Peacemaker hits its mid-season stride with a whopper reveal that reframes the entire hilarious narrative. Director/writer James Gunn smartly established the nuances of his bizarre ensemble before dropping his bombshell twist. We finally learn the meaning and global scope of Project Butterfly, but there may be more to the supposed baddies than meets the eye. Major spoilers ahead, so be warned if you haven’t caught up with the series.
Peacemaker’s premise has a recovered Christopher Smith (John Cena) back under the thumb of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). He’s put on a secret ARGUS team led by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji). Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) is the resident bad-ass, John Economos (Steve Agee) handles tech issues, and plucky newbie Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) handles tactical support. We learn that Leota, a lesbian who brought her girlfriend on the mission, is actually Amanda Waller’s daughter. She was sent to secretly monitor the team and report back to her mother. The reason for Waller’s subterfuge becomes apparent at the end of episode four.
The ARGUS team sets up shop in Evergreen, Peacemaker’s Midwest hometown. Christopher Smith picks up his bald eagle sidekick from his vehemently racist, anti-government father. August Smith (Robert Patrick) trained his son to be an elite killer for his right-wing brand of justice. He designed Peacemaker’s helmets, weapons, and has a house with a mammoth bunker, drum roll please, that sits in an alternate pocket dimension. August verbally abuses and castigates his anti-hero son, which has resulted in crushingly low self-esteem.
The premiere, “A Whole New Whirled”, concludes with Peacemaker being attacked by his barfly hook-up. She displays superhuman strength, screeches like a banshee, and tosses him around like a rag doll. Peacemaker blows her up with a sonic helmet. In episode two, “Best Friends, For Never”, Clemson Murn updates him on the existence of Project Butterfly, but doesn’t give any details. Meanwhile, John covers Peacemaker’s tracks by framing his father for the incident. August enters prison as its white supremacist leader, the infamous White Dragon.
Episode three, “Better Goff Dead”, has the ARGUS team attempting to assassinate a senator and his family. Peacemaker watches as long tongues drop from their mouths slurp up green liquid. But he cannot take the sniper shots to kill the children. Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), Peacemaker’s psychopath wannabe bestie, does the dirty deed. Senator Goff captures Peacemaker and tortures Vigilante. Peacemaker’s able to kill Goff. He and Vigilante are stunned when an alien that looks like a butterfly emerges from the body’s head.
Episode four, “The Choad Less Traveled”, brings the series objectives into focus. Leota tells Peacemaker his father has been framed. He demands to be taken to prison. But has to return to their headquarters when Judomaster (Nhut Le), Goff’s captured bodyguard, escapes. Leota convinces Vigilante to infiltrate the prison and kill Peacemaker’s father. She also shoots an escaped Judomaster before he can talk about the Butterflies. Peacemaker returns to his trailer. He weeps while remembering his murder of Rick Flagg and the death of his brother as a child. Peacemaker has the Goff Butterfly imprisoned in a jar. He told the team it was dead. Vigilante does not kill August Smith, who now demands to speak to the arresting detectives. In the closing seconds, we see Clemson Murn alone. He drops a long tongue into a bowl. Revealing himself as a Butterfly.
Peacemaker spent the first three episodes with the characters bantering. The humorous, often vulgar back and forth, laid down key exposition. Christopher Smith feels guilt and remorse for his actions. He’s not a mindless killing machine. Peacemaker loudly proclaims his heroics but is consumed by doubt. He’s the product of a vile upbringing. Leota’s placement on the ARGUS team spearheading Project Butterfly makes sense. Anyone can be an alien masquerading as a human. Amanda Waller needed someone she could trust unequivocally. The question remains whether Clemson Murn is a villain. Judomaster died before he could spill the beans. The Butterflies may not be the actual threat. Peacemaker’s captured Butterfly surely has a further part to play.
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad) cleverly satirizes xenophobia, gun violence, and right-wing extremism. A dichotomy exists between Peacemaker and Leota. Her character looks beyond his fundamentalism to see a man in crisis. There are deep undertones to the show’s crudeness. Gunn doesn’t get on an ideological soapbox to hammer the audience into submission. Sex, violence, and profanity are used artistically to make salient points. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Butterflies turn out to be refugees. Although Gunn would need a great explanation for the human hosts.
Peacemaker’s second half holds promise for continued greatness. I loved how the plot’s pacing kicked into a higher gear for episode four. James Gunn went full throttle once the audience understood the characters’ faults and motivations. Releasing the first three episodes at once was brilliantly strategic. They work better when seen concurrently. The series would have dragged if there was a three-week wait for Clemson Murn to drop his tongue. Peacemaker premieres every Thursday on HBO Max. The eight-episode season will conclude on February 17th.