At long last, The Boys have returned, as Prime Video has the first three episodes of Season 3. Episode 1, “Payback,” picks up 12 months after the events of Season 2, with Hughie (Jack Quaid) working with Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumat) at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs. Marvin A.K.A. Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) attempts to return to a “normal life,” while Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), Frenchie (Tomer Capone), and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) are still running the Boys’ supe-hunting operation, albeit under the FBSA.
The episode opens with a snippet of the long-awaited Vought Studios superhero blockbuster Dawn of the Seven. The scene portrays a city mired in cataclysmic destruction. The camera pans to collapsed buildings and a sneakily placed, Amazon-X-Ray-General-Trivia-assisted Easter egg of the Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) statue from Season 2, Episode 7's “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker.” Homelander (Antony Starr) confronts a fictionalized version of Stormfront, played this time around by Charlize Theron. Stormfront declares her allegiance to the Fourth Reich and says she wants to create “flawless Aryan children” with Homelander, to which Homelander responds “No. They’d be monsters. Like you.” The rest of the Seven are revealed, and they and Stormfront duke it out.
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The reveal of the glitzy Vought Studios red carpet premiere for Dawn of the Seven establishes Hughie and Starlight (Erin Moriarty)’s newfound public face, along with some expected, subtly menacing intimidation from Homelander. A montage of Homelander’s handling of the Stormfront (Aya Cash) fiasco reveals a flurry of repetitive talking points recycled to different networks: “I am just a man who fell for the wrong woman. Out of crisis comes change. So I spent the last year really slowing down and reconnecting with myself, and I am very excited for everyone to meet the real me.”
RELATED: ‘The Boys’ Season 3 Review: Homelander Is Crazier, Stakes Are Higher, and the Satire Gets a Little Too Real-World
Hughie enters the men’s bathroom after Dawn of the Seven director Adam Bourke (P.J. Byrne) has a self-deprecating, hair ripping sex romp with Ashley (Colby Minifie) one of the stalls. He is confronted by Billy Butcher, who is carrying out some supe-busting contract work with the Hughie-less Boys for Hughie and Congresswoman Victoria Neuman. Billy approaches Hughie about a lead on a supe they’ve been tracking, letting him know that the Boys are ready to attack and that they are just waiting for the go-ahead. When Hughie defers to Neuman, Butcher delivers a classic mini-monologue to speed things along. Though Billy is now technically under the authority of Hughie, he wastes no time in reiterating their former dynamic: “Or you could take your tongue out of her ass, slap on your big-boy pants, and make a fucking decision.” Hughie agrees to let the Boys infiltrate the party the supe is hosting, with the harsh ultimatum: “Just photos. No violence, or maiming, or torture, or curb-stomping, or setting anyone on fire.”
The supe target is revealed to be Termite (Brett Geddes), first briefly introduced in Episode 1 of the series. This is just another example of the sheer amount of lore nuggets dropped throughout The Boys that could eventually lead to full-fledged characters and future plotlines. The resident Ant-Man of the Vought Universe, Termite follows the predictable supe trend of using his powers to fulfill niche fetishes. The Boys manage to infiltrate a party in which observers watch Termite, scaled down to his minuscule form, dry hump a doll in a dollhouse. There is a particularly affectionate scene in which Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) stumbles upon a girl playing the piano (Kelsey Falconer) and seemingly joins her in a warm rendition of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s take on the jazz standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” However, this spontaneous jam session is abruptly upended by the tragic realization that it is all in Kimiko’s head. The girl on the piano introduces herself as Tyler, but Kimiko walks away in silence.
It wouldn’t be a Boys season premiere without a jarring, bloody human combustion. The Season 3 premiere delivers tenfold, depicting a surreal sequence of squirm-inducing events as Termite hooks up with Peter (Jarrett Siddall) after his dollhouse exploits. Peter tells Termite, “I want you inside me”—literally. Termite shrinks down on the table—leaping over a few lines of cocaine—and jumps into the tip of Peter’s penis. Taking cues from the production design of the iconic whale in Season 2, Episode 3, “Over the Hill with the Swords of a Thousand Men,” Termite’s journey into the cavernous penis is cut short when he feels a sneeze coming on. He tries to hold it off, but to no avail. Termite lets out a sneeze that reverts him back to his original size, resulting in a—you guessed it—bloody and gutsy explosion of Peter all over the room. Frenchie bursts into the room to the gory scene, and before he can leave, Termite shrinks back down and tries to crawl up Frenchie’s ass, presumably to explode him as well. Termite is eventually bagged by Butcher, who shakes him around in a bag of cocaine.
There is a moment in the party scene where a quick shot reveals Butcher ordering a Connect 4 game set on none other than the Amazon mobile app. The foreshadowing of this order comes to fruition as Butcher reconnects with Becca (Shantel VanSanten)’s son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) over the game. The looming specter of Homelander is still present in Ryan’s mind. Ryan recalls a nightmare about Homelander: “He burns everything down and then kills me.” On Butcher’s way out. Mallory suggests that he can always ditch the supe-hunting life and focus on Ryan, reminding him that “Marvin got out.”
Mother’s Milk is shown at his daughter Janine (Liyou Abere)’s birthday party, watching his ex-wife Monique (Frances Turner) and her new boyfriend Todd (Matthew Gorman) living the life he always wanted. M.M. tells Monique that he’s been on the straight and narrow for the past 12 months, declaring that his involvement in superhero matters is ancient history. He tries for dinner with Monique at the restaurant where they had their first date, but she turns him down. He’s left in a limbo of sorts, with an apparent desire to hang up the supe-hunting towel combined with an inability to return to his former life. A sequence in the final moments of the episode reveals that he just can’t give up the fight his father started—his closet is revealed to be covered in a collage of supe-related newspaper clippings.
Butcher spares no mercy in his discontent for Hughie’s handling of matters within the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs. After the transgressions of Termite are brushed aside at the request of Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito), Butcher reminds Hughie that he’s working with Vought. There are multiple losses converging for Butcher: Becca, as well as the loss of Hughie and M.M. from the Boys. As Hughie and Butcher argue, Kimiko attempts to play “Dream a Little Dream of Me” on the keyboard. Butcher returns home and intensely watches the tragic Homelander and Maeve airplane footage while the sound of the tea kettle rises. His modus operandi is reinvigorated.
Stan calls a meeting with Homelander and Starlight to discuss the addition of Starlight as co-captain of the seven, citing her polling at a new Vought record of 96. Stan explains that this would offer her real power, to change things from the ground up. This infuriates Homelander to no end. On the shoot of “American Superhero,” Starlight reveals the co-captain offer to Hughie. Starlight ultimately believes that the power of being a role model to millions of girls as the first female co-captain trumps her disdain for Vought, and ultimately agrees to share the role with Homelander. In the photoshoot of the two, Homelander gets a crazed look in his eyes that stays with him for the remainder of the episode. A potentially fatal interaction with A-Train underscores his unraveling. Homelander visits the dilapidated yet still alive Stormfront and relays his disgust for Starlight's promotion.
Talks between Vought CEO Stan Edgar and US Secretary of Defense Robert Singer (Jim Beaver) reveal the existence of V24—a special form of Compound V that grants the user superhero powers for 24 hours. Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) meets up with Butcher, where she hands him information on Soldier Boy, a supe who allegedly died in 1984 buried underneath a nuclear reactor. The documents speak of something called B.C.L. Red, which apparently killed Soldier Boy. Maeve postulates that if they can find B.C.L. Red, then they can use it to take down Homelander once and for all. She then gives Butcher a vial of V24, or “Temp V.”
Just as Butcher is getting ready to pour out the Temp V, Homelander appears at his window. Butcher lets him in. It’s a rare moment of the two on equal footing, both feeling abandoned and misaligned from their original cause. This is bolstered by the accompanying score throughout the episode when each of them has a meltdown: the tea kettle for Butcher and the rising high-pitched frequency for Homelander. Homelander says to Butcher that lasering him would be like “putting down a wounded dog” to which Butcher replies “You’re the one with your tail between your legs on all them fucking talk shows. And then they go and make Starlight co-captain.” Homelander then suggests a last-man-standing, man-to-man battle, outside all the circumstances that surround them. The recurring motif of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” makes its third and final appearance, a hauntingly beautiful version performed by YouTuber Anne Reburn.
Hughie appears to be in a state of ultimate stability. As shown through a montage aptly set to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” his love life with Starlight is thriving. He’s waking up early, Peloton-ing, smoothie blending, and Facetiming with his Dad (Simon Pegg). Hughie shuffles off to his office at the FBSA where he’s something of a hotshot among his envious colleagues. He’s confronted in the lobby by a man named Tony (Kyle Mac) who claims that Neuman’s real name is Nadia, and that he is her best friend. The man is shuffled off by security.
At the end of the episode, Hughie is exiting the FBSA building and sees Tony calling after Neuman, once again calling her “Nadia.” Hughie follows them to an alleyway, where Neuman acknowledges Tony, yet claims that she’s “not Nadia anymore.” Tony speaks of something called “Red River,” telling Neuman that they should tell everyone about it now that she has a platform, and that people need to know what happened to him. Neuman agrees and hugs him, yet begins to attack him with her powers. Tony notices a nosebleed and reveals himself to be a supe, throwing her off him. He then attacks Neuman, who fully activates her powers and explodes Tony in a hale storm of blood and chunks of flesh. Hughie finally comes to the realization that Neuman is the elusive head exploder, shattering his temporary illusion of homeostasis. The reprise of “Uptown Girl” brings things full circle, setting the stage for what is sure to be a full-throttle 7 new chapters of The Boys.