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The penultimate episode of the first season, we would hope, of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier begins with John Walker running away from the carnage he just created with…
…the murder of Flag Smasher Nico. The death of Lemar clearly weighs heavy on John’s mind, as he paces around an empty warehouse rethinking the choices he made. Walker regains his conviction and composure as he senses Sam and Bucky entering the warehouse.
Bucky and Sam attempt to talk Walker down, but he isn’t hearing it. In his mind, he has avenged the death of his best friend and the act was righteous. As the blood drips from the shield, they discuss the need for John to surrender, however Walker still feels justified with obvious defiance in his eyes. Sam asks for the shield one last time, putting Faux Cap into defense mode. He offers one last warning to Sam and Bucky: “You don’t want to do this”. Truth is, Bucky has been waiting to do this since he told Sam he wanted to “take the shield” a few episodes back.
The fight many of us have been waiting for begins, jacked up Cap versus Sam and Bucky. The sequence is choreographed and shot beautifully. We really get an opportunity to see how much stronger John Walker is after having taken the serum, more than holding his own against Sam and Bucky as they deliver serious damage with the shield and his fists. What we realize during the fight is John is fighting for what he feels is his absolute right to be Captain America. A point driven home as he screams “I am Captain America” while ripping Sam’s carbon fiber wings apart.
Walker prepares to do his new finishing move on Sam but is interrupted when Bucky jumps to the rescue. The fight continues but Sam and Buck gain the upper hand when they finally break Faux Cap’s left arm. The fight ends with a WWE tag team style finisher performed by Bucky and Wingless Sam. Bucky drops the shield beside Sam as if to say: “I told you so” and walks off. Sam, shaken up, picks up the shield and attempts to wipe of the blood as the title card rolls.
In the aftermath of Lemar’s demise, we learn that the GRC has shutdown the refugee camp and that Karli and crew are nowhere to be found. Sam comments that Karli is gone and the likelihood of finding her is low as Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez, Top Gun: Maverick) walks into the room. Not having seen Bucky since he jumped ‘chuteless out of an airplane, Torres quips that Bucky “finally got his sleeve back.” Bucky clearly not finding that as funny as we did, begins to skulk out of the room. But not before Sam asks if he’s going to “take care” of Zemo. Bucky doesn’t reply.
Torres lays out to Sam that with America’s greatest hero having killed a foreign national the people in suits are commandeering the mission. They discuss the need to find Karli, but also the difficulty in doing so. However, Torres makes a good point when he says: “Sometimes there is nothing to do until there is something to do.” Strangely put, but bizarrely wise. Sam picks up the shield and turns to leave when Torres reminds him that he’s leaving the wings. With anguish, disgust, and confusion in his eyes, Sam says “Keep ‘em.”
Meanwhile in Washington, John Walker is greeted to jeers and boos as he attends a Senate Council meeting to learn his fate. The panel decrees that John is no longer to represent the United States, as Captain America or in any capacity as a soldier. His exemplary service being the main thing that keeps him from being court martialed and sent to Leavenworth (or the MCU equivalent). Ever the petulant man child, John attempts to defend himself, unsuccessfully. He is other than honorably discharged as he walks out of the chamber in disgrace, not before again declaring “I am Captain America.” Walker is like a disgruntled boyfriend who refuses to believe the relationship is over.
Outside, Walker and his wife discuss his next steps. We are then introduced to the mysterious Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Veep). In comics she and Nick Fury have a remarkably interesting and tumultuous history. Here she explains that she knows everything that has happened and tells John that taking the serum is one of the smartest things he’s done to date. Now that Walker is super powered, he has become valuable to certain people, whom we probably haven’t met yet. The Contessa gives him a blank card and says he should answer when she calls and departs.
Karli and her team return to the refugee camp to find it shut down and abandoned while in Sokovia, or the monument that used to be Sokovia, we catch up with Zemo. Bucky, armed with a pistol, steps out and Zemo tells him he has no plans to kill him, not that Buck was concerned about that. There is some discussion about the radicalization of Karli and what must be done to stop her. Bucky says that he and Sam are going to do this their way but thanks him for his advice.
Bucky raises his pistol to execute Zemo but dry fires as his magazine is empty. He opens his metal hand to reveal the bullets were never in the gun and he had no intention of shooting Zemo. As the shells hit the ground, the Dora Milaje appear like thieves in the night. They are there to take Zemo to “The Raft” to ensure he gets the justice they believe he deserves. Zemo tells Buck that he crossed off his name in Bucky’s little book, as he forgives and understands why Bucky did what he felt he needed to. As they depart Ayo tells Bucky aka the White Wolf that he should steer clear of Wakanda for the time being to which he agrees. But before they leave, he asks Ayo for one last favor—more on that later.
Back in Baltimore, Sam wiit sheathed shield in hand arrives at the home of Isaiah Bradley. He is there to understand what went wrong with Isaiah and the super soldier program. Bradley is very bitter, and understandably so, considering he lost his brothers in arms, his freedom, and his wife.
Isaiah recants an all too familiar story of how Black people defended this country and came home to hatred and mistreatment. He details how he and his comrades were experimented on but told they were being given tetanus shots (IE: Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). We learn that eventually they all died, and he was the only one to survive. But instead of being rewarded, he was jailed, and experimented on, for 30 years. Bradley was eventually declared dead by a sympathetic nurse, and he disappeared.
It is obvious from the conversation that Bradley doesn’t believe Black people will ever get a fair shake in the US. That the fear of a Black planet is why there can never be a Black Captain America. The conversation leaves Sam confused and conflicted as to what to do next. He calls his sister Sarah and tells her he’s coming home.
In Louisiana, Sam discovers that the family boat is too dilapidated to be sold. Mr. Dinh, originally interested in the boat and declines to purchase on account of the boat’s condition, but Sam hatches a plan to leverage the community to assist in the fixing of the boat.
Bucky shows up just as construction is about to begin. He has a present in hand, the favor he called in from the Wakandans. We see a little romantic spark between Sarah and Bucky, maybe his time in Wakanda has made him down with the brown. The next few scenes detail the duo working together to get the boat seaworthy. Sam agrees to let Bucky spend the night on the condition that there is no flirting with his sister.
Elsewhere a sullen John Walker is meeting with Lemar’s parents. In what might be one of his most dishonorable acts, John lies to the parents. He tells them that the man he killed was responsible for the death of their son, his best friend and conscience. Tearfully they tell John how proud Lemar was to be his friend and sidekick. Lemar’s sister looks on as if she isn’t buying the dog and pony show. Walker apologizes and leaves, passing a “Cap is Back” sign with his likeness.
In another part of the world, Agent 13, Sharon Carter, appears to be up to something nefarious. She’s on the phone with Bartroc, attempting to negotiate terms for his services. There are many theories out there around her being the infamous “Power Broker” and this scene goes a long way towards proving them.
Back in Louisiana, Bucky awakens to the sound of Sam’s nephews pretending to be Avengers. He startles them and they scamper off, however it is clear that they believe there can be a Black Captain America. It is right then that Bucky goes from knowing a Black person, to having a Black friend. You can see from his expression that he empathizes with the struggle Sam is up against. During a weird game of catch with the shield, he confesses that at first, he didn’t understand what it meant for a Black man to be handed the shield. One could say that white privilege blinded them to the fact that there are fundamental differences between the Black and white experience in the United States.
Bucky offers a sincere apology and explains his own selfishness as it pertained to the handling of the shield. This is perhaps one of the realest most heartfelt conversations of the season. However, this is something we needed going into the final episode. This episode really marks the beginning of The Falcon and Winter Soldier partnership and that is important for the fight to come. Sam provides some tough but good advice on Bucky around giving closure to the people he has wronged. It is well received. Before leaving Buck let’s Sam know that when he finds Karli to give him a call.
Sarah decides that she can’t sell the boat, it a part of their history. In the subsequent conversation, we learn some of the motivation behind Sam and why he’s conflicted. But in true sister form, she confides that she is proud of Sam for taking on the fight at home and in the world. Sam explains that he can’t quit now, that all the blood sweat and tears from our people who fought and died before us would be wasted if he did. He’s not wrong.
What sets The Falcon and The Winter Soldier apart from other superhero shows and movies is the focus that has been placed on the Black experience. It is important to know that not all heroes are treated the same, Isaiah Bradley being a prime example. He could have been the next Captain America, but in true American form, once they were done with him, they chucked him aside in favor of blonde hair and blue eyes. It is easy to see how the fight was taken out of Bradley and him left with such a bitter disposition.
Sam represents the determination and resilience of our people. The fact that he strives to show the world who and what he can be, even in the face of disillusion and disenfranchisement is a true testament. It is also a homage to all of those who fought and died to give us the tiny bits of peace we do have in this country. Even if the rest of the America isn’t, we, are wholeheartedly ready for a Black Captain America. In the immortal words of Frank White: “It’s our turn.”
Closing in on the end of the episode we are treated to a 80’s style training montage. Sam works hard to sharpen his parkour and shield throwing skills. But perhaps the most important scene is the final one of his nephew tracing the star on the shield with his finger. The proud look in his eye is enough to make any Uncle know he’s doing the right thing and what it is he is fighting for.
Finally, we catch up with Karli sitting in a park. She is waiting to meet Bartroc who has a delivery of weapons for her. He explains that he isn’t aligned with her cause and that all he wants to do is kill The Falcon. Even So, Karli sets her endgame plan in motion: stop the GRC Patch Act vote. At the same time Torres contacts Sam to let him know he thinks Karli is in New York City.
We cut to the Big Apple, where the GRC are discussing how to move forward with the vote and the refugees. There is a lot of argument and discord on how to move forward with the refugees. But, before any action is taken, Karli’s sympathizers take over the room.
The final scene shows Sam looking inside the box that Bucky brought from Wakanda. Looks like we’ll find out next week what is in the box as we cut to black. Not to be outdone, in a scene mid-credits, John Walker is hard at work building himself a new shield, adorned with Lemar’s Medal of Honor. We can only guess what kind of trouble he’ll be bringing with him next week. Nevertheless, the pieces are in place for what can only be an explosive season finale.