Previously on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier …
- I can’t get over how badly Walker bungled with Sam and Bucky. If he had actually acknowledged that they felt robbed, pickpocketed, even, that would have gone so much better. Not who he is, though.
- The show needs a more subtle take or a less subtle take on all the racism. Sam can’t get a bank loan! He’s pulled over for Standing While Black! The last Black American super soldier was put in a hole for 30 years! Are you trying to say something about being Black in America? About what being a Black Captain America would be like for Sam? Or both? If it’s both, Bucky really should have picked up on this by now. I mean, he has been watching this country for the last century.
Warning: This article contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know the details of this episode, stop reading now.
This season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is too short, and it shows in this third episode, titled “Power Broker.” Don’t get me wrong, I still love the show and the story. But the exposition is very heavy in this one, because it has to be—there are only three episodes (!) left. People act completely against character in order to move the story along and we still have more questions than there will be time to answer. Because we only have three episodes left. I’m also having difficulty buying into the troubles of the post-blip world. We find out that Karli Morgenthau’s ties to her cause are very personal, but it’s still such a morally ambiguous dilemma. It would help to see more examples of what life was like after the blip vs. what it’s like now. So far we have Karli’s aunt dying of tuberculosis—because that happens in the relocation districts, apparently—and Karli’s unfulfilled dream of being a teacher. They’d better hurry, though. Did I mention that we only have three episodes left?
Reset. Restore. Rebuild. Recoil?
We start off with a vaguely creepy ad/public service announcement for the Global Repatriation Council, which was established to get the “dusted” back to their normal lives. Again, more questions. I keep thinking of Aunt May in Spiderman: Homecoming, who came back and another family was living in her apartment. What happened next? Was the family legally obligated to move? How did they pull that off so quickly? You bring back half the population, you bring back 50 percent more lawyers, you know? Never mind the poor or middle class, rich people aren’t going anywhere without a court fight. Now my head hurts. ANYWAY …
Deal With the Devil
At Zemo’s prison in Berlin, Bucky insists on going in alone because they’ve got that whole Hydra connection. But, of course, the second Bucky steps up to the cell, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in pure mindf— mode. He starts reciting the words that turned Bucky into the Winter Soldier, even though he knows they won’t work. Still, Zemo says, “there’s something still in there.” Oh, this should be fun. Bucky gets to the point—there are new super soldiers, which means there is new super soldier serum. Is this Hydra’s doing? Oh, no, Zemo says, I tracked down and killed all of Hydra’s super soldiers, and the scientists who created them. He doesn’t know for sure where the serum is coming from, but can find out. Only he can’t do it from a prison cell, ya know, James?
Bucky takes Sam to a dusty garage nearby and tells him that they should break Zemo out of prison, because they need his help. No way, Sam says. “Hypothetically,” Bucky starts, and lays out an entire escape plan in full detail. Sam is suspicious. Bucky shrugs that it’s just a hypothetical (though we can all see where this going) … then Zemo walks in wearing a guard’s uniform. And thus begins the best part of this episode—Zemo’s presence in it. He’s dangerous in his own cool, calm, methodical, way. He wants to find the super soldiers as much as Sam and Bucky do, so for now they’re on the same side. Zemo is content to go with the flow, and mess with Bucky at any given opportunity.
Helmut Zemo—excuse me, that’s Baron Helmut Zemo—takes them to his private jet (!), but doesn’t tell them where they’re going. He lifts Bucky’s amends list, asking who “Nakajima” is, and Bucky practically puts him through a bulkhead. More mind games. Sam recognizes the journal as Steve’s from when he came out of the ice and wanted to keep track of all the news and pop culture he missed. Bucky’s reusing it for his amends list. Zemo muses that the two men really looked up to Steve, and they put him on a high pedestal, a dangerous place for a super soldier. To sum up, people forget that heroes are humans with flaws, and the deaths of innocent people at their hands are too easily forgiven. Not that he’s right, or wrong, but it’s an interesting take coming from a rich man flying in a private jet, who’s definitely caused collateral damage of his own (as we’ll be reminded more than once before this episode is over). Arrogance and myopia are remarkably even handed. Bucky quickly changes the subject—where are they going?
Stupid names and stupid problems
To Madripoor! It’s a (straight out of the comic books) island nation in Southeast Asia that’s lawless and filled with fences and killers and thieves, etc. They can’t just barge in as themselves or they’ll be killed. Well, Zemo can go as himself, and Bucky can go as the Winter Soldier, but Sam has to pretend to be an African prince named Conrad Mack, also known as “Smiling Tiger.”
This is where the silliness starts. Sam does sorta look like Conrad, but like Ralph looks like Pietro, not really and not enough. Is this a joke about black people all looking alike, and if so, why? The bartender—who’s apparently served Conrad Mack before—asks him if he wants “the usual” and Sam finds himself drinking some sort of snake venom vodka shot. Does everyone know he’s not Conrad Mack and they’re playing along? A bar denizen approaches Zemo to tell them they’re not welcome, and Zemo replies—loudly so everyone can hear—that they’re there to see Selby, not the Power Broker (a name we first heard in the last episode, and someone who seems to have a lot of sway in Madripoor). Another stupid name, Sam drawls.
When the man grabs Zemo from behind, he yells “Winter Soldier, attack!” and Bucky basically wipes the bar with the guy’s face and body. Zemo is impressed by how quickly Bucky slips back into killer mode, but Sam is worried. When they’re finally invited to meet Selby, Zemo offers a trade: her information about the new serum in exchange for control of the Winter Soldier. Selby says they’re looking for Dr. Wilfred Nagley, who also works for the Power Broker. Just then, Sam’s phone rings. Really? REALLY? I’m supposed to believe that a man who ran covert operations in the military, and was on the run for two years forgot to turn his phone off? Selby insists that he answers it and puts the call on speaker, so now we’re in a sitcom. It’s his sister Sarah, and Sam tries to play it off, but the jig is up when Sara calls him “Sam.” Whose idea was it to make Sam the weak link here? It’s completely out of character—he doesn’t make big stumbles like this. If it’s supposed to be funny, it’s not, and if it’s supposed to make sense, it doesn’t.
Selby orders her thugs to kill the three of them, but she gets shot in the chest herself before that can happen. Our guys are clearly going to get blamed for it, and yup, as Zemo, Sam, and Bucky have fight their way out of the bar, dozens of phones go off announcing a billion dollar bounty on their heads a la John Wick (the episode was written by Derek Kolstad, who also wrote the John Wick films, so he’s doing a little homage to himself). An assassin tries to get a shot off, but he’s killed by a mysterious woman in a hood. It’s Sharon Carter!
Let’s Make (Another) Deal
Sharon (Emily VanCamp) made it through the blip, but she’s still a U.S. fugitive. Still! Sam’s pardoned, Bucky’s pardoned, but Sharon is in Madripoor, and she’s a minor/major player hustling high-end stolen art and jewelry. This is not the patriotic Steve-kissing, shield-and-wings-stealing secret agent we once knew. She’s gotten cynical. She asks Sam if he gave up the shield because “the hero thing is a joke.” Doesn’t he see the hypocrisy in supporting a government that so easily changes its mind about supporting you? Sam isn’t willing to go there, and Bucky’s only take is that she’s “awful now.” Zemo casually comments that it’s not hard to see the hypocrisy, given who’s holding the shield now. Sam tells Sharon if she helps them, he will get her a pardon, “They cleared the bionic staring machine here, and he’s killed almost everyone he’s ever met.” Bucky’s like, yeah, man, I’m right here. Sharon invites them to a party she’s having for clients at her place. She might be able to get more information about Nagel then.
Everyone partying at Sharon’s is rich, drunk and dancing, including Zemo. Brühl is having the best time with this role, you guys.
In the morning, Sharon tells them that she’s found Nagel, in a makeshift lab down at the docks. Every bounty hunter in Madripoor is after them, and Sharon stands watch while the guys find Nagel. And by “standing watch” I mean kicking the ass of anyone who has the misfortune of crossing her path. In the meantime, Nagel (Olli Haaskivi) is about as odd as someone who’s been living in a shipping container for too long would be.
He doesn’t need much roughing up before spilling all the tea—he was the one using “an american test subject’s blood” to synthesize the new serum. Yup, he’s talking about Isaiah. Nagel was dusted before he could finish, so this is our first look at a civilian who went through this. But don’t get attached to him. Anyway, he unblipped, wanted to pick up where he left off, and the Power Broker (who we never see, by the way) was more than happy to oblige. He made 20 doses. Karli stole all of them. He doesn’t know where she is, but she had the balls to call him a few days ago to ask him to help someone named Donya Madani. That’s all he knows, and no, there isn’t any more serum in his lab. Zemo shocks everyone by shooting Nagel in the head. Umm, DUH. What did you think he was there for? Moments later, some bounty hunter, tired of the hand-to-hand combat bulls—, destroys the container with a rocket launcher.
Sharon, Bucky, and Sam are pinned down between containers, in what’s supposed to be a funny scene where Bucky and Sam argue about tactics and Sharon tells them to shut the hell up. This is Zemo’s cue to emerge on top of a nearby container, put on The Purple Mask of Canon (™) and blow up a gas line, killing most of the bounty hunters. Thanks, Baron! He also tussles with a couple of them, to remind us that he, too, was a Sokovian special-operative badass.
Zemo gleefully finds a classic car in another container and picks the other men up. Bucky jumps in the front, while Sam thanks Sharon for her help and promises again to get her the pardon. He looks at Bucky and sees he’s set himself up. “You’re not going to move your seat up, are you?” He asks. Nope. Sharon, jumping into her assistant’s car, realizes that she might be on the Power Broker’s bad side now.
Late, later, latest
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, John Walker is still cosplaying Captain America. He smashes the doors of a cafe in Munich, a known Flag Bash—ah—Smashers hideout, with lil’ Battlestar and the GRC police force at his back. The owner angrily denies knowing Morganthau, or where she is, insults the Americans, and then spits in Walker’s face! He’s enraged! “Do you know who I am?!” he actually yells at the man. Yes, the man replies, and he doesn’t care. Why should he? We’re getting a good look at Walker’s predicament. This is his first big test as the new Cap (ugh) and so far he has no leads and he’s getting no respect. He can’t fail this mission, but that’s where he’d headed. He tells Hoskins that they need to track Sam and Bucky (and yes, he calls them “Sam and Bucky”) and find out what they got. Anyone could have told you—you shouldn’t have asked them to work with you, you should have asked to work with them, JOHN.
He heads to Zemo’s prison after the jailbreak and figures out what the guys were up to. The warden is like yeah, Bucky and Sam were here, but you don’t think they could have done this do you? Walker thinks exactly that. He and Hoskins are going to have to go off the reservation in order to get this job done. This should be cute.
Riga or bust
In Zemo’s plane, Sam muses about Nagel and the super soldier serum, and how many people have gotten hurt to make way for Cap’s shield. Maybe he shouldn’t have turned the shield over, maybe he should have destroyed it. Bucky tells him that the shield saved a lot of lives, too, and whether Sam wants it or not, Bucky’s taking it from Walker. Sam gets a call from Torres (Hi, Torres!) who says that he tracked down Donya Madani, and as we already know, she’s dead. She was in Riga, so the boys are on their way there. “I, for one, look forward to meeting Karli,” Zemo says. How long are Bucky and Sam going to be able to control this guy? Or, honestly, how long until they start controlling him?
But Karli isn’t in Riga anymore, she’s in Vilnius, Lithuania, casing the GRC depot in broad daylight (!) with her right hand man, Dovich (Desmond Chiam). They talk about the aftermath of the unblip and stealing and injecting the serum. Again, showing and not telling would work better here—they’re not saying anything new. Karli did find out that Nagel is dead, so she must still have connections on Madripoor. She’s not worried about the Power Broker anymore, since she and her fellow Flag Smashers are the only source of the serum left.
Later that night they rob the depot, leaving the tied-up guards inside. Karli parked her car up against the wall, but she tells Dovich they’ll take his instead. She urges him to put on his seatbelt, just before her car blows up, setting fire to the building and everyone inside. Dovich is horrified, but Karli insists, “It’s the only language these people understand.” What people? Karli, Karli, Karli, you’re going to break my heart. I guess you really are the new Killmonger.
The episode wraps up with Zemo, Sam, and Bucky in Riga. Bucky breaks off from them to “take a walk” after running into a trail of black beads on the ground and walls. Oh, boy. Yup, it’s Ayo, Okoye’s lieutenant in Wakanda’s Dora Milaje. She tells Bucky that she’s “here for Zemo.” Sam warned him. Maybe we’ll find out what happened to T’Challa. Wait, I’m not sure I want to know …
- So many deep dives into Marvel’s history! One of Sam Wilson’s 70’s comic book incarnations was a pimp/hustler and dressed a lot like Conrad Mack. There’s also the lawless island of Madripoor and the Princess Bar, an establishment frequented by Wolverine and the X-Men, among others. The return of Baron Zemo and his titular purple mask. And, of course, the callback to Sam and Bucky’s car tiff in Civil War.
- No one should be surprised that John Walker only speaks English. He’s been in special ops and hostage negotiation for, what, a decade, but only speaks English. And maybe he just doesn’t speak German, but don’t most most intelligence officers speak German? Isn’t that their common language? I’m kind of kidding, but not really. I bet you Zemo and Bucky speak german.
- I still say the GRC is Pepper’s baby. The ad feels like it was made by someone used to marketing to the military.
- This week’s funniest scenes: Zemo dancing, followed by Sam yelling, “I can’t run in high heels!” Runner-up: Zemo serving the guys lunch (made from whatever doesn’t pass the smell test) on his plane, with a smile.