Peacemaker Learns Some Tough Lessons On 'The Choad Less Traveled'

The first three episodes of "Peacemaker" are pure James Gunn-flavored goodness, following Christopher "Peacemaker" Smith (John Cena) as he tries to reconcile his demented worldview with his burgeoning sense of empathy. In the first episode not directed by Gunn, the series writer and creator, the formula gets a little bit darker. Guided by the steady, sadistic hand of Jody Hill ("The Righteous Gemstones"), "The Choad Less Traveled" finally cracks open Peacemaker's past, and it's not pretty. There's still plenty of great dialogue and twisted laughs, but you might also find yourself getting a little teary-eyed by the end of this one. Seriously. 

The end of episode 3 gave us some answers about what the heck "Project Butterfly" actually is, but after Peacemaker's refusal to kill under orders and John Economos (Steve Agee) framing Peacemaker's dad (Robert Patrick) for killing the butterfly hookup, there's a whole other conflict about to unfold. 

SPOILERS for "Peacemaker" episode 4 from here on out!

A Quick Recap

The episode follows the members of Project Butterfly as they scramble to clean up their various messes. The big one is their captive, Judomaster (Nhut Le), who manages to escape about halfway through the episode but is summarily captured again. The other involves the framing of Peacemaker's dear old racist dad. 

Peacemaker goes back to his dad's house to retrieve some helmets and discovers through a nosy neighbor that his dad is in prison. Furious with the team for throwing his dad in prison, Peacemaker goes to visit him and tries to set things right. 

New recruit Adebayo (Danielle Brooks) tries to talk him out of visiting his dad. "We all want to believe that our parents are flawed by innately good and maybe, usually, that's the case," she tells him, pleading. "But not here. Your dad is not a good man. Not to the world and especially not to you." She's read his file and knows something we don't, apparently, though it's obvious that Auggie is terrible to Chris. Peacemaker mutters something about him still being family and storms off, though it's funny to think about Adebayo taking her own advice with regards to her mother, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Waller and Peacemaker's dad Auggie might be very different people, but they're both a special kind of evil that their kids haven't quite dealt with just yet. 

Peacemaker meets with his dad and it goes as poorly as you'd expect, with Auggie planning on ratting out his own son. Adebayo shares her concerns with a lurking Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), telling him that as long as Auggie's alive, Peacemaker can't be happy. The bit of manipulation works, and Vigilante gets himself thrown into prison with a plan. When Adebayo reveals to the rest of Project Butterfly that she convinced Vigilante to go in to try and kill Auggie, they are understandably enraged, and Murn throws a tantrum about being assigned such impulsive underlings. 

At the same bar where he tried to get Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) to sleep with him, Peacemaker asks her about his file with regards to his dad. She explains that it says Auggie trained him to kill, and his brother died mysteriously with the implication that Chris had something to do with it. Seeming rather defeated, Peacemaker leaves, but not before telling Harcourt that her "t*ts look stellar" but "not in a sexist way." 

Meanwhile, Vigilante ends up in a fight with some of Auggie's white supremacist henchmen, but is released after some tampering from Economos. Harcourt picks him up and he confesses that Auggie is still alive. 

The episode ends with a montage set to "House of Pain" by Faster Pussycat. It shows each of the characters being miserable, with Chris singing, dancing, smoking weed, and chugging Jack Daniels with Eagly and the butterfly from Goff's head in a jar. In the end, he starts crying, remembering his past, and we watch him sob while he kills his first victim under his father's guidance, at an age when he should still be watching "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." We then see his brother's death in a redneck rumble, and it looks like Chris punched him and caused some kind of serious head injury. No wonder the guy's so screwed up. 

Oh, and Murn's a butterfly. Surprise!

The Sweet

"Sweet" and "Jody Hill" go together like tuna fish and ice cream, yet there are still moments where the series' warm fuzzy center peeks out from under all of the trauma. Tiny character moments provide the heart this episode, though they're significantly less openly sweet than the first three chapters. Peacemaker's comment about Harcourt's décolletage, for example, is actually weirdly kind, because he's trying to give her a compliment the only way he knows how, and he expects nothing in return. If he had said something like that while still trying to get into her pants, it wouldn't have been sweet at all, but in the moment it feels like Chris genuinely trying to be nice. Trying being the operative word. 

Harcourt seems like kind of an ice queen in the first few episodes, but in "The Choad Less Traveled," we get to see her softer side. Not only does she tolerate Chris's attempt at kindness, but she tries to comfort Vigilante after picking him up from prison, and she also tries to comfort Adebayo after she shoots the escaping Judomaster. She's becoming the mother bear of this bizarre little crew, whether she likes it or not. 

Adebayo and Vigilante's conversation about Peacemaker and his dad is also sweet in its own twisted way. Adebayo describes the situation, and her assessment of Peacemaker is surprisingly sympathetic. "Chris has a big heart so he wants to find something to love there," she tells Vigilante, "But there's nothing to love." 

"Peacemaker" is a meditation on redemption and who is worthy of redemption, and Adebayo almost neatly wraps it up in those simple lines. Peacemaker's been doing the wrong things for the right reasons — he's a product of his upbringing and society, and he has the incredible potential to be better. But someone like Auggie is too far gone to ever redeem. 

The Spicy

Whew! What about this episode isn't spicy? Whether it's Vigilante thanking Peacemaker for "letting" him be tortured, Auggie telling Peacemaker that he should have killed him the moment he was born, or Murn going off on the team, this episode is chock-full of foul language and angry sentiments. The anger isn't what makes this episode so tough, however, even if there is an awful lot of it. 

Instead, the "sadness" that Adebayo sees inside Peacemaker seems to permeate throughout the episode. Each of the characters is suffering in some way, and they're suffering alone. Vigilante just wants Peacemaker to be happy, because he's the only friend he's ever had. Peacemaker wants his dad to show him some kind of affection or approval, because he's never gotten any. Harcourt drinks alone in a crowded bar of cheering sports fans. Murn is a freaking butterfly. Everyone is alone, scared, and hurting, and we've grown to care about these characters enough that watching them in agony is heart-wrenching. 

Each member of Project Butterfly ended up there indirectly because of some kind of trauma. Non-traumatized people don't become black ops agents, and if they do, they're sure to be traumatized pretty quickly. The series digging into the pathos of these morally ambiguous characters is not only fascinating, it's necessary. "Peacemaker" is at its core a love story between Adebayo and Chris as they teach one another to be better people, but every love story has its rough spots. 

Best Lines and Post-Credits Sequence

If you expected the dialogue to get any less vulgar or ridiculous, you've got another thing coming. "The Choad Less Traveled" features a number of great lines, including some that I can't actually quote here because they're too vulgar and I have to save some asterisks for everybody else. Here are this week's best bits:

  • Vigilante thanks Peacemaker, kind of:

    "I want to thank you for letting me be tortured last night."

  • Peacemaker tells Murn about a really weird job: 
    "Ever since I had to team up with Matter Eater Lad, my sense of what's normal's a little f***ed up. I once saw him eat an entire Wendy's restaurant."
  • Peacemaker lays into his dad's neighbor for suggesting he's a villain and comparing him to Batman:

    "He's a jackass who wrestles with murderers who dress like clowns and throws 'em in prison so they can break out of prison and murder more people! Riddle me this, how many people do you think Batman's indirectly murdered by being too much of a candya** not to kill these fools who clearly need to be smoked once and for all, you wrinkly Shar-Pei-looking dementia infested f***?"

  • The neighbor's response:

    "With an attitude like that, you're definitely a supervillain."

  • Murn losing it after Adebayo confesses to tricking Vigilante:

    "I thought Waller gave me soldiers, and instead, it's the f***in' Apple Dumpling Gang!" 

  • Vigilante trolls the racists:
    Look, I can't publish any of that here, but when you hear it, you'll know, and you'll agree. 

The credits sequence features an extended argument between Peacemaker and Vigilante about the idiom "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck," which neither of them understand in any capacity.

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