The Boys Season 4, Episode 1 Review – “Department of Dirty Tricks”

The Boys Department of Dirty Tricks

With its first episode in two years, it’s no surprise much of The Boys‘ fourth season premiere, “Department of Dirty Tricks”, feels almost like a greatest hits collection; Homelander’s drinking milk, Butcher’s being a giant asshole, and the big mission of the episode is a giant failure. But underneath all of those familiar notes, “Department of Dirty Tricks” feels like the introduction of perhaps a slightly different, more complex season of The Boys, one not necessarily unified by one overarching plot line, but with a handful of character and narrative ideas that expand the show’s emotional palette in interesting ways – while still having time to do things like Kimiko’s regrowing arm, Tilda Swinton voicing Ambrosius, and a completely unexpected shift in Hughie’s character and storyline. It all makes for a magnanimous, if slightly overstuffed, return for Prime Video’s prolific, surprisingly consistent series.

In the wake of Homelander’s outburst and Robert Singer’s successful campaign, everybody on The Boys feels a bit older and more burned out than when we left them. Mother’s Milk is dealing with a rambunctious teen (and a sudden change in facial hair), Frenchie is in recovery and crushing on a hot boy, Butcher is learning he has maybe a year and half left before he dies from a V-induced brain tumor… and oh yeah, Homelander is storing his pubes as they turn gray. The events of season three have weighed heavy on the characters of The Boys – and even though the episode begins with a spectacularly failed mission to kill Victoria on the night of the election, “Department of Dirty Tricks” quickly proves it isn’t just resting on its laurels, doubling down on its attempts to tell incredibly personal stories, while still being the wacky, gruesome satire we all know and love.

The Boys Department of Dirty Tricks

Most of these are really interesting; some of them, like Ryan’s troubled morality, Victoria’s “me against the world” approach, and Hughie’s fractured relationship with his parents, offer The Boys new avenues into familiar stories by smartly refocusing on its characters, after so much of season three was consumed by Soldier Boy’s journey (which – absolutely worth it, but came at a cost to characters like Hughie, Maeve – and even Starlight at times). There are hints of larger ideas at play – Homelander’s murder trial, those Youtube-esque clips from someone named Firecracker – but much of the season premiere is surprisingly grounded when it isn’t busy arranging pieces for the season to follow.

There are absolutely moments in this premiere that are limited by this expansive storytelling approach – Frenchie and Kimiko’s strangely muted dynamic is hardly given any room to breathe, throwing Frenchie into a romantic subplot with a man working for Starlight’s organization before we even have an idea of what’s going on with Frenchie and Kimiko (which… what the hell is going on here???).

By the same token, Homelander’s trial and Sister Sage’s plan to frame the Starlight-supporting protestors feels a bit thin, a plot contrivance we’ll quickly forget as the season builds – but one that stands out nonetheless as a bit rushed (and, by killing Todd in the process, alluding to foregrounding Mother’s Milk’s story, even though the season already feels a bit front-loaded with plot). The result is certainly an engaging one, but the mysterious aura around Sister Sage (whose power is being the smartest person in the world) and her supposed motivations isn’t exactly the most interesting subplot, especially amongst the decidedly more bombastic events bookending “Department of Dirty Tricks”.

The Boys Department of Dirty Tricks

Unfortunately, Butcher falls into this boat a bit; though Karl Urban chews every bit of scenery he can with the reluctant sad sack bit, William Butcher and his journey to honor his dead, ghost wife feels a bit isolated amongst the many other stories occurring this season – even when the episode tries to give a bit of pathos by making Ryan sad about Butcher, it almost feels like The Boys is leaving one of its main characters behind a bit, as if the series itself had been run a bit ragged by Butcher’s singular ability to be 100% self consumed at all times.

Although, Butcher being one of the least interesting parts of The Boys is definitively a good thing – that just means the other plotlines are humming right along, as our protagonists search for an identity and purpose in a world that’s devolved into dissonance and conflict, on every single social level imaginable. And that’s what really drives “Department of Dirty Tricks” and allows it maintain momentum through almost the entire 65 minutes; The Boys appears to be doubling down on everything, from its satirical voice to its willingness to build and examine its characters, a reassuring sign The Boys is still aiming to be the most ambitious version of itself possible, without turning into a navel-gazing mess of empty metaphors and pointless stories. ” And for that, we can be grateful.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Welcome to season 4 reviews of The Boys! Episode 2 & 3 reviews will publish over the next few days, and new reviews will drop each Thursday through the season.
  • Black Noir II exists? … and talks?
  • “Sex is just a spectrum, right bro?” We really should appreciate Chance Crawford’s commitment to this role more often. He’s terrific in this episode, and has really filled out his performance on the show the past season and a half.
  • Mother’s Milk – not just trying to be healthier, but reading a book about OCD! #growth
  • Of course someone on this show was going to say “Antifa pedo” at some point.
  • The Boys is typically a distinctly ugly visual show, often by nature… but boy, the sequence of Starlight and Kimiko in the air (giving off heavy The Matrix Reloaded vibes, I might add) is a beautiful, beautiful sequence.
  • Ok, Ambrosius having a toy Deep in her tank is kind of adorable, in the sickest way possible… though we still don’t know what she was doing at Herogasm before she met Deep.
  • How long we think Robert Singer lasts? Can’t be long before Victoria realizes who’s hired The Boys to try and take her out.
  • Hey, there’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a dude named Joe Kessler, who once was saved by Butcher and now wants to put him to work, for somewhat mysterious reasons.
  • There’s mention of a Godolkin virus that they are trying to develop to kill Homelander… only it isn’t strong enough yet, and know he knows about it!
  • Still can’t get over Tilda Swinton as Ambrosius.
  • Why is Hughie’s mother important to this story? I imagine we only need consider Butcher, Starlight, Homelander, and the dude who is literally named Mother’s Milk to realize this is a show grasping with some deep maternal issues. I imagine this does not go well.
  • After agreeing to send Victoria Hughie’s files on her, Butcher instead sends a graphic picture of his butthole. Never change, The Boys.
  • “Ryan could spew goo if you wanted him to!” Gross.
  • Homelander tells Ryan, and later reminds himself, that “humans are toys for our amusement.”
  • I love the scene between Victoria and Hughie; easy to forget he was working on her campaign ages ago, and their discussion (before Hughie throws ineffective poison onto her) is a great little moment in the premiere.

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