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Character Breakdown: Will Homelander Get a Redemption Arc in 'The Boys'?

July 1, 2024
7 min read time

The Boys is a chaotic and violent satire that explores a world where superheroes abuse their powers—and the most powerful supe of all is Homelander (Antony Starr). With abilities like superhuman strength, speed, hearing, and sight (including x-ray vision), as well as the power of flight, heat vision, and regeneration, he’s like Superman, except instead of being a noble and modest farmboy, Homelander is a mentally unstable narcissist (this is my casual observation, not a professional diagnosis) with absolute and unchecked power. He also happens to enjoy inflicting pain on others, has SA’ed at least one woman, and has murdered dozens (hundreds?) of innocent people.

So why do we love watching Homelander onscreen? And, perhaps more troubling, can he be redeemed?

Spoiler Warning for The Boys Season 4 Episode 5.

Homelander’s Backstory

Let’s start at the beginning. Homelander was artificially inseminated from the sperm of Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles)—an American soldier who became a supe as a result of government experiments with Compound V. During his birth, Homelander lasered his way out of his mother’s womb (a paid surrogate) and then flew around still attached to the umbilical cord killing three doctors and a nurse before “it only went downhill from there,” according to head scientist Barbara Findley (Nancy Lenehan). 

Homelander spent his childhood locked in a lab where he underwent excruciatingly painful experiments and traumatic humiliations as the limits of his abilities were tested. He craved love and approval from the very scientists who, for example, burnt him in a furnace, brainwashed him to be a patriotic all-American boy, or mocked him when observing the changes he experienced during puberty.

So… not exactly a nurturing upbringing.

Then, as an adult, Homelander became the leader of The Seven, a group of superheroes owned and managed by Vought International. He was already the most powerful being in the world, then was given fame and fortune. With no one there to check his sadistic impulses, he has literally murdered people in front of witnesses and cameras and faced zero repercussions.

So, what makes this antagonist so utterly mesmerizing to watch?

Homelander (Antony Starr) standing in front of an American flag in 'The Boys'

Writing a Compelling Villain

If a villain is simply a two-dimensional, unlikeable, irredeemable character, then there’s no tension in the story, no dilemma for the protagonist. Just kill them and get on with it. If, however, there are moments when a villain is relatable, charismatic, or even likable, then the story comes to life with depth and intrigue. What will happen when this exciting protagonist and this intoxicating antagonist meet?

Here are a few things that make Homelander so complex. 

From the very beginning, he was the strongest supe in the world (that we know of)—yet he has crippling mommy issues, to the extent that he suckles at the breast of Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue), a top-ranking executive at Vought International. Talk about duality!

Homelander’s deepest wish appears to be unconditional love. He seeks approval and admiration, but he craves for it to be true and honest; he is violently disdainful when he simply receives subservience or coddling. This craving gives audiences a glimpse at his humanity—a crack in his armor, truly. He’s the most powerful and famous creature on earth, yet he is lonely. When played so sublimely by Starr, you could almost root for him. Almost.

A Reddit user described Homelander as someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, writing, “The Homelander as presented so far is a borderline with only two choices: to be loved or to be miserable.” For someone with the powers that he has, if he fails to be loved, then he has no reason not to destroy anyone who rejects him, for he has lost nothing.

From this perspective, Homelander is nearly sympathetic… but also wildly dangerous. He has nothing to lose and therefore no one is safe until he learns he is a father.

Read More: 12 Villains That Every Screenwriter Should Study

Homelander (Antony Starr) laughing at a rally in 'The Boys,' Character Breakdown: Will Homelander Get a Redemption Arc in 'The Boys'?

Homelander and Ryan

After Homelander assaulted Rebecca “Becca” Butcher (Shantel VanSanten), Billy Butcher’s wife, Becca became pregnant with Homelander’s child and left to deliver and raise the baby in a secret Vought facility. Not even Billy knew about the child or whether Becca was dead or alive. When Homelander eventually learns about Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), Becca is accidentally killed by Ryan when he uses his heat vision to protect her from a supe called Stormfront (Aya Cash). After living with Billy for a while, Ryan finally chose Homelander to raise him.

For the first three seasons, audiences have been waiting for Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) to find a way to take down Homelander. Now that Homelander is raising Ryan, things are much more complicated. Or are they?

While Homelander truly loves Ryan, is that enough to redeem him for his brutality and negligence? Homelander stokes division in his country and murders people with nonchalance. He is also corrupting Ryan’s morals now, teaching him that human lives are inconsequential and encouraging his own cruelty. Does Ryan’s youth mean he deserves protection or forgiveness for the crimes he commits under his father’s loving eye? Or will Ryan be the one who can finally defeat Homelander once and for all?

Homelander (Antony Starr) and Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) on the set of a fake movie in 'The Boys,' Character Breakdown: Will Homelander Get a Redemption Arc in 'The Boys'?

These are the kinds of questions that keep us coming back to the gore and depravity of The Boys. If it’s hard for you to watch, just do what I do and imagine how much fun the creatives had behind the scenes inventing the balls-crazy scenes that we all tune in to week after week.

Read More: Five Steps To Writing Your Own Superhero

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