Soldier Boy vs. Homelander
It’s this key question that’s brought about a lot of this season’s conflict between our protagonists. Some consider Homelander the biggest threat they face, and they’re willing to team up with Soldier Boy to bring him down. Some think Soldier Boy is an even bigger threat than Homelander. This ties in to the political themes of the season. In a two-party system, elections can feel like a choice between the lesser of two evils; “the lesser of who-cares?” as Leo put it years ago in The West Wing. Obviously, no real-life politicians are as bad as Homelander or Soldier Boy (though the similarities between Homelander and former President Trump have been played up all season), but the choice between them can seem like an exaggerated version of this political reality.
As for the answer to that question – the jury’s still out. This final episode leans towards the implication that Homelander is the marginally lesser evil. His power tends to be more targeted and certainly he’s more in control of it than Soldier Boy, who sets off radioactive explosions without even meaning to. Homelander also has the occasional moment where he shows actual care and empathy for another human being, albeit only for Ryan, whose attempt to get his father to work with him is a fun reversal of Darth Vader trying to get his son Luke to come over the Dark Side in The Empire Strikes Back.
Most of our protagonists aren’t really weighing up the pros and cons of each superhero leader dispassionately, though. Just like voters in real-life, they’re primarily concerned with their own interests. Maeve and Butcher think Homelander is the worse threat because he has hurt them more, personally. MM and Noir think Soldier Boy is the bigger threat because he has hurt them more, personally. Right up until the moment Homelander kills Noir, anyway. That was the episode’s only slight disappointment, as it was a bit of a damp squib ending to Noir’s story, but the moment when Homelander pointed out that he can see Noir’s face was nicely chilling.
While the finale suggested Soldier Boy was the bigger immediate threat, Homelander may represent the worse evil longer-term. After all, Soldier Boy doesn’t seem to have Homelander’s political ambitions. He seems happy enough eating, drinking, and having a lot of sex – when he’s not tracking down and killing all his former teammates. But Homelander has already come up with a plan to take over the USA if he has to, and for the moment he’s using Victoria Newman as a political proxy. And even more dangerously, he’s got his followers to a point where he can openly murder someone right in front of them and be cheered for it.
The fact it’s Janine’s step-father Todd who starts the cheering also ties those final scenes to the season’s other big theme of Daddy Issues and terrible father figures. Much of this has covered frequently treated themes around cycles of abuse and neglect. In fact, one of the nicer scenes in this episode was Hughie’s description of his own father, providing a counter-example of really good fathering that’s mirrored in MM’s conversation with his daughter at the episode’s end. And Butcher switches sides when Soldier Boy threatens Ryan, because although he’s willing to sacrifice thousands of innocent people to kill Homelander, he’s not willing to sacrifice his step-son, his more positive fatherhood pulling him back from the brink.
But then, of course, these are also mirrored in Homelander actually being a good father, which is a bit more chilling. Homelander is clearly a terrible, evil person, but there’s no denying he has, in this episode, been a somewhat better father figure to Ryan than Butcher, offering him unconditional love and support instead of a horribly misguided attempt at “tough love for his own protection” earlier this season, that has predictably backfired. And that’s why Ryan now looks set to follow his biological father down a very dark road in Season 4.