The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recap: I am Captain America
As John Walker slips further into the darkness, Sam moves forward toward his comic book-mandated destiny and gives Bucky some important advice.
Now, this is more like it! After two perfectly fine episodes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just delivered, in my opinion, its best episode of the season so far with this week's "Truth." As Karli goes underground, Sam and Bucky (finally) takes matter into their own hands and handle the John Walker situation, while also taking some long-awaited and necessary steps forward both as characters and
partners co-workers a couple of guys with a mutual friend who's gone now.
"Truth" picks up immediately after Walker's very public act of murder, with Walmart Captain America sprinting away from the scene of the crime and seeking refuge in a factory. Sam and Bucky eventually catch up to John, who insists that he had to kill the Flag Smasher that didn't murder his friend. Unfortunately, John is so far gone that refuses to give up the shield, so the fight we've been waiting for finally arrives. Given the two-on-one setup, you could draw comparisons to the brutal Iron Man vs. Bucky and Steve brawl that ended Captain America: Civil War, but it's not nearly as impactful because we only really care about two of the characters here. But this isn't a critique, because I don't think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was purposefully trying to mirror the Civil War fight.
That being said, Sam and Bucky's tussle with John does resonate, just in a different way. At one point, John kneels down on Sam, pins him to the ground, and tries to kill him as he yells "I am Captain America." The shot of an agent of the state forcibly kneeling on a Black man was definitely unsettling, especially in the wake of everything that's happened in the past year. In less dark territory, I also loved the breakdancing recovery move Sam did with his wings (before they got ripped off), which was another inventive piece of fight choreography. Anyway, Sam and Bucky finally get it together and use their combined strength to subdue John and take the shield back for themselves. In the wake of the fight, Bucky silently drops the shield next to Sam and skulks away. The next time we see him, he's in Sokovia handing Zemo over to the Dora Milaje.
In the wake of the fight, a remorseless John returns to the United States and goes before a Senate committee. Unsurprisingly, the government doesn't do anything to really hold John accountable for his actions. They simply strip him of both the Captain America name and his military rank, and force him into civilian life, which feels more like a PR cover-up than actual justice. But, hey, this is America.
The senate hearing scene actually reminded me of two Marvel stories. In defense of his actions, John says, "I only did what you asked of me, trained me to do. And I did it well." That comment immediately made me think of The Punisher season 1, which criticized the way in which the U.S. government turned men and women into killers and then had no use for them once they returned home. While I don't think John's actions are justifiable, he's not wrong that he simply did what he was trained to do. Then in the same scene, he declares, "I am Captain America," which was reminiscent of Tony Stark's "I am Iron Man...I have successfully privatized world peace" line from Iron Man 2, except the former is way more unsettling because John is in a way darker place and we know he's not going to stop just because the government told him to.
After the hearing, a mysterious woman named Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, approaches John with a vague offer that he come work for her when she needs him because she and her people thought he did the right thing. In the comics, Valentina, or Val, popped up in Nick Fury stories before being revealed to be a Russian sleeper agent who eventually became Madame Hydra. While she only appears in this one and very brief scene, Louis-Dreyfus' casting makes it clear that the MCU has big plans for her. Furthermore, Val's support for John ultimately leads to him building his own Captain America shield in the episode's mid-credits scene.
Anyway, time to discuss my two favorite parts of the episode. Sam returns to the states and immediately takes Steve's shield to Isaiah Bradley, who refuses it because it doesn't mean anything to him. In another heartbreaking performance from Carl Lumbly, Isaiah goes into even more detail about the horrible things the government did to him, including scrubbing his existence from history. "But they've been doing that for 500 years," says Isaiah. "Pledge allegiance to that, brother. They will never let a Black be Captain America. Even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be." That line, especially the last part, is really heavy and could disrupt the entire show, which is obviously about Sam picking up the Captain America mantle. Thankfully, it doesn't because the script successfully walks the fine line of pushing Sam toward his comic book-mandated destiny without disregarding Isaiah's point of view, because the episode understands it comes down to a matter of perspective and experience.
"Isaiah has been to Hell and back," Sam says to Sarah toward the end of the episode. "If I was in his shoes, I'd feel the exact same way. But what would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn't willing to stand up and keep fightin'?"
Thus, Sam finally decides to become the next Captain America and starts training his butt off, a great and decisive moment for a character that's been fairly reactionary up until this point. But before that decision, we get to spend some time with Sam and Sarah as they enlist their neighbors to help them fix up the family boat, which was the other part of the episode I loved because I started imagining a 22-episode broadcast network drama about Sam juggling the family's business in Louisiana with weekly superhero missions. Anyway, Bucky eventually makes his way to Louisiana, lightly flirts with Sarah to Sam's annoyance, and, more importantly, apologizes to Sam for initially putting the pressure on him to become Captain America. "When Steve told me what he was planning, I don't think either of us really understood what it felt like for a Black man to be handed the shield," says Bucky. Sam accepts his apology and also gives him some advice for moving forward: "You gotta stop looking at other people to tell you who you are," which is true. Thus, Sam and Bucky agree to have each other's backs when Karli resurfaces.
Unsurprisingly, it's not long before she does. At the end of the episode, Karli and the Flag Smashers travel to New York and attack the GRC, which was in the process of voting on a bill that would force refugees back to their home countries. Watching the news report in Louisiana, Sam opens a case from Wakanda that Bucky gave him and likely holds his new super-suit. Let's go. B+
- Sharon Carter is still being shady! She calls Bartoc the Leaper with a job.
- Next thing we know: Bartoc shows up in New York and meets with Karli, who wants to team up with him to take Sam down. Karli's partner isn't thrilled about her new partnership with a criminal.
- "Well, I don't always think of it. I'm right-handed," Bucky, explaining to Sam why he used a wrench to fix something on the boat instead of his metal arm. I thought this was a nice and down-to-Earth character detail.
- Whenever someone says, "I'm [INSERT SUPERHERO NAME HERE], I immediately think of this hilarious Community bit:
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier