*Warning: This article contains major plot spoilers for episode two of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.*
This week’s episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, titled “The Star-Spangled Man,” built upon what the pilot episode teased on–which is a deeper exploration of the character of John Walker (Wyatt Russell), “The New Captain America.” The episode starts with Walker, who cannot believe the job’s responsibility, as he is preparing for a television appearance in Good Morning America. The cold open allows us to see the human behind the mantle, as hints are already given to the audience that Walker seems to want Captain America’s job for himself rather than for the “greater good.” Already, that’s what differentiates Walker from Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and even Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who believed giving away Steve’s shield to be irresponsible. Sam, however, didn’t know the government’s plan to thrust a new Captain America–and one that doesn’t seem to share the same values as Rogers, even though he has looked up to him.
The Good Morning America interview allows the show to give the audience quick exposition at John Walker’s background–it’s smartly written. It doesn’t waste any time to move on to the next setpiece, as Sam and Bucky travel to Munich, Germany, to take part in a mission to find the head of the Flag-Smashers. There, they see them smuggling medicine–and realize that a hostage is being kidnapped. The hostage, however, is the Flag-Smashers leader, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). It’s still unclear what is the “true” goal of the Flag-Smashers is, aside from trying to bring the world back to what it was in “The Blip,” but the group is already showing some form of promise at compelling antagonists. Sam thinks The Flag-Smashers use the super-soldier serum, but the episode doesn’t entirely lean towards that theory. Maybe the audience could be misdirected and the Flag-Smashers powers could come from something else…though we’re not too advanced in the series to know this yet.
The action sequence involving Sam/Bucky and the Flag-Smashers allows the show to introduce John Walker in action, with his partner, Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennet)–and we can already tell that he’s only in it for the “image” and the “clout” of being Captain America. He barely saves Battlestar’s life, as he’s too busy thinking about how stopping the Flag-Smashers will make him look good. This is why it’s becoming straightforward not to trust Walker with any move he makes. When he wants to partner with Bucky and Sam, which they immediately refuse, you already know that Walker doesn’t mean well–especially when he tells the duo to “stay out of my way” after they refuse, yet again, once he frees Bucky from prison.
The episode’s biggest surprise, by far, is the introduction of Isiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a super-soldier who worked for the military in the 1950s and ripped Bucky’s arm. Bradley is an essential character for the [potential] set-up of a long-rumored MCU title, The Young Avengers, since it also briefly introduces Isiah’s grandson, Eli (Elijah Richardson), who, in the comics, becomes the Patriot. We’ve already had glimpses of Wiccan and Speed in WandaVision (and they are trapped somewhere if we base this off its post-credit scene); we know Kate Bishop will appear in Hawkeye later this year, and now Eli Bradley was introduced. So maybe, just maybe (take this with a grain of salt), the Young Avengers could make their introduction at some point down the line.
There are lots to enjoy in this episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier–the individual exploration of Sam, Bucky, and now John Walker give the show much-needed depth that a two-hour film, unfortunately, can’t achieve. You can clearly tell the show’s scale is slowly building up, even though the major action setpiece this time around felt unfinished: there was lots of clunky CGI and ineffective jumpcuts to hide its televisual production–which the first episode’s setpiece didn’t do. It is still showing lots of promise for what its plot could be, and with the much-anticipated return of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) in next week’s episode, we won’t have to wait any longer to know what’s at stake, and the overall picture of the show should be clearer soon.