We need to talk about Walker…
Tonight’s episode involves a lot of conversations about the Super Soldier Serum. The ethical conundrum, the aftermath creating such beings can have, and, of course, the lure of having the choice to become one.
Karli seems to half-regret her choice, especially in the wake of her most recent actions, but her soon-to-be late comrade gives her a pep talk. By Battlestar’s logic, power just makes you more of yourself, he even sites Karli and Steve Rogers as examples. This isn’t the first time Karli is compared with Steve Rogers, her comrade, Nico (Noah Mills), also uses this comparison to comfort her. And why Steve? Because, even Zemo, who vehemently hates the very notion of Super Soldiers had to admit that the serum didn’t corrupt Steve Rogers. Ah, but what about New Cap?
John Walker is no Steve Rogers. Despite them both having served military time, Walker is a much more scarred individual than Rogers was. Which makes sense if you think about it. Steve, like his shield, is the product of a bygone era. He fought in what most would consider to be the only “good” war. He was a soldier at a time when the enemy was clear, the home front had your back, and he was hailed as a hero when he returned from battle (well, at the very least when he woke up several decades later). John, by contrast, is a soldier in a time when the home front doesn’t necessarily agree with you being at war, the “war” isn’t exactly clear or “good”, and veterans get treated pretty shitty when they return from battle. In fact, Steve being frozen for 66 years probably saved him from the trauma of government experiments, which would have almost certainly been conducted, in order to recreate their precious serum. Hell, even without him they did it!
It’s really no wonder then that John Walker getting a hold of the serum ends very badly. But, we’ll get to that.
We start off with Bucky in Wakanda, passing his final exam by having Ayo speak the magic brainwashing words. I was curious, when Zemo did this in Episode 2, if Bucky had heard them before then; looks like the answer is yes. As we know, they have no effect, and he’s tearfully relieved. In the present, Ayo informs him that the Dora Milaje will give them 8 hours to get handle their business, then they are coming for Zemo.
Speaking of Zemo…
Our master manipulator spends a good chunk of this episode railing against the evils of what he calls “supremacy”, and “supremacists”. He views Super Soldiers as tools of supremacists, inevitable steps towards the likes of the Nazis, Ultron, and the Avengers. He makes it clear that he intends to kill Karli and her comrades by the end of all this, which prompts Sam to point out the obvious: what about Bucky? My guess is Zemo would gladly kill the former Winter Soldier. Later, when Zemo questions Sam about if he would take the serum, Sam makes a good observation in that Zemo’s rhetoric against them (Super Soldiers) sounds an awful lot like God talk – deciding who can and can’t exist. It’s a decent flaw given Zemo’s comment that Super Soldiers are God people. The reality is that absolutes are always the right way to tyranny. Nothing is all good or all bad, the world is shades of grey. If anyone can understand that, it’s Bucky; though, oddly, it’s Sam who fights the hardest for Karli.
Karli’s image isn’t great after the news broke that she bombed that GRC building, but Sam hasn’t given up hope in her. Sam’s episode trajectory is heavily tied to Karli. He spends much of this hour trying to understand her, trying to reason with her, and defending her to Bucky, Zemo, Walker, and Hoskins. He successfully meets with her twice, though each instance is disrupted by New Cap. Each meeting does show that these two have a common ground.
Their first meeting is at the funeral for her deceased teacher/friend: Momma Donya. This scene provides us with context for Karli, a display of Sam’s excellent counseling skills, and most importantly the last temptation of John Walker. Through a series of mishaps, Walker comes across a vial of the legendary serum. He pockets it, clearly conflicted about whether to take it or not. A subsequent run in with the Dora Milaje and a conversation with Hoskins leads to him erring on the side of yes. We learn this decision was made when he tracks down Karli’s comrades during her and Sam’s second meeting and engages with them (ours heroes get clued into this thanks to a favor from Sharon Carter).
Let me pause a minute to say that the real benefit of this episode is to make abundantly clear the cause of the Flag Smashers. Yes, the rapid breakdown of John Walker is a car crash we all ogle, but understanding why Karli has taken the serum and is doing what she’s doing is extremely important. In the past, a show like this would have simply labeled Karli and the Flag Smashers “bad” and gone after them no questions asked, but, luckily, Marvel is smart enough to give context to their cause.
Sam explains that during the Blip, when half the world’s population got dusted, normal borders that existed between countries and peoples were abolished in favor of coming together to rebuild. This weird evolution of community existed for five full years. Once those millions of people returned, the new world order got fucked. Hence, the creation of the GRC. The question then becomes: did the countries decide they wanted to go back to how things used to be, or did the GRC push the idea that returning to the “before times” was for the best? If it was the GRC’s mission, then Karli’s animosity towards them makes a lot of sense. It would also explain why many of the people in these countries are pro-Flag Smashers.
Our episode ends with a serum enhanced Walker murdering Nico, using Cap’s shield, in a public square with a gathering crowd as witness. It is an amazing scene. From the skirmish with the enemy that reveals John’s taken the serum, Sam’s realization of this, and Karli’s horrified face at the possibility of having just killed Lamar Hoskins (the camera cuts back to his unconscious form too many times for me to believe he’s actually dead), to the final nail in her friend’s coffin care of a deeply unhinged Captain America.
That being said, there is another scene in this episode that is pure awesomeness. It comes after Walker and Hoskins first interruption of Sam and Karli’s meeting. There’s a lot of tension, with Bucky voicing his misgivings about the New Cap, and that old chestnut of it being Sam’s fault that Walker got Cap’s shield. But all of that goes out the window when Walker and Hoskins bust in ready to take Zemo into custody. Someone else already has that idea and it’s the Dora Milaje. They appear, and much as they did in the Black Panther movie, they kick ass. They do it with spears, skills, and no serum. Hell, they beat Bucky, who has the serum! Oh man, and the look on Bucky’s face when Ayo disables his arm is PRICELESS! Absolutely, 100%, priceless.
Overall, this is a very busy episode. A lot happens in an hour from the conversations to the action sets. Do you realize Baron Zemo has escaped!? That major detail becomes an afterthought once the final scene of the episode takes place. A lot of ground is covered in terms of story and character development, but that’s to be expected as we’re on episode four of a six episode series. For the first time in a long time, I’m left to say something I almost never say: I wish this season was longer. Especially given the ramp up of John Walker. We meet him in episode 2, he seems mostly OK, even his early interactions with Sam and Bucky aren’t overtly aggressive, yet by the next episode we start to see his violent “means to an end” mentality at work. Uh…ok. An extra two or three episodes could have gone a long way to explaining Walker’s personality flaws. Though, maybe the 180 is on purpose. Still, considering the characters and story, more episodes would have been welcomed. Ah well, definitely looking forward to the penultimate episode and the fallout from Walker’s very public sin.