Written by David Holland
Episode 1 of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” started with Captain America. Steve Rogers’ voice could be heard telling Sam Wilson that the iconic vibranium shield belonged to him. Episode 2 of FAWS started with Captain America too, but this time it was not Steve Rogers. John Walker, whom comic fans recognize as US Agent, continued his press tour by returning to his old high school for a live taping of Good Morning America. But Walker is doing more than posing for the cameras – he is also tracking the Flag Smashers. This will bring him into conflict with Sam and Bucky.
I got my wish: Bucky and Sam meet early in this episode. They team up to go after a group of radicals called the Flag Smashers, the same group we saw rob a bank in the previous episode. At one point the Flag Smashers are referred to as people who “don’t believe in borders”, which sounds like a groovy, one-human-race, Zen kind of people. At another point they are described as people who want the world to go back to the way life was during the Blip, the five year period when half of all life was snapped away by Thanos, which makes them sound decidedly more sinister. We know from this episode that the Smashers are also Super Soldiers and Bucky says they were hauling medicines such as vaccines. But I’m thinking those weren’t vaccines.
In this episode our heroes are characterized by their lack of cooperation. Sam and Bucky don’t want to work as a team, and neither of them wants to work with Walker. In fact, the only functioning team in the episode is the Flag Smashers, who follow orders, watch each others’ backs, and demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the cause (“one world, one people”). That’s probably why they win the fight on the trucks (a delightful callback to “Age of Ultron”) and escape by plane with their cargo at the end. The counseling session between Sam and Bucky doesn’t go well, ending in a promise to never see each other again after this mission is over. Sam expresses his frustration with Bucky at being kept out of the loop that there are other super soldiers, and the episode ends with this fragile partnership seeking out the one villain who successfully broke apart the Avengers in the past. What could go wrong!?
What Does It Mean?
Let’s start where the episode starts: with Walker. The end of the first episode gave us a “New Captain America” and the internet promptly went ballistic. After all, Steve Rogers was with us for a decade and he gave the shield to Sam. Now, after telling Sam that giving it up was the right thing to do, the government gives it to some guy? I don’t think so.
That’s what makes the opening to this episode so perfect. We see Walker back in his hometown, welcomed onto stage by his alma mater’s marching band. We meet his
girlfriend? wife? significant other, his best friend, and we hear him talk about the weight of expectations. Is there anything more relatable than feeling the pressure of expectations? Maybe they come from family, teachers, coaches, or bosses, or, in Walker’s case, the entire freaking country, but everyone has to deal with them. Going into this I thought that Walker would start out a bad guy, but now I am not so sure. I think he might have good intentions. Maybe he truly thinks that what he is doing is right and that he is serving his country. But the weight of carrying the Captain America mantle could crush anyone. At the end of the episode we see a shift already beginning in Walker. He snaps at Bucky and Sam to “Stay the hell out of my way.” What happens when he gets desperate, or when he begins to fear failure? We already know that Super Soldier Serum is back on the market, and comics fans know that every other attempt to create a Super Soldier carries side effects. If Walker gets desperate, perhaps he will use the serum on himself. If so, the results probably will not be great.
I want to spend some time on the character Isaiah. Bucky takes Sam to Baltimore where they meet Isaiah, a Korean War vet who describes nearly defeating the Winter Soldier in a fight. Sam puts two and two together – Isaiah is a Super Soldier. The MCU character is based on Isaiah Bradley, another Super Soldier who donned Captain America’s uniform and used his shield during a World War II mission in Germany, for which he was court martialed and imprisoned. Because there has never been a perfect replication of Steve Rogers’ serum, Bradley’s body eventually beings breaking down. MCU Isaiah was also imprisoned for decades and describes being experimented on without his consent in an emotional speech that should bring up uncomfortable connections to the real world Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, Henrietta Lacks, and probably other examples of medical experimentation on black Americans without their full knowledge or consent. Sam is understandably irate when they leave Isaiah’s house. There has already been another black Super Soldier, another potential Captain America mistreated by the government. The police show up in the midst of their argument and start asking Sam for his identification and implying that he is bothering Bucky. The scene is not subtle, nor should it be.
I’m curious to see how Zemo fits into all of this. I wonder if he and the Flag Smashers will create an alliance, or if he will find his own way to cause chaos. I also wonder if the pressure of expectations will lead John Walker down a not-so-Captain-America path in the future. And I am weirdly curious in this Global Repatriation Council. It sounds like their job is to help those who returned after the Blip, and they are handling a huge amount of resources and logistics to accomplish this. It is possible they will be a target of the Flag Smashers, but it is also possible to GRC is up to no good. If there is one thing Marvel has taught me, it’s never trust a government organization.
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