PEACEMAKER: Is Christopher Smith A Sociopath Or A Psychopath? An Evaluation Of His Mind
Peacemaker is a very complicated individual. So, in honor of his HBO Max TV series, we're taking a psychological dive into DC's newest antihero/borderline-villain to better understand him.
Disclaimer: This is not an evaluation done by a professional. It's a summary of Peacemaker's traits based on individual research, and should not be considered a factual medical opinion.
Following his acclaimed role in The Suicide Squad, Christopher Smith, a.k.a. Peacemaker, has made his way into our television screens with HBO Max's Peacemaker. The show follows DC's newest antihero as he completes different missions for the U.S. government alongside his task force. Peacemaker will explore Smith's backstory and will lead him to confront his own violent nature and question his past as a killing machine.
Smith is arguably one of the most complex characters DC's cinematic franchise has introduced. He is sexist, intolerant, and overall unlikable, yet also has a few redeeming qualities that allow us to (somewhat) root for his personal improvement. Still, with his penchant for violence and seemingly unrepentant approach to "freedom," some may see him as either a psychopath or a sociopath, which are two of the most common mental disorders attributed to baddies of his ilk.
But what exactly do those terms mean? And more importantly, do they actually apply to him? With Peacemaker now on HBO Max, we thought it appropriate to answer that question as best as we could to better understand who Christopher Smith is.
Psychopathy vs. Sociopathy
It's probably surprising to hear, but Smith may not necessarily fit into either of the above categories. To explore the reasons why, it's important to understand what psychopathy and sociopathy are, and what causes them. Both disorders fall under the category of Antisocial Personality Disorders (APD). As explained by the UK's National Health Service, some of the traits that people with APDs display are repeated illegal activity, impulsiveness, and lack of remorse. APDs can develop genetically or through a person's environment (be it work, school, etc.).
However, it's relevant to note that psychopathy's association with APDs may not be a norm, as, according to Abdalla-Filho and Völlm (2020), not every psychopath suffers from an antisocial personality disorder. Furthermore, not every person with APDs displays signs of psychopathy. Keep this detail in mind, as we will come back to it in a bit.
Psychopathy was described by Anderson and Kiehl (2014) as a neuropsychiatric disorder (according to Nicklaus Children's Hospital, such disorder is commonly caused by genetic predisposition, traumatic head injuries and environmental factors, some of which apply to Peacemaker, given his problematic childhood). The aforementioned study identifies psychopathy as a "disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior."
Now, it's time to look at sociopathy. This is where things get tricky, since there's a fine line between it and psychopathy, given that both disorders share some key characteristics (such as criminal behavior, lack of empathy, aggressiveness and recklessness). Fortunately, there is a simple way to break sociopathy down. As Psychologist Robert Hare summarized in the book "Aggression and Violent Behavior" (via Healthline), sociopaths know the difference between right and wrong, but they have little to no empathy and tend to justify their actions through some form of logic, while psychopaths don't have a sense of morality. Moreover, sociopaths are known to be highly manipulative.
What Could Peacemaker Be Suffering From?
Even though Peacemaker fits more than a few of the traits displayed by psychopaths, there are a few key ones that don't apply to him, such as the lack of empathy and inability to tell right from wrong. In The Suicide Squad, it was made clear that despite the bravado with which he preached his beliefs, Smith was not necessarily willing to get trigger-happy with just about anyone (as evidenced by his reluctance to kill Ratcatcher 2 and Rick Flag). He was constantly struggling with his violent nature, and it's that hesitation that tells us he may not be a psychopath.
That leaves sociopathy, which doesn't appear to fit Peacemaker (in spite of his many matching traits with the disorder) either. For starters, sociopaths are, as mentioned, manipulative, which Smith has not shown to be. Furthermore, as explained in a report published by Prevention that explored sociopathy with different medical experts, the disorder may not be treatable, since most people who suffer from it are unaware that they have it.
This is important to consider since The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker depict him gradually realizing the error of his ways, something he probably would have been unable to do had he been an actual sociopath. What makes us reluctant to rule sociopathy out entirely is that, according to Black (2015), antisocial personality disorders get better with age, and their effects can be mitigated by factors like marriage and socializing, which could explain Smith's betterment.
Having said that, it's also possible (and far likelier than sociopathy, given his apparent good feelings) that Peacemaker suffers from some broad type of Antisocial Personality Disorder brought on by his traumatic childhood, and, to some degree, by his genetics, due to his father's seemingly apathetic and cruel nature. There's no denying that Peacemaker can be ruthless, but there is a sliver of good in him that bubbles up every once in a while.
Redemption for Peacemaker
Now that we have a better idea of what Peacemaker could (emphasis on "could") be suffering from, it's worth asking whether he can be redeemed. Readers are probably aware of this fact, but just to reiterate, Christopher Smith is a bad man. Yet, as we alluded to above, it's not necessarily accurate to consider him irredeemable.
Speaking about the project last year at the Television Critics Association (via TV Line), James Gunn explained that, while DC's newest antihero has his fair share of defects ("defects" being a killing machine with delusions of grandeur), he does have room for improvement:
"Peacemaker has a lot of issues [...] One of the things, though, that made me want to tell [his story] is that he has a lot to learn [...] And it wouldn't take just one season of TV for him to learn that. But it is that ability to learn that he does have that for me makes him a little bit more likable. His blindspots in some places are pretty terrible, and in some places they're just him being ignorant. And I think that's an important distinction to make."
So, yes, Smith does seem to have enough tools in his well-equipped belt to rectify his path. Will he do it? Given that he is headlining his own TV series, it's likely that he will find some sort of redemption.
Yet, what will be interesting is seeing how that redemption occurs, whether it takes just this season of Peacemaker or many more, as Gunn teased.
Peacemaker is now streaming on HBO Max.