Previously on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier …
- Did you see the meme I created? I mean, I think it’s funny.
- I’m losing hope that we’re going to see Dr. Raynor, packing or not. Sigh. It’s just as well because, as far as we know her two most notable clients were John Walker and Bucky Barnes (and Sam accomplished more in one day than she did in months). So …
- I can’t believe this is almost over…
My favorite thing about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is that, even when the end of a plot line is predictable, the journey there and back never is. We’ve known from the first trailer that Sam and Bucky were going to get the shield back. We could make an educated guess that John Walker would take the super serum and become a problem. But I love the way the series—and, MCU as a whole, really—uses fight scenes as jump off to character development. There are always consequences, and their reaction to them matters. It can lead to personal course corrections or, to paraphrase Lemar, they can decide to become more of who they already are. The truth will set you free, if you can get past it pissing you off.
I could give you a dozen examples from the movies, but let’s start with John Walker right now. We pick up with the soon-to-be former Captain America immediately after battering a civilian to death in the public square in a berserker rage. He is literally on the run, bloody shield pumping, taking refuge in an abandoned warehouse.
Warning: This article contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know the details of this episode, stop reading now.
Exit Captain America
John Walker is a broken man. He took this gig because he wanted to finally do the right thing, but he only committed more atrocities. His reaction to the very public disaster is to justify what he’s done, to himself, to Bucky and Sam, and later to the very people who gave him the shield. Instead of acknowledging that he killed an unarmed, innocent person and completely screwed up, he goes into full denial mode. He’s convinced himself that he did nothing wrong, that Sam and Bucky sure as hell aren’t taking the shield from him, and that there’s a way out of this where he’s still Captain America. He feels there’s plenty of blame to go around—this wouldn’t have happened if Sam and Bucky had joined his team! It also wouldn’t have happened if he’d stayed home and gone to therapy, but you know, whatever.
The military hearing is pretty harsh. He totally deserves to be stripped of his rank, but they take everything, including his pension, and slap him with a “less than honorable discharge.” More truth: Walker handled the job they gave him very badly, aside from being emotionally unfit to do it. On the other hand, as Val—we’ll get to her in a minute—tells him, it’s clear that if he hadn’t gone viral, the government would have happily pretended nothing happened. They’re saving face, and so he’s joining the long line of “Captains” that have been disavowed or disposed of. And let’s be clear about this: They have rejected every single one. They tortured Isaiah. Never even gave Sam a chance, and as much as they’re like, “Steve Rogers is an icon! We need someone just like him!” Steve was a consistent pain in the government’s ass. He broke their rules early and often. He refused to sign the Segovia accords, broke his serial killer BFF out of prison, and became a federal fugitive for two years. Steve lived by his own judgment, and if that happened to coincide with the government’s interest, then they were lucky. In the hearing, Walker declares, “I AM Captain America,” and he’s right—he’s exactly what they wanted him to be, but he made the mistake of doing the quiet, dirty work out loud.
The Road to Denial is Very Crowded
After prying the shield from Walker’s severely burned hands, Sam and Bucky talk about Karli’s next move. Sam thinks she’ll double down, and boy does she ever. Lemar and Nico’s untimely deaths caused the GRC to raid the camp and arrest or relocate the residents. When Karli comes back and sees the damage, she’s incensed: “How many times do we have to pay with our lives to be citizens of this GODDAMN PLANET?!” And that … is where she lost me.
The GRC-post-unblip-refugee storyline is by far the weakest part of the series. Five episodes in, and the viewer still has no idea what the world looked like during the blip, or what happened immediately after everyone returned. It’s been six months—on the flip side, you could say it’s only been six months—which is not a long time to compensate for the 3+ billion people that suddenly showed back up. I mean, can you imagine? We don’t know if or how the “dislocated” were given a voice in what happened next. Realistically, they would have one. Karli would have been a great spokesperson before she started killing people. The world is in triage mode, and Karli refuses to see it because it’s not as emotionally satisfying as blowing up buildings and beating the crap out of people. Her new plan is to attack the upcoming GRC summit. Oh, and, Sam must die, too. She she doesn’t say why, so I’m chalking it up to teenage hurt feelings. I’m done with her until she finds some sense. And if you were wondering how Karli found out about Nagel’s death so quickly, she’s working with Sharon Carter! Bartroc meets with Karli on Sharon’s orders, bearing explosives. He wants Sam dead too, so that’s convenient.
I’ve had a theory all week that if Sharon isn’t the Power Broker, we have to get an alternative in this episode, and lo and behold, that brings us back to Val, or, as she’s formally called, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Now, if that’s not the name of a woman slumming it as “The Power Broker” I don’t know what is. She approaches Walker and his wife Olivia after his drubbing, and tells him that taking the serum (she knows!) was the best decision he’s made – it makes him “very, very valuable to certain people.” Wink! Pick up the phone next time she calls, okay? She also drops knowledge that the government doesn’t technically own the shield. Louis-Dreyfus plays this as a slightly wackier version of Zemo, and it was a little off for me. I’ve never been a big fan of hers, though.
The Winter Soldier Smiles
Finding Zemo (heh) is the first thing on Bucky’s list when he leaves Latvia, and he tracks him down at the Sokovia Memorial. Zemo, with a slight grin, informs Bucky that he’s decided not to kill him. I guess that answers Sam’s question. Zemo knows he’s done, and tells Bucky that he took the liberty of crossing his own name off the amends list. Bucky pulls a gun on him, and Zemo seems relieved? Remember, his original plan at the end of Civil War was to kill himself. But, nope, Bucky pulls the trigger on an empty gun, proving that he’s no longer the killer Zemo thinks he is. Zemo is quickly surrounded by Ayo and the Dora Milaje, who are taking him to the Raft. You know, the place that Steve broke into and out of. I’ll take that as a sign that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. Ayo warns Bucky, gently, that he should stay away from Wakanda for a while, but she calls him “White Wolf” again, so progress. Bucky asks her for one more favor, like he’s not already in the hole.
When he joins up with Sam in Louisiana, Bucky is the most relaxed we’ve ever seen him . He smiles repeatedly! He plays with Sam’s nephews! He drinks beer! He flashes a grin and flirts with Sarah, who’s like, wait, where did my panties go? But, he confesses to Sam that he still has nightmares (which he previously lied about to Dr. Raynor). Sam replies that Bucky’s amends list was about making himself feel better about what he did as the Winter Soldier. Instead of seeking revenge on their behalf, Sam suggests he try “being of service” to the people he hurt. In return, Bucky apologizes to Sam for not understanding how hard it would be for a Black man to be Captain America, and for giving Sam such a hard time about giving up the shield: “It’s the closest thing I got left to a family. When you retired, it felt like I had nothing left. It made me question everything.” What happened with Walker wasn’t Sam’s fault, Bucky says. For the first time, he feels close to another person he can trust as family. See? Therapy works. Eventually.
Enter Captain America?
At the end of their fight with Walker, Bucky tosses the bloodied shield next to Sam and stomps off, and Sam seems fascinated by all the bloody blood on it. Torres (yay!) shows up, and confirms that Karli has ghosted, and since she has connections everywhere, it’s going to stay that way until she makes a move. “Sometimes there’s nothing to do until there’s something to do,” he shrugs. Torres is more concerned with the state of the wings than the state of the shield. Sam tells Torres to keep them, and walks away with the shield.
Sam’s reaction to Walker’s breakdown (I’m being kind by calling it that) is to spend the rest of the episode trying to answer two questions: 1. Can he himself be Captain America? and 2. Should he? First stop: Isaiah Bradley. Sam asks him what happened to him, and the story is remarkably familiar, if you saw the first Captain America movie. There were a group of Black super soldiers, and few got captured in Korea. The brass were going to blow up the POW camp, but Bradley broke out and rescued them. Unlike the fanfare Steve received when he did the same thing, Isaiah was re-captured, tortured, and the other super soldiers died anyway. He bitterly tells Sam that he’s a fool to think this country would ever let a Black man be Captain America. Besides, why would you pledge allegiance to a country that won’t do the same for you when the chips are down? Good question. Sam decides it’s time to go home, and get more perspective on what’s at stake.
The boat is in such bad condition that Sarah can’t even sell it, so Sam calls in favors from the locals to get it done. Bucky shows up just in time to add some extra muscle, bro bonding, and a gift from Wakanda. Out on the lawn, tossing around the shield, he tells Bucky, and himself, that what Steve wanted doesn’t really matter, “You gotta stop letting people tell you who you are.”
The last stop on the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” tour is Sarah. He’s about to paint over the name of the boat when Sarah stops him and says that they can’t sell the boat, it’s their family’s legacy. Yes! Sarah is very proud and appreciative of how he’s stepped up to save the world, and save his family, and asks, “Are you really going to let Isaiah Bradley get in your head?” Sam confesses that if he were in Isaiah’s shoes, he would feel the same way, but that’s not an excuse to stop fighting, or the pain and suffering was a waste.
Decision made, let the fabulous Rocky training montage begin. Mostly seems to involve learning to do gymnastics while catching the shield, and not getting hit in the face with it. Sam is the show’s steady moral center—he actually is a good man, trying to do the right thing. And like any good man, when he fails, he makes it right and tries again. As the new (non-state sanctioned) Captain America, he can wash some of the blood off the shield. Cross your fingers.
Torres finally calls. Break’s over—Karli popped up in New York City, where the GRC Summit is about to start. As we already know, she wants to stop their vote on the Patch act, which involves a return to original borders and forced relocations. Sam opens the case from Wakanda, but of course we don’t see what’s inside. All the pieces are set for a final showdown.
Comic book canon alert!
Cool, there’s an end credit scene! Walker is soldering a new shield. Huh, I didn’t know he could do that. Doesn’t he strike you as a guy that would farm that out?
- “Uncle Sam! Uncle Sam!” Yeah, I see what you’re doing there.
- In every episode, Karli is getting a little more side eye from her crew. We’ll see how that plays out.
- Funniest scene: Sam’s nephews wake Bucky up by making too much noise playing with the shield. Bucky’s little wave, sending the boys fleeing, is everything.
- Speaking of comics canon, Torres becomes the Falcon to Sam’s Captain America at one point. I love Torres, he’s cute and useful, a winning combination.
Lastly, here’s a bonus pic of Bucky smiling, because it happens all too rarely:
Join me on Clubhouse today at 1pm PST to discuss this episode and all things TFATWS! Search for me @elizabethcoop, or the room, “You and Me and Sam and Bucky.” My special co-hosts will be Watercooler managing editor Cindy White, and my brother, comic book expert and digital illustrator Rich McNamee. Click here to join!