REVIEW: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2

The Power Broker is a villain in Marvel comics who runs a corporation that experiments on various individuals to augment their strength. The episode shows Karli receive a text message from an unknown number, indicating that she and her group have stolen some form of super strength enhancements from him and he wants it back. Further complicating this is the fact that the Power Broker and his scientist also have ties to John Walker in the comics. The fact that Walker seems already so well equipped to be Captain America, despite claiming he isn’t a super soldier, could have something to do with the Power Broker.

What if the Power Broker has given John Walker a strength enhancing drug, and the conflict with the Flag Smashers is an attempt to raise Walker’s credibility as a hero? Someone has manipulated and co-opted the Flag Smashers (even without them realizing it) as the ultimate foe for America, and only their new Captain America can stop them. Given the fact that John Walker is given his own sidekick shows this is all pageantry; it is a show they are putting on for the world.

The idea of shady government operations they want to bury is hinted at with the major reveal of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly). Isiah Bradley was introduced in the pages of Truth: Red, White, and Black in 2003. The comic used the real-life atrocity that is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study experiments, an ethically unjustifiable study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis, but the test subjects were not notified about exactly what was being injected into them. Although the African American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not. The comic then stated that as part of this, the government used it to test the super-soldier serum on around 300 Black American soldiers. The comic draws comparisons between America’s treatment of testing harmful drugs, serums, and various other projects on various diverse groups and Nazi eugenics, and is certainly one of the most thought-provoking pieces in the Marvel library, which also makes it one of the most controversial. Yet it appears to help inform the spine of this series.

Whereas in the comics, Isaiah proceeded Steve Rogers as a test subject of the super-soldier serum, the series appears to make him one of the government’s many attempts to replicate the super-soldier serum after Steve Rogers went missing. He was active during the Korean War and even fought Bucky Barnes when he was the Winter Soldier. Yet unlike Steve Rogers, Isaiah was not rewarded. His identity as a black super soldier was kept secret from the American public and Isaiah, despite his years of service, was sentenced to thirty years in prison where he was experimented on by S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. Isaiah Bradley very much is a man whose government persecuted and abandoned him, despite all of his years of service. This is a conflict felt by many men and women in the armed service, whose bodies are used as weapons and tossed aside when there is no need for them. The country Bradley fought so hard for, wanted nothing to do with him. This is the country the new Captain America John Walker is now fighting to preserve.

When Sam and Bucky leave Isaiah’s house, Sam gets angry with Bucky for not telling him about Isaiah’s existence. This causes the police to stop Sam and ask to see his ID, and only stop their hostile interrogation of him when they recognize him as a celebrity. What they first see is a black man raising his voice, and automatically perceive him as a threat. Sam’s status as the Falcon may save him, but he shouldn’t need that. Even John Walker bringing Sam over by using a police siren is eerie and gives off a sense of impending doom.

Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are arguable the biggest pop culture institution in the world. While most of the content is PG-13, the very nature of these as characters made for and primarily marketed to children means that a lot of families will be watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Marvel Studios knows they are now so big they can afford to take chances, try new things, and even tackle subject matter that might be a little too heavy for a feature film that has to appeal to a four-quadrant demographic. A lot of families will be watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and with race playing such a major factor both in the subtext and text of the series this show could serve as an important conversation starter with kids and their parents. Having to explain concepts of racism and the various factors it takes.

While this will certainly enrage a small sub-section of fandom, the very fact remains is with so many pieces in the MCU that even if they decide to drop The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, no real boycott will work for them because they will come back around to another Marvel project. If they don’t watch this series, they certainly won’t keep any boycott up long enough to not watch Moon Knight when it hits Disney+, or stop them from seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or Spider-Man: No Way Home. At this point, anyone who has an issue with the series daring to bring up racism can stop watching, but Marvel most likely still has them hooked into one or more facets of their universe so they cannot ever truly boycott it.

The episode ends with Bucky and Sam realizing they need to talk with someone who may know about some hidden Hydra secrets that could connect to the Flag Smasher’s super strength: Zemo, who was last seen imprisoned in Captain America: Civil War. He is still locked in his cell but based on the trailers we know he won’t be there for very long.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues to excite with movie-caliber action set pieces and witty banter that makes these characters feel like fully rounded individuals, all while hinting at some bigger themes about race, American propaganda, and the feeling of being forgotten. With four episodes left one has to wonder if Marvel Studios will tackle all of this head-on or if they will just merely hint at them to be either explored later or merely hinted at. Based on what we have seen it seems safe to assume they show will not be afraid to ask some tough questions.

Notes

  • A big reveal is hidden in the episode with very little acknowledgment, but the young man that answers the door at the Bradley house is Eli Bradley. Eli Bradley becomes Patriot and is one of the founding members of The Young Avengers. Fans already met Wiccan and Speed in WandaVision and Cassie Lang in the Ant-Man films, and with the arrivals of America Chavez and Kate Bishop, it appears the Young Avengers are building in the background of these various programs.
  • John Walker’s partner, Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett) aka Battlestar, was the fifth character to assume the role of Bucky in the Marvel comics and later adopts the Battlestar persona.
  • This isn’t the first time Carl Lumbly has played a superhero before. He previously was the voice of Martian Manhunter in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited and played Martian Manhunter’s father, M’yrnn, on The CW series Supergirl.
  • In the comics, The Power Broker hires Karl Malus to help create the strength-enhancing drug. Malus is responsible for turning Joaquin Torres (in the series) into the Falcon. Malus has already appeared on the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones in the second season by Callum Keith Rennie.
  • Similar to how WandaVision drew its main inspiration from Vision and Scarlet Witch, House of M, and Visions, this series is also drawing from three major sources of inspiration. If you want to read them to see how these adaptations inform the series as well as how the series diverges, reimagines, and mixes elements together you can.
    • Truth: Red, White, and Black (2003) by writer Robert Morales and drawn by Kyle Baker.
    • Mark Gruenwald’s run on Captain America ran from issue 307 to 443 that lasted from July 1985 to September 1995. Gruenwald’s run introduced John Walker as Super-Patriot and U.S. Agent, saw Steve Rogers give up being Captain America, and introduced The Flag-Smasher.
    • Captain America: Sam Wilson by Nick Spencer issues #1-24 (October 2015 to July 2017) by Nick Spencer.
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