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SYFY WIRE The Continental

Why Mel Gibson is One of the Most Unique John Wick Villains Yet

Gibson’s unhinged baddie makes a mosh pit out of the franchise’s violent ballet act.

By Benjamin Bullard

Spoilers ahead for all three episodes of Peacock's The Continental!

At least he didn’t kill anybody’s dog — only an innocent cellist and, oh, maybe a few dozen more people in an epically paranoid meltdown that was destined never to end well. But within a media-verse as cool and calculating as that of John Wick, there’s never been a central bad guy as feral and deranged as Mel Gibson’s Cormac O’Connor, the 1970s boss who went down swinging (okay, technically he was fleeing) in Peacock’s just-concluded event series The Continental: From the World of John Wick (streaming on Peacock here).

With The Continental being a prequel series and all, Gibson’s glib, sadistically wise-cracking (and skull-cracking) turn as Winston Scott’s predecessor as the proprietor of the storied assassins’ refuge gives fans of the franchise the ultimate study in character contrasts. In a John Wick movie-verse that's earned a reputation for choreographing violence as a delicate ballet of bullets, Gibson clubs that concept right in the face: In Cormac's world, everything eventually ends up in the mosh pit.

RELATED: The Continental: Our Favorite John Wick Easter Eggs & Callbacks in Peacock's Prequel

Gimme Shelter? …Not at Cormac’s Continental Hotel

In the John Wick films, Winston (Ian McShane) keeps The Continental genteel and polite, while bending the rules, when necessary, to give Wick an extra measure of solace outside the bounds of the all-seeing High Table’s tough-but-fair assassins’ code. That’s a grace, though, that Cormac never afforded the younger Winston himself (played by Colin Woodell in the series) back in the day: Even with a shared personal history that dates all the way to Winston’s very childhood, Cormac bends over backwards to treat Winston and his brother Frankie (Ben Robson) like perennial outsiders, always ready with a boot at their throats whenever their “What have you done for me lately?” ledger dips even slightly into the red.

With that kind of management style, it’s little wonder that Frankie eventually gets fed up enough to steal The Continental’s biggest MacGuffin — a prized High Table coin press — right out from under Cormac’s nose. After all, Cormac has kind of sewn a lifetime’s worth of exploitative, transactional alliances; fragile relationships that more or less guaranteed he’ll someday reap the results of treating even his closest associates like enemies. “If anybody ever deserved to be eliminated,” says Gene Jenkins (Ray McKinnon), the onetime Continental resident who signs on for sniper duty in Winston’s takeover scheme, “it's Cormac O’Connor.”

It didn’t have to be that way. After all, Cormac had Winston (and probably dozens of kids like him) eating from the palm of his hand from an early age. Heck, he likely could have shaped them into some of his most trusted allies. But to gain people’s confidence — something the older Winston excels at in the John Wick movies — you’ve got to give a little confidence of your own. And for Cormac, giving anybody anything is a sucker’s game when you can coerce them into a corner instead.

“As a kid, he did it to me and Frankie,” Winston recalls in the series’ second episode, reflecting on Cormac’s habit of manipulating people. “We were his errand boys — we thought he was a god!” It proved to be just one mistake in Cormac’s me-versus-the-world way of running The Continental like a jumpy, insecure mob boss: “In crisis, we're all gluttons in our own way,” chides the High Table’s Adjudicator (Katie McGrath) as she watches the walls collapse around Cormac’s house-of-cards comfort zone. Guys like Cormac, she says, “often seek comfort in the face of adversity.”

RELATED: The Best '70s Bangers From The Continental: From the World of John Wick Soundtrack

She’s definitely onto something there: Slapped with a three-day ultimatum to find the missing coin press or else face the consequences, Cormac retreats into an increasingly-shrinking ring of concentric comfort circles as his minions — motivated not by loyalty but by fear (and maybe the bounty money) — wage war on the outside. He tries to make transactional deals with God, bargaining with a crucifix while getting high on “fun fumes,” all before the blood’s had time to dry from his latest murder — a craven sucker-swing from a golf club while his victim’s back was turned.

With heinous acts like that, The Continental uses pretty broad strokes to outline Cormac as an almost cartoonishly predictable villain. Gibson obviously understands his character mission, though, diving deep into Cormac’s unhinged persona with the kind of lunatic acting abandon that’s typically reserved for voice actors portraying final-boss video game baddies.

Then again, if you’re gonna paint a one-dimensional character, it’s best to bring the most luridly vivid color palette you’ve got. And with the way Gibson deliciously sinks his feral teeth into the role, no fan of John Wick’s well-curated assassin’s gallery of violence will ever need to second-guess their instinct for artistic appreciation.

Stream all three episodes of The Continental: From the World of John Wick on Peacock here.