This Peacemaker review contains spoilers.
Peacemaker Episode 6
Watching a filmmaker finetune the edges of a storytelling style they’ve already mastered is truly something to behold.
Case in point is this week’s Peacemaker. Episode 6 “Murn After Reading” is both written (like every other episode of the show) and directed (like four others) by James Gunn. Though it has all the makings of a transitional installment into the series’ final two episodes, it still somehow feels like the most stylistically and emotionally complete outing for Peacemaker thus far.
“Murn After Reading” really does have all of narrative elements that Gunn and his team have nailed over and over again. Chief among those elements is a broken central character, lost in his own memories.
“Dude. My advice – cut it out with the introspection. The mind is a den of scorpions better left running from, not towards,” Vigilante tells Peacemaker. But that advice goes unheeded.
Peacemaker, who other characters are tellingly starting to refer to more frequently as “Chris”, is truly on the verge of an emotional breakdown, which is something I wouldn’t have necessarily expected when this series began. The Peacemaker of the show’s early episodes, and even The Suicide Squad before that, was the perfect government tool. His credo was simple: peace above all else. And his mode for achieving that piece was simple: kill whoever needs killed.
The show’s early efforts to communicate that Christopher Smith’s murder of Rick Flag may have been one murder too far weren’t entirely effective. Combining the guilt of that assassination along with the guilt of somehow killing his brother years prior (which we still have yet to see the full story of) has proven to be far more successful.
Though this season of Peacemaker was almost certainly shot out of order, like most full-season streaming efforts, John Cena’s performance really does appear to be getting stronger as the series goes along. He’s the best he’s ever been in this episode, maybe because he has the best material yet to play with.
The episode’s opening scene, in which Peacemaker visits his old janitor “friend” Jamil’s kid’s school, is perfect for Cena’s talents. Having this large, charming man be bullied by children is just always going to have a high success rate. It also stealthily gets the character on the morose path of self-reflection that he’ll spend the rest of the episode in. After fielding questions from a kid he dubs “gender-swapped Alfred E. Neuman”, Peacemaker gets a query from Jamil’s son.
“Do you have an origin story?” he asks.
Yes, I suspect he does. And I suspect it will have far bigger implications than the time he took down Kite Man. By the time a dejected Chris finally confesses to Harcourt that he no longer wants to kill people (space bugs get a carve out in this new rule, thankfully), she and the audience have known this for quite some time anyway. It’s fitting that the last person to come to the realization is Peacemaker himself. Later, he plays a soft piano rendition of Mötley Crüe’s’ “Home Sweet Home” at home. It’s the kind of choice that’s so on the nose that it shouldn’t work…and yet it does.
Even more than a damaged lead character and a fracturing team, the Gunn trope that “Murn After Reading” truly excels at is depicting monsters and their monster deeds. All butterfly cards are now on the table. Murn is confirmed to be a space bug to everyone but Peacemaker and Vigilante. He’s part of a butterfly resistance, trying to keep the rest, led by Goff’s (whose name is something like “Ichstalkichich”) butterfly, from taking over the world. With all that exposition out of the way, Peacemaker finally just gets to go for it with its Invasion of the Body Snatchers leanings.
Forget chainsawing a gorilla in half, the alien butterfly army arriving at the Evergreen PD headquarters to bloodily force its way into human bodies is Peacemaker’s true B-movie monster masterpiece. The episode even saves its big musical selection for this moment. “Monster” by Finnish modern glam metal crew Reckless Love scores both the butterfly takeover of Evergreen PD and Augie’s re-ascension as Klan supersoldier White Dragon.
“Murn After Reading” concludes with Peacemaker and the team in a particularly dark place. The diary that Adebayo planted in Chris’s place has now borne ugly fruit and Peacemaker is likely to be enemy number one among the public. His father is en route to kill him and that’s only if the swarm of murderous bug people doesn’t get there first. The forecast for the final two episodes looks bleak.
Still, Gunn and the production team are so completely in control of the storytelling style that they’ve perfected that it seems impossible for the last quarter of this experience to not be fun. If nothing else, Vigilante might get to the bottom of whether Goff’s butterfly likes teal.