Written by David Holland
The hunt for Karli Morgenthau continues, especially now that she has murdered GRC workers. It turns out all of this could have been avoided if Hulk had thought through restoring everyone’s homes, bank accounts, credit scores, and legal documents when he brought them back from the dead in Endgame, but that’s what happens when you trust a scientist to use godlike powers to restore half the universe instead of a bureaucrat. Sam reminds us in this episode that Karli’s fight is not unreasonable. After the SnapTM, countries opened their borders and welcomed new workers into vacant homes and jobs. Now, those same countries are returning to old ethnic tensions and hard borders. That leads all those displaced persons look to Karli for help as they eke out a living in GRC camps. Into this mess we drop our heroes (and a few villains).
A quick flashback opens this episode. Ayo repeats the Winter Soldier words to Bucky, who clearly struggles against the trauma HYDRA inflicted on him for decades. When she reaches the end of the sequence, a tearful Bucky looks up in shock as Ayo tells him he is free. In the present, Ayo is less than thrilled with Bucky. The Wakandans want Zemo back in prison as punishment for the assassination of King T’Chaka, and they are not willing to wait long. Bucky, Sam, and Zemo look for a lead on Karli. They try to get displaced persons in a GRC camp to share information, but it’s slow going. This is not helped by the fact that Bucky’s and Sam’s strategy is to basically walk around the camp shouting the name Donya Madani.
They finally get a lead when Zemo bribes kids with candy, which, just to be clear, is also not great. The Flag Smashers recover the last of the supersolder serum now that Nagel is dead. Karli and Nico discuss what it means to be a hero in the modern world. They see themselves as heroes, more rightfully the heirs to Captain America’s shield than John Walker. Interestingly, Karli suggests that the shield should be destroyed, which is a recommendation Sam made in a previous episode as well. US Agent and Battlestar track down the heroes and go to confront Karli together. Sam makes progress in his conversation with Karli, but is interrupted by Walker and Karli slips away in the fight. During the chaos, Zemo shoots Karli and manages to destroy all but one vial of serum – a vial that is picked up by Walker. After being humiliated by the Dora Milaje and discussing his traumatic past in Afghanistan with Battlestar, Walker takes the serum offscreen. During that fight with the Dora Milaje, Ayo activated a failsafe that caused Bucky’s arm to disconnect, something he did not realize it could do.
Meanwhile, Zemo uses the chaos of the fight to escape. Karli uses Sam’s sister as an intermediary to meet up with him and Bucky again. This meeting turns tragic when Karli kills Battlestar. In response, Walker pursues, defeats, and then executes Nico as dozens of onlookers watch and record.
What Does It Mean?
The theme of this episode is escalation. The previous episode ended with an escalation by the Flag Smashers – blowing up a GRC supply depot with people inside. The act has brought the group more supporters, but it has also led the GRC to fast track a return to firmer borders. Zemo predicts that the supersoldier serum will lead Karli to escalate further until Sam and Bucky have no choice but to kill her. The arrival of the Dora Milaje complicates the heroes’ quest since they have an understandable stake in Zemo’s fate. John Walker, of course, escalates every situation he enters. First he escalates when it comes time to confront Karli at Donya’s funeral. Sam appeals to Karli’s humanity, gently pokes holes in her logic, and connects with her. But Walker’s impatience to prove himself leads him to ambush Karli and undercut the trust Sam built with her. Once again, the Flag Smashers vanish. Then, Walker challenges Ayo and the other Dora Milaje that they don’t have jurisdiction in Latvia, which is pretty wild given that he is an American in Latvia. Who exactly does he work for again? Is it the US military? The GRC? There’s a pretty clear indictment of American foreign policy in that one short exchange. After all, the United States hasn’t exactly been shy about involving itself in other nations’ affairs for well more than the last century, but the idea that an African nation might be similarly proactive (to put it kindly) is beyond the bounds of acceptable foreign policy for US Agent. After the Dora Milaje humble Walker, he has a chip on his shoulder. He needs to prove that he was the right choice for Captain America, and he thinks proving this means showing physical strength. This sets the stage for his other escalations in this episode.
Different characters have conversations about the supersoldier serum. Zemo asks Sam if he would take it and Sam declines immediately. But when Walker and Hoskins have the same conversation, they settle on the idea that “power just makes a person more themselves”. It’s close to, but not quite, the same line Erskine said. According to Erskine, the serum magnifies what is already inside a person. Desperate, angry, and feeling the weight of expectations, Walker takes the serum. It magnifies his physical strength, but also that same desperation and anger. When Battlestar, his conscience and voice of reason, is killed by Karli, Walker escalates again. He captures and publicly executes Nico. The look on his face when he realizes that what he has done is about to go viral is the look of a man rapidly spiraling out of control.
Like “WandaVision”, this series is giving space for previously minor characters to develop in their own rights. Zemo was always a sympathetic villain, but FAWS has made him likeable. His banter with Sam and Bucky has been an unexpected treat in the show. He also has a clear ideology that he sticks to. There was never any chance that he would keep or use the serum when Karli dropped it. Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Erin Kellyman, and Wyatt Russell have all been fantastic. Watching Bucky’s face in the flashback when he realizes that he can be trusted and then his reaction later when he realizes that the Wakandans still don’t trust him is incredibly powerful.
I think two big questions remain. First, what is Sharon Carter’s role in the final episodes? I am especially curious to see if she is the Power Broker and, if so, whether there is a redemptive arc for her. Second, what will become of the role of Captain America? I wonder whether Sam will take it on for good or if he will make his own way as Falcon.
If you enjoy this article and would like to support this writer, please check out our “Support a Writer” tier over on our Patreon page and select David.Holland.
Also please consider joining our Discord channel, to discuss this article and more.