Previously on The Falcon And The Winter Soldier: Sam, Bucky, and Zemo continue working together to find Karli and her fellow Flag-Smashers and stop them from inflicting any more attacks that claim the lives of innocent people, and also from using the Super-Soldier Serum they have stolen in order to increase their numbers. They also have to deal with Ayo and her sisters-in-arms in the Dora Milaje, who are not happy about Zemo breaking out of prison, as well as Captain America 2.0 and Battlestar, who also aren’t happy about Zemo’s involvement and whose lack of patience and restraint result in things getting worse for nearly everyone involved. Battlestar ends up dying at the superpowered hands of Karli after she hits him much harder than intended, and Cap 2.0 lashes out by using his shield to brutally murder one of the Flag-Smashers, only to realize that he’s done this in front of dozens of witnesses, all of whom are recording this act with their cell phones.
THE STORY SO FAR: Sam and Bucky confront Walker and let him know that he needs to surrender the shield and turn himself in, a suggestion that Walker does not appreciate and refuses to take into consideration. Karli and the Flag-Smashers are still on the run and decide to make one last move to let the government know that they will not be pushed around by them any longer. After speaking once more to Isaiah Bradley and spending time at home with his family and with Bucky, Sam decides whether he should accept the shield and mantle of Captain America and whether it really is a step worth taking.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: The opening fight sequence between Sam and Bucky vs. Walker (though I was really expecting Bucky’s fighting skills against Walker to be a hell of a lot better, and it almost seems as if the writers Nerfed him just for the sake of dramatic tension), and how it becomes very clear during the fight that Walker has reached his breaking point. The mantle of Captain America is something that he is no longer fit to bear, and is no longer capable of handling. (It’s no accident that we see Walker angrily lashing out at Sam and Bucky and yelling “Why are you making me do this?!” as they attempt to take away something that he rightfully believes is his: the shield, the power, respect, and authority that comes with being Captain America); Bucky dropping the shield on the ground next to Sam (his silent way of letting him know once again that he never should’ve given up the shield in the first place), followed by Sam picking it up and wiping the blood off. Walker dealing with the consequences of his actions (his discharge from the military, his loss of rank, pension, and his ability to serve as Captain America) and his anger at being used by the government and getting kicked to the curb despite all of his accomplishments and everything he did because he followed their orders. Sam’s conversation with Isaiah Bradley, who makes it very clear at how much the country took away from him (it’s easy to compare Isaiah being locked away and separated from his wife to Steve ending up in the ice for seventy years and separated from Peggy, except that going back in time to reunite with his wife so they can be together again will never be an option for him), how much suffering they put him through both physically and emotionally, and how he thinks that Sam would be a fool to think that the government would ever let him be Captain America, and that no self-respecting Black man should even want to be Captain America.
Sam heading back home to Louisiana to be with Sarah and her sons, as he calls in many a favor from the community to help with boat repairs, as well as Bucky showing up unexpectedly to help out. Sam and Bucky’s conversation with each other while training with the shield, as they discuss how complicated the legacy of the shield is, how it wasn’t entirely fair for Steve and Bucky to put that responsibility on Sam without even considering what that responsibility means for a Black man (resulting in Bucky apologizing to him for constantly giving him a hard time, and not trying to see things from Sam’s point of view), and Sam telling Bucky that if he wants the nightmares to stop, if he wants to start making peace with his past as the Winter Soldier, he needs to do the work and think less about making himself feel better and more about reaching out to the loved ones of his victims in order to help them feel better.
Oh, and last but definitely least, Walker meeting Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine for the very first time, who is played by none other than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
SERIOUSLY?! JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS? THAT JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS?!: Yup! Eight-time Emmy winner, Mark Twain Prize for American Humor recipient, comedic legend, and breast cancer survivor Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
SWEET FANCY MOSES! SO I’M GUESSING THIS WAS THE MAJOR CAMEO APPEARANCE THAT PEOPLE WERE TALKING ABOUT FOR THIS EPISODE?: It certainly was, as we see Contessa Valentina approach Walker and let him know that according to her, he didn’t do the wrong thing when he killed Nico, and that his value has quadrupled now that he has the Super-Soldier Serum flowing through his veins, which is why she’s very interested in the two of them doing business together very soon. (According to this Vanity Fair article by Pajiba alumnus Joanna Robinson, Julia was supposed to make her first appearance as Contessa Valentina in Black Widow, but due to the constantly delayed release dates, we won’t be seeing her in that film until July 9)
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: Karli and the Flag-Smashers still aren’t doing much to hold my attention or make me care about their newest plan of attack to stop the GRC voting on The Patch Act, even if it involves using Batroc to try and kill Sam. (Nothing against Batroc or his portrayer, legendary MMA fighter Georges St. Pierre, but part of me wishes that Crossbones were still alive so that he could be the recurring villain making an appearance here instead, and not just because that character did a better job conveying that he’s a nasty piece of work). Her anger and frustration are understandable (I couldn’t help but angry-sigh in agreement upon hearing Karli exclaim, “How many times do we have to pay with our lives just to be citizens of this goddamn planet?!,” and if you have to ask why, then you clearly haven’t been paying enough attention), but none of that anger and frustration translates into making this storyline about her and the Flag-Smashers as interesting and compelling as it should be. (Especially if rumors are true that the show’s original storyline of Karli and the Flag-Smashers stealing vaccines to help their people was canceled due to the pandemic). The scene between Bucky and Zemo would’ve been just fine without the overdramatic gesture of Bucky dropping his ammo on the ground in slow-motion to prove that his pistol was empty and that he wasn’t going to kill Zemo.
DOES STEVE ROGERS APPEAR IN THIS EPISODE?: No.
SHARON CARTER?: Yes, and when we do see her, she’s on the phone with none other than Batroc, in which she recruits him to lend a helping hand to Karli and the Flag-Smashers. And as it turns out, she also recruited and paid him for his assignment in the very first episode, in which he and members of the terrorist group L.A.F. kidnapped an Air Force captain, who ended up being rescued by Sam.
SO…DOES THIS MEAN THAT SHARON CARTER REALLY IS THE POWER BROKER? OR THAT SHE’S WORKING WITH THE POWER BROKER?: I almost want to say yes to both questions, but Sharon led Sam and Bucky directly to Dr. Nagel (the person who could’ve provided more of the Super-Soldier Serum to the Power Broker), only for him to get killed by the supersoldier-hating Baron Zemo, and if Sharon was the Power Broker or working on behalf of the Power Broker, he would’ve sent Batroc to kill Karli and the Flag-Smashers (and take the vials of Super-Soldier Serum from them, since it doesn’t seem likely that Power Broker knows that Zemo destroyed nearly all of them) instead of helping them. So…I’m thinking that Sharon has her own agenda and is still doing her own thing for reasons unknown, reasons that won’t become crystal-clear until next week.
BARON ZEMO?: He makes a brief appearance in which we find out what happened to him and where he went after escaping from Sam and Bucky’s custody and evading capture by the Dora Milaje. Turns out he went back home to Sokovia, in order to pay tribute to his family at the Sokovia Memorial statue, which is where Bucky finds him, and where Ayo and the Dora Milaje take him back into custody. It’s also where Bucky asks Ayo for a favor, which turns out to be a brand-spanking-new Wakandan-made suit for Sam to wear as a replacement for his last suit being destroyed by Walker. (Which we don’t actually get to see in this episode, as that’s clearly going to make its debut in next week’s finale)
And it also looks as though Bucky and Ayo are still on good terms with one another, despite her telling him that he’ll need to stay out of Wakanda temporarily due to him helping break Zemo out of prison. Which probably came as a shock to the many people on Twitter who spent this past week cursing Ayo’s very existence for how she activated the fail-safe in Bucky’s vibranium arm and literally disarmed him, despite the fact that Batman has fail-safe plans for all of his teammates in the Justice League should either of them join the Dark Side of the Force for any reason, and he’s seen as an absolute badass because of that.
LEAH, THE BARTENDER?: No.
YORI, BUCKY’S FRIEND?: No.
WHITE VISION, A.K.A. iVISION: No. Whereabouts remain unknown.
DO ANY OF THE AVENGERS APPEAR IN THIS EPISODE?: No.
DO SAM AND BUCKY GET ON EACH OTHER’S NERVES?: Not really, though Sam does warn Bucky about flirting with Sarah, and their attempts at dismantling the boat’s engine and repairing it really quickly before Sarah will notice doesn’t work out for them both, as Sarah ends up noticing and shoos them away so she can work on the boat without them.
DO SAM AND BUCKY MAKE OUT?: No, they don’t make out, but they do clasp hands for a minute.
DO WE GET TO SEE SAM AND/OR BUCKY SHIRTLESS?: Yes. There are some brief shots of Sam being shirtless while he’s exercising and working up a sweat during his training montage near the end of the episode.
ANY EASTER EGGS WE SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR?: Contessa Valentina has history in the comics as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who would become romantically involved with Nick Fury, who would then go on to be revealed as a Russian mole whose mission was to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D., and who would later go to become Madame Hydra. (This is also not the first time that Contessa Valentina has been seen in live-action, as she also appeared in the 1998 Marvel TV-movie Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and was played by Lisa Rinna opposite David Hasselhoff, who played Nick Fury). When Zemo is captured by the Dora Milaje, Ayo tells Bucky that he will be taken to The Raft where he will continue his imprisonment, which is also where Sam, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man were imprisoned at the end of
The Avengers 2.5 Captain America: Civil War before Captain America broke them all out. And if you listen to Isaiah telling Sam about how he went behind enemy lines to rescue his fellow soldiers and bring them all home instead of leaving them to die and be swept under the rug by their superior officers, it sounds exactly like what Steve did to rescue Bucky and their fellow soldiers in Captain America: The First Avenger. The difference being that Steve was hailed as a hero and given permission to start kicking ass on his country’s behalf as Captain America, whereas Isaiah was thrown in jail, had his identity and accomplishments erased from history, and was repeatedly forced to undergo painful experimentations in order to make more super-soldiers who looked more like Steve and nothing like Isaiah.
ANY FAN THEORIES SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE ACROSS THE INTERNET BECAUSE OF THIS EPISODE?: Sam’s wings end up being destroyed by Walker during their fight as a result of Walker tearing them to pieces with his bare hands, and Sam ends up leaving them with Joaquin Torres instead of bringing them back to the States. Which has led some fans to believe that Torres will follow in the footsteps of his comics counterpart and eventually repair the wings so that he can take over as Falcon if and when Sam takes over the mantle of Captain America. Zemo being sent to The Raft, which opens up the possibility of another Marvel series on Disney Plus where Zemo, along with several other criminals imprisoned there as well, could possibly end up recruited by Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross to become the Thunderbolts. And Walker constructing his own shield, while also being approached by Contessa Valentina, means that it’s very likely that this season (series?) will end with Walker becoming U.S. Agent, who is pretty much the complete antithesis of Captain America.
ARE THERE ANY SCENES DURING THE CLOSING CREDITS?: Yes, there is. Much like WandaVision, we finally start getting a mid-credits scene in the episodes as the season is about to come to a close. And in this episode, we get a brief glimpse of Walker using some scrap metal, combined with his own medals, to construct his very own version of Captain America’s shield.
TO SUM IT ALL UP: Despite Karli and the Flag-Smashers continuing to not really add much to the show overall (and none of that is the fault of Erin Kellyman, who has been doing impressive work as Karli, even though the material she’s working on could be much better), this was one of the strongest episodes so far this season. Much of that was due to the pace slowing down so that the focus could shift to Sam, his time spent with Bucky and with his family, and his struggle with what it truly means to be a Black man trusted with the responsibility of becoming the next Captain America in a country that clearly doesn’t want him or any other Black man representing them as Captain America. (Kudos to Anthony Mackie and Carl Lumbly for acting the hell out of their scene together)
It was great to see Sam and Sarah confide in one another about their family, their history, and the struggles that they both deal with because of the color of their skin. It was also great to see his friendship with Bucky deepen, without the constant bickering that sometimes seemed like it was trying too hard to wring laughter from viewers, as they were honest about what the next step is that each of them need to take in order to gain some peace of mind. As cool as it was to see Sam training and becoming more comfortable with the shield (especially without the super-strength and enhanced reflexes that Steve Rogers had in his favor when using it in battle), the most memorable image is that of Sam’s nephew, AJ, touching the shield while looking up at Sam with pride as well as hope for the future where more superheroes look just like him.
All I could think while watching that moment onscreen was how there are people in this world, particularly men and women in uniform with badges and guns, who would look at a young Black boy like him and see nothing but a dangerous threat who doesn’t deserve to live, and who needs to be shot down with little to no hesitation or remorse. It really isn’t something that I want to envision whenever I look at Black children, but no matter how many times that Black people keep telling everyone that our lives matter, this country has given and keeps giving me reasons to wonder which Black child and which Black adult will be next in having their name become yet another hashtag.
From the very moment that he first appeared onscreen at the end of the pilot, John Walker was a character that viewers just loved to hate, and that was before he said a word. But with each episode, Wyatt Russell did a fantastic job in showing us the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to John Walker as Captain America, and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do with this character next, both in the finale and in any other project that Marvel/Disney would be wise to make him a part of.
Only one episode remains, and here’s hoping that this finale sticks the landing and makes viewers much happier compared to how a lot of them felt after watching the finale of WandaVision. (Then again, I’d like to think that the people watching this show aren’t expecting Magneto or mutants or Mephisto or the Multiverse to appear in next week’s finale, so here’s to keeping our expectations in check and not believing every theory that appears on Reddit)
This episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has been brought to you by “Born In The U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen.
And by “Supper Time” by Ethel Waters.
Header Image Source: Marvel Studios