“A Whole New Whirled” capably continues the tone and style of Suicide Squad in Peacemaker, which proves that everything is funnier if John Cena says it.
This recap of Peacemaker season 1, episode 1, “A Whole New Whirled”, contains spoilers.
I’ve come to the realization that everything is funnier if John Cena says it, and nowhere is that more evident than in “A Whole New Whirled”, the premiere of the new HBO Max spin-off of James Gunn’s redo of The Suicide Squad, written and directed by the man himself. Cena’s Christopher Smith, aka the titular Peacemaker, survived the consequences of his last-minute heel turn in the feature film with nothing but an injured clavicle, which is lucky considering he was a) shot and b) had an entire building collapsed on him. Now he’s… free?
This is the point of contention in the cold open. Chris wants to believe he’s a wanted man who should be in prison for his integrity. But there are no police officers waiting for him when he leaves. He makes a big deal out of slipping away covertly – in his bloodstained outfit, admittedly – but nobody is looking for him anyway. Even the janitor who smoked weed with him while he was in a wheelchair seems mostly uninterested in his exploits as Peacemaker, who may or may not be racist because he tends to kill more minorities than white people, which even Chris himself concedes is a good point.
Peacemaker season 1, episode 1 recap
But this is where I realized that everything is funnier when John Cena says it: Chris’s absurdly morose request for his doctor to adjust the contrast on his x-ray so that it better shows the definition of his small muscle groups, his insistence that Aquaman has his way with sturgeons at the aquarium, his frantic, teeth-clenched “Yessss!” when his “escape” is successful. He’s just hilarious. And Peacemaker suits that hilarity. In the credits sequence, Chris, in his full regalia, leads the cast in a ridiculous dance routine. Gunn’s fingerprints are all over this thing. People are going to love it.
Chris lives in a trailer adorned with the Stars and Stripes. His only real friend, at least judging by his voicemail messages, is Adrian Chase/Vigilante (Freddie Stroma), an enthusiastic but also completely unknown wannabe superhero. He was also technically right about still being a wanted man. He has 26 years left on his sentence, but he can swerve those by working for Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji), the head of another, less enthusiastic and colorful Task Force. He reports directly to Amanda Waller. His team includes Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), who’ll be Chris’s handler, Economos (Steve Agee), who’ll deal with “tech and tactics”, and new recruit Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), who’ll be doing basically everything else and, hilariously, gives a literal speech when she’s introduced.
Murn heads Project: Butterfly, which isn’t as literal as Project: Starfish. It’s an initiative for Peacemaker to kill people, essentially, though people that have been deemed “bad” by the powers that be, whatever difference that makes. In simple terms, it’s an initiative better suited to a weekly TV show instead of a feature film.
“A Whole New Whirled” also introduces us to Chris’s father, Auggie (Robert Patrick), an All-American bigot who constantly refers to Chris as stuff like “simp” and “p***y” but also supplies him with his helmets, which he hopes he might be able to use to do some good, such as taking out “a couple of blacks”. He’s not a nice guy, then, but at least he has kept Chris’s supposed “sidekick”, Eagly, alive for the four years Chris spent in prison. Eagly is literally a bald eagle, but at least he has the decency to hug Chris. Auggie just berates and mocks him, only lightening up for a brief moment to laugh himself hoarse at the origin of Bloodsport’s fear of rats, which came from his father torturing him. He gets a real kick out of that one.
It’s clear what we’re doing here. Peacemaker was a relatively one-note supporting character in the film, so the first order of business for his namesake show is to flesh him out a little and humanize him by having other characters much worse than he is make him look better. The joke is that this giant, macho man is simply desperate for approval, from a father who has neglected him and from a populace who doesn’t even know he exists. In the restaurant where Chris is given his first mission dossier, there’s a nice little moment in which he is visibly thrilled about being complimented on his order by the waitress. He just wants to be told he’s as good and useful as he believes himself to be.
As Leota puts it, there’s something about him that’s “a bit sad”. But admittedly she puts it that way to her mother, Amanda Waller! Dun, dun, dun! So, she’s working undercover within Murn’s operation and pulling off additional little tasks for mom, including hiding a diary in Chris’s trailer for thus-far mysterious purposes, but she’s reluctant to do so since, as she says, she’s “not like these people” and is just doing whatever she needs to so that she and her wife can get back on their feet financially. Do we believe that Amanda Waller, a woman nicknamed “The Wall”, can be a doting mother and not just use Leota for her own ends? We’ll see.
If Leota is the sweet and innocent member of this new Task Force, Murn is the opposite. Chris makes a point of saying that he’s a mercenary known for killing a lot of people, and not always on “the right side”. And Harcourt and Economos are similarly inscrutable. Both believe that Waller is punishing them for turning against her on the Project: Starfish mission. But the former is clearly more capable than someone who works behind a desk would necessarily need to be, as we see when she takes down some guy who’s harassing her in a bar. Chris, as it happens, harasses her too, but in a slightly more pathetic way. He’s a man who has been in prison for four years and is missing the touch of a woman. Perhaps his new colleague isn’t the right person to hit on, but you know what he’s like. Either way, she’s having none of it.
Luckily for Chris, a punky woman in the bar is more amenable, which is how we get an extended sequence in which he sings The Quireboys into a clitoral stimulator wearing nothing but his tighty-whities. But this ridiculous sequence turns weird fast when the woman develops superpowers and a monstrous persona and tries to kill him with a kitchen knife. She almost succeeds, too. Bloodied and bruised, he’s able to make it back to his car, where he dons his helmet – they all have different powers – and activates the “sonic boom”, which smashes his attacker to pieces and blows a crater in the ground. “A Whole New Whirled” ends with Chris, still in his underwear, looking very confused. Aren’t we all?