Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Boys.
Season 3 of The Boys has drawn more than a few parallels between Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and his arch nemesis Homelander (Antony Starr). Both men are not in the best place when the season starts. Homelander has fallen out of favor with the public due to his relationship with Stormfront (Aya Cash) and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) becoming co-captain of the Seven, while Butcher feels constrained by the new arrangement the Boys have with the Bureau of Superhero Affairs – and stung by the fact that Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) left the Boys to join the Bureau. Soon they both head down a slippery slope. Homelander takes over Vought after ousting its CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito) and subjects his fellow members of the Seven to physical and psychological torment along the way. Butcher, on the other hand, starts mainlining a temporary version of Compound V, giving himself superpowers but alienating the other members of the Boys in the process. And the latest episode, “Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed,” only further connects the two via shared trauma.
Throughout the season, Butcher has been hunting for the weapon that can finally kill Homelander, which leads him and the Boys to discover that Homelander’s predecessor, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles), was not as dead as the world thought he was. After heavily traumatic experiments by Russian scientists, the patriotic superhero can now fire a radioactive beam that strips the Compound V out of someone’s bloodstream, rendering them powerless. Butcher and Hughie strike a deal with Soldier Boy: if they help him find and kill the members of his former superhero team Payback, who sold him to the Russians, he’ll help them kill Homelander. “Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed” has the trio tracking down the hero Mindstorm, who traps Butcher in a psychic nightmare reliving his childhood. Mindstorm also reveals why Payback betrayed Soldier Boy: Vought intended to replace him with a new hero created from his genetic material. And thus comes the major revelation that Soldier Boy is actually Homelander’s father!
“Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed” places the majority of its focus on the buildup to that relationship, as well as Butcher’s own issues with his father Sam (Brendan Murray). Sam would routinely beat a young Billy and his brother Lenny (Jack Fulton), and routinely tear Lenny down for being more in tune with his emotions. This led to Billy acting out at school: when confronted by a teacher for selling weed he attacks said teacher, and when Lenny begs him to stay instead of joining the SAS, Billy snaps “You can not be a poof all your life!” – effectively repeating the same words his father said to Lenny. This eventually leads to Lenny committing suicide, which has weighed on Butcher ever since.
As if reliving the loss of his younger brother was not enough, Butcher is forced to contend with the fact that he may be doing the same thing to Hughie. In Season 2, Butcher’s aunt Judy (Barbara Gordon) says that Hughie is the “spitting image” of Lenny, and Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) even says that Hughie serves as Butcher’s “canary” – or more appropriately, his conscience. But Hughie himself seems to be going down his own slippery path: when confronted with the revelation that his boss Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) is the superhuman who’s been popping people’s heads, he rejoins the Boys and even takes some temporary V himself. Though Hughie grows to love his powers, Starlight confronts Butcher with the fact that the temp-V will have fatal effects – and Butcher ends up withholding this from Hughie, even offering to get him more temp-V. As the psychic version of Lenny succinctly puts it, Butcher is following in his father’s footsteps and leading Hughie to certain death.
Similarly, Homelander has his own father issues due to being crafted in a lab – unlike his inspiration Superman, he never known the warmth and love of parental figures. This changed when he learned that he had a son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), who is the result of his sexual assault on Butcher’s wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten). All throughout Season 2, Homelander intends to push Ryan into unleashing his inherent powers, even pushing him off the roof of Becca’s house. It all comes to a head when Ryan unleashes his heat vision and severely wounds Stormfront, but kills Becca in the crossfire. And Ryan chooses to go with Butcher instead of Homelander, which is a blow to the superhero’s ego. His obsession with having a son molded in his own image continues in “Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed,” as he threatens Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) by saying he’ll remove her eggs and create a child in her own image. For Homelander, family isn’t about unconditional love but making the best superhero there is, no matter the cost.
It’s a trait that Soldier Boy shares. Throughout “Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed,” scenes feature Black Noir (Nathan Mitchell) reliving the trauma that Soldier Boy inflicted upon him and the other members of Payback. Not only does this reflect Homelander’s treatment of the Seven, but it also shows why the silent ninja and the rest of Payback eventually betrayed Soldier Boy – they’d had enough of his abuse. And with Homelander learning that Soldier Boy may be his father, the stage is set for him to either follow in his father’s footsteps as his allies turn against him or even worse if they join forces.