And then we get to see him ‘on duty’, and it’s an entirely different story. Walker is smug and full of arrogance, which – combined with the suit and shield and all they represent – makes him easy to dislike. His use of a gun in the fight atop two moving trucks helps put him in stark contrast with the more measured original supersoldier, who since his thawing from the ice always refrained from using lethal firearms. This all makes the audience’s relationship with Walker complex; we know there’s vulnerable humanity beneath this annoying surface, but the performance he puts on causes us to resent his role. This feeling is shared by both Sam and Bucky, who now have rivals as well as enemies.
Flag-Smasher Explained: A Minor Captain America Villain Is Now a Major MCU Threat
Those enemies, it turns out, are a group of eight supersoldiers, led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). While this episode provides us with much more context as to who the Flag Smashers are, right now it’s difficult to assess what the show is trying to say with them. They’re portrayed as a group wanting to unite the world and fight for those abandoned after the Blip, and their mission in this episode is to deliver medical supplies; goals it’s not hard to sympathise with. The story has yet to fully reveal its cards on how much of a ‘terrorist’ organisation the Flag Smashers are, and so hopefully this is all part of a long-term storyline that digs much deeper into Morgenthau’s aims. This group is too complicated in its goals to work as the straightforward villain among Sam and Bucky’s more complex problems.
That the Flag Smashers are all souped up on serum makes the aforementioned truck fight particularly exciting, though, with Bucky notably taking quite a beating thanks to hyper-powered kicks. This centrepiece fight sequence once again shows off The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s Mission: Impossible style approach to action sequences, and the supersoldier nature of the fight neatly ties it all into the Captain America mythos that runs through the show.
There’s more where that came from, too. This episode we’re introduced to a surprising number of supporting characters with ties to Captain America stories. John Walker’s sidekick is Lemar Hoskins, better known in the comics as Battlestar, and Walker’s answer to Bucky. The concept of the Department of Defence seeing Captain America as such a ‘brand’ that he has to come with his own sidekick certainly adds to the sickly artifice of the situation.
However, the most interesting new link to the Steve Rogers legacy is in Isaiah Bradley; a Black supersoldier created for the Korean War who fought the Winter Soldier in 1951. Bradley gets just a short scene on screen, but it’s a huge moment for Sam. Since being a hero, Bradley has been incarcerated, experimented on, and left to be forgotten in the shadow of the original, white Captain America. It’s the latest in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s comments on how America treats its Black communities, and also threatens to complicate Sam’s feelings on the role of Captain America. That it’s followed up immediately by the police pulling Sam over and only halting because they realise he’s an Avenger just hammers the issue home. It’s a good sign that the writing team intends to continue exploring the issue in a serious way that is smartly woven into the larger-than-life world of superheroes.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Cast and Characters
With all of this going on, not to mention a hint to Marvel’s shady comic group Power Broker Inc. and a quick re-introduction to Civil War’s Baron Zemo, it’s easy to overlook the heart of the show: Falcon and Winter Soldier themselves. The two are united in this episode, and writer Michael Kastelein wastes no time in turning the show into a buddy cop-like routine. The episode does the leg work required to justify the antagonism between the pair; Bucky is furious that Sam would give up the shield that Steve trusted him with. The root of this issue is neatly revealed in the therapy scene, with Bucky fearing that Steve’s faith in his ability to overcome his years as the Winter Soldier may be misplaced. And it’s easy to see Sam’s issues; episode one very clearly laid out his struggles with taking on the mantle, and so it’s clear why he finds Bucky’s approach a problem.
However, the translation of these fears into quippy dialogue doesn’t land all too well. There’s definitely fun to be had here, but often the back-and-forth banter between Sam and Bucky is irritating rather than funny. It’s less that the individual lines are flawed, but more the intensity in which they come overwhelms many scenes. It feels as if every second line between the two is drenched in antagonism, with a vibe closer to uncontrollable dogs constantly snarling at each other rather than two adults with underlying issues. It certainly makes a statement that these characters have conflict, but for a show that’s so successful at exploring the humanity in its characters, its failure to create authentic tension here is an unfortunate weak link.