictured: Jeff Pierre as Trey Barentt — Photo: Rebecca Brenneman/The CW — © 2022 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Trey talks to his mom about the Ranger offer; she’s not all that happy about it, worrying about all the stress and anxiety. I can relate to his mom – that would so be me if one of my kids announced that!

Liam is also unsure of his next step, saying he’s not so sure he wants to go back to being a lawyer and envious of his father for always knowing what he wanted to do. Later in the episode, he thanks Bonham for forgiving him when he wanted to move away, and Bonham says that it helped make him who he is. So did you, and the ranch, Liam says. And when Bonham says that the ranch isn’t for everyone, Liam tells his father: I think it is, for me.

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The Boys Episode 3.7 Drops A lot of Bombshells (And A Music Video)

Only one more episode of Season 3 of The Boys to go, and I don’t think anyone is ready for this wild ride to be over! This week’s episode, ominously titled “Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed” brought one of the biggest revelations of the series, and delivered it in a way that ensured it left a powerful impact. I know some people guessed what was coming, but I wasn’t one of those people, so it left me gobsmacked and repeating WTF more than once. Luckily I love it when this show can surprise me, so this is far from a complaint.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, SO BE SURE YOU’VE WATCHED THE EPISODE FIRST!

It’s been amusing, as a long time Supernatural fan, to watch the rest of the world discover Jensen Ackles’ acting brilliance as they watch this season of The Boys. He gave a tour de force in this episode, once again making me feel a ridiculous range of emotions that shouldn’t be possible for one character – especially one like Soldier Boy. And yet…

Look, even the official accounts can’t help but get a little heart eyed over this character (and the guy who so vividly portrays him).

More than anything, this episode was about agency and choice, as many of the characters confront their own fears and make decisions about their trajectories in life that acknowledge those fears but refuse to be constrained by them.  Homelander and Vought (as now personified by Ashley) continue to hold power by wielding that fear, Ashley utilizing their voicepiece Cameron Coleman to cast doubt on Annie’s accusations. Surely no one can take her seriously when she’s clearly just a woman scorned, and oh by the way, doesn’t she have ties to known terrorists and human traffickers? No wonder she started a home for runaway girls!  Imagine a world where the real bad guys take the moral high ground to silence a voice for change and people just believe it…oh wait.

Maeve is one of the characters who has faced the worst case scenario and decided she’s willing to lose it all to go up against Vought and Homelander. He visits her to see if he can find out where Butcher and Soldier Boy are, trying to scare her by saying that Soldier Boy has already killed seven supes and fried the power out of others – reminding her that could happen to any of them. His fear mongering doesn’t work on her anymore though.

Maeve: That’s the difference between you and me. You need to be a supe; I can’t wait til it’s over.

In one of the many parallels in this episode, Homelander recalls almost fondly that at one time he wanted to have kids with Maeve, just as Soldier Boy recalled the same about Crimson Countess previously. In an eerily prescient theme for what’s going on in the real world right now, Homelander assures her that he’d never force himself on her – but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t harvest her eggs against her will to make himself some kids. It’s a shocking attempt to control her body and her reproductive decisions and how the hell are Kripke and this show always so good at predicting the dystopian future?

Maeve refuses to give him the upper hand though, saying that the day is still a top three for her, because she saw him scared. Touche.

Later, Homelander speaks at a rally and attacks Starlight once again when he’s supposed to be rallying in support of candidate Robert Singer (Supernatural’s own Jim Beaver). Homelander is losing it a bit though, hallucinating Soldier Boy in the crowd, his eyes glowing for a second before he gets himself under control. Walking it off, he ends up in a nearby barn where a cow is plaintively mooing. As ‘Crimson and Clover’ starts to play, the scene goes surreal, Homelander milking the cow and looking positively orgasmic while doing it and then drinking the milk right out of the bucket.

Only on The Boys, seriously.

Neuman catches him at it and tells him to pull himself together, offering him some information and a working alliance. That should go well.

A Train wakes up in the hospital with a new heart and an Ashley-written fake news story about how he got it that involves Soldier Boy killing Blue Hawk just as he and A Train were getting along again. Nice cover story, tying up all the loose ends. A Train is ambivalent about going along with all this, but you get the feeling he’s going to cave, drawn back in by the fame and fortune – and Ashley knows it.

Black Noir, on the run and hiding from Soldier Boy, also faces his fears – with the help of Buster Beaver and his cast of cartoon characters. Nathan Mitchell somehow manages to convey all kinds of emotions without saying a word, and it’s a brilliant use of cartoons to depict Noir’s backstory (as this show has done before).  Much like Homelander’s heart to heart with his own mirror image, Black Noir’s dream sequence in his head gives voice to his own self doubt and trauma without him having to utter a thing.

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Jensen Ackles on Soldier Boy and ‘That Scene’ in The Boys Episode 3.7

This week’s episode of The Boys let us get to know Soldier Boy a lot better – in all sorts of ways, some for the better and some for the worse. When I spoke with Jensen Ackles about his portrayal of Soldier Boy, we touched on a few of the scenes that happen in this episode, “Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed.”  The episode is a deep dive examination into toxic masculinity and how cultural norms of violence fueled by misogyny and homophobia have left many of the male characters on this show emotionally damaged and with ready access only to anger and rage.

SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE EPISODE YET!

Butcher, Homelander and Soldier Boy are all struggling with those messages and what it means to be a man, but it’s Hughie who is willing to call BS on some of them in this episode. As he and Soldier Boy walk through the woods in pursuit of more revenge on Payback, Hughie shows concern for an unconscious Butcher. Soldier Boy ridicules him for it, first asking how hard Butcher must have sucked his dick for all that worry, and then saying they’re on a mission and have to just get the job done, like he did when he fought the Nazis and stormed Normandy.

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Soldier Boy: You wanna know what I do when I’m sad or scared? Fucking nothing. Because I’m not a fucking pussy.

That’s a pretty good description of toxic masculinity and its roots in raging misogyny, and it’s a mantra that Soldier Boy has adopted wholesale. It’s also tragic, leaving him with no outlet for legitimate feelings of sadness and fear and a lot of reasons to project so he doesn’t have to even recognize those emotions.

Hughie has had it with fear keeping him back though. He gets in Soldier Boy’s face, saying he didn’t storm shit and that his whole Marlboro Man act is fucking crap.

Soldier Boy punches him in the face – which is the perfect toxic masculinity response for sure!

I spoke with Jensen Ackles in an exclusive interview about that scene and the theme of toxic masculinity that Soldier Boy embodies in this season of The Boys.

Ackles: He’s a character from a time when men were supposed to shut up and not have feelings and not cry and be manly and be tough, and women were supposed to know their place. And I think he’s using it in a way which only Kripke can, in his satirical voice of pulling back the curtain on what we’re dealing with as a society to a certain extent now. Kripke uses Soldier Boy to represent that old ideology.

He touched on the scene in this episode where Soldier Boy and Hughie confront each other about how to handle emotions and what it means to be a man.

Ackles: In that scene where he’s talking to Hughie in the forest and he says, wanna know what I do when I’m scared? Nothing. Cause I don’t get scared. It’s like he doesn’t allow himself to have those feelings because he can’t, he was told to be tough.

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Exactly. As were Butcher and Homelander, with similar results. And that’s pretty tragic.

I also asked Jensen about the lines he didn’t want to cross in the show and that he eventually worked through with showrunner Eric Kripke, which I was fairly certain had to do with some scenes in this week’s episode. He said there was a scene that got cut that started out with Soldier Boy “going in hot and heavy” making out with an older woman who was a maid at the motel, in the scene when Butcher and Hughie walk in with snacks.

Ackles: That wasn’t the line, but that was the jumping off point of when we see Soldier Boy in The Legend’s bedroom. That was supposed to be … a lot more interactive, we’ll say…

Me: That was my guess!

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Ackles: Soldier Boy had a thing for women in their older years and maids for some reason. We were supposed to be in a … much more compromising position… when they walked in. But I was like, I don’t think any of us are gonna be comfortable doing this.

In typical Jensen fashion, he was more concerned about the actresses, who he said he was pretty sure didn’t want to be doing that either!

It’s clear that The Boys is every bit as much of a collaborative show as Supernatural always was, so of course they made some joint decisions about what would fly and what wouldn’t (apparently with the help of some stick figure sketches in those ‘compromising positions’ Jensen mentioned.  Personally I thought the scene as it was aired worked perfectly.

Stay tuned for my deep dive recap and review of this episode coming up soon, and more from my exclusive interview with Jensen Ackles after the finale of Season 3 airs at the end of next week!

– Lynn

You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom

and Supernatural in Family Don’t End With Blood

and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done – links

here on the home banner or at: