Previously on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier …
- Can we acknowledge that despite being out of the dating market for 80 years, Bucky’s still got it? He was so smooth he was on his date with Leah—lightly charming, accommodating, and gentlemanly. Well, up to the moment he bolted from the table and ran out. What is up with the men of the MCU bouncing in the middle of dates? You could warn a girl.
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is written and produced by a black man (Malcolm Spellman) and directed by a woman (Kari Skogland)—and it shows. With Sam, it’s not just the bank scene, but Sam’s rapport with his family, and that we don’t meet him flailing around after the blip. Sam’s got a job and is focusing on his family. He’s not making the best of the situation, he’s doing his best, and there’s a difference. And, the women, beginning with Sam’s sister and continuing in this episode, are fully developed individuals, from the start. You know women like them, or you are like them. They’re real.
- Oh, and let’s stop pondering whether the bank would have turned Sam down for a loan. There are now a billion or so “new” people on the planet who want money, Sarah is already deep in the red with the business, and I’m not sure Sam, given his history (see: Civil War and Infinity War) would be considered a good risk. That being said, I’m pretty sure Steve Rogers would get that loan, and you know it too.
And now let’s breakdown this week’s episode. Warning: This article contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know the details of this episode, stop reading now.
Meet John Walker
Let’s, shall we? The episode opens in the locker room of John Walker’s surprisingly diverse high school, where he was once, of course, a football hero. Before a big rally being filmed for Good Morning America takes place on the field, we also meet Olivia, Walker’s wife and high-school sweetheart, played by Gabrielle Byndloss, and his army buddy Lemar Hoskins, played by Clé Bennett. Both off the field and on, Walker expresses how uncomfortable he is with the PR part of the gig. He wants to get off stage and get back to work making people feel safe. Obviously it’s a call back to Steve Roger’s USO tour, and maybe the start of a little cognitive dissonance for the viewer. After all, he has a wife and best friend who love him, and they’re both black (not racist—check!). He is an expert in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue, and he’s the first soldier to receive THREE medals of honor (military expertise—check !) He’s so strong and tough MIT studied his body (near-superhuman strength— Check – wait … what? ). He’s not Steve Rogers, but he’s not unlikable (yet).
In his apartment, Bucky watches this all with the horrified version of his thousand-yard stare, which gets deadlier when Walker declares that he thinks of Steve Rogers “as a brother”. Yeah, nope. Okay, so Walker’s over-familiarity is definitely strike one. Walker spends the entire episode calling Bucky by his nickname. I kept waiting for Bucky to mutter forcefully, “People who don’t know me call me ‘Barnes’.” Or punch him. It’s obnoxious.
Getting the Band Back Together
So, I was wrong, it’s actually Walker’s rally that sends Bucky (see, I can call him that because I’ve known him for ten years) up in Sam’s face. He’s all, “Why did you give up the shield? Steve gave you the shield! Did you know this was going to happen? HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?” And Sam’s like, “Oh, hey, Buck, nice to see you, long time, did you lose your phone?” Bucky won’t let it go, and Sam doesn’t want to hear it, it’s done. He has a bigger problem to deal with—the Flag Smashers have struck again, stealing vaccines and weapons in Europe. They’re really strong, and Sam thinks they’re dealing with one of the Big Three—androids, aliens, or wizards. Sam and Bucky banter back and forth about the existence of wizards – Bucky doesn’t believe in them, so apparently they’re not aware of what went down with Wanda? These people really need to keep in touch. He accuses Sam of “chasing Gandalf”, and he knows exactly what that means because he read The Hobbit when it was published in 1937, OK? Sam’s got nothing to say to that, but the exchange is pretty funny. Bucky insists on coming along with Sam, because they’re going to talk about this damn it, and follows him out of the plane—without a parachute—to help. If by “helping”, you mean rushing in too soon and getting his butt kicked by a young woman posing as a hostage. This sets up the episode’s big action scene, involving two cargo trucks, Sam, Bucky, eight Flag Smashers and, right on time, Walker and Hoskins. The good guys all get thrown off the trucks, and the bad guys get away. Yup, Bucky confirms, those are super soldiers. Sam’s like, aren’t you the last one? Where did these guys come from?
When Walker and Hoskins offer the two men a ride to the airport, It goes about as well as you’d expect. Bucky snaps that Walker will NEVER be Captain America—Bucky is very dramatic this episode—and when John insists that they should work together to stop the Flag Smashers, Bucky flat out pouts “No!” Sam asks how they tracked the Flag Smashers down, Hoskins says they didn’t, they tracked down Sam through his Redwing (R.I.P.) drone. Walker condescendingly snorts that Redwing belongs to the government, and “we’re the government.” Strike two! John isn’t very good at making friends—this guy was a hostage negotiator? He tells them he’s “done the work” to be Captain America, but what work? Weight lifting? What does that mean? It’s not a job title. Bucky feels like his best friend’s legacy was stolen. Walker is the living embodiment of Sam’s failure to anticipate the government’s bait and switch. This isn’t about his qualifications, or his commitment. Bucky and Sam look at Walker and see a thief. Why would they want anything to do with him?
In between the thinly veiled hostility, we get some useful exposition. Walker and Hoskins are chasing the Flag Smashers as part of their mission to support the Global Repatriation Council, an organization that helps “global refugees that were displaced by the return.” So, the returned get all their old stuff back, and the leftovers have to find someplace else to live. No problems there, I’m sure. Calling people in their own country “refugees” though? Really?
The New Killmonger?
The MCU has a history of villains that are so wrong, but kind of have a point. Karli Morgenthau, super soldier and Bucky butt-kicker, is the latest. Played by Erin Kellyman, Karli’s cause, as she sees it, is just. Since the blip, more resources are going to those who returned at the expense of those left behind, causing more hunger, disease and strife. So, things were better during the blip, right? But, you can’t shove that genie back in the bottle. The newly disenfranchised love the FS, but in the end, there still just isn’t enough to go around. She’s also running from someone called The Power Broker, and she stole something – her serum? – from someone who’s sending her death threats. I’m curious to see where she ends up . She seems ripe to be the kind of villain who turns out not to be a villain at all.
Old Hero, New Tricks
On the plane ride back, Bucky, in his best sullen teenager voice, tells Sam that they should steal the shield from Walker. Sam’s not interested in becoming a federal fugitive again. Bucky has something else to tell him. Umm … there’s another super soldier living in Baltimore. He takes him to meet Isaiah Bradley, a black soldier who was given the serum during the Korean War. He’s responsible for Bucky’s missing arm—nice!—and lived to tell the tale. But after the war, the U.S. government jailed him and experimented on him for 30 years, and he’s still understandably angry about it. Sam is visibly shocked at this revelation. He’s pretty pissed that this is the first he’s heard about Isaiah, and Bucky tries to justify it as being in the older man’s best interest. Bucky’s point is that the serum has been out there forever. Their heated argument in the middle of the street gets a cop’s attention, and Sam is hassled until Bucky urges the cop to recognize him. Ironically, it’s Bucky who ends up arrested—he’s missed a mandated session with Dr. Raynor, violating the conditions of his pardon. One session? Boy, they are not kidding.
Raynor meets them at the station. Bucky thanks her for bailing him out, but it wasn’t her, it was Walker, who announces that Bucky is too valuable now to be “tied up” in therapy. Sam and Bucky are being released into his custody, he says but Raynor can talk to Bucky “and get what you need from him now.” He’ll be waiting for them outside. So, you’re going to try and force them to help you? Again, this guy was a hostage negotiator? Strike three! And also? Good luck with that.
Raynor orders Bucky into one last session, and orders Sam to join them. I thought this scene was contrived, actually. Look, I love all three characters in it, but it smacks of needing to get to a resolution between Sam and Bucky becauseweonlyhavefourepisodesleft! She chose a couple’s therapy approach because they need to work together … I guess? Raynor tries several ways to get them to talk, including pulling out the famous notebook and pen (click!). When she tells them to face each other and stare into each other’s eyes, it only turns into their usual staring contest. Help her help you, guys. Finally she just flat out asks Bucky what his problem is with Sam. “Steve believed in you,” Bucky says. “He gave you that shield for a reason, that was his legacy … and you gave it away like it was nothing. He was wrong about you, and maybe if he was wrong about you, he was wrong about me.” Wow, there’s a lot of fear and self-doubt to unpack there. Bucky is trying so hard to be good. Sam sighs that Bucky—and Steve—will have to accept Sam did what he thought was right, and he’s standing by that. To be fair, Sam probably would have given Bucky a head’s up if he’d picked up the phone. To be even fairer, it looks like they would have eventually taken the shield anyway if Sam hadn’t given to them.
What Do You WANT, Walker?
When they leave the station, Walker, smug, but looking a little rough around the edges (is Captain America supposed to have a 5 o’clock shadow?), makes his pitch again: They have a better chance of finding Morgenthau if they work together. Does he know where she is? No, but he will, and soon! Before he and Bucky can get into it, Sam steps in to point out that they’re better working separately. Walker and Hoskins have rules they have to follow, and authorizations they have to get before they make any move. Sam and Bucky are free agents and more flexible. Walker warns them to stay out of his way, but we know he’d be better off staying out of theirs.
It’s weird that he’s so eager to have Bucky and Sam on his team, isn’t it? Why? Does he think Bucky can help him fight the super soldiers? Walker did okay on his own. He doesn’t actually need either one of them! Is he being insecure? Desperate for their validation? As scripted, he’s a fascinating character. He’s the government’s perfect choice for Captain America. He looks great, he follows orders, and his credentials are impeccable. What he doesn’t have is Steve’s underdog perspective. Walker goes after whoever his superiors tell him the bad guys are, not the bullies in his path. That’s why Steve wanted Sam to have the shield. Walker has never been the underdog, and he never will be.
At the end of the episode, Bucky and Sam walk away as a team, united. I don’t think it was ever a question of whether they can work together, but if they could get past the consequences of Sam giving up the shield. They’re always going to have each other’s back. Bucky thinks that they need to go see Zemo. Zemo knows all of Hydra’s secrets, and he might be able to tell them who’s distributing all this new serum. But wait, doesn’t everyone know Hydra’s secrets? We’re going to the guy who can turn you back into the Winter Soldier? I guess we’ll see what happens next…
- Every character that’s introduced in this episode is from the comics, with more or less the same background. Oh, except Karli is “Karl.” John Walker has been around long enough to go from good to bad with a flat top to neutral to good again. The young man who opened Isaiah’s door is Eli Bradley, who was a member of the Young Avengers. That’s three members of that team we’ve seen so far – Wanda’s twins are the other two – so do we have a new series/movie to look forward to?
- Raise your hand if the Global Repatriation Council sounds like something Pepper Stark came up with. She’s probably funding it, too.
- I was kidding last week about Flag Smasher’s “One World” name, but it’s actually part of their motto. “One World, One People.” What was life like during the blip? Flashbacks, please.
- This week’s funniest scene: Bucky hears that Hoskins’ code name is “Battlestar,” and it’s too much. Bucky jumps out of that jeep so fast you would have thought they were on a date.