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We pick up episode 2 of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier right where we left off in episode 1, with an introduction of the new Captain America, John Walker. We are treated to a very human moment where our new hero, feeling the weight of the mantle, only wishes to do a good job.
After some reassuring from his love, and his best friend, Lemar (Clé Bennett, Heroes Reborn), Captain America is welcomed in a scene reminiscent of the movie Drumline.
During the subsequent interview, we are shown why John Walker was chosen to carry the shield. His impressive resume includes three Medals of Honor, multiple hostage rescues and counterterrorism missions, as well as the fact he is a human in above peak condition. He is essentially the opposite of a scrawny, scrappy, kid from Brooklyn that Uncle Sam would not have touched with a ten-foot pole. As the interview continues, we find ourselves in Bucky’s sparsely furnished apartment with an angry and frustrated Winter Soldier looking on via television.
When our titular heroes appear together on screen for the first time, there is obvious tension as Bucky’s first words to Sam are, “Shouldn’t have given up the shield.” From the ensuing conversation, it is clear Sam and Bucky have vastly different ideas of what should have happened to the shield. Sam says he has bigger things to do and that he doesn’t have time for Bucky to berate him about the shield. There is some witty banter involving androids, aliens, and wizards (aka The Big Three)—and off our protagonists fly to Munich following a lead on the Flag Smashers.
Remember that time Captain America jumped out of an airplane without a parachute? Over Munich, Bucky tries something similar with comically less successful results, all caught on camera by a hovering Redwing. Sam and Buck catch up with the Flag Smashers in a warehouse loading containers of vaccine. Thinking they have a hostage situation; our duo chases after the vehicles, and a melee atopa truck ensues. Fighting Super Soldiers, led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman, Solo: A Star Wars Story), Sam and Bucky are catching a royal beat down when they are rescued by the new Captain America and sidekick. The fight ends when all our heroes are thrown from the trucks as the Flag Smashers get away.
Shortly after, a walking Bucky and Sam are confronted by John and Lemar in a transport. We revisit the “Big Three” conversation then Sam and Bucky accept a ride to the airport. While comparing notes, John makes several overtures to Sam and Bucky to join forces and work together towards a common goal. Each one is rebuffed. Buck has decidedly had enough when Lemar declares his codename is: Battlestar. Yes, seriously. Bucky and Sam exit the vehicle, but not before John expressing his wishes to only be “The best Captain America he can” and not a Steve Rogers replacement. In that instant, we can’t help but feel some empathy for John.
Next, we catch up with and delve deeper into the Flag Smashers and their motivation. We find out that the world after Thanos snapped his fingers (aka “The Blip”) wasn’t a very nice place. During those five years it seems bad guys took over and people suffered. Karli explains that they have seen the world as it was and do not wish to return. Is it possible we have been wrong about the Flag Smashers?
Last week, we were given insight into the inequality African-Americans face when attempting to access the American banking system. This week we are introduced to Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly, MANTIS). Bradley was a super soldier from the 50’s who also used the name Captain America. Most notably Isaiah is Black. We learn that shortly after a tussle in a Korean bar where he took half of Bucky’s metal arm, he was jailed for his service.
Isaiah became a super soldier after he and other African American soldiers were experimented on during WWII (think Tuskegee Syphilis Study). Bradley would be the sole survivor and America’s first Black superhero during the Korean war. Yet, instead of celebration, he was locked away and experimented on for thirty years. Afterwards, he absconded to Baltimore for some peace, which is ultimately why he kicks both Sam and Bucky out of his house wishing not to relive those painful memories.
While leaving, Sam and Bucky argue about the previously unknown existence of a Black Captain America. Upon being noticed by the police, Sam is accosted for the crime known as being Black in America and asked for his ID. To which Sam refuses. Bucky angrily helps the cop remember who Sam is, but in turn, Bucky is arrested for missing his psych session. Not so ironically, it was the white guy who should have been profiled.
It is worth mentioning the subplot in The Falcon and The Winter Solider involving racial inequities, not only in our country at large, but in the military, encounters with the police, and even in the ranks of superherodom. Until recently, the impact of race hadn’t really been explored when comics are translated to the screen. But with productions like Luke Cage, The Watchmen, Black Panther and now The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, we find that atypical superheroes have more to fight than just the “Big Three.”.
Too often, after overcoming all adversities, they are never given the credit they deserve, jailed, or just discarded and forgotten. It will be interesting to see the direction we take as the question of race is addressed through the remainder of the season. We are also left wondering if Sam would have made a different decision with the knowledge that there had been a Black Captain America in American history.
Back to the story, and at the police station after Bucky got pinched, Sam meets Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino, Bosch). He thinks she is responsible for getting Bucky out but we quickly find out it Faux Captain America was responsible. Walker, who has history with the doctor from having run field operations earlier in his career, decrees that Bucky will not be following his court mandate. However, as a condition, the doctor makes Bucky have an emergency session including Sam, who would rather not be involved.
During what could be considered an extremely uncomfortable couples therapy session, Bucky reiterates is really upset that Sam gave back the shield, and for what could be considered good reason. It is clear the guilt consuming Bucky is held at bay by the fact that Steve believed Bucky is capable of redemption. But if Steve believed in Sam, and Sam gave away the shield, does that mean Steve could have been wrong about Bucky? Sam explains that his choice to give back the shield was a Black thing and neither Bucky nor Steve would understand. Sam then brings an abrupt end to the session when he announces he and Bucky don’t have to see each other after the mission.
Outside of the police station, John Walker proposes once again that Sam and Bucky work with him and Battlestar. The offer is again declined to which John ominously replies, “Stay the hell out of my way.” We cut to the Flag Smashers hurriedly escaping unknown assailants in jeeps. Karli tearfully looks on as one of her people sacrifices his life to save her and the others. The episode wraps as Bucky and Sam agree they need to pay a visit to Colonel Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl, The Alienist), the bad guy from Captain America: Civil War. We all remember what happened the last time Baron Zemo and Bucky were together in a room, right?