Our title heroes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are finally cracking down on the truth, with last week’s Wakandan angle in our Eastern European espionage escapades making itself known, and Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) forming a tenuous alliance with the Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) to make their mark.
And, well, there’s more of that!
To dispense my grievances with the MCU at large first and foremost, the plain fact of my disappointment with the show is that the characters in Falcon and the Winter Soldier feel like they’re here to function, rather than feel. Characters like the resistance fighter who, upon meeting the probing Falcon, say things like “we don’t trust outsiders,” or the toothless “villain” Baron Zemo, whistling “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” while he does his mock-sinister thing. It’s downright silly. But while Falcon and the Winter Soldier largely continues with so-so characters, the fourth episode finds a footing in some self-criticism of the superhero genre that might be tapping into some genuinely interesting thought.
Of note is how the fourth episode finally commits to the crux of its message; the failure of the sustenance of a superpowered paramilitary like the Avengers. “The people I’m fighting are trying to take your home, Sam. Why are you here instead of stopping them?” So prods Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) to Sam, in a face-to-face meet. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was making a show, in its earlier episodes, of how their support systems failed Sam and Bucky, despite their crucial roles in literally saving the world. Sam faces trouble with bank loans, while Bucky’s a basketcase. Karli, raging against the machine of international militarism and, basically, American globalism, asks Sam directly why he continues to defend the flag that would do nothing for him.
It’s a potent question, one that finally rears its head in the MCU. We’ve been so busy for the past decade of movies fighting aliens and androids there was never a time for respite. Now that the heroes are (slightly) less busy, who’s got their back?
The fourth episode brings the “new Cap” John Walker (Wyatt Russell) and his sidekick Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennett) back into the fold, Walker’s straight-laced approach at odds with Sam and Bucky’s reluctant Zemo alliance. It’s Walker’s brash, sledgehammer-like approach that botches many of the plans laid out in the fourth episode, further hammering the point that the institutions of the MCU’s past reverence are crumbling under their own weight without heroes like Steve Rogers to uphold their values. And boy, does Walker make a bad case for his right to the shield in this episode.
After a struggle with the Flag-Smashers, on Morgenthau’s tail, Lemar is killed. In the streets of a Latvian city, Walker–bearing that iconic red, white, and blue–bloodily murders a fleeing ‘Smasher, in front of a crowd of smartphone-equipped civilians. Good luck spinning that one, PR team!
Walker’s impotence in the role of Captain America is something that’s been the butt of jokes and jabs so far in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, his boyscout attitude putting sighs of disgust on the lips of Bucky and Sam, two guys who knew the real Cap. The fourth episode exposes just how far from worthy of the mantle Walker really is, and would make a case for Morgenthau’s disdain for the United States and their Avenger attack dogs. This is the kind of stuff that superhero stories need to explore, and I’ll be glad to admit that, while I don’t think this show is winding up excellent, I’m more interested in that narrative than anything WandaVision could have conjured.
Captain America: Civil War already tackled the baggage that comes with government sponsorship of superheroes, but much in the way it took this long to confront what a Black superhero means (a topic seemingly dropped after a mention in the second episode of Falcon), it took the MCU this long to (literally) draw blood on the premise that “hm, maybe these walking tanks at the whim of an American paramilitary aren’t so great for the world!”
Alan Moore’s masterpiece Watchmen confronted this idea back in 1986, under the nuclear shadow of the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. If Moore’s Comedian, a psychopathic masked “hero” dispatched to the jungles of Vietnam for the US, was the anti-superhero of those times, what is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier trying to say about the irresponsibly-powerful John Walker? Something to chew on, for sure. Your vibranium-shielded patriot is all well and good until he nearly decapitates an unarmed man in front of children.
With super-powered brawls to spare and a nice appearance by two Wakandan warriors who come to put “Captain America” in his place at their feet, the fourth episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier won’t disappoint any action junkies looking for that sort of fix, which is to say that the MCU is trucking right along. It’s the eternal hook of these films and shows though, one leading into the next, that makes me skeptical of a solid landing for Falcon‘s six-episode series. WandaVision, for my part, felt like all fluff to arrive at a largely unimportant, effects-laden ending, teasing a sort of “just you wait and see what’s going to happen next!” finale. If The Falcon and the Winter Soldier merely introduces this level of skepticism in the new wave of superheroes, represented by the failure of the new Captain America and vehement opposition like that put up by the Flag-Smashers, only to cast it aside by time this series wraps, then it will have failed. Here’s hoping that, over the next two episodes, the show can continue to prod at the questions it’s presented with the fourth episode. Because, if it can, you got me interested, Disney.