Whew, There Is a Lot to Unpack in Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Illustration for article titled Whew, There Is a Lot to Unpack in Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Image: Marvel Studios

Full spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier below.

OK, y’all. We’re five weeks in and I can safely say I really dig The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. From both a character and thematic standpoint, it’s the messiest Marvel story so far, and ya boy loves some mess. After opening with a banger of an action sequence, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier effectively slows things down for its penultimate episode.

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Episode five opens with John Walker posted in a warehouse visibly struggling to process the fact his best friend was just murdered and he just killed an unarmed man in the middle of the street. Bucky and Sam quickly find Walker and he tries to snap back into Captain America mode.

Our titular heroes weren’t having that though, and asked Walker to turn over the shield. Unable to see how his actions led to this moment, Walker essentially accused them of plotting to take the shield. The three throw down in a brutal fight that sees Walker really try and double down on his murderous turn, attempting to kill Sam and Bucky with the shield multiple times throughout the fight.

They eventually get the shield off of Walker, but Sam’s wings are destroyed in the process. After this admittedly fantastic brawl, the episode pumps the brakes and gets back to the messy, complicated world at the heart of the series.

During a congressional hearing regarding his actions, Walker becomes the embodiment of “the worst person you know made a really great point.” Walker is stripped of the title Captain America, has his benefits taken away, and only narrowly avoids court martial. Walker argues he has done everything his country asked of him—and that he is exactly who his country asked him to be.

He’s not wrong. Simply looking at America’s history of being an imperialist terror around the world, it’s a little hypocritical that the senators are mad at Walker for doing the job they asked him to do. They’re not mad he killed the Flag Smasher; they’re mad he did it in public.

It’s a point that Valentina Allegra De Fontaine (in a fun cameo from the always great Julia Louis-Dreyfus) makes when she tells Walker that the people she works for may have use for his super-soldier strength.

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Sam takes the shield to Isaiah Bradley, the first Black super-soldier, and wants to know why his story turned out so different from Steve’s. The answer is simple: there’s two Americas. Steve storms a POW camp to free his captured friends and he’s celebrated as a hero. Isaiah did it and he was sent to jail and experimented on.

I really enjoyed how Sam was almost on that respectability tip when he initially met Bradley. He couldn’t believe that a Black man who served his country could be jailed and disregarded. I think, as Black people who’ve lived full lives of being Black, it might be a little weird to see Sam still so incredulous about the fuckery the U.S. Government is capable of inflicting on Black people. This is a story set in the most popular entertainment franchise in the world, though, and I think it’s really cool that it’s diving headfirst into just how awful the systems that shaped this country have historically been.

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If Black Panther was the glorious dream of Blackness, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about the messy reality.

Bucky tracks Zemo to Sokovia, where he tries to convince Bucky that the only way to stop the Flag Smashers is to kill Karli. He believes Sam doesn’t have the heart, but that the Winter Soldier can do what needs to be done. Bucky draws a gun on Zemo and pulls the trigger to reveal the gun isn’t loaded, proving one last time that he’s changed. Bucky turns Zemo over to the Dora Milaje, but not before asking for one last favor.

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The show gets a bit lighter from here, as Sam goes back home to his sister Sarah in Louisiana. With his conversation with Bradley weighing on him, Sam focuses his energy into fixing the boat and calls up neighbors and old family friends to help. Bucky even shows up to offer some assistance and flirt with Sarah.

I really enjoyed this portion of the episode, as we see Sam and Bucky finally transition from begrudging teammates to, as they put it, “a couple of guys with a mutual friend.” Sam’s conversation with Bucky as they essentially play catch with the shield was great. Bucky tells Sam that neither he nor Steve fully understood what it meant for a Black man to take on the mantle of Captain America, and he apologizes for not being understanding of his decision to donate the shield.

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Sam tells Bucky that now that he has full control of himself, it’s up to him to define the kind of man he wants to be. He also tells him that if he truly wants to make amends, he has to be of service to the people who he’s hurt.

Between this and the training montage that followed, the show has effectively laid the case for Sam Wilson to be Captain America. He’s empathetic, has proven combat capability, and he can understand the problems of the modern world in a way that someone like John Walker can’t.

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This week in our ongoing “Is Sharon the Power Broker?” coverage, Sharon yet again does some real Power Broker-type shit. She makes a phone call to Batroc, the Winter Soldier villain who Sam foiled at the start of the season, and tells him that there’s a job for him.

When Batroc pulls up, it’s revealed the job is to help Karli and the Flag Smashers derail a vote by the Global Repatriation Council to immediately send all internationally displaced people back to their home countries.

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Sam is watching coverage of the vote on TV when his Air Force buddy Joaquin FaceTimes him about a development in the Flag Smasher’s movement. Quickly realizing where Karli intends to attack, Sam opens a box that Bucky gave him from the Wakandans. I’m going to safely assume the box has a vibranium flight suit in it. The episode ends with the series’ first mid-credits scene showing Walker making a shield of his own.

Overall, this was another strong outing for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It effectively closed out a good chunk of the series’ narrative threads, meaning that the finale should be a solid final showdown between our heroes, John Walker, and the Flag Smashers. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this Friday.

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General Notes:

-Y’all, Wakanda done changed Bucky. Off jump, mans had no hesitation hitting Sarah with that “Ay ma, what’s your name.”

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-I got a good smile seeing Sarah’s sons play with the shield, because that is exactly what any kid would do if Cap’s shield was just hanging around.

-Okay, but for real, Sharon is the Power Broker right?

-I low-key died when John Walker was making his bootleg shield. I’m sorry b, your high school shop skills aren’t going to compete with a vibranium shield.

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.

DISCUSSION

You know, I kind of feel bad for John Walker. I was ready to hate the guy after episode 1 (that smirk!), but episode 2 and 3 (and the first half of 4) kind of redeemed him in my eyes : he was a regular guy that got a job previously held by a superpowered legend, and who was trying to do his best.

And I must say that I find the way Sam and Bucky treated him, while he was trying to work with them, kind of shitty. Sam, for what I understand from the show, is a glorified mercenary. Bucky is an ex mind-controlled assassin. None of them has any right to do any kind of international criminal investigation, especially while being cozy with a mass murderer. Whereas Walker was actually appointed by the GRC to investigate the flag smashers and do the job that Sam refused to do.

That being said, he crossed the line by killing the flag smasher, and trying to kill Sam in episode 5, and seems to now be firmly into vilain territory.

Also, the avengers didn’t really thought trough the whole ‘lets bring back everyone’ 5 years after their disappeareance. What a mess they made...