The second season of “The Boys” wrapped on a feeling of hope for the future after hard-won battles. The loss of his closest ally, the fallout from that harrowing battle, and blackmail put Homelander (Antony Starr) back into Vought corporate rule and good behavior. It set the stage for a new era of peace, despite the dangling loose end of the exploding head assassin. Of course, the brief calm gets shattered almost straightaway in season three, presenting a darker, more somber tone as the weight of fighting dirty comes crashing down on many.

One year has passed between seasons. Hughie (Jack Quaid) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) have entered domestic bliss, now free to go public with their relationship. Hughie, still none the wiser that boss Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) is the head-popper, has enlisted Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) as a contractor to help their lawful bid to clean up Supe disorder. M.M. (Laz Alonso) finally returns to fatherhood while Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) continue their work with Butcher in a more free-spirited capacity. When Homelander unshackles himself and spins dangerously out of control, the Boys learn of a mysterious Anti-Supe weapon that could stop him. The only problem: it’s tied to the equally dangerous and unhinged Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), a former Supe leader long thought to be dead.

“The Boys” season three keeps the forward momentum going without letting its themes or emotional baggage bog it down or lose sight of the overarching narrative. The effortless way showrunner Eric Kripke juggles so many storylines in an increasingly complex world continues to impress. Even more so as the roster of characters grows, and everyone comes with well-defined arcs, personalities, and motivations. And season three densely packs in themes of PTSD, power imbalances in relationships, power addiction, the desire for normalcy and what that means, the media’s reach and influence, past sins rearing their ugly head, and more. Above all, the lines of morality get run through the mud, obscured beyond recognition in sobering ways.

After a more bombastic season two, Kripke switches gears slightly to let the actors bring emotional heft. While season three does inject raucous moments of splatstick mayhem, playful style twists, and witty banter, it’s more subdued comparatively as the personal stakes reach new highs and lows. Instead of using insane gore as a pressure release valve for cynicism, it instead frequently underscores the heavy toll of an enduring war between Supes and the Boys, and even the Supes’ struggle to find their place in an unforgiving climate with ever-shifting allegiances.

Everyone, in some way, is suffering. It’s at its most tender with M.M., Frenchie, and Kimiko, and most immature with Hughie, whose most significant hurdle this season is coping with feeling emasculated by Starlight’s capable independence. And even that plot thread is poignant and thoughtfully handled in a fitting quirky fashion. Now three seasons deep, the series’ nuanced characters have firmly entrenched themselves as the beating heart to balance the gory satire and pessimism. We root for them even as we cackle with unbridled glee and awe at the zany, fluid-drenched situations they’re forced to navigate.

While certain characters deal with more external conflicts this season, others barrel toward finding closure in surprising ways. There’s a feeling of finality to a lot of what transpires, perhaps more keenly felt by the bleaker tone. “The Boys” tamps down its zany antics just a smidge for a more reflective examination of the corrosive nature of embracing immorality to win. Though it never wavers too far from pushing the boundaries of madcap gore; look for an early moment that out stuns the gutsy whale scene from season two. 

Kripke successfully maintains the series’ high caliber consistency with season three. “The Boys” continues its streak of anarchic energy, sardonic humor, and self-indulgence made all the more entertaining by its bursts of extreme gonzo violence. Yet it never wavers from grounding it all with deeply human characters, flaws and all.

The eight-episode third season of “The Boys” will premiere on Prime Video with three new episodes on June 3, followed by one additional episode each subsequent Friday, and ending with the season finale on Friday, July 8.

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