I think we’ve all been waiting for this moment in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. No, not the moment when we get to see Zemo cut a rug like he did last week (or for an hour if you so prefer), but when the new Captain America John Walker (Wyatt Russell) would get pushed too far. From the moment he was introduced at the end of the first episode, we’ve known this guy, who comes from a place of earned privilege and gigantic ego, was no Steve Rogers. And those familiar with USAgent know he’s got a dark side to his patriotism. I don’t think we knew just how dark that side would be, but boy, did we find out.
But first, there’s the little issue of the arrival of Ayo (Florence Kasumba), second-in-command of Wakanda’s Dora Milajae. Damn, do they make an impact on this episode. The story actually begins six years prior, as Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is helped by the Wakandans to break his Winter Soldier programming. Specifically, he gets aid from Ayo and the two become friends. Cut to the present, and Ayo is not at all happy that Bucky helped free Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), who killed their King T’Chaka. Since the Dora Milajae don’t need to be subtle, she basically threatens him to hand over Zemo in eight hours or face their wraith.
That Wakanda is now in the picture really ramps up the stakes and puts Bucky, Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Zemo on a clock. Returning to Zemo’s joint, the trio decide to approach Karli (Erin Kellyman) with a more gentle approach. Not that Zemo agrees. He sees her as a supremacist, as anybody who takes the Super Soldier serum must be. Sam shoots back that it didn’t do that to Steve Rogers, to which Zemo rightfully counters that there’s never been another Steve Rogers. That stings for Sam on multiple levels, as someone who was given the opportunity to be Captain America but rejected it.
Zemo’s a trip here. He’s got this thing with Turkish Delight candy…”Irresistible”, he purrs. He then uses it to coerce some kids to give up Karli’s location, so I guess he and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were both right. When Karli is found at the funeral of her dead friend, Sam wants to talk to her alone but who should come and blow up the spot? A snarling, aggressive Captain America and his pal Lemar Hoskins aka Battlestar (Cle Bennett), who wants to bull right in and take her down. He gives Sam just 10 minutes, which is a ridiculously short amount of time to talk down the leader of an international revolution. Just sayin’.
It’s really beautiful the way Marvel is exploring what it means to be a hero like Captain America, and what it takes to be a symbol to millions who look up to you. The conversation between Sam and Karli finds that they actually have a lot of common ground. It’s all about tactics. Karli’s story is a sympathetic one; during the five years people were blipped out of existence, refugees were welcomed everywhere. There was prosperity and openness; humanity came together and helped one another through the crisis.Then, suddenly, everyone returned and things went back to normal. Discrimination, poverty, it all came rushing back. Sam can relate, but Karli keeps murdering people (Sam killed a rack of folks in Ep. 1, just sayin’) and he can’t let that go.
Sam might’ve been able to talk Karli down if it weren’t for Cap losing his shit, busting in and attempting to take her down. She gets away, of course, but so does Zemo…who finds Karli and shoots her before smashing the vials of Super Soldier serum she was holding. Well…all except one. And guess who finds it?
So, what does an egotistical, oft-disrespected Captain America who can’t win a fight do with a serum that could give him superhuman powers? What do you think? To be fair, he doesn’t take it right away. He has a heart-to-heart with Lemar first, who assures him that having super powers just makes you more of yourself. Now, I know Lemar meant well by that, and maybe he’s blinded because John is his buddy, but the rest of us know that more of John Walker Captain America sounds like a shitty idea.
I know I’ve said this a lot, but damn…I think my favorite Marvel scene ever plays out this episode, too. Shortly after, the Dora Milajae arrive to claim Zemo, and Captain America, unaware dufus that he is, gets all uppity towards them. He even dares…DARES to put his hands on one of the Wakandan royale soldiers. Ayo and the rest of her badass crew wipe the floor with Captain America and Battlestar, even going so far as to show him they can wield his shield better. I mean, it is made of Vibranium, after all. Furthermore, Ayo shows that she can literally dis-arm Bucky anytime she wants to, which throws him for a loop.
“They weren’t even Super Soldiers…”, a sullen Cap grumbles. Uh oh, we know where this is going.
During all of this fracas, Zemo slips away. They were all fighting over him but nobody bothered to keep an eye on him. Genius. If anything, we know these guys are badly missing Steve Rogers as their tactician and the guy who knew to KEEP BOTH EYES ON THE BAD GUY!
Sam’s sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) pops up again, and it’s sad to see her storyline sidelined so badly. Anyway, she gets a call from Karli, disturbing how easily she gets her number, and wants to know who Sam really is. It seems his talk with her really did mean something, but still Karli felt betrayed when Cap decided to showoff. She wants to meet with Sam one more time to see where he really stands.
The meeting actually goes well, despite Bucky tagging along when Sam was told to come alone. Sam and Karli might have been able to come to some accord if you know who didn’t plow his way into the action. This was her plan all along, not to kill Sam but to destroy a false symbol of patriotism and an actual symbol of imperialism, which is, duh, Captain America. Cap begins plowing his way through the Flag-Smashers with surprising ease and some ridiculous displays of power. It’s clear this is not the same John Walker we’ve been watching get his ass handed to him.
Cap’s aggression is through the damn roof, but he goes absolutely nuclear when his buddy Lemar, who had been captured and escaped during the fight, gets thrown by Karli into a stone pillar. He dies instantly, and everybody is like “Awwwwww shit, we done fucked up now!” While Karli flees, Cap chases after one of her lieutenants and drills him in the back with a thrown shield. With the entire city watching and recording him on video, Captain America bashes the man repeatedly, before finishing him off with one final vicious blow.
Then, an image that I think will be iconic in Marvel lore: Captain America, framed like a true patriotic hero but has just committed an unspeakable act, his shield covered in blood.
Incredible episode that advances Sam’s feelings about becoming Captain America, while exploring what actually would mean. There’s a little moment here where Karli is told by one of her group that she should be Captain America for all of the good she’s doing for people. And the interesting thing is that her position doesn’t come from self-interest or straight up villainy, and that’s what Sam recognizes in her even if Zemo doesn’t. Under the right circumstances, Karli COULD be a good Captain America and Sam has to grapple with why he feels such a kinship with someone who has been branded a terrorist.
John Walker’s downfall is something we all knew was coming, and I think what’s remarkable is how it went down so naturally in only four episodes. That’s a credit to writer Derek Kolstad, who also penned some amazing action sequences in this film. Cap’s bruising of the Flag-Smashers has some really great shield and knife work, while the battle with the Dora Milajae is comical for how it undermines Cap so thoroughly.
With only two episodes to go there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Zemo is in the wind, the Power Broker is still out there, and what’s up with Isaiah Bradley? Is he coming back? Will Sarah get her bank loan? Can The Falcon and the Winter Soldier get to all of this with so little time left?