Contains spoilers for Peacemaker 4 - 6
When I last checked in on Peacemaker, I talked about how James Gunn and John Cena were polishing The Suicide Squad’s biggest turd into a diamond. There were pros — graphic violence and foul-mouthed, juvenile humor — and cons — lionizing a white male vigilante who so far mostly killed people of color when there’s already plenty of those roaming the real world. But there’s only so much social commentary to make before the brain turns to mush, so I shut mine off. I’m glad I did because the series keeps getting stronger.
Six episodes in and Chris & Co. have murdered a US Senator, along with his wife, kids, and Buzz from Psych. Vigilante pulled the trigger on the kids because Peacemaker couldn’t. Murdering Rick Flag shook him from to his core, and he’s not handling it well. Not that the rest of the team’s much better off. Leota is struggling with the secrets she’s keeping from Peacemaker, Keeya, the team, and her mother, Amanda Waller. Harcourt is wrapped up in her resentment and suspicion. Economos made a number of serious mistakes, including framing Chris’s racist super villain dad Auggie Smith, aka White Dragon, for murder. Adrian, aka Vigilante, is doing fine, mostly because he’s a sociopath without conscience. The “butterflies,” turns out, are actual alien butterflies with plans for world domination residing in dead people’s skulls. The team manages to take out a butterfly base, but there are still thousands out there. And team leader Clemson Murn is one, albeit the only one on humanity’s side in this invasion. At this point, everyone knows except Peacemaker and Vigilante, and it’s another point of contention among the team. They learn there is a “cow” producing the honey the aliens need to survive and hope killing it will deprive them of sustenance.
Meanwhile, detectives Song and Fitzgibbon figured out that Murn’s team framed Auggie and have him released, despite the best efforts of Captain Locke, an ally of Murn’s with zero chill. They attempt to arrest Peacemaker but he slips away while Locke murders a number of cops. The butterfly from Sen. Goff’s brainpan, the one Peacemaker captured, escapes in the process. She’s the alien queen and kills Det. Song before using her to take over the entire department and their prisoners. The possessed Captain Locke holds a press conference and, using a fake diary manufactured by Waller, pins the assassination and the apparent mass murder of civilians at the butterfly base, on Peacemaker. Turns out his most important role is that of scapegoat. And we can’t forget Auggie; the White Dragon and his chinless, sister-lovin’ white supremacist dweebs are coming to kill Chris and his pals.
James Gunn excels at making his audience care about seemingly one-note characters. Like Yondu in GotG2 and The Suicide Squad’s Polka-Dot Man. Mass murderers with little conscience, they should be irredeemable. But no one is ever only one thing. Gunn’s characters are layered with complexity. Past trauma explains why they are who they are. Chris’s past is possibly the worst you can imagine. Beaten, abused, forced to kill as a child, and all culminating in a single, tragic event that extinguished the one bright spark in his childhood. He became a bully out of self-defense more than anything. Socially stunted by years of physical and emotional abuse, he couldn’t interact in any other way. Now, no longer a child and surrounded for perhaps the first time with people who elevate rather than crush him, particularly Leota, Chris has discovered he’s not just a killer. It’s unfortunate that his killing skills are all he’s needed for right now. Vigilante, with his… issues, is a different matter. Trauma doesn’t stick to him for long. He knows right from wrong and has put himself on the side of right more as an excuse to kill than out of a sense of justice. He’s a remorseless killer and enjoys it. But maybe he’s not only a bad guy. Anyone who hates racists with the pure joy Adrian shows in the prison beating can’t be all bad.
Now it’s time to address the biggest burning question raised by “Murn After Reading”; who’s playing the piano?
That’s really John Cena, kids. Not content with the kind of musculature, acting range, humor, and focus on selfless good deeds the rest of us envy, the man has spent the last six years learning to play the piano, and he’s pretty good!
With only two episodes to go, Peacemaker has elevated its protagonist beyond his simple vow to kill every man, woman, and child necessary to secure peace. He’s grown as a man. Now all that’s left to do is defeat his father’s racist army and a threat from outside our solar system. Easy peasy.
Header Image Source: HBO Max screenshots