Is Sam Wilson finally going to take up the shield as Steve Rogers hoped? What consequences will John Walker face? All this and more in tonight’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The penultimate episode is surprisingly slow. Aside from a brief, but exciting, clash between Sam, Bucky, and John over the shield, the rest is quiet character-building time well spent. We return to Baltimore to visit Isaiah Bradly, take a trip to Sokovia to settle things with Zemo, and finally settle in Louisiana with Sarah and her children.
Let’s start with the only real action in this episode: Bucky and Sam, vs. John Walker over possession of that pesky shield. It’s an interesting interaction given that Walker now has the serum coursing through his veins. Ultimately, it takes both Bucky and Sam to wrest the shield from John’s hand, breaking his arm in the process.
I’ll be honest that I wonder, throughout this episode, how Walker adjusts to the new power so quickly. A small detail often left out of consideration when heroes get their superpowers, unless it’s played for laughs as in Spiderman. But, take a minute to think about it realistically. Later, when John is brought before the military court and reprimanded for his murder, he smacks his hand onto the podium but doesn’t break it. I fully expected at least the second slap to result in the death of that podium, but nope. Given John’s already established temper and penchant for losing control, it’s very surprising that he’s able to keep his newfound abilities a secret (except from Julia Louis-Dreyfus who plays the enigmatic Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, we’ll circle back to her).
Or, is it that there’s an adjustment period in terms of fully being able to use the strength? We’ve seen Steve Rogers literally stall a flying helicopter, and John rips apart Sam’s wings, but none of his kicks or punches seriously injure Sam to the point where he can’t recover. If he really wanted the shield, wouldn’t it reason to stand he would just straight kill Sam Wilson and injure Bucky enough to ensure his victory? Although, he is still a soldier, and he only kills Nico because he felt he “had to”. It’s very possible that he pulls his punches when it comes to Sam, and leaves the full force for Bucky, but even then I’m impressed at how someone could calibrate a thing like super strength so precisely when they’ve never had it before. Hell, I’m still amazed Bucky can do it seeing as how he was programmed to kill, which means he wouldn’t have held back too often in his missions.
Anyway, the real take away from this scene is Bucky’s clear distain for Sam. While he helps his “friend” subdue the rogue Super Soldier, he is conspicuously displeased about the whole affair. When Sam is lying on the ground, recovering from the encounter, Bucky just picks up the shield and drops it nearby, he doesn’t even help Sam up! Um…why the shade Barnes??? Anyone with any sense of empathy could pick up on that moment’s “I told you so” undercurrent.
Since Walker’s murder was an international incident, and Karli has been driven underground, our heroes find themselves benched. Sam doesn’t like to feel powerless, and he’s surprisingly mum about how his wings get broken when Torres asks him. I found this an oddity at first, but upon repeat viewings I realize that Sam is doing Walker a solid. If he tells Torres that Walker broke the wings that would lead to follow up questions, which would lead to the discovery that Walker has become enhanced. Does he think Walker would suffer the same fate as Isaiah? Yeah, Walker is white, but he’s also disgraced which means the government probably wouldn’t think twice about locking him away in some lab to experiment on.
Walker, for his part, refuses to take responsibility for his actions. He has convinced himself fully that the murder was a necessary evil. Since this show does seem to tackle some very heavy subjects in the veiled guise of a being a “fun comic book show”, I wouldn’t put it past them to use Walker here as a stand-in for all the violent white males we have committing domestic terror in our country. After all, John believes himself to be a patriot. He believes that having power is the only way to secure the safety of the people around him. And, he becomes extremely defensive when he is forced to face any kind of consequences for those violent actions he feels are wholly justified. Hell, the biggest argument for this would be the after-credits scene where John is constructing his own vigilante costume!
Bucky, conversely, stays largely on point, traipsing off to Sokovia to confront Zemo. This is a surprisingly quiet conversation, with neither party getting to the point of physical hostility. In fact, there’s practically no hostility at all. Sure, Bucky makes an empty threat with an unloaded gun just to show Zemo he could kill him if he wanted to, but in the end he hands Zemo over to the Wakandans without any escalation. I am a bit surprised at Zemo’s decision not to kill Bucky. If he’s as against Super Soldiers as he claims, why let Bucky live? Does he feel like Bucky has reached the level of the famed Steve Rogers? I was expecting more from Zemo in this series, not being very familiar with his character, and there’s always reason to suspect he might return before the finale is complete, but then how would he escape the Dora Milaje?
Before we settle in Louisiana for the bulk of this episode, Sam makes a stop in Baltimore. He brings the shield to Isaiah Bradly, but the former government guinea pig wants nothing to do with it. Why? Because according to him, a black man would never take on the mantel of Captain America. It makes sense from his perspective. Despite everything he’s done, everything his fellow black brothers in arms have done for this country, they are never respected, they are never accepted. It’s a lifetime of experiences that have made him a bitter old man, and while he tries to impart this inevitable legacy onto Sam, the Falcon is having none of it. He gets where Isaiah is coming from and doesn’t begrudge him his anger, but he refuses to be ruled by the past. He tells his sister that if he doesn’t fight, then what’s the point of all the pain? He knows a black Captain America could be controversial, but he also recognizes its importance, its significance. But, most importantly, he had to come to this conclusion on his own. That’s the ultimate takeaway from this episode.
When Bucky pays him a visit to deliver a gift he had commissioned from the Wakandans, then sticks around to help rebuild the family boat, he admits that pressuring Sam to take the shield was wrong. That neither he nor Steve understood the heft of the shield in passing it down to a black man. My only qualm with this is where Bucky’s newly discovered situational awareness comes from.
I mean, he leaves their fight pretty pissed at Sam, then suddenly shows up in Louisiana having a complete change of heart? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it happens. I think Bucky and Sam’s relationship growth in Louisiana is important to the series, but considering how quickly it’s dealt with, it doesn’t feel earned. Though, there’s a chance he talked with Ayo about everything. I do believe that his offer to help fix the boat, and even his subsequent guilt trip in order to stay the night, is part of him working up to apologize to Sam. Bucky does feel bad, even if we don’t get to see the steps it took to get him there. And, for his part, Sam offers Bucky something for his trouble: good advice.
Sam recognizes that Bucky has built his life around Steve’s opinion of him, how he uses this as a way to avoid coping with his past as the Winter Soldier. Sam calls him out on his “making amends” efforts and tells him to really help the people on his list. They part ways as something akin to friends, even if they won’t call it that. Sam has decided to take on Cap’s mantle after all, and Bucky is there if Sam needs him. Will Bucky finally tell Yori what happened to his son?
Lastly, there’s Karli. Zemo says she’s fully radicalized and needs to be killed, but will it come down to that? She sees the children of GRC “refuge” camp gone, and it’s her final straw. She’s got enough warriors on her side, she’s being helped by a shady character, Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) an enemy of both Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers, and there’s a summit of the GRC that’s just calling for a reckoning.
Overall, this is a decent penultimate episode. It builds the tension for a final confrontation between the heroes and the villains. It puts our main hero, Sam, on the path to becoming what we all hope is the new age of Captain America. It introduces some new, mysterious figures – Hi, Valentina. It even calls back to the first episode!
Questions that need answers: Was it Sharon Carter who got Georges released and referred him to Karli? Is Valentina the Power Broker? How did she know Walker took the serum? Did the Wakandans paint Sam’s new wings red, white, and blue, or stick to their tried and true black and yellow? And, last but not least, will U.S. Agent play a significant role in the final showdown?