What You Need to Know Before Watching ‘The Boys’ Season 4

The Boys are about to be back after a two-year break (and a successful spinoff). Where does their series stand, and what’s next for Prime Video’s superhero satire turned blockbuster brand?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Update, June 11: After this piece was published, The Boys series creator Eric Kripke announced that the show’s fifth season would be its last.

Since showrunner Eric Kripke’s adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s namesake comic series started in 2019, much has changed in the world of The Boys. Across three seasons, Vought International’s famed superhero team, the Seven, has seen several members join and leave its ranks—sometimes via very violent departures. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and his team of vigilante supe hunters, the Boys, now have a pair of supes of their own. And while Homelander (Antony Starr) once worked for Vought and answered to its executives, such as Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), the corporation now answers only to him. (His obsession with milk, however, has endured.)

And through it all, this increasingly absurd anti-superhero TV show has become a blockbuster franchise unto itself, sprouting spinoffs such as the animated anthology series Diabolical and the live-action series Gen V. The IP’s proliferation and popularity mirror those of the superhero programming it set out to subvert, but Kripke recently told The Hollywood Reporter that the spirit of The Boys remains intact even as the brand booms.

[The] Boys and their spinoffs, none of them are really superhero shows,” Kripke said. “They have the suits and powers, but The Boys is a show about celebrity politics and late-stage capitalism. Gen V is a coming-of-age story about the college experience. … All superhero movies—not just Marvel—start to flag when it’s just a superhero movie. Then they feel the same as every other one, and the one thing audiences can’t stand is monotony.”

The show’s original mission to satirize society through superhero storytelling might live on, but the fact that a primer is in order ahead of Season 4 is, perhaps, an indication that The Boys is starting to look and feel like its genre competitors. With the events of a spinoff series to consider, there’s a lot to remember or catch up on before The Boys returns from a nearly two-year break with a three-episode premiere on Thursday that will kick off another eight-episode season.

Here’s everything you need to know about The Boys Season 3, Gen V Season 1, and where the flagship show may be headed in Season 4.

Previously On …

Images via Prime Video

In Season 3 of The Boys, Butcher’s quest to kill Homelander sinks to desperate new lows. With the help of Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), the leader of the Boys gets his hands on V24—an experimental variant of Compound V that grants temporary superpowers to its user. (As he later finds out, “Temp V” comes at a lethal cost: Three to five doses of it prove to be fatal.) Maeve also tells Butcher to look into the old supergroup known as Payback, whose leader, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), was allegedly killed with a superweapon that, in theory, could kill Homelander too.

But instead of finding a weapon, Butcher and the Boys discover that Soldier Boy is still alive, hidden away in a secret lab in Russia. As Soldier Boy seeks revenge against his old team, who betrayed him, Butcher cuts a deal with him: In exchange for helping Soldier Boy get payback on Payback (sorry), Soldier Boy will help Butcher kill Homelander. However, between MM’s (Laz Alonso) history with Soldier Boy (he killed MM’s grandfather), Soldier Boy’s de-powering and wounding of Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), and Soldier Boy’s volatile and all-around terrible nature, this agreement fractures the group. Butcher and Hughie (Jack Quaid) are the only ones willing to work with the problematic supe. As Hughie joins Butcher in using Temp V, they sacrifice their morals to finally put an end to Homelander.

Much of the third season is devoted to this conflict involving Soldier Boy, but it also focuses on the growing political tensions in the country. Homelander continues to solidify his cultural status and autonomy, independent of Vought’s agenda and control, while Starlight (Erin Moriarty) uses her platform and growing celebrity to push back against him. Season 3 also chronicles the rise of the head-popping politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), a crusader against supes who’s secretly a supe herself.

Neuman begins the season as a star congresswoman and the director of the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs, and she ends it with a shot at becoming the vice president of the United States. In the penultimate episode of Season 3, Neuman makes a deal with Homelander that gives him Boys founder Grace Mallory’s (Laila Robins) address and the chance to reunite with his son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), while Neuman gets to have her political rival eliminated in return. After the Deep (Chace Crawford) kills presidential candidate Robert Singer’s (Jim Beaver) running mate, Lamar Bishop (Graham Gauthier), Neuman occupies the newly vacated position as the election approaches.

At the end of Season 3, Butcher’s plan to use Soldier Boy against Homelander backfires. What was supposed to be a three-on-one fight against the leader of the Seven, with Butcher fighting alongside Maeve and Soldier Boy, devolves into Butcher, Starlight, and the Boys fighting Soldier Boy as Maeve fights Homelander on her own. Maeve sacrifices herself to save everyone from the exploding Soldier Boy and fakes her death in the process. Homelander lives, practically unscathed, with Ryan now under his care.

The season concludes as Butcher finds out he has only 12 to 18 months to live, thanks to his abuse of Temp V. Meanwhile, a de-powered Maeve flees the city, Starlight joins the Boys, and Homelander kills a civilian Starlight supporter while at a rally for the new Singer-Neuman presidential ticket. (In a much-memed scene, Homelander commits this killing right in front of Ryan and a massive crowd of human witnesses, and they all love it.)

With little time left to live, Butcher now has to try to win back his stepson Ryan’s favor and—as requested by the boy’s deceased mother, Butcher’s wife Becca—save him from his evil, superhuman father, all while worrying about the prospect of a secret supe working in the White House and Homelander, who’s becoming more emboldened as his influence grows.

Gen V

While the wait for a new season of The Boys was a little longer than last time, fans of the series had something to tide them over: Gen V.

(If you haven’t seen Gen V yet, fair warning, there are spoilers ahead.)

Developed by Craig Rosenberg, Evan Goldberg, and Kripke with showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, Gen V follows a group of students who attend Godolkin University. The school was founded by Vought International to train the next generation of crime fighters and celebrity supes. Through characters such as Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair), Andre Anderson (Chance Perdomo), and Jordan Li (London Thor and Derek Luh), we see how God U students compete against each other to rise in the university ranks and earn the chance to get a coveted spot in the Seven. But as the first season progresses, God U’s true reason for being is revealed to be much more sinister.

“This school is a front,” dean Indira Shetty (Shelley Conn) says in Episode 7. “Thomas Godolkin was a behavioral scientist. He built this place to figure out what makes supes tick, their weaknesses, how to control them. You’re not here to study. The school is here to study you.”

God U is more than just an institution to study superhuman students: It also serves as a front for Vought to perform more nefarious tests on a select few of them, hidden beneath the school in a facility known as the Woods. Although the scientists began with the goal of creating a virus that could suppress their subjects’ powers, all the better for Vought to control its products, Shetty goes rogue and pushes their experiment further without Vought’s approval. It’s through these cruel experiments that a stronger virus is created, one that can kill supes—and maybe even Homelander.

Although Gen V isn’t required viewing for the upcoming season of The Boys, the last two episodes of the season help set up two major conflicts in the story to come: the supe virus and the presidential race.

In the penultimate episode, Neuman makes a guest appearance as she visits God U’s campus for a town hall. On behalf of Singer’s campaign, Neuman appeals to the nation’s young, superhuman demographic of voters. She lays out the ways in which the administration would protect the rights of the superhuman community and amplify its voices, despite growing concerns among the human population—after the episode with Soldier Boy in New York—that supes’ powers cannot be controlled. But the God U students quickly turn against Neuman and all her empty political rhetoric, claiming that she and Singer—along with the rest of humanity—are trying to limit them and using Homelander as their rallying cry.

The first season ends with telepath Cate Dunlap (Maddie Phillips) and Woods escapee Sam Riordan (Asa Germann) springing the remainder of the imprisoned students from the school’s hidden facility to incite a riot on campus and target any humans they can find. Marie, Andre, Jordan, and the size-altering Emma Meyer (Lizze Broadway) save many of them, but at the end of the finale, Homelander arrives to put a stop to it all. In the aftermath, Homelander and Vought spin the narrative so that the four heroes are held responsible for the acts of terrorism on campus, while Cate and Sam are deemed the day’s saviors.

Gen V is a clever spinoff that adds more texture to the universe of The Boys, thanks to the seamless cross-pollination between the two shows. Gen V inherits the brutal violence, irreverent tone, and unhinged imagination of the flagship series while still standing on its own. Along with Neuman and Homelander himself, the show features cameos from other recurring characters from The Boys, including Vought CEO Ashley Barrett (Colby Minifie). And just as these characters crossed over from The Boys into Gen V, characters from the spinoff will now do the same for its source series.

Cate and Sam appear in the trailer for Season 4 of The Boys, standing beside A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) in Vought Tower after their titles as the new Guardians of Godolkin make them the public faces of the university. (Given Cate and Sam’s antihuman, pro-supe agenda, they also align perfectly with Homelander’s ideals.) It’s unclear whether any of the other prominent Godolkin students will make cameos in The Boys, though it seems unlikely given that Marie and Co. ended the season locked away in a facility at an unknown location.

(One of Gen V’s bright, young actors, 27-year-old Chance Perdomo, died in March in a motorcycle accident. Out of respect for the late actor, producers of the series announced that they will not be recasting his character for Season 2 and that the next season will honor Perdomo and his legacy.)

More than just a vehicle for character crossovers, Gen V provides a lot of backstory to the developing plot of The Boys as Season 4 approaches. Between Neuman’s political maneuvering and the introduction of the supe virus, The Boys returns with higher stakes and a new weapon that could turn the tide against Homelander. (Of course, we’ve heard that before.)

What to Expect in Season 4 of The Boys

Heading into Season 4, tensions between the human and superhuman populations are reaching a boiling point. Homelander is trying to make America great again, empowering the Seven to stand above the law. Neuman is on the brink of becoming vice president of the United States. And Butcher is running out of time.

“I look back at my life, and all I see are the messes I made,” Butcher says to the Boys in the trailer for Season 4. “And I ain’t got time to fix it. I can do one thing right with the time I got left, but I can’t do it alone.”

The new season of The Boys brings another plan to take down Homelander and his corrupt team of superheroes. But the situation is increasingly complicated. Ryan is becoming more like his father every day. The supe virus could kill Homelander, but it could kill every other supe in the world, too. Neuman continues to campaign with Singer, while the conflict between Homelander’s fascist supporters and Starlight’s opposing faction of fans is at an all-time high after Homelander’s very public murder at the end of Season 3. (In the trailer, a fight between the two groups breaks out right in front of the New York County Courthouse, where Homelander is on trial for his actions.) Down to all the red hats, the inspiration for this political conflict—during an actual election year, no less—isn’t exactly subtle, but when has The Boys ever been about subtlety?

“I clearly have a perspective, and I’m not shy about putting that perspective in the show,” Kripke told The Hollywood Reporter. “Anyone who wants to call the show ‘woke’ or whatever, that’s OK. Go watch something else. But I’m certainly not going to pull any punches or apologize for what we’re doing.”

Change abounds in Season 4. The Boys officially have a second supe in their ranks, as Annie leaves her Starlight persona behind and joins Kimiko and the rest of the crew. What with Annie’s departure from the Seven, Maeve’s supposed death, and the actual death of Black Noir (the original one, at least), there are several openings in Vought and Homelander’s superteam. Among the replacements are two original characters created for the series: Firecracker (Valorie Curry), who loves guns and has a history with Starlight, and Sister Sage (Susan Heyward), the smartest person in the world.

Season 4 will also mark the introduction of a character played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who starred as Negan in The Walking Dead. Morgan’s appearance has been years in the making due to his love for the series and his relationship with Kripke, whom he previously worked with on the CW series Supernatural.

“He is an old colleague of Butcher’s,” Kripke told Entertainment Weekly of Morgan’s mystery character. “I can tell you that he shares a lot of Butcher’s concern and hatred of superheroes. It really came from the notion of everyone else in The Boys is always trying to pull Butcher back. So what would happen if he started working with someone who wants to push him forward?”

Kripke’s recent press run has been attracting all sorts of speculation from fans after his comments on the show’s future seemed to suggest that the series would go longer than his original “rough idea” for a five-season story arc. “No one was more wrong in all of human history about how many seasons their show was going to go than this guy,” Kripke told Inverse in late May. “So I am not going to make that same mistake twice.”

The showrunner even took to Twitter to clarify that his comments on the series’ plans were really meant to be “no comment.” Kripke, whose Supernatural series ran for 15 seasons, appears to be covering his bases so fans don’t hold him to his original five-season estimate. While it’s unclear how many chapters The Boys has left, Prime Video officially renewed the series for a fifth season in mid-May.

Only time will tell how long Kripke and Co. can keep their story going and how much they decide to change its outcome from Ennis and Robertson’s original comics. As the hunt for Homelander stretches into a fourth season, it may prove difficult to keep elevating the series to new heights of gratuitous violence and superhero satire, with all the cow milking and supe orgies that entails. But if The Boys has proved anything in its first three seasons, it’s that there’s always another head-exploding turn around the corner.

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