The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recap: A trip to Madripoor
Just like that, we've reached the halfway point of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty ambivalent about the latest episode, "Power Broker." On the one hand, it moves the story forward, and it feels very episodic because it's easy to distinguish it from the other episodes. You can very easily describe it as "The One With the Prison Break and Trip to Madripoor." On the other hand, though, I couldn't shake the feeling they were stretching a two-hour movie into a six-hour series because sure, stuff happens, but it wasn't satisfying enough to merit an entire 53 minute-long episode. But, hey, thank god the show is still very funny.
Let's start with the main attraction: Much to Sam's dismay, Bucky skips past any Silence of the Lambs homages and simply helps Captain America: Civil War villain Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) break out of prison so that he can assist them with their Super Soldier serum search. Given both my apathy toward Zemo and how silly this plan is because it's clear he'll double-cross Bucky and Sam, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching the three characters bounce off of each other. Episode 2 did a great job of reestablishing Sam and Bucky's competitive yet ultimately harmless tension, and throwing Zemo in the mix complicated that dynamic and helped the show avoid hitting the same beats it did last week. I truly couldn't stop laughing when Sam and Zemo teamed up to give Bucky crap for not loving Trouble Man.
Anyway, the newly freed Zemo flies Sam and Bucky to Madripoor, a fictional crime haven located in Southeast Asia that was off limits to the MCU before Disney bought Fox because it's connected to the X-Men. There, Bucky slips back into his Winter Soldier persona with curiously little problems so that the trio can go undercover and meet with a fence named Selby. While Selby tells them they need to find Dr. Wilfred Nagel, a scientist working for Madripoor's crime boss the Power Broker, she can't share much more because she dies immediately, and her henchmen place a huge bounty on the trio. (Potential spoiler alert: In the comics the Power Broker is a company, not a person, and is responsible for giving U.S. Agent, a.k.a. John Walker, enhanced strength.)
Luckily, Sharon Carter shows up and offers them a place to lay low. It turns out that Sharon has been in Madripoor since the events of Civil War because, unlike Sam and Bucky, she wasn't associated with the Avengers and didn't receive any kind of pardon. (+1 to Zemo's anti-Avengers stance!) Making the best out of a bad situation, Sharon embraced the criminal lifestyle in Madripoor and is living it up in the rich part of town. Emily VanCamp gives Sharon this cynical edge that truly underscores how much being a fugitive has changed her in the past few years. "Look, you know the whole hero thing is a joke, right? The way you gave up that shield, deep down you must know it's all hypocrisy," she says to Sam.
Despite her better judgement, Sharon agrees to help them find Nagel in exchange for Sam clearing her name once this mess is resolved. So, the foursome heads to a shipping yard, where they find Nagel hanging out in a lab. Nagel arrogantly reveals he was able to recreate the Super Soldier serum thanks to a sample of Isaiah Bradley's DNA the CIA gave him, a revelation that shakes Sam to his core given what he just learned about Bradley. After returning in the Blip, Nagel refined and perfected his Super Soldier serum for the Power Broker, but Karli Morgenthau stole every vial. While all of this exposition felt necessary, something about it left me feeling cold and unsatisfied. Anyway, Zemo, who still believes what he believes, murders Nagel so that his Super Soldier serum dies with him. (While all of this was going on, Sharon was busy kicking the butts of every bounty-hunter that followed them to the shipping yard, another great showcase for VanCamp's dance background and mastery of fight choreography).
The combination of meeting Isaiah Bradley and what they learned in Madripoor has a profound effect on Sam, whose feelings towards the shield are starting to change. "How many people have to be steamrolled to make way for this hunk of metal?" Sam wonders aloud to Bucky. "Maybe I should've destroyed it." And can you blame him after what he's learned and seen? It's similar to how it's hard to look at this country the same way when you realize it's been built on the pain and suffering of Black people and other minorities. Of course, Bucky disagrees because the shield "represents a lot of things to a lot of people." But as we know from the last episode, Bucky views the shield as a sign that redemption is possible for him.
Anyway, the trio heads to another safehouse presumably in Eastern Europe. While Sam and Zemo get settled, Bucky goes for a walk and comes face to face with Ayo (Florence Kasumba), one of the Dora Milaje from Black Panther who is there for Zemo. I'll admit that I wasn't totally surprised because the script went out of its way to point out that Wakanda still wanted revenge for T'Chaka's murder. That being said, Ayo's appearance is definitely a clever way of making The Falcon and the Winter Soldier truly feel like a significant part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Before handing the reins over to Christian, I liked how the episode revealed a bit more about Karli's backstory. After the Blip, her family was kicked out of their home and forced into camps to make room for the people who returned, thus explaining part of her grudge against the Global Repatriation Council and how she wound up in Madripoor. As far as motivations go, it's easy to understand where she's coming from while disagreeing with her methods (read: blowing up a bunch of GRC employees after stealing the supplies they were hoarding). Grade: B-
Christian's Take: I must say, the fake commercial for the Global Repatriation Council that opens this episode is not nearly as fun as the fictional ads that were dispersed throughout WandaVision. I think it speaks to some of the MCU's confusion about how exactly to handle the five-year timeskip from Endgame. The "Blip" was engineered to give the original Avengers a noble last ride by sacrificing themselves to save the new generation, but as a result the characters who got dusted like Sam, Bucky, and even Wanda are totally disconnected from the world around them, which has clearly been through some dark years in the interim. WandaVision leaned into this disconnect by having Wanda seal herself off from the outside world to cope, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a little more ambiguous. It's easy to understand why Karli Morgenthau feels so wronged by the world government, and a little harder to understand why Sam and Bucky are freeing one of their known supervillains from prison in order to stop her. The logic seems to be that super-soldiers are inherently dangerous, but is that true? The dark parts of Isaiah Bradley's story are not things he did under the influence of the serum, but things that were done to him by the same government that now sponsors not just John Walker but also Sam and Bucky. Hmmm.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is definitely playing with some interesting ideas, but I don't yet have the sense that the show knows exactly what it wants to do or say with them. If the show wants us to be scared of the Flag-Smashers by associating them with real-life groups that bemoan globalization, it's a little harder to dismiss such grievances in a story where there literally is a world government making unilateral decisions about who gets to live where. Between Isaiah Bradley's history and Sharon Carter's disgust with America, it's hard to see The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ending up with Sam or Bucky becoming the new Cap as I believed going in. It would definitely be interesting if this ends up being a story about how the whole idea of Captain America is unnecessary propaganda, but since I doubt it will, I'm just a little confused currently. I'm definitely intrigued to see where all these plots end up. The introduction of elements from the X-Men (Madripoor!) and Wakanda help make it feel less like a six-hour Captain America movie without Chris Evans.