So much of The Boys, Amazon Prime Video's superb superhero satire, is about power — acquiring it, maintaining it, finding cruel and inventive ways of wielding it. It's unsurprising that the most powerful often emerge as winners in the show, though the high price they end up paying balances the scales. Other times, winning is relative and just holding on to a shred of decency counts in a universe determined to turn good men cruel. After the season 3 finale, here's where the characters stand, ranked from biggest losers to biggest winners:
Some of The Boys' sharpest writing emerges in storylines in which superheroes are revealed to be unnervingly, even pitifully human. The episode in which Black Noir's backstory is revealed is a masterclass in getting the audience to care for a character who has so far been more myth than man. Behind Noir (Nathan Mitchell)'s carefully cultivated air of mystery is a deeply wounded person who's regressed into a childlike state. It's obvious now why he could never be more than a shadow — look beneath the mask, and there's little of substance. An origin story marked by pain ends the same way. Not only does Homelander (Antony Starr) brutally kill him, he leaves the body unmasked as a final humiliation.
Retrace Butcher (Karl Urban)'s arc this season and it's the embodiment of the quote: Revenge is like drinking poison and hoping it kills your enemies. He's taken a fatal number of Temp V doses and considerably shortened his lifespan in his ongoing quest to kill Homelander, and it's all been for nothing. Not only is Homelander alive and enjoying a resurgence of popularity, Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) has maneuvered herself into the position of the presidential candidate's running mate, making her more powerful than before, and Butcher has broken the one promise he made to Becca — to keep Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) from turning out to be like his father. For a man with a Scorched Earth policy, only he keeps getting burned.
Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) awoke from decades of cryosleep, found out the world was gay, that his girlfriend never loved him and that the son he never knew he had grew up to be a disappointment. Going back to sleep was the best outcome he could've gotten.
The Deep (Chace Crawford) started this season strong, having escaped from a cult, written a bestselling novel and rejoined the Seven. It's all been downhill from there. In trying to elevate himself, he's only wound up condemned to a life of being degraded by Homelander. RIP to Timothy, who didn't deserve to die caught up in Deep's mess.
The Boys could've taken the easy way out and offered A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) a redemption arc by having him die a hero's death after having brutally murdered Blue Hawk. (It's a good screenwriting tip: Get your worst character to kill a racist and hey, they're suddenly not so bad.) Instead, it opted for the arc of a Black man surviving his quest of righteous rage after receiving a heart transplant from a known racist. Where does A-Train go from here? It's going to be a time of reckoning for a supe whose activism has been purely performative so far. His new heart has given him a fresh start — his endorsements and movie deals are back on the table — but it's also weighed down by enormous baggage.
The trauma of being bullied as a child, the guilt of watching helplessly as his former girlfriend was killed and the rage at his father's inability to prevent his mother from leaving combined into a toxic sludge of masculine insecurity for Hughie (Jack Quaid) this season. For a while there, it looked like he was about to turn into the very thing he despised. (How darkly ironic would it have been if Hughie, unable to control his newfound teleportation powers, smashed into someone else's girlfriend and killed them in the same way A-Train killed his?) While he gets his act together by the end of this season, all those shots of his brain fluid leaking out his ears can't signal anything good for the next.
The horror of growing up to be exactly like one's abusive father is a recurring theme in The Boys and it looks like the same fate awaits Ryan. The sweet mama's boy is beginning to develop a cruel streak after spending time with his sociopathic dad. That, combined with his growing powers means that television viewers should brace for the rise of a new Joffrey Baratheon.
Few emerge with their humanity intact in the world of The Boys, a show in which good intentions pave the road to hell. Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso) gets the catharsis he craves by taking down the supe who killed his family, and he does it with his conscience unscathed. In this universe, that's as good as it gets. Likewise for Frenchie and Kimiko, whose elaborate plans of running away together earlier in the season only made it seem inevitable that they would die in horrifying ways — such is the cruel irony of the show. That they're alright, and together, counts as a win.
Starlight (Erin Moriarty)'s biggest displays of power this season haven't been V-induced but from her astute wielding of public perception. Still, the finale's revelation that she can fly is a big boost for a superhero whose ability to *checks notes* create sparkly fingers isn't dread-inducing in the least.
Neuman played a high-risk, high-reward game this season, having traded in her surrogate father for the safety of her daughter. Her next step is the Vice President's office, which is a great vantage point for anyone with the power to explode heads. Not so much for the rest of us.
One of the finale's most moving moments involves a superhero who doesn't love herself committing the ultimate act of love for her friends. Maeve (Dominique McElligott)'s sacrifice earns her the rare win in a show in which no good deed goes unpunished. A superhero who has spent the entire season courting death, wins back her life, her safety away from Homelander and the love of her formerly estranged girlfriend.
In a stunning reversal of the season 2 finale, in which Homelander, outclassed, outwitted and outmatched, must answer to the public through gritted teeth, this season ends with him landing triumphantly among a sea of adoring fans. Where Trump bragged about being able to shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue without losing any voters, Homelander lasers a man's head in half in broad daylight and wins even more support from the far right. He's arguably the biggest winner this season. His violence is celebrated, his rapist past normalised and his legacy of brutality is all but cemented with the introduction of his son. What a bleak note on which to begin season 4.