[Note: This post contains major plot points from the Season 1 finale of Gen V, “Guardians of Godolkin.”]
Superhero television shows can feel like they exist, in part, to move the larger universe forward. The sprawling spin-off web means it can be hard to pick and choose which MCU titles you watch without having to do a deep dive into YouTube video explainer territory. Even the DC output on The CW crisscrossed to the point where it was hard to keep up. Prime Video’s Gen V concludes its first season today, delivering multiple explicit nods to its predecessor, The Boys, with several minor and principal cast members making appearances during the overtly bloody finale — including a notable first. Thankfully, the teens are still the driving force, even if the violence on campus only stops when the all-powerful Homelander (Antony Starr) flies by. But is Gen V following in the MCU footsteps by relying too much on overlapping characters and mid-credit reveals?
Unlike the always-expanding library of Marvel movies and TV shows, Gen V and The Boys don’t have the same volume of characters with multiple timelines to consider, as the only other spin-off is last year’s animated The Boys Presents: Diabolical. Godolkin University has direct ties to characters and themes originating in Eric Kripke’s The Boys, from the use of PR and branding to the major players who make these decisions about which “supes” are worthy of attention. Whereas some characters have only popped up on posters, statues, clips on TV, or fantasy sequences, Vought Industries Senior Vice President of Hero Management Ashley Barrett (Colby Minifie) makes a couple of appearances in Season 1 as she tries to manage the narrative on the ground. The superhero industrial complex is already a mess after Homelander murdered a regular human being on live TV in The Boys third season finale, so she is even more high-strung than usual. A news report confirms that the events of Gen V occurred after Homelander’s public crime.
Of all The Boys characters, Ashley makes the most sense to feature in Gen V, as several alumni like A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) and Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) were drafted by Vought to be part of the Seven. In the finale, “Guardians of Godolkin,” Ashley wants to fast-track a student to join the Seven to distract from the bad PR stacking up. Little does she realize that at least half of her short list is about to get blamed for the campus massacre. Knowing Ashley, we’re not surprised to see her quickly toe the line set by Homelander, and the beauty of a cameo like this is avoiding clunky exposition. In fact, the Gen V finale clocks in under the 40-minute mark, highlighting its lack of bloat.
The first season has moved at a quick pace, showcasing the superhero-only college’s two distinct educational programs to train the next generation either in crime fighting or performance. Over eight episodes, a deeper conspiracy has been exposed to reveal Dean Shetty (Shelley Conn) has been secretly plotting to eradicate all superheroes because Homelander killed her family in The Boys Season 1 plane crash. Her plan falls apart in the penultimate episode, and she ends up slitting her own throat after her protégé, Cate (Maddie Phillips), uses her powers of persuasion to this deadly end. It is a brutal chain of events, offering a reminder of Homelander’s nefarious actions and how trauma ripples outward.
Actions have consequences, even if the only people Shetty hurt have zero connection to Homelander beyond their supe abilities. The majority of the adults coming into the students' orbit have an ulterior motive, whether boosting PR, getting revenge, or creating a bond to manipulate at a later date. The penultimate episode saw politician Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit) stoke the supes-discourse fire, reveal to freshman Marie (Jaz Sinclair) that she has the same blood-controlling power, and obtain the deadly virus that only kills those with Compound V in their system. Oh, she also exploded Dr. Cardosa’s (Marco Pigossi) head. All in a day's work and actions that will undoubtedly impact the forthcoming season of The Boys. These entwined elements do plant some doubt regarding the back-and-forth nature of these shows and how much they will overlap in the future — especially now that Gen V has been renewed.
Her conversation with Victoria offers a much-needed anchor for the adolescent haunted by her past. When Marie got her first period, she accidentally killed both her parents as she had no idea how to control her newly activated blood powers. It is another depiction in the long line of how tween and teenage girls are shown as a terrifying force in horror movies like The Exorcist, as burgeoning womanhood is weaponized. In this case, her menstrual blood becomes a literal weapon. Marie has to cut herself to change her blood into an arsenal, whereas roommate Emma (Lizze Broadway) vomits to make herself tiny (or binge eats to grow larger).
The parallels to real issues are hardly subtle, but so far, Gen V has examined Emma’s lack of self-esteem and Marie’s unshakable guilt beyond their unique way of activating their gifts. In the finale, Emma is emotionally eviscerated by her new love interest, Sam (Asa Germann), shrinking her size with no puking necessary. Even among the carnage, the finale has time to dig deeper into these dynamics, and their argument with the drama room backdrop is a standout sequence. Gen V taps into the specificity of their gifts in a way that The Boys hasn’t examined in too much depth, and the coming-of-age element ensures that showrunner Michele Fazekas isn’t simply replicating everything The Boys has done. Yes, the gallons of blood and genitals blowing up nod to the signature tone, but it is very much its own story that places characters like Marie at the center. (It should be noted that there is a trigger warning before the finale regarding the scenes of college campus violence, and while this is an over-the-top version, it is hard to ignore real-life comparison.)
World-building, with a foundation this strong, has led to plot getting burned at an extreme rate. Anyone hoping Gen V would spend four seasons as a Felicity-but-with-superpowers college experience might be disappointed when ideological differences about superhero supremacy take a brutal turn. Despite the ending, here’s to hoping for more campus shenanigans in Season 2: Most college-set shows see friendship groups temporarily torn apart by a love triangle or a cheating storyline, and while the Gen V squad has also had its fair share of hookups and broken hearts, this rift has nothing to do with hormones.
It is a supe-vs-supe conflict that only ends when Homelander arrives to deliver a lesson in never turning on a fellow superhero — of course, his teaching style is more “do as I say, not as I do.” Until this point, the younger ensemble has affected the outcomes of various run-ins with members of authority. Golden Boy (Patrick Schwarzenegger) turned the semester upside down when he killed Professor Richard Brinkerhoff (Clancy Brown) and then himself, revealing that something rotten lies beneath the campus. After this incident, Marie tasted the Vought fame machine when she was labeled the “Guardian of God U.”
Even after the controversy surrounding Homelander’s less heroic activities, the campus hasn’t taken down the Homelander statue, and he didn’t even attend God U (he grew up in a lab and then went straight into the Seven). When he makes his fly-by, his disdain toward Marie for going against “her kind” is palpable. Saving Homelander for this moment briefly undercuts some tension as the scene cuts away as soon as he fires up his laser eyes. In doing so, it gives the cliffhanger reveal more of a wallop, in which the Godolkin Massacre Four (Marie, Emma, Andre, and Jordan) wake up in a medical facility with no windows or doors. But overall, it is a cameo that serves Gen V while keeping the spotlight on the teens’ troubling predicament. In contrast, the mid-credit tease disappointingly takes a page out of the MCU playbook (with saltier language), looking to the next chapter, showing Karl Urban’s Butcher walking through the now-abandoned secret medical facility known as The Woods. “What a bunch of c**ts," he mutters.
Not every cameo is as straightforward as Homelander or Butcher’s involvement, and perhaps the two best appearances took place in the minds of Cate and Sam. Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) serves hilarious sexually provocative dialogue in Cate’s mind journey in the sixth episode as her past horny object of affection. Meanwhile, The Deep (Chace Crawford) took on a puppet form when Sam imagined him and Jason Ritter (as himself) on a TV. Even if we don’t see an actual update on their circumstances or who the powerful supes interact with, Cate and Sam are the New Guardians of Godolkin. Vought’s branding machine is never off-duty, whether on this superhero-only college campus or the wider Boys-dominated world.
Gen V is streaming on Prime Video. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.