Plot summary: Sam Wilson donates Steve Rogers’ signature shield to the Smithsonian but finds trying to forge his own path a frustrating process. Bucky struggles to make amends for his past.
Episode Title: ‘New World Order’
Air Date: March 19th 2021
Directed: Kari Skogland
Written: Malcolm Spellman
Sam’s conversation with Rhodey was at one point scripted to take place while the two were flying around in their respective suits.
Long-time MCU producer Victoria Alonso is listed among those who vanished in The Blip.
The Flag-Smashers are named for a villain of the same name. There have been a couple of different versions, and this show is going to be gender-bending the Karl Morgenthau version to be Karli Morgenthau.
Sam Wilson is deployed by the US Air Force to rescue a Captain Vasant from the LAF, who have hijacked his plane somewhere over Tunisia. He boards said plane and beats everyone up, but Batroc the Leaper (remember him?) kicks his ass and parachutes out with Vasant.
Falcon follows, naturally (apparently the plane is just going to crash somewhere???), and we get a little aerial chase, culminating in Sam flying straight through a helicopter, snatching Vasant from the villains on the way by.
Back in Washington, Sam gives a speech about Steve Rogers, donating his shield to the Smithsonian. He calls it the greatest symbol ever, but states it was more about the man behind it. Some white dude tells him it was the right decision.
Afterwards, he and Rhodey tour the exhibit and talk about how much their lives have changed because of The Blip. Rhodes gently prods at Sam about becoming the new Captain America, but Sam reiterates that the shield felt like someone else’s.
In flashback, the Winter Soldier murders a whole bunch of people at a fancy Russian hotel as part of a Hydra assassination job. An innocent bystander witnesses the hit and pleads for his life, but Buck caps him without thinking twice.
Waking from his nightmare, Bucky attends government-mandated therapy, lying about the level of violence he used in a recent encounter with a former Hydra-associate as part of his efforts to “make amends.”
His incredibly aggressive therapist condemns him for having so few saved phone numbers and for ignoring text messages from Sam, asking what he wants from life and warning of the dangers of solitude.
Thus, Bucky has lunch with his elderly friend, Yori, who wing-mans him into a date with the waitress, Leah. Yori tells Bucky of the mysterious circumstances of the death of his son, which still haunt him to this day.
Sam drives down to Louisiana to visit his sister, Sarah. They bicker about her desire to sell their parents’ fishing boat due to financial troubles. Sam talks her into applying for another loan, feeling his endorsement will lead to a better outcome than the past.
It… does not go well. Despite the advisor fanboying over him and asking for a selfie, he rejects their loan application, citing Sam’s lack of income for the five years that he didn’t exist, claiming the rules have changed in the wake of The Blip.
Bucky goes on his date with Leah, confessing that he’s had bad luck with online dating, flippantly stating he is 105 years old which she naturally thinks is a joke. They play battleship and discuss his friendship with Yori.
After Leah makes a comment about losing a child being the worst thing that can happen, Bucky excuses himself and almost confesses to Yori that he killed his son, but ultimately chickens out.
Sam’s Air Force contact, Torres, fills him in on an encounter with a terrorist group he’s been monitoring called the Flag-Smashers, who successfully robbed a bank thanks to one of their members seeming to possess superhuman strength.
Sarah interrupts to draw Sam’s attention to the TV where the same white dude who told him he did the right thing by turning in the shield… publicly hands it to the new Captain America!
This was not a very good debut, feeling more like the first episode you’d drop if you were doing a double-header kick-off like WandaVision. It’s fine, with some nice performances and solid writing, but even with a couple of movie-level action sequences, it just wasn’t very exciting at all.
It seems the mission statement for these new shows is to give the more under-served characters and actors far more to do. Sam and Bucky each get their own emotional stories and set of supporting characters after years of being supporting characters in Steve Rogers’ story, which is nice.
Bucky’s was simpler, but well executed, exploring the depths of his trauma with the nightmare (which also let him have an ‘opening mission’ to mirror Sam’s), a decent therapy scene, and his friendship with Yori, which is sweet until the penny drops and it’s revealed he killed his son.
Heading into the series it seemed like it was going to be entirely about Sam finding the self-confidence to claim the mantle of Captain America. It almost certainly will end up being about that, but it seems that journey will also be viewed through the lens of race, a topic the MCU has been reluctant to touch on. Sam discovering that his Avenger clout is insufficient to overcome the thinly veiled racism of big business was a surprising, but effective card to play, and paired nicely with the government picking a new white Captain America after a nauseating speech about American values in a scene that rang depressingly true. However I remain dubious they will go more than surface level with any of this, because fundamentally Disney don’t want to rock the boat with corporations or the government.
SO many TV shows have bad first episodes these days, so it would be unfair to write it off entirely, but this NEEDS to pick things up in a big way next week. Perhaps when the two get together their chemistry will do it more favours.
Most Marvellous Player
Around halfway through the episode I realised this is the first time Bucky has been a human being. He went from generic best friend to mute villain, to plot device for two sides to fight over, to one of dozens fighting faceless enemies. Sure, he got a couple of character moments in with Sam in Civil War, but it sort of tripped me out to see Sebastian Stan doing some Acting in the therapy session.
We have never really explored this man’s thoughts and feelings, and Stan did a good job of immediately fleshing him out. The therapy session, his bro hang with Yori, his cute date with Leah and then his haunting almost-confession were all played well. Bucky can naturally slip into the same line of ‘I’m old and your modern world confuses me’ jokes that worked so well for Steve over the years, but hopefully he can find his own niche in the space between that and his overflowing trauma. Him getting to have a sense of humour is pretty huge too, with his little smirks and irritablity shining through.
Anthony Mackie remains charismatic as hell, able to carry half-baked scenes with his energy. They’re likewise making an effort to make Sam more three-dimensional with his family issues and the weight of Steve’s legacy on his shoulders, but I just didn’t find his half of the episode as engaging as Bucky’s.
Not the strongest of offerings so far. I wouldn’t blame the average viewer for not remembering Georges St-Pierre’s Batroc the Leaper despite how dope the opening mission of Winter Soldier is. He barely speaks, and while they do try to codehim as a threat by how he stands and how others react to him, he’s nothing, really.
The Flag-Smashers have already been the subject of a number of theory videos, with some suggesting they’re going to be revealed as the MCU’s first set of Mutants. Whatever. I did enjoy The Dark Knight/Inside Man style ‘dress randoms up as the criminals to confuse people’ gambit. But so far all they are is a generic shadowy organisation who want slightly contradictory things, with some superhumanly strong members and vaguely alt-right vibe. I feel they will live and die by how good their leader ends up being.
Finally, while he’s only in it for a few seconds, I have faith Wyatt Russell is going to be a great US Agent, given he’s a monster of a man who thrives as a good looking asshole.
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every weekend. This week Harley Quinn begins to realise the Joker may be no good for her after all, and The Clock King returns.
Mike and I will be reviewing Zack Snyder’s Justice League this week in a return of our Batman podcast, The Tape Crusaders.