12:00 pm EDT, March 26, 2021

‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ episode 2 review: New but not improved

Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 introduces us to the new Captain America, but is there any reality in which we can trust him?

The opening sequence of Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 places John Walker at the center of his own universe. He relives his glory days as his friends stop by to congratulate him. He’s full of nerves and excitement, and even though he comes off as a regular guy who just wants to do what’s best for his country, you can’t help but dislike him.

In fact, I found it strange that all those people cheered for him on Good Morning, America. Sure, they were probably hand-selected to be in that crowd, but the reality is that people hate reboots. And cheap knock-offs. Will we ever see the purists who believe Sam should have the shield? Or those who thought he was right to give it up because Steve is an irreplaceable icon?

Maybe it’s because no one will ever shape up to be Steve Rogers, or maybe it’s because we—as loyal Marvel fans—know Walker is a false Captain America. Sam is the rightful heir to the shield, and anyone else who holds it will forever be an impostor.

But there are other tiny reminders that Walker shouldn’t hold this mantle. Where Steve was confident, John is smug. Where Steve inspired, John must coerce. There’s even a line about whether John would’ve thrown himself on top of a grenade—and he has! But only to put a reinforced helmet over the top of it.

Yeah, that’s not quite the same.

Walker also doesn’t have the super soldier serum running through his veins. Sam is a testament to the fact that you don’t need special abilities to be a hero, and we all know that Steve Rogers’ heart was always his greatest asset (other than having America’s ass), but when you’re up against the enemies of the Avengers, it helps to have a little something more than patriotism on your side.

There’s another glaring issue we need to address as well, and it comes in the form of Lamar Hoskins, aka Battlestar. I have to admit I do kind of like that name, and I don’t have anything against the man himself, but Marvel has a track record of making a Black person the best-friend-slash-sidekick of the white hero (Cap had Sam, Tony had Rhodey, Carol had Maria, and so on).

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And in a show about Sam Wilson, this rubs me the wrong way.

falcon and the winter soldier

A piece of me hopes this is intentional, that it’s part of the narrative. After all, Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2, “The Star Spangled Man,” tackles several racial issues over the course of its nearly hour-long run.

First, we get the Black Falcon joke, which both calls out Marvel’s own habit of being a little on the nose with its superheros’ names, as well as points out a trend that I’m hoping the MCU will avoid. If Sam takes up the shield, he will not be Black Captain America. He will just be Captain America. In the same vein, if Jane becomes Thor in Thor 4: Love and Thunder, she will not be Lady Thor. Just like Hawkeye describes both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop.

Next, we meet Isiah Bradley, who kicked Bucky’s ass back in 1951. Turns out, he’s a super soldier, too. Sam is understandably upset that no one told him a Black super soldier existed, but Isiah lives to shed light on a more important subject—the disparity between the treatment of white soldiers and Black soldiers.

After his run, Isaiah ended up in jail for 30 years, where the government invaded his privacy and his bodily autonomy by running countless tests on him. This is not fiction; United States history is full of similar stories. Isaiah unceremoniously kicks Sam and Bucky out of his house, and we’re left reeling from this new information.

Fighting in the street, a pair of cops roll up and ask Bucky if Sam is bothering him. It’s racial profiling at its worst, but don’t worry! Everything is okay! They finally recognize Sam as The Falcon, and they know he’s not there to cause trouble!

I say all of this because it’s clear The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is aware of Sam’s identity, as well as the current social climate of the United States. So, did they give Captain America a Black best-friend-slash-sidekick on purpose, or are they really that oblivious to their track record?

I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt here, but they better make their intentions obvious by the end of the short six-episode run.

These questions aside, the second episode of Marvel’s new series blew the first out of the water, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that Sam and Bucky are finally sharing screentime. These two play perfectly off of each other, and their trademark banter adds a lot of humor and friction to the story.

falcon and winter soldier counseling

They can’t help but poke at each other, and while it’s usually good-natured if not still sharp, there are some moments of pain and vulnerability spread throughout. One of these interactions occurs during couples counseling—yes, you heard that right—when Sam and Bucky are forced to open up to each other.

Bucky is furious with Sam for giving up the shield because if Cap was wrong about Sam, then he was wrong about Bucky. And if that line didn’t break your heart, I have to wonder if you ever had one in the first place.

There are a lot of jokes about Bucky’s awkward staring, his cyborg brain, and his previous penchant for murder, but the former Winter Soldier possesses unbearable trauma and deep emotions. He’s still mourning the loss of his best friend and trying to figure out his place in the world.

We see this in the first episode when Dr. Raynor reminds him he’s been pardoned, that he’s free. Bucky simply responds, “To do what?”

He’s lost, and while Sam’s mission to stop the Flag Smashers gives him purpose, it also means he’s forced to confront Sam—who he’s never particularly liked—and the fact that Sam gave up the shield after Steve gifted it to him.

At the very least, however, at least Sam and Bucky can agree in their dislike for this new, false Captain America. And while Walker is adamant he’s not trying to be Steve Rogers—he’s just doing the best he can—it’s hard to look at him and not imagine he gets a little bit of glee from being the Star-Spangled Man.

But as much as Bucky wants to steal the shield back, it doesn’t quite work like that. Sure, Sam could take the shield any time he wants, but that doesn’t mean the world will see him the way they saw Steve.

Besides, the planet is divided enough already.

On one side, we have the GRC—the Global Repatriation Counsel. Their job is to reactivate citizenship, social security, and healthcare, along with managing resources for the refugees who were displaced by The Blip. As promising as this sounds, even Sam sounds skeptical. He knows it’s the people who have all the resources in the first place who are put in charge of dispensing them.

falcon and winter soldier flag smashers

On the other side are the Flag Smashers, freedom fighters rebelling against the GRC. They have loyalty among citizens across the globe who see this group as a modern-day Robin Hood. They steal supplies and redistribute them to those in need.

Inherently, this is not a bad idea, but it’s clear there’s more to this story than meets the eye. The Flag Smashers are also super soldiers, which means someone’s been doing a little unsanctioned experimenting. And while the leader, Karli Morgenthau, seems to have good intentions, this organization is borne from bitter anger that can only lead to explosive rebellion.

The Flag Smashers want the people who came into power during The Blip to stay in power. Karli and her people believe the GRC care more about the people who left than the people who were left behind. Their war cry is “One world, one people,” which doesn’t exactly bode well for half the population.

Regardless, Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a global show. In this episode alone, we’ve been all over the United States, as well as to Germany and Slovakia. I’m glad Marvel is taking advantage of this expansive world, filling the show with world issues that make it feel wide and full, while also keeping it close to home with problems that are uniquely American.

But one problem we don’t know much about yet is this person name the Power Broker and what he wants. The Flag Smashers are obviously not a fan, but that by no means indicates he’s one of the good guys. The question now is whether he’s one of the Big Three—an android, an alien, or a wizard.

If you’ve read the comics, then you might know where this is going. But if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it here. You’ll just have to tune in next week to find out what happens next.

One thing we do know for sure is that Sam and Bucky are about to pay a visit to an old enemy: Helmut Zemo.

zemo daniel bruhl

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