Up until now, James Gunn has been keeping a steady hand on the tiller of his fucked up ship, leading it confidently into ever more twisted waters as he takes superhero tropes and uses them to examine and deconstruct the toxic masculinity displayed by its man-child protagonist. However, what with having fingers in the pies of both DC and Marvel, it’s something of an understatement to say that Gunn’s a busy man and so his directing streak with Peacemaker comes temporarily to an end with episode 4, delightfully entitled “The Choad Less Traveled”.
Stepping in to cover is Jody Hill, a director no stranger to off beat, outspoken weirdos thanks to films like the Foot Fist Way and shows like Eastbound & Down – can he keep Peacemaker’s momentum going as we approach the halfway mark?
With the first mission successfully, if scrappily, completed and four of the alien agents known as Butterflies assassinated, the fallout from that night begins almost instantly. Team leader Murn is pissed at Peacemaker (aka. Chris Smith) for choking when the necessity arose for him to assassinate a child or two, while fellow deranged crime fighter Vigilante is hurt that his (self proclaimed) best friend didn’t seem particularly that phased while he was being tortured via electrocution and toe cutting. However, Peacemaker is pissed at Economos after he finds out that the team’s IT guy panicked and framed his father for an earlier crime that’s seen his notorious, white supremacist father locked behind bars and resident hard nut Hardcourt is upset with newbie Adebayo for not shooting first when put in a life or death situation.
As Peacemaker angrily drives to prison to visit his father, Adebayo heads him off and tries to talk him out of telling his shitty dad why he’s been framed by putting forward the argument that he’s a legitimately awful human being, both to the world at large and to Chris himself. However, when this fails, Adebayo shiftily plants the idea in Vigilante’s head to get himself arrested and murder Smith’s dad, something that outrages the already stressed Murn’s even further as it could mean disaster regardless whether the psychotic wannabe hero succeeds or not.
Also creating problems, is that the captured bodyguard to the Butterflies, the short but unfeasibly dangerous Judomaster has awoken and freed himself which means Smith has to endure yet another incredibly painful bout of fisticuffs to get him back under lock and key. However, when Vigilante’s assassination attempt fails, Auggie Smith not only knows he’s been set up, but he now mistakenly believes that his son tried to have him killed. But then, considering the flashes we get of Auggie Smith’s parenting methods, would you actually blame him?
Thanks to James Gunn’s writing and Hill’s experience with deluded leads who have a nightmarish lack of self awareness, the absence of the show’s creator is barely felt and once more we get yet another fun episode of skewed superheroics and perverse office politics. The team are really starting to interact now beyond just the usual barbed comment and its gratifying to finally see Peacemaker and Adebayo finally getting some alone time as she’s the only one who cares enough to actually take Smith to task about the monster his father truly is. Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day and our hero is still way too under the thumb of Auggie’s tyrannical influence to be able to fully admit some of the hideous things he was forced to do as a child (flashback plainly show him stabbing someone while a terrifyingly mulleted Auggie nods his approval), but Adebayo’s desperate need to pull her weight sees her aiming Vigilante at the problem like a bespectacled missle which can only cause more problems in the foreseeable future – especially when you consider that the racist prick used to be a costumed villain by the name of White Dragon.
The plot further thickens when the episode reveals that not only is Smith is starting to show the first signs of finally rebeling against his father’s influence (something horribly mysterious happened to Chris’ brother), but he’s actively lying to his team too as it’s revealed that he’s actually got in of the Butterflies sealed in a jar back at his trailer. However, as Peacemaker’s hardly one of superherodom’s great thinkers, all he can do is mull it over and exhale marijuana smoke into its face.
Elsewhere we get more from Freddie Stroma’s wildly entertaining murder geek, Vigilante who almost walks away with the episode’s best scene by asking a table of white supremacists to list their most favorite instances of black culture. His particular line of childish innocence, mixed with the fact that he’s well and truly nuts makes his schoolyard level bantering with John Cena always a joy to watch, but it’s Cena himself who scores top marks this episode after a frustrated tirade about Batman and his no-killing policy (obviously Peacemaker never watched Batman Returns or Batman Vs. Superman) at his father’s nosey neighbour. Actually, it’s weird that this scene is in an episode not directed by Gunn as it’s essentially a perfect encapsulation of the show in general,with all the foul language (“Batman’s a pussy!”) and subversive superheroing someone like Gunn has made his stock and trade over the last decade.
It’s telling that what is essentially a breather episode still manages to have all the crazy aspects firing at full blast with digressions about obscure villains like Matter Eater Lad (“I once saw him eat an entire Wendy’s restaurant.”), spectacularly crude threats (“I’m just the guy who’s gonna fսck you so hard, your asshоlе’s gonna be dragging behind you like a tail.”) and that weird sense of warmth that Gunn injects all of his weirdos with as they blindly stagger around comedically gruesome situations while inadvertently building a found family.
With the last minute revalation that Murn himself is a Butterfly (he curiously seems to be trying to understand humor by watching Lethal Weapon 4), it seems we still have a ways to go before we have our main threat pinned down, but we’re still having a ton of fun while our silver helmeted anti-hero continues to take the peace.