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.
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!
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!
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: