The Boys: Joe Kessler Is Butcher’s Imaginary Friend, Here’s Why

The fourth season of The Boys has really put Billy Butcher in his most miserable state yet. With his team sidelining him, troubles with Ryan, and his own deteriorating physical condition, Butcher has found himself helpless and cornered in more ways than one. The only assistance he can count upon is from his old war buddy, Joe Kessler, a CIA agent who made his first appearance in the first episode of the ongoing season. As Billy continues to find himself in a moral dilemma while trying to change his old Machiavellian ways, good old Joe always provides him with the best counsel – putting his trust in Billy and reminding him that what needs to be done might not be the ideal way of doing things. However, Joe’s sudden return to Butcher’s life might be connected with something more tragic, which highlights concerning aspects of his mental condition.

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Spoilers Ahead


Is Joe Kessler a mere figment of Butcher’s imagination?

To ascertain Joe Kessler’s connection with Billy, we need to go back to his immediate past—right after things started really going astray for him. During the climactic battle of the third season, the Boys, Maeve, and Soldier Boy combined their strength to pin down Homelander and had the chance to end the threat the psychotic Supe posed then and there. However, Billy’s willingness to become a better role model for Ryan prompted him to turn his back on his own team and let Homelander go scot-free. This act of betrayal obviously didn’t sit well with the rest of the team, given how much they have endured just to seek justice by taking down the megalomaniac.Even though they didn’t kick out Billy right away, it was pretty apparent that the option was considered by everyone in the team. While Starlight and MM straight up call Billy a liability and a potential threat to the team, Kimiko and Hughie seem more sympathetic towards him, but even they don’t have much ground to defend his actions. Add to that the gradually declining state of Butcher’s physical condition due to Temp V abuse, and he is seen rather as a pity case by his teammates.

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After his wife’s death, Butcher’s only remaining familial connection was with Ryan—Rebecca’s son with Homelander—and Butcher had promised his wife in her dying moments that he would keep Ryan safe. However, with Homeland’s increasing influence on Ryan, that connection has been shaken. Butcher was never the sentimental type, with the exception of a few instances, and the rejection of friends and family pushed him right over the edge. In his troubled mental state, Butcher conjured up an imaginary friend, Joe Kessler, who represents his darker, amoral side—for whom the ends justify the means, no matter how despicable they might be. The telltale sign of Joe Kessler being a mere figment of his imagination is the very fact that he has appeared in the fourth season whenever Butcher has found himself in a tight spot, and their interaction remains private, with no one being aware of Kessler’s existence. Also, the fact that Butcher is constantly seeing Rebecca’s vision guiding him to choose a better path makes for the classic morality play trope. Like the noble angel and devil acting as differing parts of psyche – Kessler, represents Butcher’s darker, unhinged extremist tendencies, who provokes Butcher to betray his friends, turn his back on them, and be negligent about Ryan. Whereas Rebecca plays the role of Billy’s conscience, which tries to keep Butcher true to his morals. However, as the last episode suggests, Butcher might be veering towards Kessler’s side as he abducts and maims Neuman’s lover, Sameer, to force him to make a new batch of supe-killing virus. In addition to all that, during Kessler’s first onscreen appearance, he brought up the military operation that he and Butcher partook in almost 11 years ago. Apparently Butcher saved Kessler from the whole ordeal by killing an unimaginable amount of people. So, it’s quite possible that something about that experience has left a mark on Butcher’s soul, and it has reared its ugly head when Butcher is in the pits.


The Mental Afflictions of Two Leads Bring them closer than ever

Butcher is not the only character in this season who has been going through a tough time dealing with troubles in his mind; Homelander has been going through a similar ride as well. While in Butcher’s case, loneliness might have triggered his emotionally suppressed afflictions, Homelander’s childhood trauma of being used as a test subject, accompanied by his isolated existence, has cranked up his mental gear. There are a number of similarities that Butcher and his arch-nemesis Homelander share with each other, be it their wicked devil-may-care attitude or deep-seated emotional tribulations, and this just enhances the chemistry between the two. 

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Butcher’s tendency to lean towards Kessler has lessened Becca’s appearance, implying that the remaining humanity within him is slowly fading away. The Boys need to pull their best comrade back into the team and help him recover from his degrading mental state before it becomes too late and Butcher’s turn to the dark side spells doom for everyone near and dear to him.


Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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