The Boys — no stranger to high-level parodies — decided to get in on the fun of “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” by having its cast read one-star reviews on video after the release of season 1. Dressed as Queen Maeve, actress Dominique McElligott chuckles as she reads, “Queen Maeve felt like a throwaway character. Her arc could have been handled better.” Without missing a beat, McElligott looks up at the camera and states, “More screen time for Queen Maeve.”
Frankly, I agree.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the season 3 finale of The Boys.]
The season 3 finale of The Boys culminated in another attempt to take down Homelander (Antony Starr), this time with the “help” of Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles). Both season 3 and its finale, in particular, are two of the show’s strongest installments. But one of the reasons “The Instant White-Hot Wild” stands out, for the better, is because one of its featured characters was Queen Maeve, a character that has been consistently underused.
Maeve’s arc over the last three seasons has been slowly gaining the courage to break away from a toxic environment (in her case, both Vought and Homelander) and reclaim her strength and identity in return. It is about finding hope at rock bottom or finding something that could eventually turn into hope, which is an incredibly complex story that hasn’t been explored in the comic book or superhero subgenre at this magnitude. But little in the show seems to do her journey justice.
Queen Maeve has been a series regular of The Boys since its pilot episode, yet has always had a perplexing presence in the series. She’s a longtime member of the Seven, deemed the second strongest person in the world, right behind Homelander. The two often went on missions together and even dated in the past. But it quickly becomes apparent that Maeve has been selling parts of herself to Vought in order to maintain the “superhero” image and keep Homelander at bay. By the time the audience meets her, she’s a very cynical and depressed woman who drinks to cope with the horrors she endures. She has no faith in the world, herself, or the idea of a hero. She wants to give up. Some would even say she has — until she finally gets the strength to stand up to Homelander in the season 2 finale.
But despite the depth of Maeve’s arc, her potential is never fully realized. Granted, The Boys is an ensemble show and Maeve is technically a supporting character. But even with a story as weighted as hers about standing up to abuse, it’s not uncommon for her to have around one or two scenes per episode of actual storytelling, often existing on the periphery of the frame for the remaining run time. There’s always a gnawing feeling that Maeve deserved more.
Dominique McElligott is, thankfully, an exceptionally talented actor who is able to simultaneously communicate Maeve’s rage, hopelessness, and inherent strength despite her brief screen time. And so her fight against Stormfront (Aya Cash) in the season 2 finale instantly became a fan favorite moment, as well as when she threatens Homelander with footage of the season 1 airplane crash in an attempt to blackmail him. She was ready to take back her freedom and fight the oppressors that forced her to be a shell of a person. More importantly, people wanted to see Queen Maeve fight back.
But when season 3 picks up, Maeve’s arc of resilience and redemption is completely erased. Maeve disappears into the background even further. She is still the angry and cynical woman we know, but she has been reduced to Butcher’s (Karl Urban) drug dealer, who provides him with Compound V and locates a potential “weapon” for them. The entire Soldier Boy plot line was Maeve’s idea, yet we never see her in action; it all occurs off camera. It’s as if the second half of season 1 and all of season 2 never happened. As if to further alienate her from her growth, she is absent for entire episodes altogether. It seems that Maeve’s purpose in season 3 isn’t to take down Homelander as season 2 set up, it’s to support Butcher’s story by giving him superpowers and having occasional sex with him (which then is used to set up Homelander’s arc of becoming an unhinged explicit villain who imprisons her for these actions). She’s a plot device.
The finale, at least, was superb for Maeve. She escapes, insults Hughie (Jack Quaid) at first glance yet again, reunites with Starlight (Erin Moriarty), and, most importantly, instigates a brutal fight with Homelander where they both seem evenly matched up. And she almost has him, until she notices that Soldier Boy is about to blow up the Tower (and everyone in it), so she takes him out in order to save everyone else. It is in this moment, where Maeve sacrifices her own personal intentions and safety for the common good, she proves she is one of the true heroes of The Boys. She is the character who prioritizes protecting people over personal gain, even if it means putting herself at risk. That’s a hero. It’s a brave choice in an episode that finally gives McElligott time and space to tell her character’s story. But it also seems like the episode is simultaneously serving as an apology for Maeve’s treatment as they try to jam an entire season’s worth of character development into one episode. Why was she used appropriately only once this season?
Perhaps more importantly: What happens now? To the world, Queen Maeve is dead, whereas in reality she’s alive but depowered and running away with her girlfriend, Elena (Nicola Correia-Damude). It seems now, after such a successful portrayal of the character, The Boys is either writing her out or casting her further aside. On one hand, it’s lovely that Maeve is, for the first time in the series, happy with Elena and finally free of Vought and Homelander. But Homelander is still alive and has interest in Maeve, so a rematch seems destined to happen. After all, Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) got her powers back, and therefore Maeve can as well. It doesn’t seem like it’s the end of Maeve’s arc. She’s too strong of a character to lose entirely. But it does seem like a goodbye for now — which is incredibly underwhelming and, truthfully, unfair to Maeve, her fans, and McElligott.
If Queen Maeve was given half of the attention as the other characters in the show, she would soar and be one of the most beloved characters on television in recent time. She has all of the ingredients to do so — a great story, a strong actor, and a solid villain — but showrunner Eric Kripke never lets her fully fly, which is a shame and a waste of a fantastic character. Kripke knows Maeve’s journey but never gives her the opportunity to wholly tell it, and it was painfully apparent this season. So when the time comes to wrap up her arc, it’s satisfying due to McElligott’s performance, but also underwhelming since she was absent for the entire season. What’s the point of rooting for a character if we’re only going to see her story develop one episode a season?
Throughout the entire series, Queen Maeve has been a human deus ex machina. She disappears for the majority of the time only to be used at the last moment to save the day. Her climactic moments in the finales are great and prove just how powerful of a force Maeve and McElligott are. But her journey is unfortunately spliced over a few episodes, so it never reaches its fullest potential.
Which makes the finale feel like a tease of how great The Boys could be if Maeve received the respect she deserves. The mystery of her future within the series undermines all of her momentous action in the finale, which makes it a frustrating watch. Kripke and the writers remind us that they understand the character, but then immediately throw her away. They don’t know how vital she is to the show.
After the season 3 finale, it’s obvious: Queen Maeve is not just the hero of The Boys, but the unsung hero. That one-star review was correct; her arc could have — and by this point in the series, should have — been handled better. And McElligott is right, Maeve needs more screen time. The show is exceptionally better and more thought-provoking when she’s in it. Queen Maeve is the secret weapon of The Boys, so much so that Kripke and Amazon are unaware of the treasure they have. But it seems that in order for them to realize this notion, they will have to lose her. Sometimes you don’t know how good you had it until it’s gone.