As the song says, “people make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed.” Well after a string of not-so-great encounters, our titular heroes are no doubt feeling some combination of all three. Now in pursuit of genetically-enhanced terrorist group the Flag Smashers, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Sam (Anthony Mackie) have elected to travel to Berlin in order to gather intelligence on the apparent super soldiers, but to do so, they will need to enlist the help of an old adversary: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
Picking up shortly after the events of the previous episode, “Power Broker” finds Bucky in a tense faceoff with Zemo, the very man who very nearly destroyed his life years before. Following a fun prison-break sequence, the unlikely trio travels to Madripoor, a principality that serves as a criminal sanctuary, in an attempt to locate the source of the super soldier serum. Naturally things go sideways, as they always do, but their collective butts are eventually saved with the arrival of old ally Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the one-time SHIELD operative formerly known as Agent 13. The reunion proves bittersweet as the ragtag group discover more about the origins of the Flag Smashers and truths about their eventual endgame (pun intended).
Things pick up considerably in this week’s episode – ominously titled, “The Whole World is Watching.” Bucky’s past has once again come back to haunt him, only this time it’s someone from his much more recent past who comes to call. Sam, meanwhile, drops in on Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman), leader of the Flag Smashers, in an attempt to reason with her and prevent more needless bloodshed. Zemo’s inclusion in the boys’ escapades has yielded some unwanted attention from more than one government, and everything leads to an inevitable confrontation with the new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell). Things go from bad to worse in a brutal stand-off from which not everyone may walk away.
“Power Broker” is notable for two things in particular: 1) it is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far and 2) Zemo dances. It’s already all over the internet and, frankly, it deserves to be. While it only amounts to roughly five seconds of screen-time, Zemo’s dancing is random, awkward, and just spectacular. It’s a bright spot in an episode that is serviceable at best. From a narrative standpoint, things move forward quite a bit, but it feels like our characters are meandering through a detour rather than racing to the finish. As a result, it feels like the various plot points are becoming muddled and overly complicated rather than building toward something cohesive. It’s not bad television by any means, but it’s definitely a decline in the quality we’ve seen thus far.
There are also some odd choices in characterization, most notably with Sharon Carter. As with Zemo, the last time audiences saw Sharon was in Captain America: Civil War (2016). In the years since, she’s remained a fugitive, living abroad and growing cold and cynical. It’s a strange departure that honestly could have worked with the right approach, but the sudden shift in personality just doesn’t feel earned. It’s clear that the writers are much more interested in developing our male heroes and, for better or worse, they’re succeeding, particularly with Bucky. A central theme for the character has been the inability to move forward without looking back. He’s made huge strides in putting the Winter Soldier behind him but, within a day of meeting up with Zemo, he violates every guideline he set for himself in a matter of minutes.
The fourth episode, “The Whole World is Watching” amps up both the action and drama in the series’ darkest entry (and in many ways, its best). While it certainly boasts one of the most exciting fight scenes in recent memory, thanks to a surprise appearance by Wakanda’s own Dora Milaje, the themes of political intrigue take central stage. Superheroics and buddy-comedy banter are all but absent as we delve into darker territory, allowing a stronger focus on the series’ antagonists. Sam’s all-too brief heart-to-heart with Karli solidifies her as a noble, Robin Hood-type whose Merry Men are far more sympathetic than their actions would indicate. Her anger at the establishment is certainly justified, but her embrace of violence may undo everything she’s been working toward.
As the new Cap, John Walker is similarly conflicted; he’s clearly in over his head and not ready to wield the shield. Like Karli, he wants to do the right thing but gives in way too easily to anger and violence, as we learn more than once before the end of the episode. While the role of Captain America may belong to someone else by the end of the series, it’s clear from the brutal final scene that Walker’s tenure may be short-lived, which will only complicate things with our heroes going forward.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
- Director: Kari Skogland
- Starring: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, with Daniel Bruhl
- Writer: Derek Kolstad
- Creator: Malcolm Spellman
- Producer: Marvel Studios
- Network: Disney+