After last week’s opener, we see Sam Wilson, working as a government agent against lots of trials. But even more so, he has the worries of home, as his family business and homestead in Louisiana are failing. But one decision, he was sure of: surrendering the shield of Captain America to a museum. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes, the former Winter Soldier, is shown to be both wrestling with the awful things he did as an assassin and trying to make amends. But you can bet that neither of them were happy with the end of the episode, which reveal a brand new Captain America.
Recap of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, S1E2: “The Star Spangled Man”
And right from the jump, we get to know a little bit about the new Captain America, as John Walker, as he sits in his hometown high school locker room and prepares for a big pep rally. He clearly understands the power of the symbol and weight of it, as shown in discussions with his lady friend and then his new partner, Lamar Hoskins. The suit comes with expectations and he can’t just punch his way out of problems anymore.
And Walker seems to be okay with that as he takes the stage at a pep rally, at his hometown stadium that is broadcast on television as well. He fields the softball questions, makes a few jokes, kisses some babies and talks about the tour he has been on. The newscaster, who I think is labeled as Ms. Exposition in the credits, drops us the knowledge on John Walker: 3 time Medal of Honor winner, leader of attacks and hostage rescues, such a physical specimen that MIT has studied his body. He claims his most important aspect is his guts and working hard to make people feel safe.
This show doesn’t seem to sit well with Bucky, so much so that he goes to see Sam. And they argue about whether or not Sam should have given up the shield and someone else using the Captain America mantra. But he shows up right at the time that Sam is headed out to take on the Flagsmasher(s)? and shows Bucky the tape of them and their super strength. So they head out to together to Munich. But it clearly isn’t going too well, as Sam drops out of the plane and doesn’t tell Bucky the plan, which results in Bucky having to drop out of a 200 foot in the air plane, landing on his arm.
The two of them then infiltrate an abandoned warehouse and wind up in a situation where they are watching the Flagsmasher group load up trucks. After figuring out that they are outnumbered and all of them are strong, they decide the chase the truck, in part because Sam thinks Redwing shows a hostage. Buck is able to get on the truck but when he does, he discovers they are stealing medicine, specifically vaccines and that the “hostage” is really one of the Flagsmashers, as she punches him off the truck.
A battle ensues, with Falcon and Bucky fighting some obviously very super powered foes. The odds are against them when new Captain America and his sidekick show up. Bucky is eventually on the side of the truck hanging on by his arm, when Sam snags him and they go rolling in the field, declaring “Those were all supersoldiers.”
But Captain America and his sidekick have kept the fight going. Captain is able to shoot Lamar free and then save him with his shield before himself getting knocked off the truck.
They eventually all wind up in a jeep headed back to the airport. Bucky and Captain America verbally spar but they share intelligence, with Sam dropping knowledge about the Flagsmashers and them wanting to return the world to pre-blip. But then John and Lamar reveal that they tracked them via Redwing before and that they work with the Global Repatriation Council, the group that is working to deal with all the chaos that came out of the returning people from the blip. But the conversation ends when Lamar starts to get interrogated and calls himself “Battlestar.” Bucky demands the jeep stop and makes a quick exit. Sam waits just a bit longer, walking when Walker says it would be easier for him to be Captain America with Cap’s wingman at his side.
The Flagsmashers then arrive at a safehouse. Karli, the leader of the group, gets an odd text, accusing her of theft and, the unknown texter promises to take back what she took. The group then discovers that they are wanted and their pictures are everywhere online. Karli wants to know that they are all committed and it ends with them chanting “One world, one people.”
Bucky eventually tells Sam that there is someone they need to visit. And in Baltimore, they meet with Isaiah Bradley, though it takes some convincing. And it turns out Isaiah was a super-soldier enhanced individual during the Korean War. But Isaiah isn’t willing to help, because of what the government did to him afterwards, 30 years in jail or at least the laboratory equivalent. He isn’t willing to help.
Sam is furious that no one told him about Isaiah, who Bucky says he never told Steve about. It is a loud argument and the cops roll up. After dramatically changing their approach when they figure out who Sam is, Bucky is arrested for missing his therapy appointment. But at the police station, when his therapist comes to bail Bucky out, she discovers that John Walker already has and needs Bucky to be on his team. (And Dr. Rainer reveals that she knows Walker from previous missions together in field ops.)
But before she will let Bucky go, she mandates a therapy session with Bucky and Sam. Through some various exercises (some humorous and some not so humorous), the two heroes begin to work through their issues. The most revelatory moment comes when Bucky says that he wishes Sam hadn’t given up the shield because it may mean that Steve was wrong about Sam. And, that means, Steve could be wrong about Bucky. It is a pivotal moment of honesty and helps us remember how unsure Bucky must feel at times; can he really overcome his past?
As they leave therapy (and the police station), Captain America and Battlestar are waiting. They discuss back and forth, with Sam asserting that they are free agents. But Captain America says that they need to stay out of his way. Once clear of Captain America, Bucky reveals that Isaiah called him out by saying he was hurt by “his people” but that it meant HYDRA and not white folks. So, Sam and Bucky plan on going to see the creator of conflict from Captain America: Civil War: Baron Zemo!
The Flagsmashers are loading a plane when they realize that they have been caught. But it isn’t by authorities. No, they are worried about the coming attackers, who they think are “the Power Broker’s men”. One of them sacrifices himself so the others can get away. One World. One People.
Thoughts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, S1E2: “The Star Spangled Man”
Can we just start with how awesome the marching band was for the opener, leading into the pep rally for Good Morning America? (We see you Disney, with your corporate attempts at synergy.) As a closet marching band fan, it was a lot of fun. And, you know, at least at the early stage, Walker seems to be okay. Obviously, we don’t want just anyone to take up the mantle of Captain America, but he doesn’t seem awful at it at first. (And there is no doubt a comic book swerve coming that I will unpack below.)
The banter between Sam and Bucky is great, when used for comedy and when not. From their argument at the hangar about Sam giving up the shield, to their couple’s therapy moment, it is a genuine, real chemistry that makes their partnership work. (One of my favorite lines was Bucky claiming the name “White Wolf” from his recovery days in Wakanda.)
The Flagsmasher(s) is interesting to see how they develop and how it may be different from the comics. In the comics, Karli is Karl. The comic backstory is that Karl is the child of a political official who is killed in an overseas incident who becomes committed to removing nations and flags because all they do is breed violence.
Bucky getting to play like a 100+ year old man is pretty dang funny. His “Stop the car” at just the name “Battlestar” gave me some serious giggles, as did his line about having read The Hobbit when it was just published.
The meeting with Isaiah Bradley is phenomenal from the comic book lover standpoint. He was introduced as a character that had superserum injected into himself, much like Steve Rogers. In the comics, it was around the same time as Steve’s transformation but they seem to have moved it into the Korean War for the show. The most important thing is that the story is based on the sadly true journey of men that were involved in the experiments known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where African-American men were given syphilis and not treated for it for 40 years, so the government could see the results of the disease. Potentially, just as important for the comics, Isaiah Bradley’s grandson eventually takes on a title as a Young Avenger, making just one more potential member of that group come to life in the MCU.
The meeting with the Baltimore police was really heavy handed and felt like a cheap way to earn a deeper point: the people with power in political circles cannot always be trusted. It is a theme that should run through the show. As soon as he surrendered the shield, Sam gave the government the power and they quickly created a new image and warrior. But Bucky knows the truth, through his own experiences and through knowing about people and things like Isaiah Bradley: power that is unmitigated always seems to turn up evil.
“The Power Broker’s men.” Boy, howdy, does this open a big ole can of warms from Marvel Comics. Part of it is simple and comes from just the name: the Power Broker was a man who was willing and able to do experiments on folks to give them superpowers. That immediately seems to suggest that he is involved with the Flagsmashers and their super gifts. But he was also involved in all kinds of creations of others in the comics, most notably nearly the entire roster of the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, which was the WWE for superpowered folks. Are the folks chasing down the Flagsmashers going to be UCWF superstars? That could provide some amazing comedy!
And next week, I think we get to see the sad, dark turn that happens in Captain John Walker’s world and life. Buckle up. It could be brutal.