*Warning: This article contains spoilers for episode four of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier*
Ok–it’s potentially safe to say that, after four episodes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is miles better than WandaVision in terms of storytelling. Even though its structure is more paint-by-numbers, the longer runtime and a safer approach allow for better character development and a much more exciting story by consistently building upon what it initially started to set up, not just with its plot but with its central characters too.
Case in point: The Flag-Smashers become miles more interesting this time around, as they are allowed time to develop their motivations in a great scene where Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) confronts Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) on her beliefs. Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) thinks the Flag-Smashers are supremacists, akin to the Nazis, Ultron, and…The Avengers, but the group rejects the mere idea of supremacy. Morgenthau believes she is starting a revolution by freeing individuals who the government has oppressed once everyone came back from Thanos’s snap, and most ideas Sam agrees with. However, the way she is doing it, by murdering innocent people in cold blood without ever thinking about her revolutionary quest’s moral aspect, is the only thing that keeps Sam from joining the group. Kellyman is excellent in the scene, and so is Mackie, who shares his most heartfelt scene of the show thus far. The sequence gives greater insight to the Flag-Smashers than any other brief sequences the audience has spent with them thus far and better characterizes Karli Morgenthau’s motivations.
Morgenthau isn’t afraid of killing people if it achieves her goals, scaring Sam and putting John Walker (Wyatt Russell) in a total state of panic. Since Walker’s introduction in episode two, we’ve been constantly teased that he was a cocky, self-absorbed individual who only took Captain America’s mantle for himself, without ever realizing what the symbol meant for humans around the world and Steve Rogers. In the episode’s culminating moment, the audience is finally treated to seeing John Walker in his true colors. After taking the super-soldier serum, he takes Cap’s shield and fills it with blood in an unhinged, psychotic fit of rage by killing a member of the Flag-Smashers, after seeing Karli murder Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett). Remember what Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) said in Captain America: The First Avenger: the serum amplifies everything “inside”. Good becomes great; bad becomes worse. John Walker was already tormented, having survived the war in Afghanistan, and taking the super-serum has only amplified his erratic behavior. Show creator Malcolm Spellman and episode writer Derek Kolstad have crafted a fantastic character whose most significant moment will ultimately become his downfall from public perception.
In the two episodes that preceded this week, he constantly spat on Steve’s shield without knowing–always impulsively thinking he’s doing the right thing, instead of embracing the symbol and the personality of Cap. This is also why he’s such a compelling character–and brilliantly performed too by the great Wyatt Russell, who most likely gives the best performance of his entire career. Most likely, since the show’s not done yet–but he is, by far, the best character of the whole series.
The episode also explores Bucky (Sebastian Stan)’s time in Wakanda–freeing himself from the command that made HYDRA control him as The Winter Soldier. Ayo (Florence Kasumba)’s appearance in this episode comes in the form of a fight scene with another member of the Dora Milaje and Walker/Hoskins, who both want Zemo in their possession. While they fight in an excitingly kinetic action scene, Zemo escapes, leaving his fate to be likely revealed in next week’s episode. The apparition of Wakanda in this series makes lots of sense since Zemo murdered King T’Chaka (John Kani) and Bucky spent a year there but also ties it into the wider MCU, without ever feeling forced.
There are lots to love in this week’s episode of The Falcon and Winter Soldier, as it pays off many character arcs that were set up in previous episodes and gives us more anticipation for the series’ last two episodes, which are gearing up for a fantastic finale. The final picture will become much clearer in next week’s episode, already being teased by Spellman as the most emotional of the show, featuring an apparently “big” cameo. Who could it be? Who knows. It’s much better to not speculate and/or theorize and enjoy the show for what it is: a fantastic character drama with exciting action sequences and spectacular acting performances.