REVIEW: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 4

The fourth episode sees all major characters coming together to share different ideologies, in an episode that leaves you wondering how far the MCU will go.


The imagery of a bloody Captain America shield might not be subtle, but it is powerful. Watching that moment, it dawned on me how crazy it is to be at this point in the MCU franchise. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is airing ten years after the release of Captain America: The First Avenger. From 2011 to 2019, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers appeared in at least one movie a year, be it in a major role or a cameo (Thor: The Dark World in 2013 or Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017). Audiences the world over have come to recognize his shield as a symbol of hope. There are kids who have grown up their entire lives not knowing a world where Captain America wasn’t a major superhero in films. To see the shield always used to protect and guard, now deployed as a weapon to violently murder someone is a truly horrific image. That bloody shield and the sheer framing of the murder might be one of the darkest things the MCU has featured since the Netflix series.

John Walker is in many ways the prototype for the replacement hero in comics. His debut predates the Knightfall storyline that introduced Azrael as the new Batman or The Death of Superman storyline that saw four characters take up the mantle of the Man of Steel in Reign of the Superman. John Walker in both the comics and the MCU is supposed to be everything Steve Rogers is not. He is there to showcase how the idea of fans wanting to see these superheroes as ‘bad-ass’ is both wrong and in opposition to the character. Fans think they want to see a Captain America that brutally beats people, but this is to show them that they don’t. It is a dark perversion of the image. This is the sort of iconography that the DCEU tried to do with dark Superman (and for some reason keep trying to do, where now ‘evil Superman’ seems like a cheap boring character) but it never quite worked because 1) audiences barely knew this Superman and 2) it can’t be Clark Kent/Superman, it has to be someone else. That is the point of replacement heroes: to show a mirror of why taking these characters that are originally made for kids and making them adult is silly and disturbing.

Yet the idea of what Captain America represents isn’t perfect, and this week’s episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier continues to address that question. While Steve Rogers was a good man, the symbol of Captain America can mean different things to different people. John Walker is the dark side of it, where he doesn’t represent the idea of the American Dream, but the government itself. Sam Wilson on the other hand, in his evolution, is the idea that the symbol can and should evolve. When his sister Sarah (Aderpero Oduye) says “my world doesn’t matter to America, so why should I care about its mascot?” it shows that while Steve Rogers was a good man, the legacy of Captain America is more complicated. America is far from a perfect country, and it needs to work better to care for its citizens and whoever becomes the symbol should represent what the country wants to be.

Zemo’s quote ‘The desire to become superhuman cannot be separated from supremacist ideals’ is certainly a topic of conversation many scholars, fans, and culture critics have leveled at superheroes stories. Even as far back as 1954’s Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham that cited Superman as a fascist. There tends to be a conversation that superhero stories are ones of ‘might makes right,’ and that is a very heavy conversation that one is not quite ready to delve into in this review. What is interesting is that it is Zemo who makes this observation. While Zemo is a complicated character, he is still coded as the villain so this is not the message the show takes and wants you to associate this mindset with the villain.

This is where we get to Karli and the Flag Smashers. Her conversation with Sam Wilson is a classic moment where the hero and villain face-off, yet here Sam isn’t trying to stop her at first (until she threatens his family). He wants to reason with her and talk to her. This speaks to Sam’s past profession of working at the VA, but also shows Sam as worthy of Steve’s mantle. When Steve encountered perceived terrorist Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in Avengers: Age of Ultron he tried to reason with them. Sam is the main character, and he is the one the audience is supposed to identify with, so when he claims that Karli and the Flag Smashers have some good points even if their methods are extreme, that is the series siding with their basic ideology, if not the extremes. Sam and John Walker both look at Karli and the Flag Smashers very differently. Whereas Sam sees them as kids who have been hurt by a system and can be reasoned with, John sees them as a threat to be neutralized. Two contrasting forms of heroism are often portrayed in superhero media, with Sam’s empathy framed as the proper approach. So far the Flag Smashers and Karli work as antagonists for the same reason Kilmonger did in Black Panther; he challenges our hero’s worldview and in the end changes the hero for the better. Each episode is Sam’s journey to discover what type of hero and what a new Captain America should be, and he now needs to do more to work for a united front.

Speaking of Black Panther, The Dora Malije showed up for a fun action scene that was a nice contrast to some of the more grounded shootouts of the last episode. Plus we got a nice flashback to Bucky’s time in Wakanda, when he was reprogrammed by Shuri with help from Ayo. Honestly, I hope these fun little pop-up appearances by various characters from Wakanda continue in other Marvel series. It is interesting that none of the people from Wakanda have made a comment on the Captain America shield, because one would imagine the fact that it is made from Vibranium means something very different to them than the rest of the world.

Lamar Hoskins Battlestar’s death is surely one that warrants some major discussion by someone way more qualified than myself. The MCU has often fallen back on having Black characters as best friends to the white protagonist (Tony and Rhodey, Steve and Sam, Doctor Strange and Mordo) and Battlestar seemed to be a clever acknowledgment of that trend as a calculated piece of marketing within the universe. He is what the world perceives Sam Wilson as, the sidekick to Captain America. Yet the previous three episodes showed that while Hoskins did support John Walker, he did tend to act as his sense of reason. He was the one who supported Sam’s decision to try and talk Karli down. There was a sense of sadness when fans approach John Walker for an autograph, and completely ignore Hoskins (he even tries to joke it off by commenting on how they are missing out because he signs his logo also) and in the end, dies trying to save his friend. While killing him off in such a way to trigger John Walker’s motivation is a little messy in terms of repeating another trend, the hint of John Walker’s aggressive kill seems to highlight this wasn’t a death that made John Walker turn bad. It is an excuse for him.

Overall, this is the best episode of the season so far. We get greater insight into our villains, and that final image will create ripple effects that will be felt in various corners of the MCU for years to come. With only two episodes left there is a lot to wrap up, and hopefully they do so.


  • If you are looking for more Captain America comics to read, acclaimed journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently writing The Captain America comics that have been very political, examining the divide in the country using the Secret Empire event as a stand-in for the past 4 years of American politics. Ta-Nehisih Coates also wrote the Black Panther comic in 2016 and is set to write the new Superman movie at Warner Bros. for producer J.J Abrams.
  • When Steve Rogers lost his best friend Bucky, all he wanted to do was drink. When John Walker lost Lamar, his first instinct was to murder. A nice reminder of Erskine’s line from the first film: “because a strong man, who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.”
  • Zemo is clearly a fan of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with that Turkish Delight trick that is so similar to the White Witch.
  • The super-soldier serum is derived from Isiah Bradley’s blood. This was a major revelation that sort of has been ignored and the serum is now treated as a standard McGuffin. It was paid lip service in the previous episode but this feels like it should be a bigger deal. This is a case of the show having a lot of ideas to play with but maybe not enough time.