Peacemaker Enters 'A Whole New Whirled' With Violence, Vulgarity And Heart

Writer and director James Gunn has an eclectic style of filmmaking that combines gross-out humor, vulgarity, and intense violence with heartfelt messages and deeper thematic meanings. His work is a mix of sweet and sardonic, earnest and extreme. After the R-rated romp of "The Suicide Squad," Gunn decided to take the character of Peacemaker (John Cena) a step further. The filmmaker wrote the series shortly after wrapping production on "The Suicide Squad," and it follows Peacemaker several months after the events of the movie. Peacemaker, real name Christopher Smith, has to figure out how to get back in the world after four years in prison, and that includes being forced into a new scheme from Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) that's possibly even more hazardous than that in "The Suicide Squad." 

"Peacemaker" is unlike anything else on TV, and even serious Gunn fans will find themselves surprised and shocked at the lengths the series goes to. It's a ridiculously violent and vulgar action-comedy with moments of heart-wrenching existential quandaries, as sweet and spicy as anything else Gunn has ever done. Each week I'll give a quick recap and then break down the sweetness and the spiciness, as well as the best lines of dialogue in each episode, because some of this stuff is impressively raunchy, even for HBO. Let's dig into the premiere of "Peacemaker," one of the wildest pilots to air in a long, long time. 

Spoilers for "Peacemaker" episode 1 after the cut. 

A Quick Recap

The first episode of "Peacemaker" picks up a few months after "The Suicide Squad." Christopher Smith, AKA Peacemaker, is being discharged from the hospital where he recovered after his extensive injuries at the hands of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), which resulted in a whole building falling on him. When he finds out he can simply leave, he's stunned, because he still has quite a few years left on his prison sentence. He manages to get back to his mobile home, but is almost immediately surrounded by his new crew, who have a mission for him. If he doesn't agree to help, they'll either throw him back in Belle Reeve prison or detonate the tiny bomb Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) had implanted in his head. 

The "handlers" for the new team are two Waller subordinates who rebelled against her during Project Starfish, Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee). The team leader is Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), a former mercenary with a shady past, and he's brought along Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), a special operations newcomer recommended to him by Waller. Together, the crew make up Project Butterfly, another top-secret mission that's strictly off the books.

Peacemaker has to give his cab driver his helmet, so he ends up heading back to his dad's house (Robert Patrick) to ask for some more shiny head gear. His dad made all of his gear, and we discover that dad is basically a white supremacist version of Tony Stark, inventing all kinds of wild weaponry, including a TARDIS-style weapons closet. It turns out the only people in Peacemaker's life pre-prison were his abusive father, his sociopathic wannabe BFF Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), and his pet eagle, Eagly. He tries to hook up with Harcourt at a bar and gets shot down. But he finds exactly what he was looking for after four years in prison: a woman that looks like she belongs on the hood of a car on an '80s hair metal album. They have graphic sex back at her apartment, and then she brutally attacks him in a knock-down, punch-out brawl that ends with Peacemaker's new helmet firing off a sonic boom that explodes his hook-up into a pile of human goo. Thankfully, this wasn't an innocent person, but a body snatcher-type alien known as a "butterfly."

Aside from the surprise alien, the other surprise from this episode is that Adebayo was recommended by Waller for a pretty specific reason: Adebayo is Waller's daughter and mommy dearest thinks her little girl has a talent for this line of work. Viola Davis even shows up via Zoom call to chat with her fictional daughter, and she asks Adebayo to plant a diary in Peacemaker's home. 

The Sweet

There are plenty of rougher moments in the "Peacemaker" premiere, but the series also demonstrates that it has a huge, squishy heart at its core. The banter between Adebayo and Smith is not only refreshingly real, it's warm and full of empathy. When Adebayo talks to her mother about Peacemaker, she mentions that there is a "sadness inside him," this brokenness she sees beneath his tough exterior. Everyone else has completely written Peacemaker off — Waller, Harcourt, his father — but Adebayo sees something human inside of him. The series forces us to reckon with the idea of radical empathy and extending kindness to those who haven't shown it, and questions who gets to decide who is worthy of redemption. Adebayo sees good in Smith, even if no one else does. 

When the crew go out to eat and have a brief meeting, Peacemaker calls a waitress "sweet cheeks," much to the chagrin of everyone at the table. They proceed to have a conversation about why it's inappropriate, which of course Smith completely misses the point of. Later, when he and Adebayo are chatting by their cars, she calls him "sweet cheeks" and Cena gives us just the tiniest hint of a smile. There is genuine warmth between these two characters who seem to have nothing in common, and their interactions are the beating heart of the series. Adebayo holds her own against Smith without being mean. When he calls her the wrong name, she points it out but says she "appreciate[s] the confidence with which you said something so wrong." When he asks if she's "hubbed up," noticing her wedding ring, she laughs and says, "married, yeah." Peacemaker is trying to be nice by asking about her life, but he incorrectly assumes that she's married to a man. The way the interaction plays out is subtle but impacting, because it shows the difference in worldview without beating us over the head with it.

The other truly sweet moment in episode 1 comes after Peacemaker explodes his one-night stand. Eagly, trying to cheer his friend, brings him a possum to eat. Peacemaker's not really interested, but it's the thought that counts.

The Spicy

On the other side of things, "Peacemaker" episode one is chock-full of sex, violence, and vulgarity. It also has some sharp commentary on racism and misogyny that doesn't pull any punches. It's worth noting that Peacemaker's dad uses a lot of slurs, and even though we know he's the clear villain, those words still maintain some shocking power. His discussion with Peacemaker, in which he asks his son to kill minorities and prove himself, is horrifying in both its content and tone. The only moment in which Peacemaker and his dad bond at all is when Peacemaker tells his father about Bloodsport's rat phobia from "The Suicide Squad" and the trauma that led to it; his dad cackles as Peacemaker describes the bite scars on Bloodsport's skin. It's a moment intended to show us why Peacemaker is the way he is, and how his father shaped his truly warped worldview. 

Peacemaker's attempt at picking up Harcourt is equally revealing, as he attempts to persuade her to sleep with him moments after she beats up a group of men for threatening her after she sharply refuses their gross pickup attempts. She ends up leaving, telling Peacemaker: "I'm just trying to f***in' have a beer, but between those douchebags and you, that's something I just can't have in my life, because I don't know, I wear makeup?" She's furious that she can't even enjoy a beer after a tough day of work, simply on account of her gender. While Adebayo gently challenges Peacemaker's bad behavior, Harcourt (rightfully) puts him in his place. When he says that her description of his behavior made him sound stalker-y, she snaps back: "No, the way that you did it made it stalkery, I just described it." She's not having it, no matter how handsome Peacemaker is. 

Someone who is interested in Peacemaker is the butterfly he ends up hooking up with in a particularly graphic sex scene, capped off with Peacemaker singing passionately into a vibrator wearing only his tighty-whities. Flesh pounds flesh once more when they fight, and it's a hard-hitting brawl set to Quireboys "I Don't Love You Anymore" that is so brutal it's almost painful to watch. 

Best Lines and Post-Credits Sequence

The dialogue in "Peacemaker" is perfection. It's crass, it's funny, and people talk over one another as they do in real life. Each week I'll collect a few of the best lines sure to make you think or tickle your funny bone. Here are this week's best bits:

  • Peacemaker talking about Aquaman: 
    "He bangs chicks? Good for him. He f***s dudes? Got no problem with that. He starts f***in fish? That's taking it a step too far."
  • Peacemaker talking about his source for said Aquaman knowledge:
    "I refuse to believe that @pepethefrog89 is lying to me for no reason."
  • Peacemaker discovering the name of Project Butterfly:


    As I recall you guys aren't particularly creative with case file names. Project starfish was a giant walking starfish. So what am I fighting, a Mothra now?"
  • Vigilante's co-worker declines a weird invitation: 
    "I don't want to come to your abortion, man."
  • Peacemaker tries to connect with Adebayo:
    "I'm into old fashioned stuff too. Hummel figurines, capital punishment, Garbage Pail Kids and stuff."
  • Waller gives her daughter some advice:
    "Empathy? In this business Leota, that will get you killed."

Each episode also has a post-credits sequence, though they don't contribute much to the story. They're more extended takes of amusing scenes from each episode This post-credits scene shows Peacemaker's dad teaching him more about the different helmets he's made, including one that will give you scabies. You know, for the challenge. 

New episodes of "Peacemaker" debut Thursdays on HBO Max.