On paper, The Boys and Succession don’t have much in common but look a little closer at the daddy issues pumping through Homelander (Antony Starr) and Kendall Roy’s (Jeremy Strong) veins, and you will begin to see similarities. Both men crave the love of their father and want control of the media conglomerate that made them. In Homelander’s case, his birth is directly linked to the powerful organization he fronts. Unlike Kendall, the superhero (or rather, supervillain) is successful in snatching the corporation and becoming his own boss.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Season 3 finale of The Boys.)
Homelander uncovers his father’s identity in the Season 3 finale and is immediately rejected by the overtly macho Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), the subject of the surprise reveal. “Maybe if I’d raised you, I could’ve made you better and not some weak, sniveling pussy starved for attention,” is his darling daddy’s response to his grown-up son. “You’re a fucking disappointment,” Soldier Boy coldly summarizes. He could sit alongside Logan Roy (Brian Cox) in the shitty parenting hall of fame—in fact, I’m pretty sure Logan has uttered this sentiment toward at least one of his children.
I keep referring to the trials and tribulations of the Roy family’s black sheep because Starr’s ability to show the cracks in Homelander’s perfectly manicured mask rivals Strong’s portrayal of Kendall’s emotional roller coaster. Both characters are used to getting their way, but their father’s approval is impossible and neither can hide the tears from their gruff patriarch.
Strong has won several acting trophies and boundless accolades for his performance, and it’s all deserved. But why isn’t the same respect being put on Starr’s name? He’s incredible in this role, one that’s as complicated to pull off as Strong’s is on Succession. In fact, now that the Season 3 finale has aired, we can say pretty unequivocally that it is one of the best TV performances of the year. Now if only everyone else would recognize it and join the chorus.
The chatter around The Boys tends to focus on the bloody extremes rather than performance specifics. It is hard to pull focus when the screen is drenched in guts—and every other body fluid. Nevertheless, the narcissistic psychopath draped in a star-spangled banner continues a trend in which actors often get ignored because of the genres they’re starring in.
I have long beaten the Emmy for Antony Starr drum—and maybe he could get that recognition, though not until next year. (The Boys missed this year’s eligibility window.) And Season 3 saw the actor reach new heights as his character’s pathological need for public adoration continues, and the once impervious Vought Internation power structure begins to unravel. The all-American hero who is not-so-secretly a corporate tyrant is what happens when Superman and Captain America are put in a “what if they were bad?” blender. His bleached blonde hair, blue eyes, and pearly whites are so blinding that when his mouth opens or he laughs, it looks like a weapon in its own right.
I each season, Homelander has become increasingly menacing, from letting a plane full of passengers fall to their deaths to the unholy sexual union with 1srcsrc-year-old-plus Nazi, Stormfront (Aya Cash). The latter died by suicide earlier this season after severe injuries left her bedridden and barely capable of giving him a handjob. While we still don’t know who Homelander’s mother is, some speculate that his dead girlfriend holds that title. Considering how depraved The Boys is, I wouldn’t put this past creator Eric Kripke as a Season 4 twist.
The Boys tends to operate with a mission statement of “the more graphic and the louder, better”—with an occasional musical interlude—but the more unstable Homelander becomes, the more nuanced Starr’s performance becomes. A revealing pep talk with himself in a mirror takes a page out of the Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis) book and illustrates his range of emotions and elastic face straight from the Lucille Ball school of acting—although his crying isn’t as animated. “I want them to love me” is a sentiment he struggles to speak out loud while a single tear falls down his cheek. The “bad” side implores him to cut out his humanity, and it is hard to imagine he has much of that left.
Homelander has already screamed “I am better” to the world and coldly told a suicidal young woman to jump after she has changed her mind. Homelander had always struggled to keep his emotions in check, but his impulsivity is now a reaction to his permanent frayed-nerve state. Every scene could end in a blood bath, and his ability to get away with murder reaches new heights in the season finale’s climax. He is the guy who could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not face the consequences.
But for once, Homelander has to endure a fair physical altercation, and Starr adds fear to the Homelander bag of expressive tricks. In public, he continues to court alt-right fanatics, and his wide-eyed manic stare and disquieting smile are badges of honor rather than an unpredictable mood he has to hide behind good deeds. His shark-like features come alive when he gets to spew this venom or force Starlight (Erin Moriarty) into pretending they are dating to boost his popularity.
Starlight wields her beloved status as a cudgel against her Seven co-captain and manages to break free from the Vought grip using her huge social media platform as a shield. Homelander knows he can’t kill her without losing everything, but the same cannot be said for Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell), who kept the secret of Homelander’s superhero papa. This is personal, and the teary hesitation is Homelander’s version of, “You broke my heart, Fredo.” Instead of sending him out on a boat, he punches a hole through Black Noir’s chest. He rarely exhibits a level of regret or frustration while covered in another person’s blood.
Starr’s layered performance isn’t simply about flipping his pleasant smile to one filled with menace, and his scenes with his son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), scratch at his humanity itch.
There are no tricks to his display of unconditional love, and it takes a beat to realize he does have a capacity for sincerity.
Homelander would be terribly dull if he didn’t have a weakness or ability to show an ounce of empathy. The explicit rejection from dear old dad adds fuel to the Homelander fire. Ackles is an excellent addition to a cast that juggles gallons of blood and guts while cranking up the emotional register. It is a tricky line to walk, but both actors convey the toxic traits magnified by their superpowers and lab-enhanced existence.
It is easy to get distracted by exploding penises, dildo duels, and sexual interactions with sea creatures. Still, beneath its no-hold bars prickly surface, The Boys has some of the same ‘sad boy just wants to be loved’ energy as Succession. Now it is time for Starr to get the attention his character already courts and give Homelander the Number One Boy in a Drama title.