Plot summary: Wakanda make their move against Zemo, and Sam attempts to reason with Karli Morganthau, but John Walker has other ideas.
Episode Title: ‘The Whole World Is Watching’
Air Date: April 9th 2021
Directed: Kari Skogland (4)
Written: Derek Kolstad (2)
The timeline of the Wakanda flashback would mean Bucky was only cured a few weeks before The Blip, meaning he really didn’t have much time at all to begin to get his head together, explaining why he’s still so deep in his feelings at the start of the series.
The episode’s title is also a line in Black Panther in which Okoye warns T’Challa to not execute Klau in front of a crowd of bystanders.
Florence Kasumba’s name is first displayed in Wakandan script in the end credits before changing to English.
We open six years ago in Wakanda (which amounts to the familiar soundtrack, a meh longshot and a random area away from anything else we’d recognise because TV), where Ayo recites the trigger words to Bucky to test his rehabilitation. He is naturally overjoyed when nothing happens.
Back in the present, Ayo chides Bucky for freeing and allying with Zemo. He pleads with her in Wakandan so she gives him an eight hour head-start.
Returning to Sam and Zemo, Bucky learns of Karli Morgenthau’s bombing from last episode. Sam believes he can talk her down, while Zemo posits she and everyone with the super soldier serum is a supremacist and it’s kill or be killed.
They head to the refugee site Karli was briefly at last week and ask around, but the locals want nothing to do with the brash Americans. Zemo fairs much better by offering Turkish Delights to the children and learns of the location of Mama Donya’s funeral.
‘Captain America’ and Battlestar catch up to our heroes and reluctantly agree to give Sam ten minutes alone with Karli after she gives a eulogy/rally cry. The two seem to connect after a few minutes, but naturally Walker storms the room early and ruins it.
After a brief scuffle, Zemo shoots Karli and smashes all but one of her remaining vials of super soldier serum, but John Walker knocks him out and pockets the last one.
Naturally all of this takes them past the eight hour deadline and the Dora Milaje attack, giving John Walker a resoundingly embarrassing ass-kicking in the process, but Zemo escapes during the chaos.
John is shaken by the incident and has a long talk with Hoskins, reflecting on the atrocities they were asked to commit in Afghanistan. They discuss the serum, with Hoskins claiming powers only amplify who a person already is…
The injured Karli formulates a plan to divide and conquer the factions trying to stop the Flag-Smashers, so calls Sam’s sister, Sarah, and makes some vague threats and then invites Sam to a meeting, which naturally turns into another brawl.
It quickly becomes clear that Walker injected himself with the serum to even the odds, but things come to an abrupt halt when Karli inadvertently kills Hoskins. All but one of the Flag-Smashers escape, and Walker violently murders the straggler in front of a crowd of civilians.
This was comfortably the best episode of the show to date, but as I’ve been documenting, that’s a pretty low bar. It’s also a little late to start addressing some of the larger structural issues, as what I now firmly believe what we are seeing unfold is two separate Captain America films that have been mashed together inelegantly.
The most logical one to do first would be the Sam/John Walker/Flag-Smashers triangle, which seemed where the show was going after the first episode. Sam sympathises but can’t sanction the extremity of Karli’s actions, while Walker has too much obedient soldier in him and just straight-up hates her, thus a three-way battle ensues.
And that’s basically the crux of this week’s episode, with Sam’s heart-to-heart seeming to make an mpact on Karli before John barged in and undid it, leading to two fun action sequences. Karli became even more radicalised, and John went off the reservation and murdered a guy in front of SO many witnesses. Presumably from here the US government admit they screwed up, beg Sam to clean up their mess, and he agrees, not for them, but because John is dangerous etc. Doing this (and only this) would allow more screen time for John and Karli, the two most interesting characters in the show, to develop even further. It would allow a full Karli episode. It would allow for flashbacks to John’s military career and early red flags that Lemar and others missed/ignored. Lemar could be a character!
The sequel to that would be the aftermath and trying to figure out where the Flag-Smashers got their powers, reluctantly recruiting Zemo to help find out, with Wakanda as the third faction to complicate things. I think this is an interesting idea too, paying off continuity with the consequences of Zemo’s seemingly forgotten actions in Civil War, as well as Bucky’s years of rehab in Wakanda. I would like to see more of that, as well as letting Ayo shine a bit more. But the problem here is that it became the new premise of the show in episode three, asking us all to put a pin in the Flag-Smashers/Walker plot while they headed off to Madripoor.
All of that being said, I really enjoyed the Walker/Dora Milaje interaction, with his racist derision of their “pointy sticks” and assumption he was their superior as he had his army medals and they had no superpowers, only to be humbled by the fact they’re simply better trained than he is, despite what he’d been told all his life. That shattering of his entire belief system leaving him impotent enough to take the serum was fantastic and put him most of the way towards his final evil destination.
If they were to follow my advice of splitting these two narratives into separate projects, we’d lose all of that. But in my opinion it would be an acceptable trade, because what we have instead is far too much going on, and not enough runway to land the plane. A great sequence in the first unapologetically good episode is not worth the skittish, muddy nature of the overall show in my opinion.
The biggest negative in the episode was the tone deaf nature of Sam’s attitude towards the refugees and Karli. Given the events of the last few years and the story they are clumsily trying to tell with him experiencing racism in action despite being an Avenger, him saying he’ll put in a call to the right people to magically fix everything is BAD. There was also some weird editing and obvious ADR with the Flag-Smasher scenes that point to a plot element being cut out, perhaps explaining their reduced role in episode 3.
In summary, I liked far more of this episode than I disliked, because it operated in triangles instead of bouncing around between completely separate story pockets. There were nice little acting moments from the entire principal cast, decent action and an ‘oh shit!’ closing moment. But even with all that, the larger issues loom large.
Most Marvellous Player
At last somebody remembered to write some meat for Erin Kellyman so she could speak truth to power. The entirety of the second episode should have been turned over to her so we could get a clear view of the character and how she came to form/lead the Flag-Smashers, but more importantly so that we could connect with her on an emotional level. Two minute scenes were not enough. Her work this week lines up far better with what the original premise seemed to be, and it’s just a shame they waited until episode 4 to give her a chance to show off why she’s such a promising young talent in Hollywood. She excels at portraying an idealist who at times hasn’t thought everything the whole way through, and the episode ending with her accidentally murdering Battlestar puts Karl at an interesting crossroads, which Kellyman makes work by ensuring we know this wasn’t a flippant moment, despite how brashly she talks about killing.
Anthony Mackie’s passivity in the role of the under-baked Sam Wilson is officially a problem. This series is ostensibly about how Sam will finally accept the mantle of Captain America, but he only seems to be fully engaged as an actor when asked to banter with Sebastian Stan, shrinking into the background of far too many scenes to be a compelling lead. Chris Evans wasn’t dripping in charisma as Steve Rogers, but he had an undeniable presence. Mackie is obviously a vibrant personality off-camera, and has excelled in more comedic fare, but I remain broadly sceptical about him in dramatic scenes. For that reason he may have been better suited as a sidekick after all, which goes against the entire aim of the series. In attempting to prove he’s an interesting person in his own right they’ve in fact exposed precisely how untrue that is. I did like the moment where Zemo asks if he’d have taken the serum if offered it, though.
Sebastian Stan has far less pressure on him as he’s second billed and has a more straightforward story. He excelled in the Wakandan flashback scene, adept as he is at conveying mostly silent pain thanks to his sad eyes. He spends the rest of his time smouldering and being grouchy, and that’s enough in an ensemble. To be clear, I’m not of the opinion he’d be any better suited as the alpha of this show (in fact I think he’d be worse) but their assignments were clearly different, and he’s done better with his one.
Florence Kasumba is fantastic in limited screentime, communicating SO much with her facial expressions alone. Her warmth in the flashback scene contrasts excellently with her intense judgement of John Walker in the present, capped off by her cold disconnection of Bucky’s arm. With so many characters to try and showcase in Black Panther, Ayo got the short end of the stick. Hopefully this is the start of her ascension in the sequel/the Wakanda TV show, because the character is wonderful in the comics.
I preferred Helmut Zemo in this episode as I felt they struck a better balance between the character’s ominous machinations and the actor having fun. I enjoyed Zemo dancing like a goof as much as anyone, but seeing Zemo begin to proeprly weave his web while still prattling on about Turkish Delights was far more enjoyable in my opinion. Sticking with our heroes until they tracked down the serum and then splitting once he believed it had all been destroyed stayed true to one of his defining character traits, and now he’s in the wind. I also enjoyed him being smart enough to get through to the refugees on a level the Americans simply couldn’t. This is a Zemo I can get on board with again when making arguments for underrated MCU villains.
Good of The Flag-Smashers to finally show up in a vaguely meaningful way. They did a terrorism in episode one, a roof-top fight in episode two, and said a whole lot of clumsy, emotionally-flat dialogue in episode three before at last being given a spotlight to espouse their views about unity in the face of oppression. They’re still only good if you fill in the gaps and gather all the crumbs, but they’re getting better, at least. Not a fan of Karli calling Sam’s sister like a mwahaha supervillain, though.
US Agent fulfilled his villainous destiny at long last following the death of Battlestar. In my opinion he has easily been the best part of the show so far; John Walker is a victim of American exceptionalism and military propaganda; a good soldier who did everything he was told, and more importantly believed everything he was told. They made him do horrific things in the middle east and then hung some medals off him, said some nice words, and sent him off to oppress more foreigners. He believed he was a worthy Captain America because they told him he was. But as Hoskins said, powers just make people more of themselves, and while Steve Rogers used his physical gifts to be the skinny kid who jumped on a grenade, John’s bitter inferiority complex got a shot in the arm and turned him into an emotionally repressed psycho-killer. I really enjoy that his final moment here mirrored Steve’s shockingly brutal fight with Tony Stark in Civil War, a moment that Steve clearly took no joy in, but crucially left his opponent alive, while John ends up doing this almost cocky head bob afterwards, revelling in the violence. Love it, love everything about it. He is shaping up to be one of the most underrated MCU villains in my opinion.
They continue to use careful gender-neutral language with The Power Broker to keep their identity a mystery, and I’m now terrified it’s Sharon. Not because that wouldn’t be cool, but because of the gaping plot hole of Zemo. She pointed him towards Dr. Nagel and the serum and he did exactly what everybody knew he would, so if she is in fact pulling the strings, she’s an idiot who burned down her own empire. Hopefully it is The Mandarin or The Kingpin or Loki or Thunderbolt Ross or somebody like that, but yeah. Concerned.
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