This Peacemaker review contains spoilers.
Peacemaker Episode 7
There’s catharsis and then there’s “shooting one’s white supremacist supervillain father in the head with a Nazi-era luger pistol” catharthis. “Stop Dragon My Heart Around”, the penultimate episode of Peacemaker season 1 opts for the latter and is all the better for it.
“Stop Dragon My Heart Around” is a little strange as far as penultimate episodes go. Part of it is spent wrapping up Chris Smith’s struggles with his father in spectacular fashion while the other part deals with setting up the climactic battle against the Butterflies in the finale to come. As such, the episode is a bit tonally confused and relegates what should be a series highlight to a miniboss battle on the way to the big one. Still, that miniboss battle is so thrilling and so rich that this ultimately feels like 40 minutes (the show’s shortest episode runtime yet) well spent.
Simply put: the White Dragon stuff in the fittingly titled “Stop Dragon My Heart Around” really, really works. The episode opens with a flashback that’s been a long time coming. Peacemaker finally lets us into the moment that Chris Smith died and Peacemaker was born. In a far more dangerous incarnation of the Bluth family’s “Boy Fights”, Auggie Smith pits his two sons against each other in a fist fight for the amusement of all his awful, racist friends.
In one of these fights, Chris Smith lands an innocuous punch to his older brother’s head and ultimately kills him. This is the moment where all of Peachemaker’s pathology, history, and tactics finally come into clear focus. Chris Smith’s predilection for killing stems from the unbearable trauma his father orchestrated but it also comes from witnessing just how random death can be. The human body is a curious machine. Sometimes it survives a hail of gunfire and explosions in a massive Corto Maltese battle and sometimes one misplaced punch will make it crumble like a house of cards. Who cares how many people one needs to kill to achieve peace when killing is that god damn random? The dove on the side of Peacemaker’s gun might as well be the image of a coin mid-flip.
Randomness of life and death aside, it really can’t be overstated just how disturbing the image of Chris’s brother seizing on the ground is. At its core, Peacemaker is a surprisingly conventional superhero story. The superhero at its center has a sidekick, a support staff, an origin story, and a clear arc to run through. But the visuals that the show presents can be so disturbingly unique. Watching a child seize to death, foam bubbling at his mouth is one example. I’ve never seen that on a superhero show before and I don’t really care to again, well executed as it is.
Another one of those memorable images comes in the form of Auggie Smith fully ascendant as the White Dragon, surrounded by all of his followers in Klan hoods. I don’t know why, but I still find something so striking about White Dragon being a clear Klansman rather than a generic racist. Fascist, bigoted factions like Nazis have served as cartoonish villains before on screen and television, including in the modern MCU in titles like Captain America: The First Avenger. Still, there’s something so jarring about a superhero show directly confronting the reality of the Ku Klux Klan in America’s past, present, and presumable future. Peacemaker isn’t necessarily Watchmen in its exploration of American racism, but it’s still quite ballsy.
It also certainly helps that the battle between Peacemaker and White Dragon absolutely whips ass. The sight of White Dragon flying into a van and flipping it over is about as good as TV superhero action gets. “Stop Dragon My Heart Around” is also exactly correct in the number of personnel needed to take on Auggie Smith and his army. Being aided by John Economos, Vigilante, and Eagly continues the show’s tradition of teamwork and Peacemaker not needing to do everything on its own. But that team is also small enough for Peacemaker’s victory over his father to feel truly personal.
On a purely practical level, having some other characters to bounce dialogue off of makes the whole experience a lot more fun as well. Vigilante is once again the show’s comedic MVP. In the span of roughly 10 minutes he takes his pants off to pee, adopts a very literal interpretation of the phrase “there’s no bad time to rock”, and mistakes Peacemaker’s anguished tears over having to kill his father as more facial exercises. Economos, meanwhile, gets plenty of good moments in as well, mowing down a whole army of Klansmen and dryly noting that a grown man trying to put a helmet on a raccoon went about as smoothly as he anticipated.
There’s an argument to be made that the battle sequences between Team White Dragon and Team Peacemaker represent the show’s finest work yet. Unfortunately there’s also an argument to be made that everything not centering on that battle is the show’s least essential.
It’s not that Murn, Harcourt, and Adebayo’s scramble to assess the current Butterfly threat is bad by any means. It just can’t hold up to the high octane action of what’s going on on the other side of town. Even poor Murn biting it doesn’t have quite the dramatic heft that one might expect, though Harcourt holding out her finger to embrace the dying “Ichenobloke’s” little butterfly hand is quite sweet. The diary subplot also doesn’t bear much fruit either. The rest of the 11th Street Kids still have some unresolved issues with Adebayo to contend with but there’s simply too much going on for them to really get into it.
Thankfully, the ending of “Stop Dragon My Heart Around” contains the promise of a more united finale to come. The “cow” that Peacemaker and friends are charged with bringing down looks like some of the best monster VFX work of James Gunn’s career, which is no small feat. One can only eagerly imagine the hair metal song that will accompany its demise.