Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Boys Season 3, Episode 5.
At the end of the most recent episode of The BoysHughie (Jack Quaid) and Butcher (Karl Urban) betrayed one of the show’s few remaining moral centers. Laz Alonso‘s resolute Mother’s Milk, also known by the abbreviated name MM, had been growing increasingly concerned with the trajectory of the ragtag group.
In the last episode, he had seen both Hughie and Butcher use powers of their own that he did not know they had. His partners had acquired it through an untested substance that temporarily turns anyone who uses it into a superhero. Of course, MM was both shocked and angered by their actions. In one key scene in this episode, he attempted to get them to see more clearly by saying how his father once said, “If you do not draw the line somewhere, how the hell are you going to know where you stand?” Coming from the character who has been trying to hold everyone together and has the most to be upset about, the line carried a lot of weight. Yet his pleas go nowhere as the power that Butcher and Hughie have gotten a taste of has gone to their heads. That culminated in them turning on their companion in the climactic scene. MM had trusted them implicitly and thought they were in this together. He could not have been more wrong.
Instead of all fighting Soldier Boy together, Hughie and Butcher give MM water that has been drugged. When he takes a drink, it takes effect fast and knocks him to the ground. The fury etched in his face is mixed with confusion, uncertain why they did this to him. We then learn that Hughie and Butcher are hoping to form an alliance with Soldier Boy to go after the increasingly dangerous sociopath Homelander. It represents yet another complication in a show that lives in the morally gray and macabre. That the betrayal of MM comes from the people he thought were his friends makes it all the worse. It shows the corrupting power that is threatening to consume Hughie and Butcher. Though both have otherwise good intentions, their disillusioned perspective has pushed them into becoming more like their enemies than they realize. They have rationalized it with an “ends justify the means” type of mentality, though the immense power they’ve got has clearly warped their sense of morality and perspective. This ominous shift in the characters continues to speak to the show’s growing pessimism that you can not fix the world by immersing yourself in the worst aspects of it.
Hughie and Butcher are aware of what could happen if they do not remain vigilant, though they view this as a necessary evil. It is a reflection of the harsh world they live in. This is felt in how they start to drift away from MM before completely abandoning him when he least expects it. It reveals how corrupting of a force the temptation of power can be and, even though it is harmful, we understand why they’re drawn to it. This is especially true with Hughie, who has been frustrated with how stacked the deck is against him and his friends, leading him to seek out more desperate measures to set things right. We still care for him, though there is an increasing sense that he is losing sight of whom he once was. At the beginning of this season, it would have been impossible to imagine a world where Hughie and Butcher would use and subsequently betray MM. While the methods of the group were always extreme, it felt like it was pointed in the right direction. Now, we see a split beginning to form among people who are otherwise allies. Whether that can ever be fully repaired is now an open question.
This is one of the ways that the show is continuously willing to turn itself on its head in a manner that it deserves more credit for. Sure, it is a show that still has plenty of gore and gross-out moments intended to shock. This is what draws many to the series as we have all been a little burnt out by the safe nature of most superhero fare out there. What makes The Boys much more than that is the grim reflections it offers on the rough details of the world that mirrors our own. There are no heroes in this story, just people struggling to survive and keep those they care about alive. It is as refreshing as it is riveting, pulling back the curtain on the moral ambiguity that is facing each character. MM chose to stick to his morals, which Butcher considers naive. Their arguments are reflections of their characters and their distinct worldviews, which are in opposition to each other. It soon becomes clear that MM has not changed, Butcher has. The vulgar and vicious force of vengeance his character represents has become far more complicated. While you still want to root for him, you can not help feeling like that might not be possible to completely do for much longer.
Of course, in his mind, MM’s morality justified Butcher lying to him so that he could drug him and approach the crisis in his own way. If he is willing to do that, it feels like there aren’t many things he won’t now do with his newfound power. This all makes for a rather dire end to an episode that feels like it can only descend further into a dark pit from here. As the world fades into nothingness when MM is drugged, it feels like the last glimpse we got of the man who Butcher once was. He tells his friend that “I can not draw no line.” It is a simple utterance, though an undeniably significant one for his character. He has now aligned himself with the sinister Soldier Boy, believing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It does not matter that this new supe is just as violent and hateful as Homelander, Butcher hopes he can use the power that he also has to point him in the right direction. He has gotten a taste for this power, and he now hungers for it, pumping up his own ego just as he pumps the dangerous drug into his veins. In The Boys, no one is safe from the more critical eye that it shines on everyone and everything. Even our protagonists are not immune to being corrupted. As Hughie and Butcher walk into the darkness with Soldier Boy, leaving the rubble of who they once were behind them, we do not know if they’ll be able to ever fully put the pieces back together once they come back.