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.
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.
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!
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!
The penultimate episode of ‘The Boys’ Season 3, ominously titled ‘Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed,’ releases this Friday on Prime Video, and the little teasers already have everyone bouncing in anticipation (per usual). This is my non-spoilery teaser review of my own reaction to episode 3.7 – and as a Supernatural fan, this one is especially for everyone who was already a Jensen Ackles admirer or has joined the party recently and jumped on board in appreciation of Soldier Boy.
The last few episodes of Season 3 are going to be a rollercoaster for Ackles fans the likes of which we have never ridden. My advice is you’d better hold on tight, because this one is like that rollercoaster in the dark at Disney World where it’s extra scary because you never know when there’s gonna be a sudden twist or how violent the turn is gonna be. That also makes it extra exhilarating – for a long time that was my favorite ride there. But when I say my heart was pounding out of my chest and I had to jump up and sort of run around my kitchen a few times to calm down, to the accompaniment of colorful exclamations, I am not exaggerating.
Ackles himself weighed in on Instagram about his character’s wee bit of anger issues….
From the perspective of someone who has been a Supernatural fan for 17 years, there are all kinds of things that fandom has imagined a character Ackles plays doing – things that a show on the CW could not include, even if it might have made more sense for hardened traumatized hunter Dean Winchester than his PG vocabulary ever did. Most of those things have played out in fanfiction over the years, for sure, but somehow seeing and hearing a character onscreen who is not limited to the CW standards and practices was more shocking than I expected. No, I am very much not complaining.
Seeing Jensen be able to sink his teeth into a role like this, into a character who is raw and fucked up and in many ways the worst of a swatch of humanity in real life – it was awesome. For someone who’s a long-time fan, it was also a mind fuck, in that I could not help but love the character just a little even when I hated him.
There’s a reason the fandom calls him Danger Grampa or Sweet Baby Murder Kitten, after all.
We learn about some of the horrible things he’s done in this episode, right alongside more of the things that have been done to him – and right alongside the moments when he lets his guard down a little and says something real and shows some genuine emotion. That is one of the things this show has excelled at from the beginning and why I’ve loved it since Season 1 – it’s always shades of gray, even the worst characters having moments of humanity when I feel for them. But having one of my favorite actors embody that kind of complexity made it so much more difficult for me to negotiate. I kept wanting to sympathize with him – especially when the traumas of his past are laid out – but each time there’s a punch to the gut that reminds me that I can’t get too pulled in. Talk about a mindfuck!
Episode 6 of The Boys Season 3 drops tomorrow (or tonight if we’re lucky) and has a lot of anticipation around it, simply because – as its title announces – it’s the Herogasm episode. It’s still amazing to me that the series was able to pull off the supe orgy event from the comics and put it on streaming video. Herogasm is every bit as zany as everyone expected, and surprisingly humorous too. I didn’t expect to laugh out loud when there were such … creative… things going on. Flying vibrators? Sex with a…. Okay, you have to watch. This show is good at that, though – mixing the sexual with the violent with the humorous with the occasionally touching. And not just the Herogasm kind of touching!
Here’s my non-spoilery teaser review of Episode 6, which everyone should watch when it drops on Friday (or Thursday night if we’re lucky). Stay tuned for a spoilery recap and in depth review this weekend once everyone has had a chance to watch.
I won’t give away what actually happens at the Herogasm bash, or who ends up being there to join in the fun (or pursue other goals while others have fun). Let’s just say that a lot happens, and it is both disturbing and darkly funny. I will forever appreciate The Boys for being able to combine all those things with a drug-fueled supe orgy that had so many pump bottles of lube on the set that many a hapless crew member apparently mistook one for covid-protocol hand sanitizer.
So yes, that happened.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can only imagine what it was like to be on the set that day. Jensen Ackles shared his own experience on set that day with us at a convention in Denver shortly after filming it.
Jensen: They had rented out this huge mansion, just gaudy and perfect, and I see the A camera operator, his mask down, eating a sandwich and he looks a little traumatized. I was like, hey man, what’s goin’ on, you good? And he just shakes his head nad says “I seen some shit, man. I seen some shit.” He was already PTSD and we hadn’t even gone to lunch yet. And he was right. I can’t unsee it, can’t put that toothpaste back in the bottle. There was the set dec stuff brought in by the art department and let’s just say there were a lot of sex toys all around, and in addition there were just like vats of lube. The problem was they looked very similar to the covid hand sanitizers that they had spread throughout the set, so every now and then you’d hear an expletive because somebody had done an entire pump of lube on their hand and was like oh crap!
Jensen to Supernatural costar Jared Padalecki standing next to him: I don’t know that you’re old enough to see this. (He then played it for Padalecki on their recent flight to another convention).
So, be prepared!
The underlying theme of the episode plays out before and alongside Herogasm — the slow but sure desertion of anyone who is truly “on his team” for Homelander. Because anyone who has watched Eric Kripke’s shows for a long long time knows he can bring the OMG and the OHMYHEART and the OUCH all in one episode.
Homelander is increasingly isolated, in one poignant and disturbing scene left with only himself to talk to – literally. He also talks back, which is never a good sign but makes for fascinating fictional media. It makes horrifying sense that it’s the persona created in childhood when John needed to dissociate, still with him after all this time – probably more and more present as the stress and isolation build up. It’s the ‘strong one’ who got him through the trauma that happened in the ‘bad room’, who at first tries to give him(self) a pep talk about being better than everyone and not needing anyone, then resorts to taunting him for the part of himself that still longs for love and approval. There’s the suggestion that he carve those parts of himself out, leave him pure, clean.
You get the feeling that’s exactly where Homelander is headed. Impermeable. Cold. Unfeeling.
Makes sense when you’re a helpless, traumatized child – shut off your feelings, make yourself like stone. Make the pain stop. My little bit of empathy for Homelander reappears briefly every time I hear about his horribly abusive childhood – his defenses make sense, but they are so far from helpful at this point, they’re likely to take everyone around him down. And there’s no justifying that, even if you can see how he got there. His lack of remorse when he kills, even innocent bystanders, is absolutely horrifying.
In contrast to Homelander’s coldness, Starlight in this episode runs hot and takes no shit. She’s increasingly fed up with everyone and their brother and sister who keep “telling me I need to be shitty in order to win.” You can tell she wants to give a big fuck you to all kinds of people in this episode, including Victoria Neuman, who is so damn pleasant even though you know she could pop everyone’s heads like a melon. That’s scarier than someone who actually looks scary! Annie January takes the spotlight in a different way in this episode, and I was cheering.
We also get more backstory of Frenchie’s childhood and how much it messed him up, which is for sure the theme of this entire show. We get more backstory on Mother’s Milk too, including exactly what happened with his family and Soldier Boy back in the day, the origin of his OCD and his current obsession to confront Soldier Boy and get some kind of revenge. For many of the characters, revenge seems like the only way to end that kind of obsession. Mother’s Milk is looking for that with Soldier Boy, Hughie is looking for that with A Train, and A Train is looking for it with Blue Hawk. Round and round and round we go.
And that brings us to Soldier Boy and Butcher. Butcher’s looking for that with Homelander; Soldier Boy is looking for that with the team who abandoned him. The utilitarian partnership between Butcher and Soldier Boy, with Hughie along for the ride, is a lot more fascinating than I expected it to be. Soldier Boy’s return shakes everything and everyone up, supes included. Having someone else on the playing field with at least as much power as Homelander is a game changer, but while there are plenty of similarities between the two, there are also differences.
I was thrilled that we get to know Soldier Boy better in this episode. Ackles brings unexpected depth to his character once again, much to my distress – he’s a jerk who’s stuck in the racist misogynistic homophobic ideas that were so common in his time, and that have clearly always worked just fine for him so why would he change them? They’re beliefs that have probably hurt countless people over the decades and he remains uninterested in changing them. But he’s surprisingly open in sharing his feelings and how lost he is in this new world. A world that, as he says, forgot him.
He doesn’t seem interested in causing harm to anyone except the team that betrayed him. Like Homelander, though, he’s also a man who has nothing and has lost everything; and that, as we’ve seen before, is a dangerous man. Especially when they have great power. He may not be out for revenge against anyone but Payback, but he also can’t control his explosions that destroy city blocks and he’s not very concerned about collateral damage. Not exactly a caring, compassionate chap.
The rest of the original Payback team better be on the lookout…
The underlying theme of this episode is how much blame to give other things – whether outside influences or substances like V – for when people do bad things. Is it the V who turns people evil, corrupting them, or does it just bring out who they really are? It’s a metaphor both for the power and privilege someone gains and what that allows them to do, and also for the ways in which we absolve ourselves of blame for the things we do that hurt others – it’s not my fault, it’s the people who hurt me in the past. It’s the drugs. It’s the V. Or is it?
The episode is also very much about the mantra of Eric Kripke’s earlier show, Supernatural. Saving people, hunting things. What does it mean to be saved and what does it mean to be the one doing the saving? There are some pivotal choices made in this episode around that question. Mother’s Milk, Starlight, Kimiko and Hughie all make decisions about what’s most important to them, confronting some hard truths about themselves.
This is perhaps the most powerful episode yet of Season 3, with every actor stepping up with compelling performances, and twists and turns to make your head spin. One of the things I love most about this show is that I almost never know what’s coming. I don’t like it when things are predictable, and that is one thing The Boys has never been.
And just so you know, there are two episodes left of this season, and you can count on that unpredictability to remain. And then some!
Tune in tomorrow (or later tonight if we’re lucky) for Herogasm – and then check back here on the weekend for our spoilery review and recap!
It’s the day after the release of The Boys Episode 5 (The Last Time To Look on This World of Lies) after another week of anticipation running high and the official accounts doing a great job of teasing us while we wait. This episode was billed as “The Boys Musical” which left some fans expecting all the characters to burst into song ala Buffy’s musical episode – and while it wasn’t that, we did get some amazing song and dance (and there’s more if you make use of the XRay function on the streaming videos). Those moments provided a welcome interlude of lightness and even joy interspersed between the more usual moments of darkness, angst and violence. Oh, and kinky sex. I love The Boys for its ability to swing between those different states seamlessly, something Kripke seems to have mastered in all his shows.
The episode also introduces the new character of The Legend, a Stan Lee homage and iconic figure from the comics who is played to perfection by Paul Reiser. In the comics, The Legend was a Vought comic book writer who helped sell the Supes as heroes, and who later gives information to the boys.
He’s a former Vought employee in the series too, but more a producer and manager for the Supes with the official title of VP of Hero Management before Stillwell took that job. He’s also quite a character – decadent, irreverent, a man from a bygone era a bit like Soldier Boy is. He’s probably a complete asshole but somehow kind of appealing anyway. The Legend also provides some more pointed commentary on celebrity – to him, the Supes are “the talent”, and as he wryly notes, “who knows why they do what they do?” If you’ve ever been backstage or on the other side of the celebrity fence for even a little while, it’s both fascinating and disturbing to see how differently someone is treated who’s identified as “the talent”. They are both coddled and infantilized simultaneously, which is a great way to encourage narcissism and discourage self awareness. It’s doubly fascinating when this is a show employing a bunch of “talent” in real life, but The Boys never backs away from its own attempts at self awareness (or self parody).
I feel like I say this every time, but there are pivotal happenings in this episode for many of the characters. SPOILERS AHEAD, so be sure you’ve watched before you read!
Butcher is still sliding down that slippery slope at breakneck speed. He embraces taking the Temp V, rationalizing his decision to MM when he asks if it felt good to use his laser eyes and kill Gunpowder.
Butcher: It did – for once I leveled the fucking playing field.
MM isn’t having it, with the one line that encompasses the primary message of this show.
MM: The whole point of what we do – the whole goddamn point – is that no one should have that kind of power.
Butcher is not without ambivalence himself, especially about Hughie also taking the Temp V. He imagines Hughie as his younger brother Lenny, upset when Hughie reacts to the drug by vomiting a lot of green puke into the sink repeatedly.
After the epic events of last week’s episode of The Boys, this has been another week of anticipation while enjoying periodic teasers from the official accounts and lots of delicious back and forth between the Vought Intl. in-world social media and The Boys intrepid social media manager, who is hitting it just right with the fans. Whenever you see fans tweeting that they’d like to be friends with the person running a show’s twitter, you know someone has got their finger on the pulse of the fandom. But I would have expected no less! In one of my first chats with The Boys’ showrunner Eric Kripke, back in his Supernatural days, we talked about finding that elusive balance of keeping track of what fans want and also staying true to the vision of the work you’re putting out there. It goes wrong as often as it goes right, but so far, The Boys is finding that balance – and I am here for it!
We left off episode 4 at a pivotal time, with Soldier Boy freed from his cryogenic chamber and on the loose somewhere, Kimiko bleeding and badly injured, and Hughie still staring in awe at his magically (Temp V) healed arm and basking in the way he helped save the day.
So as I sat down to watch the screener for episode 5, I was practically bouncing waiting to see what happens next. To say I was on the edge of my seat for most of this episode is not an exaggeration. The title alone gave me chills – any title in this show that has the word “last” in it is guaranteed to put me on edge. Who can blame me?!
This is the non-spoilery preview of Episode 5 (Last Time To Look On This World Of Lies), so no major spoilers – you can read and still be assured of experiencing the full breakneck speed roller coaster of emotions that a new episode of The Boys is guaranteed to bring. We already know from the official account (so it’s not a spoiler) that this episode includes at least one musical sequence, which only Kripke can pull off integrating into a show as dark as this one. It is PRICELESS.
We also know from the official account that ‘The Legend’ appears for the first time, a character from the comics played in the series by Paul Reiser. Without spoiling anything about who he is or who he interacts with, let me just say that he is A CHARACTER – and that I thoroughly enjoyed everything about him.
In many ways, the fifth episode of the eight episode season ramps everything up into high gear. Almost everyone is at a turning point, back up against the wall, certain that they know best how to get what they want or what they think others want – and most of them willing to do just about anything to accomplish that. To say there are unlikely alliances as a result is also not an exaggeration – even if we did suspect some of them were coming. Mother’s Milk, as he often does, has the dialogue that sums up where they are right now, quoting his father who is so much the guiding light in his life even as he tries to live his own differently in terms of his daughter. If you don’t draw the line somewhere, how the hell are you gonna know where you stand?
There are lots of lines drawn in this episode, and there are also times when someone decides there is no line – which means there’s nothing to cross. This has essentially been the question the show has asked since the beginning, for all its characters. Where’s your line? The fact that not every character has one at this point is, frankly, terrifying. That’s becoming a risk to more characters than we might have expected, which threatens to blur the other line – the one between supes and the boys – into nothing. It’s interesting to see which characters have managed to hang onto keeping a line and which haven’t, with all the moral and ethical questions that brings with it. Is it okay to lie? Kill? Betray? If there’s no line, what will ever be off the table?
The other underlying theme of this episode is what it means to be human, and what we really mean by “humanity”. Is it determined by what’s inside you, literally or figuratively? Genetics, biology, what’s running through your veins? Is it the decisions you make and whether you retain a capacity for empathy, to care for other humans? And is it antithetical to power, the ultimate corrupter? So many good questions that are achingly relevant, not just on the screen, but in our real world right now.
I love that The Boys has slowly humanized its supe characters, with even Butcher pointing out that they’re all just people. And yet, knowing what they can do, he still fundamentally believes they’ve all “gotta go”. The exploration of what power is and what it does to people continues – we’ve seen reluctant supes wish they could go back to being just people, and we’ve seen what a taste of power does even to someone who has the best of intentions. At the end of last week’s episode, we left the ethical heart of the boys, Hughie, staring at his miraculously Temp V-healed arm with something like awe and wonder – while Kimiko lies gravely wounded in the same van. If that’s not a chilling case of power corrupting, I don’t know what is!
And then, of course, there are the people who have the worst of intentions.
At some points in this episode, the real life parallels are overt, echoing the ways in which those in power have marginalized and stigmatized those who are not. Sometimes Kripke and company really do seem prescient. I have sometimes heard the same words being spoken onscreen in the real world, from people trying to keep that power structure in place, gaslighting along the way to ensure there’s no change to it. From cancel culture to ‘bad apples’, from All Lives Matter, to ‘I don’t see color’, the talking points are all the more jarring because we’ve actually heard them. We even delve into the standard “this is no threat whatsoever, America is safe, go out there and go to your restaurants and movie theaters and live your lives” message – I might have jumped up and started cheering at that point, honestly.
I love when The Boys does that – it feels validating, cathartic. It’s fictional media but it’s reflective of so many of the things that are wrong in real life, and it feels like a relief to know others see it too. A Train’s arc at this point in the season is particularly interesting, and true to The Boys, takes some unexpected twists and turns.
Without giving anything away about his backstory and his journey, I have also been knocked on my ass by Jensen Ackles’ performance as Soldier Boy. I know how good he is from watching him bring Dean Winchester to life for fifteen years, but I didn’t know if he could make me feel anything for a new character who is only a parody of a hero, not a real one. I didn’t know if Kripke and the writers would bring as much nuance to this character as they have to the others, so that my emotions are all over the place and my empathy is pulled to the forefront again and again, only to be stomped back down. It’s exhausting, exhilarating – it’s why I watch fictional media! And this show does it so damn well.
Of course it’s all magnified with Soldier Boy. Ackles, if given even a crumb to work with, will pull you in and make you feel whatever the hell that character is feeling, whether you want to or not. I found myself cursing at the screen multiple times, overwhelmed with too many emotions, some that should definitely be mutually exclusive.
And of course they gave him a ton to sink his talented teeth into. You would think I would have been more prepared! (Not complaining, not even a little). Seeing our world through the eyes of a man who’s from another time – not to mention one who’s been through the unprecedented experiences that Soldier Boy has – is fascinating. Riveting. Ackles can show Soldier Boy’s suffering, derision, amusement or mystification with just a look, so we get to see it all. I’m trying not to be hyperbolic, but he’s amazing in this role.
That there are a couple of Supernatural Easter eggs in this episode that no one but a Supernatural fan would notice only amped up the emotionality for me. I think I might have yelled “Damn you, Kripke!” at least once. Sorry, Eric. Don’t ever stop.
There’s a lot of evolution in many of the characters in this episode, some of it the predictable slippery slope of trying to make nice with a homicidal narcissist, some of it an unflinching exploration of what happens when you get a taste of power and you’ve felt powerless all your life. That’s compelling for anyone, and the show doesn’t shy away from making that clear. Surprising, perhaps, what a taste of real power does to people – all people.
Homelander continues to consolidate his power base, his ruthlessness now knocking out even my little traces of empathy for him – that’s what narcissists do when cornered. Tell a narcissist that no one loves them and set the fuse on the powder keg is a theme we see played out in this episode more than once. And with my psychologist hat on, they got that one right.
There’s an interesting little theme running throughout this season that is very clear in this episode too about the cost of not being genuine – of pretending you’re okay with things you’re not. For some of the female characters, that has meant pretending to be into a man who was actually hated and feared, not loved. When there’s nothing left to lose, the truth comes out. I think most of us can relate to feeling the pressure to pretend you’re okay with things you’re not, and it seems like a strikingly relevant message when we look around at all the things that many people keep pretending are okay in the real world when they are clearly not.
This wouldn’t be The Boys if there wasn’t also an insane sequence that takes the emotions in a completely different direction for a few minutes, and also one that involves some sort of sex that’s vividly depicted, so don’t worry, this episode has those too! Also, if you’re not shipping a couple of twosomes after watching this episode, I’m surprised. Especially if you’re a Supernatural fan.
Don’t miss the new episode of The Boys dropping on Friday – or, as Kripke teased, tonight if Jensen’s ass doesn’t break Amazon again!
And stay tuned for my spoilery wrap up of episode 5 right here on the weekend!