This week’s episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a lot more character-focused than its previous ones, finally asking questions not only to its central protagonist (Anthony Mackie) on the legacy of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)’ shield but to the audience as well. The episode opens up with the series’ best fight scene yet, reminiscent of the showdown between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and Steve at the end of Captain America: Civil War. Its tight, handheld camerawork and rapid editing give the sequence a sense of extreme brutality–with every hit given by John Walker (Wyatt Russell) to Sam and/or Bucky being more intense as the fight progresses. Walker rips Sam’s Falcon wings with his bare hands in a ferocious fit of rage after he yells out, “I am Captain America!” not realizing that Steve’s shield doesn’t solely carry strength, but moral responsibility as well.
Showrunner Malcolm Spellman has teased that this week’s episode would feature a big cameo from an award-winning actor playing a character that hadn’t been yet introduced in the MCU. After the fight sequence, Walker heads back to Washington and gets stripped of its title of Captain America. This is where he meets Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (also known as Madame Hydra), who tells Walker that she’ll call him…eventually. According to Vanity Fair, Dreyfus was slated to first appear in Black Widow in a pre-pandemic world–which her appearance could’ve made a tad more sense if audiences saw the film first. The scene feels tonally jarring and entirely out of place with the rest of the show, only serving as a quasi-tease for a future project involving the Thunderbolts, with Valentina recruiting them one by one as opposed to William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross. Though it’s unclear whether or not it would’ve made more sense if Black Widow came out first (this being one of the many things that COVID prevented), we can look forward to seeing her again in that particular movie and maybe shedding more light on the future of Madame Hydra (and potentially the Thunderbolts…which is definitely happening…someday) in the MCU.
Zemo’s incomplete arc has finally been resolved, with the Wakandans putting him in “The Raft” (the undersea prison from Civil War)–likely setting up his next appearance in another MCU project (probably Thunderbolts again). It was great to see Daniel Brühl as Zemo return in this series, not as an antagonistic figure, but as a full-fledged anti-hero who shared great banter with Sam and Bucky. The scene involving Bucky confronting Zemo at the Sokovia memorial is particularly heartfelt, with both of them making amends for what they’ve done to each other. However, the most sincere and emotionally heart-throbbing sequence of the episode is when Sam visits Isiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) again, who tells him the truth about his time in prison and what the government has done to erase him and his family, addressing the fact that the U.S. government has been erasing African American’s history for “500 years” and believing that “they will never let a Black man be Captain America.”
The show is unafraid to ask moral questions on the legacy of Captain America’s shield and the fact that the United States will never allow a black man to become the symbol of the country since America was built on the roots of colonialism, slavery, and systemic racism. Sam has then an extended reflection on how Isiah was treated and the general nature of the shield with Bucky but will continue to fight for those buried and forgotten by institutions of power that spitefully ignored and erased their history. We are then treated to a Rocky III-styled training montage of Sam honing his skills with the shield and getting ready to don a new suit…most likely Captain America-styled.
The penultimate episode was more character-driven than the previous four ones and sets up the stage for a potentially epic climax involving the Flag-Smashers and the much-anticipated return of Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre)…another candidate for Thunderbolts. It’s fairly evident that Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is likely the Power Broker, though that can be pure misdirection and the real identity of the character could be revealed in next week’s episode. However, it’s best to enjoy the show for what it is and not delve into far-fetched theories. Let’s see what happens in the finale, but it’s already looking to be better than WandaVision’s.