Written by David Holland
The third episode of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” brings a few familiar faces from the Captain America franchise back into the story. Bucky and Sam enlist Baron Zemo to help them track down the Super Soldier Serum, and Sharon Carter resurfaces after not being seen since “Civil War”. This episode is the right mix of character development and action, let’s see if we can peel back some layers and understand exactly what happened.
Episode 3 puts our dynamic duo in partnership with the nefarious Zemo, now canonically a wealthy baron, just like he was in the comics. I wondered from the trailers if the Flag Smashers might be working with Zemo, but Bucky points out that since they are Super Soldiers, they violate Zemo’s code. After breaking Zemo out, the trio heads to Madripoor, an island city divided into wealthy Hightown and criminal Lowtown, in order to meet a contact of Zemo’s who can help them find the creator of the new Super Soldier Serum.
On Madripoor we learn about the Power Broker, a shadowy figure who seems to be Madripoor’s version of Kingpin. Zemo and the heroes are anxious to avoid the Power Broker, but trouble finds them when Zemo’s contact is killed and the heroes have a bounty placed on their heads. A chance reunion with a jaded Sharon Carter gives them a shot to find Doctor Nagel, the creator of the new Serum. Nagel tells them he redesigned the Serum from traces of Isaiah’s blood and that the twenty doses he created were stolen by Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers. In the midst of an ambush by mercenaries, Zemo sticks by the code Bucky referenced earlier and kills Nagel, the only surviving creator of the Serum. Before his death, Nagel told them that Karli had reached out to ask for his help saving someone in a GRC camp. He refused, but the name gives them their next lead to find the Flag Smashers. They reach Latvia in the wake of an attack by the Flag Smashers, one in which Karli ruthlessly killed prisoners. Before they can question anyone, however, Bucky realizes they are being followed by someone who is not too happy that they freed Zemo – an elite member of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, the kingdom’s honor guard.
What Does It Mean?
The episode opens with a promotional ad for the Global Repatriation Council. While inspirational music plays over a montage of happy families, the GRC promises that they are doing everything they can to help get live back to normal. Smash cut to a GRC van which opens to reveal US Agent, Battlestar, and other GRC agents storming into one of the Flag Smashers’ hideouts. They don’t find any Super Soldiers, they don’t get any leads, and John Walker gets more desperate. If US Agent is an operative of the GRC, we have every right to be suspicious of them. Morgenthau reveals that the GRC depot she hit was stockpiling desperately needed supplies, keeping it from reaching the people it is supposed to help. US Agent and his team are supporting an organization that is at least incompetent and at worst corrupt. Of course, you should always be suspicious of any institution that runs ads that aren’t designed to get you to buy something, but just to convince you that they aren’t terrible people.
Then there’s Bucky’s dynamic with Zemo. When Zemo, Bucky, and Sam go to Madripoor, Zemo insists that they stay in character in order to maintain their cover. Bucky’s cover is familiar – The Winter Soldier. This isn’t an accident. Zemo wants to mess with Bucky, to prod at him until the Winter Soldier resurfaces. That’s why he steals Bucky’s notebook and mocks him for keeping a list of people he wronged. It explains why the first words he says to Bucky are the trigger words to unlock Winter Soldier. And, of course, it’s why he makes Bucky take on the character of Winter Soldier in Madripoor. After all, the MCU has shown how easy it is for characters to disguise themselves if they really want to.
Zemo wants to prove to Bucky (and to us) that no matter how much he tries to distance himself from his past, The Winter Soldier is still inside him. I’m not sure where exactly this is leading, but given his penchant for psychological games, I don’t think Zemo is done prodding at Bucky.
The key theme of this episode is consequences. Doubling the world’s population in an instant put a huge strain on the world’s infrastructure, and that strain has been compounded by the GRC’s inefficiencies. The Flag Smashers see themselves as the heroes, and their success is a consequence of the failures of world governments to do their jobs. Sharon is another reminder of the consequences of superheroes. In both “Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” she put her job, her freedom, and her life on the line to help do the right thing. Now, she is a fugitive in Madripoor, forgotten in the list of pardons that apparently came after “Endgame”. There is speculation online that she is even the mysterious Power Broker. Her life has been broken by her involvement with the Avengers, another reminder that superheroes tend to hurt the people who help them. And, of course, there’s Sakovia. Ever since “Age of Ultron”, Sakovia has stood as a symbol for the consequences of the Avengers. In “Civil War” it is the namesake of the Accords that would place the Avengers under government control and now Zemo is a walking reminder to Sam and Bucky that his country has been destroyed and the Avengers played a role. He asks if they even went to the Sakovia memorial and is greeted with silence. Superheroes have a tendency to show up, smash the bad guys, and leave. Both this show and WandaVision spend time reminding us that real people would have to pick up the pieces of what is left behind.
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