This article contains The Falcon and the Winter Soldier spoilers for episode 4, and potentially future episodes and the wider MCU.
That sure was a grisly ending to an otherwise slow boil of an episode, wasn’t it? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 is heavy on the philosophizing and mostly light on the action…until the end. And while there aren’t as many in-your-face Marvel Comics and MCU references as we’ve come to expect from these Disney+ shows, the events and the weighty dialogue are all steeped in Marvel history.
Here’s what we found…
The Whole World is Watching
The title of episode 4, “The Whole World Is Watching”, is a phrase thought to have originated at Civil Rights events in the 50s, but that came to prominence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention when anti-Vietnam War demonstrators were beaten and arrested by cops outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago, a point in US history recently depicted in Aaron Sorkin’s Netflix film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. “The whole world is watching” has been publicly chanted by other groups of activists since.
In the closing moments of this episode, we see John Walker savagely murder one of the Flag-Smasher activists while being filmed by a crowd of onlookers. The whole world has been watching the Flag-Smashers escalate their cause, and now the world is watching Walker go postal.
- Walker finally takes the Super Soldier Serum, which he has been destined to do since he first arrived in the MCU. He got superhuman abilities from the Power Broker in the comics, too, but in a much more direct way than we witness in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. There, he was already augmented BEFORE becoming Captain America, as opposed to here where his insecurities help drive him to the formula.
- Lemar (RIP) posits that the Super Soldier Serum just makes people “more of themselves” – sometimes you get Karli, sometimes you get Steve. This echoes comments made by its creator, Doctor Abraham Erskine, in Captain America: The First Avenger. “The serum amplifies everything that is inside,” he said. “Good becomes great. Bad becomes worse.”
- Walker, while a decorated soldier, considers the time he spent serving his country to be morally murky at best. Despite Lemar’s warning in episode 2 that he can’t just punch his way out of situations now that he’s Captain America, Walker has proceeded to do just that, and in episode 4 we see that he and Karli are now on very similar – but opposing – paths.
- Walker also talks about his past in the military, referencing “the worst day of his life”. Lemar says a lot of lives were lost that day. Presumably, we’ll get to see some flashbacks of exactly what happened in the last two episodes of the series, and how those events led to the MCU’s version of John. All of this feels more nuanced than the version of John from the comics, who was literally known as the Super Patriot before becoming Captain America, and was an unquestioning lover of all things American.
- It’s pretty awkward seeing Captain America brandishing a gun with his shield, and that’s a deliberate bit of dissonance the show is playing into. But there was a live action version of Captain America who DID wield a pistol, but it was instead of a shield. The 1944 Republic Pictures Captain America movie serial starred Dick Purcell as not Steve Rogers but district attorney Grant Gardner, who wore the famous costume but otherwise had very little in common with his comics namesake. We don’t necessarily recommend watching this, although it does feature some terrific fights and stuntwork for the era.
- Walker smashing through a window when he’s in pursuit instead of taking the stairs is probably the most Steve Rogers thing he’s done yet, to be fair.
- Walker murdering a Flag-Smasher in public view is disturbing, but this is a subtle callback to a Captain America story from the 1980s. In Captain America #321, Steve Rogers had no choice but to kill an ULTIMATUM (the comics equivalent of the Flag-Smashers team) agent who was about to gun down a group of hostages. At the time, the official position in Marvel Comics was that Cap didn’t kill, and this high profile event weighed heavily on Steve’s conscience and brought him a ton of bad publicity. It’s a faint echo here with Walker, but an echo nonetheless.
We wrote about this moment and it significance in more detail here.
- The final shot of John Walker standing in public with the bloodied Captain America shield is reminiscent of the iconic cover to Civil War #1, where Steve Rogers Cap is also holding a bloodied shield for metaphorical reasons.
- The way Walker slays Nico is much like how Rogers defeated Iron Man during the climax of Captain America: Civil War. It’s more interesting due to the contrast of the events. Cap was trying to disable Iron Man in order to protect his best friend and sidekick. Cap 2.0 was slaughtering a man in the name of vengeance due to the death of his best friend and sidekick.
- We get to go back six years and see Bucky finish his HYDRA deprogramming journey in Wakanda. We had previously seen only a sliver of what happened between Bucky being put on ice at the end of Captain America: Civil War and his full reemergence during Avengers: Infinity War. Ayo recites his trigger words as that distinctive Winter Soldier score returns, and Bucky gets emotional when nothing happens. We’re not crying, you’re crying.
- Bucky stays quiet about Isaiah Bradley when Zemo thinks he’s won the Cap argument. “But there never has been another Steve Rogers, has there?” That you know of, Helmut, no.
- Despite Zemo’s eternal Machiavellian chuntering about Super Soldiers, Sam manages to give him pause when he warns about Zemo playing God, and makes an example of Bucky’s redemption. He also talks Karli around a little bit when he gets a moment alone with her. Seems like this Sam Wilson guy would make a pretty good Captain America, no?
- Walker, Zemo and Karli have now all appealed to Sam’s beliefs and background to get him on side. Bucky remains the primary cheerleader of Sam stepping up to be his own man.
- Zemo compares the Avengers to Ultron and the Nazis. When Sam admonishes him for speaking that way about their friends, Bucky jumps in a little too quickly to clarify that Sam meant the Avengers and not the Nazis. Probably not the best time to unpack all the ways Bucky and Zemo are connected to the Nazis.
- Our man in the fetching fur-collared coat also begins to chat about his childhood to Sam and Bucky in this episode, potentially opening the door for some flashbacks with his father, Heinrich Zemo – another man you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
- Zemo sings “Baa Baa Black Sheep” as he approaches the children playing outside in the most sinister way possible. Not Marvel-related trivia, but the nursery rhyme was the first of two songs to ever be digitally saved and played on a computer.
- Speaking of super old things, the other person to trick a child into betraying their family with a piece of Turkish Delight was the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. In case anyone was wondering if Zemo was turning antihero or not.
- Zemo squarely catching a thrown shield to the face is almost funny in its timing, but it’s also remarkable how something that basically happens once an issue in Captain America comics doesn’t seem to have happened all that often in live action.
- We say goodbye to Lemar Hoskins aka “Battlestar” in episode 4 when Karli punches him into a stone pillar. Heroes and villains alike are regularly blasted into pillars in the MCU, but this episode acknowledges the realistic effects at long last.
- Much like Walker, in the pages of Marvel Comics Lemar received superhuman abilities from the Power Broker, but sadly in the MCU he became the reason Walker snapped instead.
The Dora Milaje
- Once again we have Florence Kasumba here as Ayo, and she’s joined by Nomble (Janeshia Adams-Ginyard) and Yama (Zola Williams). As far as we can tell, Nomble and Yama don’t have comics counterparts, but if anyone would like to correct us, just let us know!
- A member of the Dora Milaje stamps on the edge of the shield and flips it up in a nice nod to Steve’s Winter Soldier elevator sign-off.
Nico, who admits with some embarrassment that he used to be a Captain America fan, ends up getting brutally killed by Captain America. A firmly ironic yikes. But he’s not the first Cap fan to die for some much-needed plot momentum in the MCU – Clark Gregg’s Cap enthusiast Agent Coulson also took one for the team in The Avengers.