The Boys Just Had Its Most Horrifying Homelander Episode Ever

The following story contains spoilers for The Boys season 4, episode 4, “Wisdom of the Ages.”

ANYONE WHO’S WATCHED even a single episode of The Boys knows the deal when it comes to Homelander (Antony Starr): in a show filled with maniacs taking advantage of powers they don’t deserve, he’s the most powerful maniac, taking the most advantage. At the same time, The Boys has also never shied away from the fact that Homelander, despite his public attempts to appear civil and reasonable (aimed at an increasingly radicalized fanbase), is a complete psychopath, yes, but is that way for a reason. He’s been given a life that he never chose, and while he’s a monster, he’s not purely a monster of his own making.

In “Wisdom of the Ages,” the fourth episode of The Boys‘s fourth season, we finally got an extended look behind that curtain at the creation of a monster, a process that feels something like the story of Frankenstein crossed with the horrors of Nazi Germany. And it all gives Homelander—and Starr, doing perhaps the best work he’s ever done in the show—a chance to truly stand out and show what he’s capable of. And that’s the most terrifying part.

When I interviewed Starr (along with castmates Chace Crawford and Jessie T. Usher) for Men’s Health ahead of season 4, I noted that scenes featuring the three of them typically tended to have one thing in common—a sense of dread and fear from what Homelander might do if someone says or does the wrong thing. There have already been a number of those thus far in season 4, but what “Wisdom of the Ages” proves is that you don’t have to be a Supe to earn that patented Homelander Dread. You just have to have wronged him at one time or another. Honestly, you just have to know who Homelander is—who he really is—and you’re probably going to have a bad time.

the boys season 4 episode 4 homelander

Amazon Prime

Homelander’s standalone story in the episode is simple enough. He’s clearly been going through it, frustrated with the sycophantic behavior of the likes of The Deep, A-Train, and Ashley. It even led him to take the ego hit and bring in Sister Sage (Susan Heyward), acknowledging that she is, indeed, the smartest person in the world (and, by proxy, smarter than him). While Sage is busy constructing her own evil master plan—one that may or may not involve overthrowing Homelander, too early to say—Homelander is busy figuring out his own fractured psyche. And that leads him back to the Vought science lab where it all started.

We know Homelander was born and raised in a lab, tested on as a child, and engineered/manufactured into the monster we now know. But this episode marks the first time we learn the extent of that testing, which included all sorts of physical and emotional abuse. The guy is a monster, but after learning just a couple of the scarring memories that he can’t let go, it’s hard to not understand him feeling just a little righteous about getting some sweet revenge—albeit revenge taken, in typical The Boys fashion, entirely, objectively, too far. (Just a taste of what we see on screen in this episode: a man burned to death in a giant walk-in oven, and a man forced to masturbate in front of his colleagues before having his crotch blown off with laser vision and head completely crushed.)

The Boys has never been subtle, and that doesn’t change here; there’s discussion in the lab of people “just following orders,” and it doesn’t take a huge leap to see the parallels to WWII Germany. It’s ironic, however, that it’s Homelander—the show’s present-day fascist stand-in—on the other side of things this time.

The story is parsed out throughout the episode little by little, broken up piecemeal. Homelander shows up at the beginning of the episode with a Carvel Fudgie the Whale cake in his hands, acting like a college kid returning to visit his high school teachers a year after graduating. But despite Homelander’s smile and bright demeanor, the air is instantly sucked out of the room; those who’ve been there long enough to remember Homelander’s childhood know they’ve done something very wrong, and immediately know that the time to pay the piper has arrived.

the boys season 4 episode 4 homelander

Amazon Prime

We have to give credit to Starr for the phenomenal work he continues to do with each passing episode of The Boys; it should be hard to find any empathy with possibly the most evil villain we’ve ever seen on TV, and yet you can see just how angry and broken he is throughout the episode. “Yes, he’s dark, he’s the villain,” Starr told me during our conversation earlier this month. “But he’s also mentally unwell, and it’s the result of damage. Honoring that is important to me, and I think people relate to it because of that as well.”

By the end of “Wisdom of the Ages,” we’ve seen some of the most violent Homelander attacks, the camera panning to show the lab workers he’s decimated, and his face is stained with blood like he’s Nic Cage in Mandy. It is terrifying, but thanks to the work that’s been done, it just feels like more than that. The feelings are complicated, and things are complex. Homelander is a monster always. But if you give him a legitimate reason to be a monster, then, truly, with this character, all bets are off.

And because of that, it’s as clear as ever that Starr, and The Boys at large, have achieved their exact goal.

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