That terror and confusion Leota Adebayo feels at the beginning of this week’s episode of Peacemaker is but a fraction of what we’re supposed to feel by the end of it.
“Murn After Reading” is 47 minutes of revelations and Revelation. Last week Leota discovered what we already knew by the end of episode four—Murn is a Butterfly—but when we pick up on Leota’s bad night (already in progress) another piece of the puzzle walks into frame. Emilia Harcourt, currently enjoying human life sans Butterfly, is not only in on Murn’s subterfuge, she is totally on board with whatever he plans to do with Amanda Waller’s resources.
That’s where the “revelations” part of “Murn After Reading” kicks in. The thing about the Butterflies is that they are, yes, similar to the Starro threat from The Suicide Squad, but they are a decidedly more elusive and far more cunning breed of alien mind-controllers than that gigantic, stompy starfish. (I’ll try not to insert a post-Trump political strongman analogy here.) A Butterfly is more subtle about its motives, and not knowing what Murn’s been up to with an alien fluttering behind his eyes has been a primary source of dread for Peacemaker. This week Chukwudi Iwuji finally lets his hardassed Murn mask slip as he confesses to Leota: He is indeed a Butterfly (its name is something like “Ik-stak-ik-ik”), but he fights on the side of humanity. What a relief...?
Iwuji is terrific in this scene. When he shifts into Butterfly mode he’s almost bashful, ashamed to tell Leota he’s been lying to her all this time. Ik-stak sought out the worst person it could find to combat the “Goff” Butterflies. (The late Senator Goff’s now very dead wife, it turns out, was the vessel for the Butterfly Leader.) In its desperation it found Clemson Murn. Just don’t go shedding any tears for the dude: Peacemaker’s initial misgivings about working for the notorious mercenary proved correct, at least as far as Ik-stak is concerned. “This man, Leota, he’s… he’s a murderer,” it tells her, the eyes it controls searching for understanding.
So here’s what we know: Ik-stak plans to infiltrate a hidden Butterfly ranch which houses the entity known only as “The Cow,” the one source for the viscous amber fluid that feeds the Butterfly race. Kill The Cow, win this secret war. Its logic is sound (after all, Harcourt only works with logic), but there remains one peculiar wrinkle in Ik-stak’s crusade—Christopher Smith has to remain in the dark about Murn. Like Economos, who jams his fingers in his ears and feigns ignorance whenever the subject comes up, Leota has to make like a statue when it comes to the truth. In effect, she’s doubling down on her betrayal of poor, dopey Chris. (Making matters worse: Her “Peacemaker’s Diary” plant bears fruit this week in a big, bad way.)
Keeping Peacemaker out of the loop about Murn is a frustrating story choice but it makes a twisted sort of sense. Despite all his innumerable flaws, deep down Chris is a reasonable man. He’s taken care of the “Goff” Butterfly for no clear reason (unwittingly enabling the enemy to avenge its Butterfly Emperor, sure, but still!), and his sidekick Eagly soars ferociously to his rescue this week plucking out the eyes of those who would dare put a-hurtin’ on his best friend. Someone who adores animals but is also bad with people at least deserves the smallest benefit of doubt, right? Apparently not: Chris steps into Henenlotter’s Video and finds everyone acting even more dodgy than usual. The look he gives Leota when he realizes that everyone (even Economos!) is lying to him—and the lack of eye contact he gets in return—underscores the very shaky earth on which The 11th Street Kids are currently standing.
It’s a story beat that’s meant to further rip at Peacemaker’s shifting worldview. Chris makes a confession of his own this week to Harcourt: It’s not the lack of a Dove Of Peace on his weapons that stunts his zeal for slaughter, it’s just that he doesn’t want to kill people anymore. Revelatory. The only thing keeping him out of Belle Reve right now is doing murder on behalf of Amanda Waller, and don’t forget there is still the not-insignificant matter of the other tiny threat living inside Chris’s head: That tiny brain-bomb Waller injected into him at the beginning of The Suicide Squad. He’s torn between his duty to his country and a desire to live a life of peace, and right now the only people he can call his friends are lying right to his face.
For Peacemaker, hope is at a low ebb. And just when things are looking their grimmest here comes Auggie Smith, grossly refreshed (after a grody meeting with a skinhead subordinate), fitted with his heinous White Dragon armor, ready to do a filicide with his Aryan army. Robert Patrick looks absolutely terrifying decked out in Auggie’s hate gear, and the way his lackeys drop to their knees in awe of their overlord is yet another terrifying hint at what he could be capable of. Set to Reckless Love’s “Monster,” Auggie begins his apotheosis.
Whether he and his racist cronies are little more than soggy whitebread fodder for the Butterfly threat or a sharp dagger in the ribs for Chris and his team remains to be seen. With but two episodes left in its tank, Peacemaker takes the scorched-earth approach with “Murn After Reading,” an array of worst-case scenarios that spell certain doom for the 11th Street Kids, not to mention crush the hopes, dreams, and future that was once laid before Detective Sophie Song.
That’s where “Revelation” comes in. This week we’re finally allowed to see exactly how the Butterflies prefer to enter their hosts on a scale that is both harrowing and really, really gross. (It’s not as breezy as Economos’ PowerPoint presentation.) The first victim to succumb to the, er, “docking process” turns out to be Annie Chang’s Sophie Song, whose dogged pursuit of Peacemaker leads her to a dead end in vicious fashion. (Her bloody convulsions after Goff jumps into her mouth evoke Chris’s memories of his brother’s bloody seizure, interestingly enough.) Sophie’s gone. All is Goff. Woe betide those who stand in their path.
“Murn After Reading” marks James Gunn’s return to the series as director after passing the baton to Jody Hill and Rosemary Rodriguez for the last two episodes. The result is the most cinematic installment of Peacemaker yet. Watching Chris and Vigilante haul ass through a forest with Song’s armada of cops hot on their heels, the episode has a visual sweep to it that shames other action tv shows. It moves, shifts, leaps to thrill you, powered by a devil-may-care affect that makes me wonder about the other insanities Gunn has in store for the remainder of the series.
“People don’t realize that smiling is different for every head,” Butterfly-Sophie tells Fitzgibbon before the hammer drops and all goes to hell. Chang is remarkable in this episode (it can’t be said enough how impeccably cast this show is), cracking a rictus/confused grin and speaking in a grim monotone that forebodes dark things for humanity in the few short hours it has left. “I feel she was fond of you,” she tells her former partner as an alien toys with her brain, looking for apocalypse and finding it. “Just enjoy the moment.”
- It’s interesting that Ik-stak refers to Murn in the present tense. Is it possible for the Butterflies to, er… dislodge themselves from their human hosts without killing them?
- “Unlike humans, we don’t name our genitalia.”
- The students’ word of the day: “Moistly.”
- An innocent question from Jamil the Janitor’s daughter—“Do you have an origin story?”—sends Chris spiraling down repressed memory lane once again, and we get a better idea of what happened to his brother: Chris socked him so hard he gave him the seizure that killed him.
- Peacemaker’s nicknames for the children: Kid with the sad eyes, Chubster, Gender-swapped Alfred E. Neuman, Urkel, Canadian Tuxedo, Rubik’s Cube World Champion 2025 (who can see right through Chris and thinks he’s a loser!), and my personal favorite: Spaghetti Arms!
- Peacemaker & Vigilante’s “Yes/No” question battery with the Butterfly known as Goff yields answers: Yes, Goff drew a peace symbol. No, the Butterflies are not here to eat human flesh like the aliens in Pitch Black. No, they are also not here to impregnate humans like in Alien. (That one bums Vigilante out, somehow: “How else am I going to experience motherhood?”) No, they don’t want the humans’ help getting back to their home planet, like in E.T. (Goff’s pause before tapping “no” is a chilling giveaway that their plans are just as fucked up as Murn fears.)
- Of course Vigilante’s ringtone is Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”. Of course it is.
- The “shit” that flits out of Vigilante the second he falls out of the tree is priceless. Priceless.
- Song’s raid on Peacemaker’s trailer doesn’t nab our hero, but it does net an edition of Peacemaker’s Journal, an elaborate, John-Doe-from-Seven-lookin’ forgery courtesy of Amanda Waller, stashed by her daughter, Leota.
- “How do you know my password?” “I know my own birthday, dude.”
- Leota lives in Gotham, it turns out. Wonder how she feels about The Joker.
- Captain Locke, to Murn, as Det. Song leads a horde of police to Peacemaker’s trailer: “I think we have a problem.” Well, no shit, Locke, when were you planning on dropping a dime?
- Christopher Heyerdahl’s facial contortions, as his Butterfly tries to find the right kind of smile, are truly harrowing to watch.
- So what did you think about “Murn After Reading,” group? Here’s a question: Is Amanda Waller, herself, a Butterfly? Who else is a secret Butterly? (My money is on Economos, the poor dope.) Will Auggie wreak havoc or will the Butterflies pull him into their deadly trap? Go nuts in the comments below.