Marvel Mondays – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Episode 5

Plot summary: Sam and Bucky bond in New Orleans after forcing John Walker to return the shield, and the Flag-Smashers make their next big move in New York.

Notes

Episode Title: ‘The Truth’

Air Date: April 16th 2021

Directed: Kari Skogland (5)

Written: Dalan Mussan (1)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character should have already debuted in Black Widow, apparently, but because it’s moved release dates so many times she arrives here instead.

The episode’s title references ‘The Truth: Red, White & Black’, the comic telling the story of Isaiah Bradley’s secret past.

Speaking of Isaiah, he mentions “the famous 332.” The 332 Tuskegee airmen were a group of primarily black World War II pilots who were the subject of an utterly deplorable military ‘experiment’, which inspired this entire comic book storyline.

Sam tells Torres he can keep his broken wings. In the comics, Torres briefly becomes a new Falcon.

Recap

John Walker runs away from the murder he just did in front of the world and takes refuge in an abandoned industrial unit. Sam and Bucky catch up to him and talking of course leads to fighting.

Walker rips off Sam’s wings and then almost kills him with the shield as well, but eventually the two heroes work together to rip the shield off his arm and then knock his ass out.

Walker is stripped of the Captain America title and dishonourably discharged at a tribunal but is spared a full court-martial due to his military record. John Boy is not best pleased, screaming at his superiors about always doing what they told him, and then storming off.

Afterwards, he’s approached by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who basically says he did the right thing and tells him she’s going to call him…

In Sokovia, Zemo stands before the monument to the fallen. Bucky arrives, gun in hand, and rebukes Zemo’s suggestion that he do what Sam can’t and kill Karli, who cannot be talked down.

Bucky contemplates shooting Zemo, but adheres to the rules of his therapy, and instead hands him over to the Dora Milaje, who take him to The Raft. He asks Ayo for a favour before they leave…

Sam visits Isaiah Bradley again and learns Isaiah mirrored Steve Rogers’ actions, defying orders to rescue some POWs, but was met with violence, not a hero’s welcome, and then experimented on for 30 years.

Isaiah chastises Sam for his naive belief the world has changed, going as far as to say no self-respecting black man would ever want to be Captain America.

Heading back to New Orleans, Sam again vows to fix their family’s old fishing boat, calling in favours owed to their parents in the community. Bucky pitches in and the two finally bond, with Sam encouraging him to put more work into making amends.

Sam trains his ass off, practicing throwing and catching the shield and putting his own unique athletic flare into it. He finally opens a crate Bucky delivered from Ayo, but we don’t see what’s inside.

Sharon Carter offers Batroc the Leaper twice as much as “last time”, so he heads to New York to arm Karli Morgenthau and her followers. On Karli’s suggestion, he agrees to join them so he can fight Sam again.

Sure enough, The Flag-Smashers rally their followers, who infiltrate the government building where The Patch Act is being voted on.

John visits Lemar’s parents and lies that the Flag-Smasher he killed was responsible for his death. They tell him how proud Lemar was of him for being named Captain America.

In a mid-credits scene, Walker starts making his own shield, welding his Medals of Honor to it for good measure.

Review

This feels like what the show was setting out to be from day one, with many dropped elements from the first two episodes picked back up. That feeling is best encapsulated by Sam & Bucky hanging out and fixing the Wilson family boat. Music plays! People laugh! Bucky flirts with Sarah! It’s fun!!! Our two heroes develop a mutual respect and set themselves up to complete their character arcs, with Sam training his ass off (love a montage) to become the new Captain America, and Bucky accepting he has to, as Sam puts it, “do the work” and realising that he’s been “Avenging”. I cannot express how good it feels to be ending episodes with nothing but positive feelings about the show. It’s just a shame it took us so long to get here.

The opening fight scene was tremendous, evoking MCU history from the obvious of our heroes trying to yank the shield off Walker’s arm in the same manner as the Avengers did with Thanos’ gauntlet in Infinity War, to the soundtrack being a remixed version of a portion of the Civil War score. Heck, breaking Walker’s arm may be a call-back to Steve using the shield as a tourniquet in Endgame. The fight itself was full of nice little blink and you’ll miss it moments that are worth a second look.

It also felt the most aware the creators have been of television series structure, clearing the board a little and getting all the key pieces in order for the finale. Zemo and the Wakandans, who as I’ve written about for the last two weeks have been creating more mess than they’re worth, are dealt with nice and quickly in a scene that entirely serves Bucky’s character arc (more on this later though). A Big Event is telegraphed in the form of a vote on ‘The Patch Act’, giving everybody something to converge on, and letting the various villain factions to bump up against each other. We even get a pair of mystery boxes, one literal, the other Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new character, which both add further intrigue for our finale.

Honestly, while endings are hard in general, they’ve put themselves in as good a position as possible to succeed after doing the opposite for several weeks. Where has this show been? Etc.

Most Marvellous Player

Finally, Anthony Mackie showed up. Both the character and the actor have been annoyingly passive week after week, with Sam not feeling comfortable confronting some of his feelings about legacy and his role as a black man and a superhero in America. I get it, characters internalising things the audience know they need to make peace with can be compelling, but not when you’re the main character of a show that’s more about people punching each other rather than complex emotional arcs. He conveys so much energetic physicality in his training scene, a sequence that has me more excited about the future of this character than I ever have been. His body language communicates how he’s having to work that much harder to get good with the shield compared to Steve, Walker and even Bucky, but it’s work he wants to do now. He also does well in his heart-to-hearts with Isaiah and Bucky, which are both vastly improved on their counterparts in episode 2.

Sebastian Stan’s quiet complimentary work continues to be great, from him finally getting to punch John Walker in the face after glaring at him for several episodes, to bro time on the boat, to his little smile watching Sarah’s kids playing together, to the awkward ‘hey, are we friends now???’ parting. He has been a pitch-perfect superhero sidekick character in my opinion. My favourite line in the episode was him confessing he often doesn’t think to use his vibranium arm because he’s right-handed.

Wyatt Russell continues to excel as the broken end-product of American military propaganda, telling his superiors to go spit in as petulant a manner as possible, with the “You built me” line being delivered exceptionally. While that’s the big money scene for him, I enjoyed his quieter moments like contemplating his situation before fighting the heroes (including hearing Lemar’s voice in his head in a possible homage to Walker’s habit of talking to his dead parents in the comics), and the emotionally charged conversation with Lemar’s parents.

Villain Watch

While a sector of the show’s audience being a little too into John Walker is troubling (please learn how to compliment how well written/acted an antagonist is without resorting to outright admiration for them), he’s undoubtedly a well-executed character. Marvel’s struggles with villains feel a little exaggerated at this point, as they were more good than bad in Phase 3, and thus far they’re two for two in Phase 4. As I keep saying, Walker is a victim of the American military, rewarded for doing exactly what he’s told… and then rightfully abandoned when he commits murder, but nonetheless flabbergasted that his years of service haven’t bought him one free war crime. And again, his obsession with being Captain America are precisely why he isn’t a good one. You build that shield, boyo.

Walker is approached by Contessa Valentina Allegra De Fontaine/Madame Hydra, who has opened some intriguing doors. My money is on her building a team for Thunderbolt Ross, a former soldier who crossed the line that would naturally sympathise with a former soldier who crossed the line, and may want to bring in a man who lost his family to an event he wrote some Accords about. And wanted the Avengers to be government-controlled. Yep. Thunderbolts, baby! Oh, anyway… JLD is JLD. She’s charming, she’s funny, she’s good at acting, we get it. The idea of her as an anti-Coulson going forward is a very fun one to me.

Speakingof the man that lost his family in Sokovia, Zemo got quietly taken in by the the Dora Milaje and is off to The Raft, the sea prison Ross ran in Civil War, and thus I fully expect him to be broken out of in a post-credits sequence next week. I’ve had fun with Zemo like everyone else, and if they’re choosing to use this show to set up a Thunderbolts story, fine, but if not, what was the real point of him being here?

Finally, we got a convergence of three factions as they continue to be strongly implying Sharon Carter is The Power Broker (but surely it’s Thaddeus Ross???), as she confirms for us that she hired Batroc the Leaper in episode 1 by hiring him again to supply weapons to The Flag-Smashers, who reveal the extent of their numbers and begin an attack in New York. Batroc vanishing for four weeks really weakens his vengeance arc against Sam, but hey, he’s good for a fight scene, I guess. Karli Morgenthau shrank again this week (though I like the small touch that she speaks French as a nod to her world without borders), but The Flag-Smashers as a whole are now out in full force. Boy, Derek Kolstad sure does love the idea of lots of ostensibly harmless bystanders getting text messages and then revealing themselves as agents, doesn’t he?

Plugs

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 we meet Jonah Hex and The Riddler appears to have gone straight…

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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