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tv The Whole Time? The Boys Has Been Making Fun of Trumpers the Whole Time?!

Why fans keep missing the point of The Boys.

Homelander (Antony Starr) in The Boys, season four. ,© Amazon Content Services LLC

Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.


Television shows getting terrible reviews isn’t anything new. But there’s something fascinating happening with the fourth season of The Boys. It’s not just that people have suddenly turned on Amazon’s hit superhero satire, it’s who those people are and why they’ve changed their tune that’s so interesting.

Since premiering to critical praise on June 13, alleged fans have been review-bombing the show’s latest season on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. The most vocal and eye-catching of these takedowns pronounce that the show has gone “woke” or is so obviously “anti-Donald Trump.”

They’re not wrong, but they’re excruciatingly late to this observation.

Since the show’s inception in 2019, The Boys has been a superhero allegory about Trump, dangerous authoritarianism, political fanaticism, Nazis, and America’s sway toward fascism. Its showrunner, Eric Kripke, has said as much interview after interview: This is a show explicitly about the allure of Trump and a critique of corporate America. The only thing that’s seemingly different in this fourth season is that it skates so close to what’s happening in the US now: Homelander (Antony Starr), a Superman-like sociopath who functions as the Trump stand-in, is facing a criminal trial and is fanning the flames of a January 6-like insurrection.

These angry public admissions from conservatives that they've spent the previous seasons cheering on this horrible character — only to now realize they're the butt of the joke — have become bigger than the show itself. It’s a testament to our culture’s ever-diminishing media literacy.

This isn’t the first time in pop culture that a superhero satire has served as a warning about fascism and its biggest fans have whiffed on the point. That it keeps happening is a testament to how difficult it may be for all of us to not be lost in the allure of powerful people.

What’s happening on this season of The Boys

At the heart of The Boys is a brash deconstruction of the superhero fantasy, taking apart the traditional comic book superhero arc where super-powered beings save the day and defend those who can’t defend themselves.

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In The Boys, however, every character, every line, every shot, and every scene paints a larger portrait of how extremely screwed we would all be if superheroes existed in real life. The Boys’scynical counter to the fantasy is a worldview that humans — even super ones — are morally flawed beings and that power always compromises morality. No matter how good we could be or think we could be, our selfishness, biases, envy, and everything in between will always get the better of us.

People aren’t meant to be superheroes.

These human failings take the form of heroes like the terminally narcissistic Homelander or any of his coworkers, known as The Seven (a parallel to DC Comics’s Justice League or Marvel’s Avengers). Homelander and his pals rape and kill and lie but their powers and, more importantly, their celebrity status keep them from facing any semblance of justice. The Seven are all propped up by Vought International, an ultra-powerful pharma-entertainment-military defense corporation originated by a Nazi who invented a serum that gave normal people superpowers.

Vought has its tentacles wrapped around every sphere of human life, whether its politics or sports or television and movies or law enforcement. There is no escaping Vought and the heroes it uses to make the world bend to its will.

Just like former President Donald Trump, Homelander faces a criminal trial in the fourth season of The Boys.

Just like former President Donald Trump, Homelander faces a criminal trial in the fourth season of The Boys.

 © Amazon Content Services LLC

This season builds on the idea that Homelander has built a following so large and loyal that Vought can’t control him. He’s always been invincible and able to shoot laser beams from his eyes, but it’s his acolytes that have made going against him impossible. The monster Vought created has become the master, and he’s now pulling the strings and attempting to manipulate the world around him.

In the season opener, Homelander is facing trial for the killing of a protester, a fan of former Seven member Starlight (Erin Moriarty). Starlight, who has the ability to manipulate electricity and energy, was the rare “good” hero and didn’t last long in Homelander’s tribe. She’s now part of an anti-Vought, anti-Homelander political movement, which is the short version of why Homelander killed her supporter. That, and Homelander is also a pathetically fragile sociopath. Yet, everyone including Homelander knows that he won’t be found guilty. Even if he was, it wouldn’t matter because he’s too politically significant to face any real consequences. It’s only a matter of time before Homelander plans a coup, a January 6-like insurrection and takeover of the United States.

A celebrity turned powerful political figure and authoritarian who is facing trial and stirring up a fascist insurrection should sound very familiar to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to American politics over the last eight years. Kripke, the showrunner, said as much in 2022, asserting that Homelander has “always been a Trump analogue” and that the parallel should have been crystal clear in the show’s third season in 2022. Kripke’s fourth season is even more urgent and obvious.

Yet, despite The Boys’s purposefully unsubtle treatment of the dangerous creep of authoritarianism over the past three seasons and the showrunner plainly stating that the villain of his show is Trump, some of The Boys’s viewers are just now crying foul and expressing shock over the show’s politics.

The Boys’s audience score is the lowest in the show’s existence

On Rotten Tomatoes, the show’s audience score is at 50 percent, despite boasting a 95 percent critical score. That’s the lowest score The Boys has ever had. The divide between critics and viewers, with viewers submitting a lower score, doesn’t usually happen. Outlets like ScreenrantForbes, and NME pointed out that the divide seems to be driven by viewers claiming the show has gone “woke.” They also explain that the show is being review-bombed, a practice in which users — whether or not they’ve seen the shows — flood aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB with bad reviews to drive the audience/word of mouth score down. Television series and movies that are seen as progressive (e.g., shows that center characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and women) are sometimes review-bombed by those who don’t agree with that progress.

The blowback to this season mirrors the backlash that happened at the end of 2022’s season three — the season in which Kripke said the satire was extremely clear and the line between Homelander and Trump extremely thin. Certain Homelander-loving fans had a meltdown upon realizing that their hero was actually a villain.

That it took four seasons of the show for right-wing and conservative-leaning viewers to realize the characters they were championing were liberal spoofs of them is a dynamic that’s ripe for jokes about how media literacy is fighting for its life. How long would you let someone make fun of you for? What if it took roughly four years for you to figure it out? Wouldn’t you keep something like that private?

A character named Stormfront (Aya Cash) who likes men with Aryan features and drumming up online chaos turned out to be ... a NAZI!

A character named Stormfront (Aya Cash) who likes men with Aryan features and drumming up online chaos turned out to be ... a NAZI!

 © Amazon Content Services LLC

Even if fans forgive The Boys’s superheroes for committing reprehensible acts like the aforementioned rape, killing, and violence, there were still moments that should have made the intent quite clear. In season two, an honest-to-God Nazi namedStormfront(which is literally the name of a Neo-Nazi internet forum) emerged on the scene and became Homelander’s ally and love interest. Her name and characterization (violence, really into social media, complimenting Homelander for Aryan features) couldn’t have been more obvious. But certain fans didn’t pick up on it, some even tied themselves in knots trying to exonerate Homelander’s fixation with her. Take for example this Reddit thread about whether Homelander was a Nazi because of his relationship with Stormfront, including the distinction that Homelander wasn’t a Nazi but a racist who has sex with Nazis.

The fact that so many erroneous interpretations of The Boys exist — despite its creator explicitly talking about how mistaken they are — indicates there may be something at work with how viewers filter the media they consume. Perhaps media bubbles have reached a point where all of us expect the things we watch to reinforce our ideals. We’ve gotten so good at watching things that fit with our political leanings, and being served things that fit with our politics, that we can’t even identify when something is built to challenge those beliefs. What if it’s hard for conservative and alt-right viewers to comprehend that The Boys wasn’t made for them because they’re so used to everything in their sphere being for them?

The show has skewered some liberal ideologies as well. The Boys includes multiple moments where Vought International’s PR team strategically focus-groups race and sexuality when it comes to their celebrity heroes. Each person of color or LGBTQ person joining The Seven is seen by corporate HQ as a token, a tool to push their agenda more effectively. It’s a blistering critique of the shallowness of corporate diversity, equality, and inclusion and how effective appearances are at winning liberals over.

And in season two, the show introduces Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit). Enigmatic and for the people, Neuman seems to be a stand-in for one Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Slowly viewers came to understand that she has her own nefarious motives and at least one mind-blowing super-powered secret. That you can’t trust even the most progressive lawmakers because all lawmakers sell a little part of themselves to the highest bidders sure feels like a leftist critique.

Kripke has no qualms about the bluntness of his series.

“I’m certainly not going to pull any punches or apologize for what we’re doing,” Kripke told the Hollywood Reporter. “Some people who watch it think Homelander is the hero. What do you say to that? The show’s many things. Subtle isn’t one of them. So if that’s the message you’re getting from it, I just throw up my hands.”

The Boys isn’t the first superhero critique where people didn’t see the critique

The Boys isn’t the first superhero satire that seems to have gone over the heads of much of its devoted audience. Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen was both a critique of the genre and a warning about how superhero comics glamorize authoritarianism and fascism while doing double duty in infantilizing their audience.

Still, so many fans, some very prominent, gush over Watchmen and how it portrayed gritty, damaged men, all but ignoring Moore’s warnings. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz famously named Rorschach, an extremist vigilante who sees violence and torture (e.g., breaking people’s fingers) as part of his job, one of his favorite superheroes. Similarly, director Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation reveled in the gloom and doom of its bloodied heroes.

According to Moore, those were exactly the wrong things to take out of his work.

“The creation of Rorschach — I was thinking, well, everybody will understand that this is satirical. I’m making this guy a mumbling psychopath who clearly smells, who lives on cold baked beans, who has no friends because of his abhorrent personality. I hadn’t realized that so many people in the audience would find such a figure admirable,” Moore told GQ in 2022, voicing his frustrations. He added, about Watchmen andhis other graphic novel V for Vendetta :

They were trying to show that any attempt to realize these figures in any kind of realistic context will always be grotesque and nightmarish. But that doesn’t seem to be the message that people took from this. They seemed to think, uh, yeah, dark, depressing superheroes are, like, cool.

I think I understand fascism … But if this stuff can be so fundamentally misunderstood, it does make you wonder what the point of doing it was.

While Watchmen and The Boys touch upon the same themes, they’re drastically different in style. The latter leans into raunch and slapstick to highlight the hilariously bleak absurdity of just how close its creator thinks we are to a fascist dictator — while the former relies on plain old bleak absurdity.

Homelander (left) is supposed to be a Trump analogue. Victoria Neuman (right) seems to be a stand-in for AOC. What if the message of the show is that you can't trust anyone with power?

Homelander (left) is supposed to be a Trump analogue. Victoria Neuman (right) seems to be a stand-in for AOC. What if the message of the show is that you can't trust anyone with power?

 © Amazon Content Services LLC

Still, both want to raise a mirror to their audiences, using superheroes to warn us about the perils of believing in the goodness of the most powerful people, from professional athletes to politicians to pop stars. Political affiliation doesn’t matter, power is power and shouldn’t be adulated. At the end of the day, no one is going to save us, especially not corporate-backed, focus-grouped capitalist heroes. That viewers keep tripping on this point only proves how alluring this fantasy is.