After last week’s crimson red cliffhanger, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier poised itself for some major fallout and reconciliation for our nouveau Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell). The fifth episode manages to keep up the momentum of the story following Walker’s bloody public mishap, with some performative flourishes and the usual long-term implications for Disney’s suits-and-spandex saga.
The fifth episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier sees our heroes return to the States after the botched Eastern European op. Sam deals with his and his sister Sarah’s (Adepero Oduye) financial predicament, and Bucky…well, helps Sam out with his boat. The fifth episode is largely a lull in the immediate plot of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Walker gets a mysterious visit from the shady, smooth-talking shadow player, Valentina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus for whom I was waiting to end her sentences with “Jerry!”), egging the disgraced supersoldier on in bitterness.
That’s the thing with the way Falcon is playing out with this fifth episode. It feels like forces are being pushed against each other arbitrarily, for the sake of a neat six-episode conclusion. There is room, of course, for a big tease.
In a world where Americans seem to witness, day in and day out, tragedy on the news involving police officers and the brutal, wrongful deaths of innocents in their communities, Walker’s leaning in on his title and authority feels eerily plausible. If there’s a point to Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s drama over Steve Rogers’ star-spangled shield, it’s that the man makes the title and not the other way around.
Similarly, upon returning from Latvia, Sam pays a visit to Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), the former supersoldier whose past was hushed up by the government after he took a moral stand against wartime crimes by Uncle Sam. A Black man, Bradley laments Sam’s optimism in the upkeep of the Captain America mantle; “They erased me; my history. But they’ve been doing that for 500 years.” He’s not wrong.
How Sam responds to his meeting with Isaiah can be read as several things. Later, some good vibes with Bucky and Sarah done in, a training montage ensues, Sam commits to the Captain America title as he hurls the shield, does push-ups: you know, typical training montage stuff. Is this Sam defying Isaiah’s cynicism, looking to rewire the perception of Captain America, the “blonde-haired, blue-eyed” American poster boy for a modern, inclusive world? Or is it simply Sam accepting the weight of the institutions that would fill the Captain’s boots with some other slovenly knuckle-dragger, hoping to at least do a better job than Walker did? If someone has to do it…
Shown thus far to be nothing but a sensible, morally-inclined “villain” (which is to say, simply the underdog against our increasingly impure heroes), the fifth episode begins to position her as a simple extremist. Meeting over an arms deal, an associate prods her, saying that what they’re doing is criminal. “Haven’t you heard? We are criminals.” Whereas Isaiah, and later, Bucky preach to Sam about defining oneself without the input of others, Morgenthau is being defined by the bad press her Flag-Smashers receive. It’s the flip side of the coin Falcon and the Winter Soldier inspects, though I can’t help but feel they’re souring yet another nuanced villain for a final-act resolution.
I anticipate a flashy, action-packed finish next episode on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with Sam decked out in red, white, and blue and the occasional catchphrase. A feel-good time, by all accounts. Yet my own cynicism towards the Marvel productions aside, the fifth episode showed that this series was set on returning to its interesting topics. Whereas it felt to have abandoned the question of a Black Captain America or the buffoonery of Walker’s scorched earth approach to law enforcement, we’ve come back to address the issues in Falcon‘s own, Disney-sanctioned way.
Extreme action begets extreme consequence, even if you’re wearing a mask. Perhaps especially so.