When we last thrilled to the grody exploits of Peacemaker, there had been whispers surrounding the history of Clemson Murn, moody tough-guy mercenary and tactical leader of Project: Butterfly. “I’ve heard plenty of stories about how you treat people with respect, Murn,” Christopher Smith said as he patiently awaited a plate of zoodles. “Plenty.” Once Leota Adebayo, the rookie of this black-ops outfit, got a moment alone with Peacemaker she asked him what he meant by that line. “I know I don’t trust his ass,” Smith said. Murn’s shadiness hasn’t been subtle. But being a good soldier means that Smith will follow Murn into the murky, morally dubious morass of Project: Butterfly anyway, without once being debriefed on what a “butterfly” is or why he has to kill every man, woman, and child who comes across his path on this particularly violent op.
As of episode four of Peacemaker—titled “The Choad Less Traveled” for reasons we’ll get into—Murn’s past remains a mystery. We do know a couple things about him: He’s learning to open up more to his colleagues (he shares a feeling with Economos in episode two), and while he has a hair-trigger temper, he is noticeably tolerant of insubordination. Just before the credits roll on this dramatic installment, we learn at least one more thing about Clemson Murn: The man in charge of Amanda Waller’s Project: Butterfly operation is himself a butterfly. Behind that steely gaze is a small winged alien tweaking away at his synapses, and his team is none the wiser.
Murn’s honey-slurping secrets will have to keep for now; last week’s mission ended disastrously and everyone’s on edge. We’ve entered the halfway point with “The Choad Less Traveled”, which in most any other show would mean it’s time to slow things down to get some much-needed character work in before the cannonball run towards the finale. This episode of Peacemaker does that, but the character beats and personal reveals don’t come from an absence of chaos, but the doubling down of it.
You can lay a lot of this newfound havoc at the feet of Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante, who joins Task Force Hacks in an unofficial capacity this week. His penchant for casual violence and ceaseless jabbering is designed specifically to amp up the mayhem, and Vigilante—a character who is probably one season away from becoming a regular guest star on HBO Max’s Harley Quinn animated series, I swear—doesn’t require much prodding to do precisely that. Leota finds this out when she oh-so gently suggests that life for Chris would be so much better if Auggie Smith, The White Dragon and Chris’ belligerently racist father, wasn’t around anymore. Like a good friend, Vig springs into action: “I gotta go do something,” he says, his chipper tenor dropped to monotone. *shivers*
Stroma has been a strong comedic presence in Peacemaker but this week he truly steals the show. Early on Vigilante, aka Adrian Chase, makes a big scene over almost having his pinkie toe sawed off by the now-very deceased Senator Goff as Peacemaker looked on. “I never had a friend like you before,” he says to Chris (a line delivered with so much stank on it I’m surprised nobody cracked a window in that Sebring). When Vig and Peacemaker finally bury the hatchet and Adrian has an opportunity to help out his best friend, Stroma’s rubbery face shifts into a mask of grim determination, and later, bloody satisfaction.
Chris and Vig’s blossoming friendship, chaotic and unhealthy though it may be, serves as the only stable ground Peacemaker has at the moment. “The Choad Less Traveled” (directed by Jody Hill), cracks open Chris’ horrifying history with his father and finds all sorts of best-forgotten shit rattling around inside Peacemaker’s shiny domed helmet. Intriguingly (and distressingly), there is some discussion about Chris’ older brother, who died under mysterious circumstances that involve Chris himself, which later triggers drunken memories of Peacemaker’s first brutal kill under the supervision of his old man. In one of the episode’s more revealing detours, Chris and Vig spend some time in Auggie’s disorienting workshop (we are told that it is a “quantum unfolding storage area”) where we get our first look at the White Dragon armor, a stunningly comic-accurate monstrosity that visually articulates Auggie’s violent legacy. Vig observes that there are vulnerabilities in the armor, a fleeting moment of foreshadowing that promises a reckoning between Chris and dear old dad is on its way.
And what is to be done about Auggie? He now has proof of his innocence thanks to Chris’ jailtime confessional and he promises to drop a dime on the entire operation the first chance he gets. This is going to complicate Project: Butterfly and it is certainly going to make Auggie a liability for Murn (who tosses Economos a silent “fuck you” for putting everyone in this ridiculous situation to begin with). A man as violent and hateful as The White Dragon by rights should find himself in the crosshairs of the righteous Peacemaker, reasons Vigilante, but Chris doesn’t see it that way. “Look, my father and I, we both hate crime,” Peacemaker says. “And he makes me stuff!” Chris loves his dad, a lifetime of abuse notwithstanding. The poor lug.
So when Leota meets up with Chris and Adrian at the Charlton County Jail and makes sure to mention that she knows all about the horrible stuff The White Dragon did to Chris when he was younger, he isn’t fazed. “Your dad is not a good man. Not to the world and especially not to you.” (Danielle Brooks is terrific in this scene.) Leota is right: Auggie is not a good man, and definitely not a good father, which he confirms with venom when Chris goes to see him. “I should have slit your throat [the second you were born],” he tells his only living son. What does Chris do when he hears this? Does he get up and walk out on his father? Does he reach over the table and do the one violent thing Leota believes is best for him? No. He shakes his head and tosses the hurt away.
“Maybe I’m a grower, not a shower,” says the blob of flesh for which Auggie has never felt a thing. “You know, a person you like more as time goes on.” Chris’ arrested development has let fly some choice lines in the past (his “butt babies” diatribe was golden) but the way he likens an erection to his evolving maturity is astonishing. Not just because it’s absurd, but because of how much drama and character growth James Gunn wrings out of it.
“You’re comparing yourself to a choad!” Auggie protests—and he’s right, Chris absolutely is—but as Leota points out later, there are the good kinds of choads and the bad kinds of choads, and Chris falls decidedly in the former category. (At least being a choad is better than being an incompetent dingus, as Murn later points out.) Leota and Chris’ growing trust in each other is the purest thing about Peacemaker, a show that presents every form of relationship as a potential battlefield for acrimony and sarcasm. All that choad talk only strengthens their bond.
“The Choad Less Traveled” is a dramatic peak for Peacemaker, especially in its final moments where Chris gets wasted with Eagly and the butterfly he plucked from Senator Goff’s sci-fi basement last week. Chris seems to dance when he’s feeling overwhelmed, it’s how he copes with the insanity that is his life, but this dance (set to Faster Pussycat’s aptly-titled “House Of Pain”) feels like a penance march, a ritual he undergoes to bury all the hurt that’s been done to him and the guilt he feels over the death of his brother. The flashbacks we see during this sequence are a reverie of despair, images of murder and happier times and helplessness that topple Peacemaker and send him crashing to the floor. When Eagly and the butterfly (who rolls up to Chris inside his new jar home) lean in to see if he’s okay, the crushing reality of Christopher Smith’s broken life stands revealed. If this choad is to survive Project: Butterfly, he’s got a lot more growing to do before it’s done.
- I genuinely struggled with the show’s spelling of “choad.” I always thougt it was spelled “chode.” Am I having my very own Berenstain (-stein) Bears moment?
- “Ever since I had a team-up with Matter-Eater Lad, my sense of what’s normal is a little fucked up.” That would mean that the Legion Of Super-Heroes exists in this bug-nuts DC Universe, which suits me fine.
- I definitely botched the White Dragon in last week’s Stray Observations: There have been a few iterations of the DC character, which isn’t what I said! Put simply, I meant that as an amalgamation of two DC characters (Chris’ dad, Wolfgang Schmidt, an ex-Nazi officer blended with the White Dragon persona), August “Auggie” Smith is an entirely new villain made for the show.
- Leota: “God, there are so many secrets!” Harcourt: “Yeah, that’s what black ops is, dude.”
- Vigilante keeps a bunny on his dash, which holds a sign that says “Obstacles are Opportunities.”
- News Update: Charlie, the silver-backed gorilla, has been stolen. Feels like that might be important further down the way.
- Note Vigilante’s swagger as he walks through the maddening hordes of Charlton County Jail. He knows he could kill every last one of them and they don’t. More than a cool character moment (which it is) it removes any doubt one might still improbably have that Adrian Chase is a psychopath.
- Adrian provokes Auggie’s racist brethren with a glorious array of rapid-fire insults. “Which one of you dumb, sister-fucking, tiki torch-carrying Sloths-from-The-Goonies-lookin’ pieces of shit wants to go next?” Wowzers.
- Judomaster and Peacemaker’s rematch livened things up in a surprisingly downbeat episode, though I’m feeling sorry for the guy. First he gets taken out by the schlubby Economos, then he catches a bullet just as he’s about to offer his enemy some elucidation, possibly against his better judgment. Regardless, Nhut Le is awesome in the role, and his fury during this scene rocked.
- The latest clue in the Butterfly mystery leads Leota to the “Glan Tai Bottling Company”. So what’s Glan Tai actually bottling and what does it have to do with the butterflies?
- So what did you think of “The Choad Less Traveled”, group? Is Judomaster long for this world? What do you think is going to happen once Auggie is let loose into the world, angry and betrayed? Did that butterfly actually get stoned? Let’s sort this out in the comments below.