‘The Boys’ Season 4 Review: The Exhausting Work of Fighting (And Satirizing) Fascism

In season 4, this satire of superheroes and Trump-era fascism turns its focus to a presidential election. Resistance isn’t futile, but it wears you down.

Antony Starr and Cameron Crovetti in The Boys. Jasper Savage/Prime Video

Since its debut in 2019, Eric Kripke’s superhero series The Boys has established itself as television’s sharpest and most explicit satire of Trump-era fascism. In Season 2, the antagonist is a literal Nazi superhero named Stormfront (Aya Cash) with an enthusiastic online alt-right following. Season 3 ends with Superman-powered, dyed-blonde media-darling and psychopath Homelander (Antony Starr) murdering a civilian in cold blood in front of a crowd. The gathered fandom breaks into spontaneous cheers, an intentionally unsubtle evocation of Donald Trump’s boast that he could shoot someone and not lose any voters.

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Season 4 continues in that vein; one of the new heroes this season is Firecracker (Valorie Curry), a podcaster conspiracy theorist who rants about groomers and the evils of abortion and Jewish space lasers. It’s a decent gag, and Curry does a great job of channeling the combined menace and clownishness of GOP reps like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. But the mix of mean-spirited humor, gore, and horror is nonetheless a little too familiar; the show often feels like it’s reiterating past seasons rather than building on them. The protagonists have fought Homelander before, and won—but the guy just keeps coming back. As we face a third Trump election and head towards a decade of MAGA politics, The Boys seems exhausted. Who isn’t?

Susan Heyward and Valorie Curry in The Boys. Jasper Savage/Prime Video

Season 4 is pertinently focused on machinations around a presidential election and Homelander’s increasingly ambitious plans to establish an authoritarian state ruled by superheroes. The super fascist is already in control of the Seven, the most powerful superhero team in the country, and he sits at the head of Vought, a Fox News-like media empire which produces reactionary superhero films and television shows and generally pushes for far-right corporate supremacy. The (more or less ambivalent) allies for Homelander’s planned coup include his superpowered young son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), Vice-President-Elect Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), who as a secret supe has the power to make people’s heads explode, and Sage (Susan Heyward), the smartest person on earth. 

The Boys are the rag tag band of supes and non-supes opposing Homelander—and they look even more ragged this season than in the past. Their profane, amoral leader Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) has rapidly progressing brain cancer. Superhero and iconic leader of the resistance Annie January/Starlight (Erin Moriarty) has what appears to be a psychological block and has largely lost the use of her powers. Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), the team’s moral center, is distracted by his father’s serious illness. Another member of the team collapses from a panic attack during one mission. Several are almost paralyzed with guilt and remorse as they confront their own past sins, from bullying to mass murder.

Karl Urban, Tomer Capone and Laz Alonso (from left) in The Boys. Jan Thijs/Prime Video

The concentration on individual internal conflicts and tragic backstories is part of why the season feels unfocused. Rather than building towards a climactic resolution, the plot staggers and meanders, heaping up misery off to the side as the apocalypse grinds on. 

That’s not always fun to watch, but it does have a certain thematic resonance. Butcher, Hughie, Annie, and the rest of the team have been fighting Homelander and the forces of fascism for years now. That’s physically and emotionally draining work. Fascists target them for smears, exploiting their weaknesses, doxing them, even exposing their personal health records. Homelander and his minions also recruit their friends and family—Ryan, Homelander’s son, was raised by Butcher, who now has to decide whether to try to deradicalize him or kill him. 

Authoritarians rely on spreading paranoia and hate, knowing that when people are divided they’re easier to frighten and control. Hughie, in particular, recognizes that solidarity is vital when fighting the forces of reaction. He urges forgiveness, and wants to welcome into the fold anyone willing to turn against fascism. 

But standing together is more and more difficult over time as you watch allies betray you and come to the end of your own energy and faith.  Under constant pressure, personal relationships start to fray. Paranoia becomes more and more the default as there are fewer and fewer people to trust.

The one bright spot, if you want to call it that, is that the bad guys are so completely clownish and incompetent they almost defeat themselves. Homelander is a seething cauldron of insecurity and ego; he surrounds himself with terrified yes-men, then rages because he’s surrounded by terrified yes-men. The Aquaman-like The Deep (Chace Crawford) is a sycophantic bro who can barely find his own gills with a compass and a map. The super-fast speedster A-Train (Reggie Franklin) is increasingly disillusioned with the Seven’s general horribleness and racism. Tek Knight (Derek Wilson), a Batman-like supe with super-senses and vast wealth, is more focused on satisfying his sexual kinks than on world domination. 

Erin Moriarty in The Boys. Jan Thijs/Prime Video

There are, then, plenty of fascist weaknesses to exploit, if the Boys can only get their act together. The series becomes less a heroic battle for the soul of the nation, and more a war of attrition to see which group of bone-headed incompetents defenestrates themselves first.

In that context, The Boys’ victories often come across as sordid or ridiculous. There is no moment of unabashed empowering triumph as in season 2 when a trio of female heroes beats the crap out of Stormfront, or in season 3 when Annie January wipes out the villains in an explosion of light. 

As for the defeats—well. The Boys has always had a flair for the grim, but there are sequences in season 4 that are among the absolute bleakest television that I have ever seen. The America of The Boys, and not just of The Boys, is facing an authoritarian crisis that seems to have no end, in which we seem determined to choose hate, fear, and repression. Resistance isn’t futile, but it wears you down. Season 4 is The Boys’ worst season because the longer fascism is a live possibility, the worse everything gets.  

Season 4 of ‘The Boys’ begins streaming on Amazon Prime on June 13th. 

‘The Boys’ Season 4 Review: The Exhausting Work of Fighting (And Satirizing) Fascism