This The Falcon and the Winter Soldier review contains spoilers.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2
The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier started off with a fun action sequence to get it out of the way so it could move on to all the dread and depression. Even with the introduction of the Flag-Smashers as a threat, it has nothing on the emotional gut punch of Bucky trying to live with the horrors of his actions under HYDRA’s control. Similarly, the first episode ended with Sam Wilson feeling incredibly betrayed to find out that the United States government was not content with leaving Captain America’s shield in a museum as promised. Instead, they wanted to hand it off to a new Captain America that they – and not Steve Rogers – had handpicked.
In comic book canon, there are five major Captain America replacements throughout the years, not counting a couple minor footnotes (nobody cares about The Spirit of ’76). Bucky and Falcon are the two most recent. William Burnside as Captain America was a retcon to explain why there were Captain America comics published in the 1950s when Marvel canon indicated that Steve Rogers was on ice. Isaiah Bradley was also a retcon, used to expand on the legend and illustrate how not even Captain America is immune to the horrors of racism.
But John Walker? His run as Captain America will probably remain the most memorable due to why it existed: to explain who Captain America was by showing you what he was not. Yes, while Batman had the spike-ridden Jean-Paul Valley and Superman had the visor-wearing Eradicator, Captain America had John Walker.
Originally, the story was that Walker was a borderline-deranged fascist who was too far-right to truly stand for Captain America’s ideals, but was still a hero and good person where it mattered. To bring this story up to date in 2021, Walker’s story needs more juice than “he’s too conservative,” and based on this episode, they seem to be on track of making it work.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2, “The Star-Spangled Man,” does its best to try and make us like Walker at least a little. He isn’t injected with super soldier serum, but he’s as physically talented and purposeful as they get. He wants to make things work. He tries to play nice with our protagonists. Others vouch for him in a way that makes him seem deserving of the mantle. He’s a bit of a dingus, but he’s trying, while Bucky and Falcon are too disgruntled with each other and the situation itself to give him a chance.
At best, Walker appears to be naïve, but there’s still the strong possibility that there’s something truly antagonistic underneath it. It’s not just in the way he goes his separate ways with Sam and Bucky, but in the very jarring and deliberate way he’s introduced in his final scene. He may be decorated and willing, but at the end of the day, he’s a cog in a broken system and he may never truly be on the same page as our heroes.
As for our heroes, they finally get together after a whole episode of stewing in their own post-Blip day-to-day funk. Sam is annoyed, but wants to move forward and do his duties to make the world a better place. Bucky is more obsessed and angry about the Captain America 2.0 situation and gets increasingly mad that Sam isn’t doing anything about it. Still, he tags along to help Falcon chase after the Flag-Smashers because it’s an escape from therapy and the nightmare that is bettering himself by confronting the guilt of things he isn’t fully guilty for.
The Flag-Smashers are given more to work with, as we get to see their leader – revealed in a neat swerve – as well as what they’re worth when up against someone their own size. Actually getting an action sequence in each of two consecutive episodes almost feels like we’re being spoiled after WandaVision kept things so low key until the end. Much like Walker, the Flag-Smashers’ subplot keeps beating us over the head with how likeable and well-meaning they are, which is just going to end badly down the line. Those two parties can’t coexist peacefully and sooner or later, the shit is really going to hit the fan.
More players are put on the board here, including a cliffhanger reveal and a mystery person involved with the Flag-Smashers. What really makes this episode so memorable is a visit to yet another key to the Captain America legacy, the aforementioned Isaiah Bradley, who holds a grudge against Bucky for a meeting the pair had during the Korean war. Isaiah has a justified grudge against the U.S. government as well for their racist treatment of him.
Admittedly, Bucky could have saved a lot of gas and heartache if he just talked to Sam about it for two minutes instead, but their meeting with Bradley is a tense sequence and their time in Baltimore doesn’t end well. Bucky is once again punished for his cursed past life and Sam gets to see more of the history of the shield. It’s a sobering moment, showing us that while John Walker seems mostly on the up-and-up, it doesn’t truly matter, as the machine behind him is capable of orchestrating such injustice to one of their own in the name of patriotism.
On a more upbeat note, Sam ragging on Bucky for being an ancient cyborg is always great. We need more of Bucky dealing with pop culture. Maybe he should listen to Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man or something.
After a shaky start, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to have found its footing. We’ve moved past the boats and bank loans for now and we’re walking into an interesting conflict. As our heroes reluctantly work together, they’re sandwiched between a country that mistreats them and a group of terrorists who want to do away with the systems that mistreat our heroes.
Now get your purple socks on, because things are about to get a lot colder.