REVIEW: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 3

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brings in two fan-favorite characters, and one surprise cameo, for a low-to-the-ground episode that explores the criminal underground of the Marvel Universe on the international stage.

Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 3 ‘Power Broker’

After three episodes, Zemo and Sharon Carter have joined the fight, and what a nice return to form for both characters. Baron Zemo and Sharon Carter are both parts of the Captain America mythos, but there was only so much time they could be afforded in the films. Letting them interact with Sam and Bucky helps define these two characters outside of their relationship with Captain America and adds new dimensions to both.

Zemo was introduced as the ultimate manipulator in Captain America: Civil War; he was able to play five-dimensional chess with the various characters to where he felt damn near invincible. Yet as the film went on and more layers were revealed, it was discovered that while still a cruel manipulator he was a man who lost his family, and wanted to right a wrong he saw with the world. His being a free agent to the central S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra conflict of the other films made him a more fascinating villain. Here he is given a slight sense of humor which makes him both disarming but also more sinister. It grounds his actions while also highlighting how manipulative he can be. He still is playing our lead characters, and when he turns he really turns, but he seems to be less a man singularly driven by revenge and more someone who is having a good time manipulating the various characters. This seems like a good insight into who Zemo always has been.

Sharon Carter, on the other hand, is given a much more cynical twist than what fans have come to expect from her in the various films. Like many of the key players in the series, Sharon is someone who was left behind. Her choice to help Captain America and the rest during Civil War made her a wanted fugitive, and unlike the rest of the Avengers, she didn’t receive a pardon. Sharon didn’t appear to be snapped, so for the two years between Civil War and Infinity War, along with the five years everyone was gone, Sharon had to fight to survive. She has grown more cynical of the notion of heroes, of S.H.I.E.L.D., and even of the idea of Captain America. While she still probably holds a certain amount of care for Steve Rogers, she seems annoyed with Sam and Bucky. And with a fair amount of reason. None of them reached out, at any point. They’ve been adjusting to their lives in the States for six months now and with Steve gone, nobody was there to vouch for her. Emily VanCamp really settles into the role well and Sharon feels like a more well-rounded character and someone who will hopefully make further MCU appearances.

Sharon’s view on the world, along with the realization of Isaiah Bradley’s existence, has had an extreme impact on Sam. Here at the midpoint of the series, Sam Wilson is left seeing how many people have been steamrolled by the legacy and symbol of Captain America and his shield. While Bucky argues that the shield and Cap himself means more to people, Sam counters with how many people have been left to deal with its messes. Should he not end it all by destroying the shield? Sam started out the episode with such reverence for what it should stand for. Now he is discovering the dark history behind the legacy and wondering if it’s worth preserving. This is a question many Americans deal with in their history. Separating the mythologized fiction from real world events and the sometimes horrific elements that are sanitized away.

Bucky might have gotten himself into a fair bit of trouble, as he had to pose as The Winter Soldier while in Madripoor. While it was all a cover, he quickly assimilated into his position as a weapon very quickly, which Zimo comments on. Bucky’s arc through the series is grappling with the things he has done as the Winter Soldier, and he wants to believe he is more than a weapon. Yet he has broken Zemo, a highly wanted prisoner, out of prison, and there were a lot of cell phone cameras that caught him in action which most likely will get the attention of the rest of the world. At the end of the episode, Bucky comes face to face with a major surprise cameo, Ayo (Florence Kasumba) from Black Panther, who is here for Zemo. Hopefully, in the following episodes, the series will explore Bucky’s relationship with the Wakandans.

John Walker’s sequence of raiding a compound with a bunch of riot officers, and attacking a civilian who dares to question his authority, is drawing on some heavy imagery here. He and Battlestar decide they are going to go off the books, and it doesn’t matter how they do it as long as the job is done. It seems to be setting up that the Captain America facade will be let down and the true intentions/motivations of US Agent will be revealed. This is one area where it feels like the show could have benefited from an extra episode, to really let the facade of John Walker trick the audience more. When he says ‘do you know who I am,’ it shows the audience the character being unhinged but it feels a little too soon.

The Flag Smashers themselves in this series have taken a much darker turn. While the first two episodes were slightly vague on their sinister intentions, here the series shows that while there is righteous anger in their motivations (supplies are being hoarded while others suffer) the main leader of the Flag Smashers, Karli, has taken an extreme step that appears to have shocked some of her fellow members. She bombs a facility full of people the Flag Smashers tied up. Her second in command thought they were just going to leave them to be discovered, but Karli responds this is the only message the world will respond to. Violence begets violence and now the Flag Smashers ideology and those of the US Agent are on a collision course that will lead to a number of innocent individuals in the crossfire.

The action scenes themselves throughout the series have been very distinct. The first episode’s action sequence featured a giant aerial battle that looks like Marvel spent A LOT of money on it to assure audiences they were still going to get that big exciting Marvel action here. In the second episode, the major truck chase felt inspired by the action sequences in the Mission: Impossible film series. This week’s episode might be the less flashy action scene compared to the big scale of the previous ones, but it plays up the classic 80’s buddy cop gun action scenes and the shoot-out in Madripoor (and really the entire setting of Madripoor) plays like a homage to the John Wick franchise that has helped define so much of modern action movies (John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch also were the 2nd unit directors for Captain America: Civil War so it brings the connection full circle).

Overall the episode is enjoyable, but the general direction of the series seems to be a little scattered so far. While the objective is clear, the various story threads weaved throughout the series seem to be going off in different directions. With only three episodes left one wonders how they will all tie together in a thematically satisfying way.

Notes

  • Madripoor first made its comic book appearance in New Mutants #32 in 1986. The island is a major place in the X-Men universe for characters like Psylocke and Wolverine. While it is unlikely the X-Men will show up here, it is a nice bit of world-building for future X-Men properties so it’s likely to return.
  • Wilfred Nagel, the scientist who the team interrogates and is the creator of the new Super-Soldier serum is from the comic book series Truth: Red, White, and Black. In the comics, he is the scientist that experimented on the 300 African-American soldiers that led to the creation of Isaiah Bradley. Here they have given the name but taken the basic function in the story as Karl Malus, who the series most likely didn’t want to use given that he already appeared on Jessica Jones.
  • Zemo stating he is a Baron is obviously a nod to his title in the comics, but also serves as a retcon/explanation for how the character was able to accomplish so much in Captain America: Civil War and have so many resources.
  • Zemo says the Power Broker is king in Madripoor. The shadowy nature of the character makes it seem like it’s a character previously known to the audience (so not Mephisto guys, sorry). Zemo did casually name-drop The Red Skull, could it be him? What did he do after Thanos took the Soul Stone from Voramir? There would be something weirdly fitting about Sam as the new Captain America fighting the iconic Captain America villain.
  • Then again, having it be Red Skull would sort of just be repeating the twist in Captain America: The Winter Soldier of it being Hydra. The idea of it was always the same fight would seem kind of wrong for the direction of this series.
  • Zemo dancing is the best part of the episode hands down and it will hopefully become a gif used the world over.