Peacemaker – Season 1, Episode 6: Murn After Reading

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After a hot streak of five superlative episodes on the trot, it was finally time for Peacemaker to take a breath. It was inevitable really, as under James Gunn’s watch, the DCEU’s first (and currently only) TV spinoff has been setting a breakneck pace, cramming every installment with action, gore, comedy, character beats and a bunch of fucked-up shit, but while the overarching plot points have been weaving in and out of the craziness rather nicely, it was time to slow things down in order to gather up all the pieces to aim them all at the remaining two episodes.
I guess this is understandable, after all Peacemaker is a show with a lot going on, however, Murn After Reading manages to do it at the expense of the impact of couple of revelations that have been percolating ever since the first episode – strange considering that this is Gunn returning to the director’s chair after a three episode stint of overseeing.

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Understandably freaking out at her discovery that Murn, the guy in charge of trying to take down an invasion of alien, body snatching Butterflies, is actually a Butterfly himself, rookie Adebayo is unnerved even more by the revelation that fellow team member Hardcourt has not only also figured it out, but seems cool with it. Explaining to her that the Murn-Butterfly is actually a dissenter from his race due to his enhanced emotions (for a Butterfly, that is), both Murn and Hardcourt manage to convince Adebayo that everything’s ok, however, unbeknownst to them, matters are about to unravel spectacularly. Not only has Detective Song’s diligence finally gotten Auggie Smith, Peacemaker’s racist, supervillain – but unfortunately innocent – father released from jail from a murder Peacemaker himself committed, but the forces of the Evergreen Police are now hurtling to Chris Smith’s trailer in order to arrest him as he continues to bicker with the psychotic man child, Vigilante.
In the chaos, the Butterfly Peacemaker has imprisoned after it crawled from the skull of Senator Goff escapes and takes over the body of Song as both Vigilante and Peacemaker’s pet eagle, Eagly, mail numerous officers as they make their escape.
However, the fallout will proves to be costly as while the Song-Butterfly calls for some intergalactic backup to possess the every cop and prisoner located in Evergreen’s police station in order to amass an army, while elsewhere, the fake diary that Adebayo planted in Chris’ trailer on orders of her mother, Amanda Waller, suggests that he’s been killing people because he believes they’re possessed by aliens (true, but this makes him look crazy…er) and leads to him being nationally incriminated. Lastly, and possibly worse of all, Auggie Smith gathers his white supremacist followers and tools up at his alter-ego, the White Dragon, in order to get revenge on the man he believes got him arrested in the first place – his own son.

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While Peacemaker’s relentless tone has been one of its continuing strengths, its rarely achieved it at the expense of the various character threads that keep the deranged nature of the show on point – however, for the first time, Gunn’s brainchild slightly misses the target by fluffing a couple of long term plot threads that, while noticably important, are somewhat buried by the avalanche of plot machinations that are required to steer the action into the necessary positions needed for the final two episodes.
The first victim turns out to be the long gestating reveal of Murn being a Butterfly turn coat, which after three episodes of teasing and hints, is essentially explained away with only a single scene of dialogue. While Chukwudi Iwuji does well with the limited time given to his characters big moment (a speech about being feelinh remorse about stealing away the feel will of a cold remorseless killer who still could have changed is particularly noteworthy) and it’s dampened even further by the reveal that Harcourt and Economos already knew everything. The other thing that feels like a weirdly muted payoff is the long standing plot thread of Adebayo working her way up to betraying Peacemaker on the orders of her notoriously tricksy mother and stashing a fake diary. Finally revealed as a cover story Waller has had installed that will explain the mission away to the public as portraying Peacemaker a mere crazy, lone gunman (hardly a stretch, to be fair), once again any impact it may have had is muffled by the frantic double setup of it’s true twin threats.

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However, thankfully this is where episode 6 makes up some of that lost ground with the assertion of a grudge bearing white supremacist in a super suit and an army of Butterflies taking over an entire police force, which both boast ridiculously cool slow motion montages (the shot of Fitzgibbon’s fleeing toward us as a cloud of multi-coloured alien bugs swarm down the corridor behind him is breathtaking) – but even here there’s a slight cause for concern as this will now be the third instance in Gunn’s career (after mind controlling space worms in Slither and Starro in The Suicide Squad) where his story hangs heavily on the brain warping shenanigans of parasitic space creatures. A couple of times? Coincidence or even homage. Three? Come on Gunn, you’re more creative than this.
Still, despite Gunn falling back on previous tropes, he’s still coming up with new, creepy ways to show it, paying off the Song-Butterfly’s remark of having to re-learn how to smile whenever entering a new body with the sight of all their newly possessed human forms attempting wide, unnatural, rictus grins.
Maybe the episode would have had more time to balance things a little more delicately if it hadn’t dedicated a lengthy, funny but utterly unnecessary scene at the start involving Peacemaker involving himself in show and tell day at the local school at the behest of the hospital cleaner we haven’t seen since the first episode. It’s subversiveky funny the way every usually in in a Peacemaker episode, but why is it here other to get one more of John Cena’s entertaining  rants in before the climax. Now if it had appeared earlier in the season I have been all for it, but stuck in all the way in episode six, it hardly moves the pace along. Similarly, yet another meandering conversation/argument between Peacemaker and Vigilante that is hinged around whether or not an alien butterfly like the colour teal also grinds things to a halt, but at least we finally see Eagly engage in the action as he viciously dive bombs members of police during a panicked escape.

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It says a lot for Peacemaker’s hit rate that its least effect episode so far has not only come rather late in the season, but is still incredibly enjoyable, its just that Gunn needs to adjust his sights a little as we sprint into the home stretch.

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