‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Episode 2 Review – “The Star-Spangled Man”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown…er…cap? The new boy in red, white, and blue has big shoes to fill, not to mention hoping to get an endorsement from Steve’s “Wingman.”

Who is the new Captain America? Meet John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a man more qualified for the position than initial observation might suggest. Luckily, his interviewer (The Chase’s Sara Haines) is quick to point out his physical prowess and combat experience. My favorite part of this opening scene though is Bucky’s face as he watches this on his floor.

This is the catalyst that allows our show to really get going. Bucky’s outrage over a new Cap leads him to confront Sam about it. Sam explains quite clearly he made his choice and it’s final. His main mission now is to deal with the Flag Smashers. This scene also gives us that fun conversation from the trailers where Sam argues the inconsequential differences between Wizards and Sorcerers. I mean…if it uses magic, it’s a witch, wizard, sorcerer, warlock, what does the name really matter? Hell, didn’t WandaVision make that distinction pointless when it laid out very clearly that Wanda is a witch? I’d be interested to hear Buck’s take on that!

Onto the mission: where Bucky joins despite not being invited. The petty rivalry between these two really makes the show what it is. You have Sam, who has clearly reached out via text message in hopes of forming some connection with Bucky, and then you have Bucky, who is dealing with the loss of his best friend, the conditions of his pardon, and civilian life after being a soldier for ninety years. It’s an interesting dynamic, and it presents a scenario we’ve all experienced just with a unique caveat. Are your friends friends when you’re not around? Can they be? The biggest common thread Bucky and Sam share is Steve, and the fact that all of this occurs not long after he essentially abandons both of them for his own happiness can’t be ignored.

When we lose a loved one, we tend to focus on places, things, or even people, who remind us of that person. Sam’s got his wings, he’s got his friendships with the other Avengers (I admit an assumption here), but what about Bucky? Bucky lost Steve three times. When he was captured by the Nazis when he was blipped away for five years, and when Steve decided to stay in the past. His only connection to this lost person is Sam, but he fights it because he’s from a generation that doesn’t acknowledge deeper emotional cause and effect. The comment he makes about why Sam’s refusal to pick up the shield highlights this perfectly; it’s a breakthrough for him. I’m hoping we see more.

Speaking of seeing more, as these two try and work together to take down the Flag Smashers, new Captain A, joined by his pal Lamar Hoskins (Clé Bennett) aka Battlestar, appear to lend a hand. It is not a welcome assist. I’m curious how future run-ins with Walker and Hoskins will work out. Given where the episode goes later, we can be confident the racial dynamics between these two teams will be a factor. How exactly isn’t clear, but if they simply ignore it that would be both surprising and a wasted opportunity.

On the bright side, Marvel looks to be open to change. See our band of super soldiers, not your average-looking terrorists, instead, we get some nice diversity. Though, the way they’re acting the plot twist of them not actually being the bad guys is a very real possibility. Their leader, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), gets a text from someone who accuses her of stealing something from them and vows to kill her because of it. We know, from the trailers, that Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is going to show up (hell, at the end of the episode we see him)…did he save some of the serum from Captain America: Civil War with the intention to make super soldiers after all? Yes, he killed the Winter Soldiers but that might have been just because they were not his creations. Not figures he could mold or control (assuming each required its own special collection of activation words and he only ever had Bucky’s), maybe he wanted more people like himself – those who had lost loved ones to the collateral damage of superheroes? At any rate, creating super soldiers is tricky business, just ask Isaiah Bradly (Carl Lumbly).

In one of the most powerful scenes in this episode, which comes about halfway through, Isaiah Bradly is introduced as someone Bucky knew from the Korean War, sent on a suicide mission to take out the Winter Soldier – in the comics he has no relation to Bucky and is instead sent on a suicide mission to destroy a Nazi war camp, which he does…in a stolen Captain America uniform; this act of defiance gets him court marshaled and imprisoned when he returns home. This version of Isaiah has some other notable differences from his comic book counterpart: for one thing, he’s sane. Sadly, the comic book hero was given a bootleg super soldier serum which leads to dementia later in life. On a less depressing note, he was well known among the black superhero community, here? Clearly not, as it is Bucky who enlightens Sam to his existence. And Sam’s reaction? Ouch. Follow that up with the police pullover just a few minutes later and it’s a one-two punch of racial red flags.

My only quibble is that Sam gets mad at Bucky for never mentioning Isaiah’s existence to him, or Steve, or anyone, but is this really a surprise? Bucky only just recently got his life back, he was the Winter Soldier up until 2014. He was estranged from Cap until 2016 (more so if you consider he was put under ice until the scientists at Wakanda could fix his programming, which we don’t exactly have a timeline for), and then got Blipped away in 2018. At best, he had 2 years to tell anyone what he knew. The fact is he was trying to move on from his past, live a quiet life in Wakanda until shit hit the fan and he was forced to enter the fray, a detail he mentions in therapy. And, he only brings up Isaiah because of the newly emerged super-soldiers, because, as far as he knows, he and Bradly were the last. Also, also, considering their fairly hostile “friendship” they have how is it a surprise!? It’s obvious Bucky has been avoiding Sam and the only reason they even come together is because of their mutual connection: Steve. How would a conversation like that even start? Not to mention that Bucky felt he was honoring Bradly by allowing him his peace.

After such a powerful scene we get…the couples therapy scene. Not gonna lie, I kind of hate this scene. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at the awkwardness same as everyone else, but that doesn’t excuse the annoying trope it’s built upon. Bucky and Sam’s uneasy tether is inevitably going to turn into a strong friendship – unless Bucky dies by the end, which would be tragic, but not unthinkable – and the media will almost certainly refer to it as a “bromance”. I hate this term. I hate it because it feels like it’s supposed to be an insult. I hate it because there’s no such term for female friends. You know why? Because the idea of females being friends with each other without an underlying sexual component is normal in our society. Let’s be honest, even if there is a sexual component society welcomes it because that’s “hot”. But the only way to handle a male relationship of the same nature is to make it “cute”. To lessen the bite with an adorable portmanteau like “bromance”, because it’s “gay” for guys to be friends with each other, right? Who knows, maybe I’m wrong…I hope so.

OK, last little bit of soapboxing, and I’m not sure if this is on purpose: the age differences between Steve and the other Avengers is a running gag throughout the MCU, however here (especially this episode) it is used in a unique way. When Bucky explains his reasoning for not divulging the truth of Isaiah, he brings up the use of the phrase “my people”, which Sam is quick to try and comfort him about. Bucky just as quickly corrects him saying Isaiah meant Hydra. Could be I’m reading into things, but I found this a good example of the age divide between these two. Sam is raised in an age where race and racism are very real things, but he comes from a generation that is taught to listen for key phrases and address their utterance, expecting them to come from older people who grew up normalizing them. Bucky isn’t as trigger prone, most likely because of his age. He understands exactly what Isaiah meant in context, instead of taking it as a blanket racist remark.

Overall, what a fantastic episode. All the little jokes work nicely, the food for thought, and anticipating where it will go…

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