Plot summary: Following Zemo’s suggestion, Sam & Bucky head to Madripoor on the trail of the Super Soldier Serum and run into some old acquaintances.
Episode Title: ‘Power Broker’
Air Date: April 2nd 2021
Directed: Kari Skogland (3)
Written: Derek Kolstad (1)
Madripoor is a location predominantly associated with the X-Men, lending credence to the theory that the Flag-Smashers could be the MCU’s first mutants.
Zemo’s barony and famous mask are at last acknowledged in this episode. In the comics Helmut succeeds his father, who fought Captain America during World War II and was the one responsible for Steve and Bucky’s apparent demise before the re-emerged in modern times.
The Power Broker was an alias of two comics characters, with the more famous one specialising in giving his clients superhuman abilities… including US Agent and Battlestar.
John Walker and the cops raid a German Internet café that provided shelter to the Flag-Smashers. The owner tells them to go spit… and then spits in Walker’s face. ‘Cap’ is furious, naturally.
In Berlin, Bucky speaks with Zemo in his cell, who tries the trigger words from Civil War just for the lols. No luck, though. Upon hearing the Super Soldier Serum is back in play, Zemo signs up to help, and Bucky orchestrates his escape before Sam has a chance to object.
The unlikely trio board Zemo’s private plane as we learn he is an insanely wealthy baron, which somehow never came up in Civil War. They bicker about Marvin Gaye and the danger of Super Soldiers during the flight to Madripoor.
Sam is tasked with impersonating an African criminal nicknamed ‘Smiling Tiger’ because racism, while Bucky must pretend to still be the brainwashed Winter Soldier. Zemo gets to be himself.
They bluff their way into a meeting with ‘Selby’, who confirms the Super Solider Serum was engineered in Madripoor by a Dr. Nagel on orders of ‘The Power Broker’. Sam blows their cover after his sister calls and he’s forced to answer on speakerphone.
An unseen sniper kills Selby, forcing the trio to flee as assassins. Thankfully, Sharon Carter assists their escape and provides clumsy exposition about hiding out in Madripoor after the events of Civil War.
After a brief stop-off at a party where the three men compete to see who the biggest dork is, Sharon finds Dr. Nagel’s secret lab and stands guard to fend off bounty hunters. The boys interrogate Nagel, who confirms he worked on the Super Soldier Serum for Hydra, then the CIA, and now the Power Broker.
He gives them a lead on the Flag-Smashers but before he can say anymore, Zemo murders him and the attackers blow up the lab. The heroes escape, with Zemo surprisingly not taking an opportunity to escape in the chaos.
At a GRC camp in Latvia, Karli Morgenthau says a tearful goodbye to a woman named Madani (presumably NOT the character from The Punisher series). She has a clunky expositional conversation with a friend about their motivations and then bombs a Lithuanian GRC supply depot.
Sam, Bucky and Zemo arrive in Latvia to look for the group (Sharon stayed in Madripoor in mysterious fashion), with Bucky separating himself from the group after noticing Wakandan Kimoyo beads on the ground. Sure enough, he is confronted by Ayo, who wants Zemo’s head!
This was easily my least favourite episode of the show so far. By a long way. I can’t recall the last time I saw a more ‘some things happen’ episode of television. Death by a thousand “and then’s”
Marvel’s fandom does the MCU a lot of favours by grasping onto little nuggets of character detail and filling in the blanks for them. I’m guilty of it myself, and that’s some of what what my MCU podcast is. But to me this episode asked far too much heavy lifting of its audience. I’m sure some group of producers are high-fiving each other over putting Baron Zemo in his mask, introducing Madripoor to the MCU and throwing Wakanda into the mix, but this show was already buckling under the weight of too many disparate, shallow elements.
In theory it’s good continuity to have Ayo and the Dora Milaje come for the man that killed King T’Chaka, and to acknowledge that Bucky spent several years hiding out in Wakanda. But when you’ve already got US Agent & Battlestar, Batroc and his goons, The Flag-Smashers, Zemo and whatever remains of Hydra, the faceless Power Broker and his Super Solider Serum operation, and whoever the heck Sharon Carter is working for in play, it’s simply FAR too much. All of these things individually could be good. Two or three of them together could be. But halfway through the series we have EIGHT factions in play (including our heroes), and three episodes to parse them all down to the simplest possible final confrontation. An unenviable task, with what is clearly a substandard writing staff trying to thread that needle.
You may be waiting for the ‘but here are some things I liked’ part, but honestly there isn’t anything. The prison break was the polar opposite of Mission Impossible’s signature narrated sequences. The heroes walking around with their sworn enemy led to precisely zero fun/interesting moments. Madripoor had a cool aesthetic but really, for what? Sharon’s characterisation felt completely off, which is wild considering how little character she already had. The Flag-Smashers continue to lose the battle for screen time and I think including them in every episode just to keep them in the audience’s minds does them more harm than good.
I guess Sharon’s one vs many fight was okay? That, the bar scenes and everybody getting texts to kill the heroes are when you could tell that Derek Kolstad had written the episode, but none of these elements could touch any part of the John Wick series. I liked when ‘Comin’ Home Baby’ was playing when they infiltrated the lab? And I guess I got a momentary kick out of Ayo appearing? But the further away from that moment I got, the more the problem of too much going on set in.
Somebody needed to edit the hell out of the show’s outline and force them to pick their favourites and jettison the dead weight.
Most Marvellous Player
Can I tie everybody for last place? Sebastian Stan and Wyatt Russell, our first two winners, were both borderline non-entities this week, with Bucky mostly tasked with remaining mute to pretend he’s still The Winter Soldier. Anthony Mackie went from avoiding difficult topics to side-eying Zemo and doing a terrible job as an undercover agent, making Sam look like a total goof.
I’m not going to say Daniel Brühl phoned it in, but when you compare how amazingly understated he was in Civil War to this meaningless whisper-talking he does, it’s night and day. He does do a great job of dancing badly, though.
Erin Kellyman and Desmond Chiam try to portray an emotionally charged, grief-stricken conversation but it means absolutely nothing because we know nothing about them. Imelda Cocoran and Olli Haaskivi don’t make much of an impression as Selby and Dr. Nagel.
I guess if I had a gun to my head I would give it to Emily VanCamp…’s Agent, for securing her third billing in every single episode. You may have noticed large gaps in the end credits where they’re yanking out the likes of Don Cheadle, Georges St-Pierre etc. if they aren’t in a particular episode. Never for Emily, though! Good work on the fight scene’s, I guess.
I was genuinely excited for the return of Helmet Zemo, and they knew what they were doing with the shot of him holding his trademark mask in the trailer, but honestly it’s hard to believe this is meant to be the same character, and not just because they acknowledged that he’s rich. He’s just profoundly weirder than he was in Civil War, with the racially-charged dialogue about Marvin Gaye and pimps coming across as more awkward than anything. In the comics he’s the literal son of a Nazi, raised to believe in a master race, so I guess that’s what they’re trying to highlight? But… yeah. Woof.
The Power Broker remains a mystery (smart money may be on Tony Leung’s Mandarin to lead into Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings), and while in theory I’m into a pirate island of bounty hunters and drug dealers, there wasn’t really anything to be terribly excited about on that front. Selby and Dr. Nagel were absolutely nothing.
The Flag-Smashers continue to be sad more than anything else. Asking us to engage with Karli’s mourning for a person we know nothing about, and thus her turning that grief towards a needlessly cruel bombing, leaves no impression whatsoever.
US Agent and Battlestar spend the episode playing catch-up and might as well have just taken the week off aside from John losing it at the man who spits at him. I do still find the character interesting, particularly the “do you know who I am?” line, but that could have been moved to next week where he may have more to do. Steve Rogers didn’t care about being Captain America, and that’s why he was the perfect man for the job, and also why John will never measure up. But yeah, if you don’t have anything for them this week, lose them!
For podcast reviews of every film in the MCU, check out Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey.
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every weekend. This week Catwoman struggles to resist slipping into old habits, and Bane comes to town.