For someone who “consistently makes the right decisions in the heat of battle”, Fake Cap is pretty bad at doing the right thing. Last week’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode ended with him beating a man to death with his shield, and this week’s brilliant, almost feature-length episode starts with him trying to take on both Sam and Bucky at the same time. To be fair, he very almost wins the fight.
Ripping off Sam’s wings and knocking Bucky unconscious, Fake Cap screams “I AM Captain America!” before the two Avengers finally get the better of him, leaving Sam to sit alone sobbing in an abandoned warehouse, slowly rubbing all the blood off of Captain America’s shield. After last week’s closing shot, it’s yet another reminder of just how grown up this show can be when it wants to be – and how far it’s come since 2011’s swashbuckling Captain America: The First Avenger.
Back in Washington, Fake Cap, now just John Walker, is dishonourably discharged – now just another super-powered jock without a costume. Worse than that, he has something to prove – and he’s got just the right mix of righteous rage and super-strength to get the attention of Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, making a great appearance here for any Veep and Seinfeld fans). A shady spy in the comics who plays both sides of the war, we only get a brief introduction in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before she vanishes back into the rumour mill.
As tightly wound as this week’s episode is, it still manages to cover a lot of ground. Back in Latvia, Karli is regrouping. Back in Sokovia, Zemo is getting arrested by the Dora Milaje. Back in Baltimore, Sam goes back to visit Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly).
Spelling out the plot for the (brilliant) comic series, Truth: Red, White & Black, Bradley cuts straight to the real conflict at the heart of the Captain America debate. Why should he, or Sam, wear a Stars and Stripes uniform for a country that doesn’t care? Specifically, why should a Black American fight for a racist country with a long history (and a longer present) of violent discrimination? Captain America is supposed to be an icon, but what does he actually represent?
“You got that white man’s shield,” Bradley says. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be”. It’s an oversimplification of something much bigger than Marvel wants to deal with here, but it’s great to see them (and Disney) asking some of the right questions, deliberately making things difficult for the audience.
Sam goes back home to figure things out. In true ’80s action movie style, the show gives us a hilarious little musical montage while he stares out at the horizon and briefly considers giving it all up to become a shrimp boat captain (it really should have been Phil Collins on the soundtrack). Bucky turns up and does the same, and the show spends a solid five minutes watching the two Avengers go shrimpin’ together before destiny comes calling.
Picking up the shield again (“It feels weird”) Sam plays frisbee with Bucky as the show toys with fans – giving them both a hero shot every time they catch it and briefly look like the new Cap. Finally settling in the right hands, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier gives us all the moment we’ve been waiting for since the end of Avengers: Endgame – Sam officially becomes the new Captain America. Crutially though, it does it in a way that means something; feeling complicated, muddy and worthwhile.
There might be only one episode left, but the show already feels like it’s done what it set out to do. Next week’s showdown will likely give us all the explosions (and cameos?) we’ve been expecting, as well as giving Bucky his own much needed resolution, but the important job is done: we have a proper new Captain America, and he already feels better than the last one.
For frequent flyers
- Stick around for an end credit sting to watch Walker forging his own shield – smelting down his medals of honor to give it extra patriotism. Clearly, he’s not giving up just yet.
- What’s in the box that Bucky bought Sam from Wakanda? New wings? A new Cap costume?
- Sharon makes a mysterious call, getting someone out of prison in exchange for cash. Since Batroc (George St-Pierre) turns up again to help Karli right at the end, do we assume that she’s playing the other side? Does this give extra weight to the fan theories about her being the Power Broker?