After a cracking first episode that detailed the rehiring of the unfeasibly toxic alpha-male anti-hero, Peacemaker (aka. Christopher Smith), the second episode follows it up with yet another James Gunn helmed episode (he directed all but three episodes) that provides yet more fertile ground for the auteur’s trademark brand of matter-of-fact gore, grounded surrealism and brutally violent farce that’s reliably all topped off with an enthusiastic dusting of razor-sharp insults.
But as he dives into nonsensical conversations about vampire dicks and casually irresponsible gunplay, Gunn is already starting to peel away the layers of his impossibly muscular lead, revealing a tormented, nougaty centre that dwells with that pumped, macho-hardened shell – and while he’s doing that, he’s also making sure that Peacemakers support team get a similar treatment while delivering the requisite jokes and severed faces.
Continuing where the last episode ended – with Smith mulching a feral, meta-human, one night stand with a Sonic pulse from his ridiculous head gear – man child assassin Peacemaker now realises he’s accidently stumbled across one of the “Butterflies” he’s supposed to be killing and he’d better get the fuck out of dodge before the local police turn up. With a stressed Hardcourt and a panicking Adebayo speeding to the scene to provide a getaway, our hero suddenly thinks it a good idea to loot his victim’s apartment for random shit like 80’s LPs and novelty cookie cutters, but while he’s dumping it all into a makeshift bindle he finds a weird sliver object dotted with blue, glowing symbols which he also swipes before briefly getting into the middle of an altercation between warring couple Amber and Evan and performing a daring escape that involves the idiot hurling himself painfully off numerous balconies until he eventually makes it to the ground.
Needless to say, the debrief isn’t pretty (especially when team leader Murm finds out that Peacemaker took classified files with him to get laid) and in it’s wake, Smith laments his inability to let anyone get close to him thanks to the force field of his jerky behaviour. However, his spirits are lifted by dorky psychopath and fellow gun toting vigilante, Vigilante, who is under the impression that Peacemaker is his best friend and the two blow off some steam by thanks to some good, old fashioned target practice in the woods.
However, a ripple effect radiates out from Smith’s carelessness as the team’s resident computer boffin manages to frame the carnage from the previous night’s mission on Peacemaker’s white supremacist father Auggie, whose is subsequently arrested by local detectives Sophie Song and Larry Fitzgibbon and elsewhere, that funny item our hero took from his conquest’s apartment turns out to be a freakin’ miniature alien spacecraft!
After a wickedly effective first episode, James Gunn manages to keep the momentum going nicely thanks to the immediate fallout from the first episode, a couple of character reveals and the proper introduction of Vigilante, a visored nerd who somehow seems even less self aware than Smith. Whether laughing to himself while thinking that Smith’s fleshlight is a funny smiley face or misconstruding Peacemaker telling him he’s working for the government as meaning that he’s got a job at the post office, Freddie Stroma’s permanently upbeat maniac who lives solely for hanging out with his equally mentally misaligned BFF or shooting people for breaking the slightest misdemeanor (graffiti?!). The introduction of Vigilante also gives us yet more valuable insight into the misanthropic demons that ricochets around inside that silver dome of Christopher Smith to as we actually see him break down into tears after getting home from a typically vitriolic briefing. Frustrated that he keeps pushing people away with his asshole persona (like repeatedly calling Economos “‘dye-beard”) before he let’s them get too close and still wracked with guilt over the murder of Rick Flag, we finally see his swaggering Peacemaker start to crumble a bit – until Vigilante pops up and an uncomfortably long conversation about Louis C.K. showing his privates to people, that is. Elsewhere, we see that Chris has indulged in a threesome with his crime fighting buddy (who still keeps his mask on, naturally) and Amber, a hostage seen earlier in the episode who obviously had a thing for Smith’s admittedly impressive physique which further adds credibility to the fact that Peacemaker may very well be bisexual (there was a hint that he’d had sex while in prison) and that because of his tyrannical father he’s had to become a certain stereotype of masculinity to survive. It’s stuff like this that keep the show from being just a mindless (if funny) descent into just being a show about dick jokes and imaginative gore and the numerous red flags that have been hoisted about Auggie are already fully flapping in the wind as, after getting framed for his son’s violent buffoonery, starts to rebuild a small but devoted army in jail who worryingly refer to him as the “White Dragon”. Obviously this is a racism thing – Auggie’s already established, bigoted views kick up a notch when he’s presented with arresting detective Song – and it’s going to be fascinating to see how this plays out as Peacemaker’s humanity slowly leaks through.
Until then, however, he’s still a massive prick and John Cena is still killing it, obviously relishing playing such an outwardly insensitive tool while he internally yearns for company and the rest of team are starting to cautiously bond and effect one another (see Hardcourt lecturing Adebayo about dressing her pet dogs in little costumes). However, there’s still some slow burning details yet to be addressed such as why exactly has Amanda Waller secretly placed her daughter (Adebayo) on the team, what exactly is Project Butterfly all about and (most recently) why did Smith’s hook-up have a small, alien spacecraft just sitting on her shelf, but we’ll get there.
However, one other thing that Gunn brings to this second episode is some deep cut references to minor DC characters with a reference to fucking Bat Mite, of all people (“He’s a two-foot-tall, interdimensional imp who stans Batman.”); but considering all the z-list characters he lovingly dusted off for The Suicide Squad – before killing them, of course – maybe this shouldn’t be much of a shock.
Gunn impressively holds the line when it comes to Peacemaker’s quality as the truly crazy shit undoubtedly waits in the wings, but the loving treatment of these horribly flawed characters still makes the show essential viewing in its second episode.