*** WARNING: This review contains spoilers for all current episodes of Falcon and The Winter Soldier ***
We come to the halfway point of Marvel’s action/espionage/buddy cop miniseries. As you might imagine, an ominous presence is looming over the investigations of Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). What you might not expect is that shadow is the only person we never see. Chris Evans’ Captain America is discussed at length by almost everyone in the show, to the point where everyone feels like a jilted ex reminiscing over past.
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After an ominous commercial by the Global Repatriation Council (“Reset. Restore. Rebuild.”) we cut to a raid by John Walker (Wyatt Russell) on the Flag-Smashers safe house from last episode. When the owner of the house refuses to give any information, Walker loses his cool in a very un-Captain America like way. Two things are clear from this scene – Walker drifts further from his predecessor with every episode, and the Flag-Smashers may not be the cold-blooded terrorists we first thought.
We then get to the point where we left off last episode, with our heroes go to meet Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) in his high security prison. Bucky visits him alone due to their shared HYDRA history, and appeals to his belief that Super Soldiers shouldn’t exist by informing him that there are a group on the loose. Much to Sam’s dismay, Bucky helps Zemo break out of the prison and help them track down the remaining HYDRA affiliates working on super soldier serums.
It’s nice to see Brühl return, even if he is a bit more cartoonish than when we last saw him. There’s an excruciating bit of writing where it’s revealed he has been reading Machiavelli in his cell, practically hitting you over the head with who this character is supposed to be. Nonetheless, he becomes a nice foil to the bickering duo, as well as a kind of detective sugar daddy as they fly around the world in his private jet (handy as this jail break puts them on the wrong side of the law).
First stop is the criminal sanctuary of Madripoor, neon city located in Asia that resembles something from Blade Runner. After assuming false identities (Bucky as his former self, Sam as an African crime lord), they meet with a criminal boss named Selby (Imelda Corcoran), who reveals that a scientist named Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi) is responsible for recreating the serum for a figure known as The Power Broker. Sam’s cover gets blown, leading to a shoot out that kills Selby, and the trio flee into the night.
It’s an awkward scene that isn’t helped by more dodgy dialogue (“the breadcrumbs you can ‘ave for free, but the bakery’s going to cost you” says Selby), but it gets us where we need to go. As the group run through Madripoor, with every criminal informed of a prince on their heads, a figure seems to be helping them evade capture. It turns out to be Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the great-niece of Steve Rogers’ beloved Peggy. Since stealing Cap’s shield in Civil War, she’s been hiding out in Madripoor enjoying her life in the shadows. She agrees to help them find Nagel, in exchange for Sam’s offer to get her an official pardon.
They find Nagel in a secret laboratory hidden within a dock. It’s revealed he was a HYDRA scientist brought to the CIA when the organisation collapsed, only to have his work paused when he was blipped five years ago. Upon his return, he found his work abandoned, so he went to The Power Broker to develop twenty vials of the serum, all of which were stolen by Kari Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag-Smashers. Just as all the important information is divulged, the lab is attacked by bounty hunters and destroyed, killing Nagel to conveniently wrap up any questions over more serums being made. Tracking her Morgenthau’s location to Riga in Lithuania, the three (minus Sharon, who is still a fugitive) head there, where Bucky is tracked down by Ayo (Florence Kasumba), an ally from Wakanda, demanding Zemo’s whereabouts. As you’ll remember, Bucky was given sanctuary in Wakanda, and their former king was assassinated by Zemo. Awkward.
On the surface, it’s a fun globe trotting episode. Zemo is a fun and, yes, Machiavellian counterpart as we follow the trail leading to The Power Broker’s identity. We also get a bit more information about Kari and the Flag-Smashers. It’s further discussed how they use their powers to help people, and scenes in this episode reveal that she is in Riga to comfort her dying mother, and she talks about wanting to live a normal life as a teacher before the resolution of the blip saw her displaced.
Once again, however, we’re haunted by the memory of Steve Rogers. It seems like in between every scene there’s a conversation about what he would have wanted, what he did, what he stood for, how he liked his eggs in the morning… WandaVision of course was anchored in grief, but at least the person lost was still on screen. It’s like if The Mandalorian’s Moff Gideon had spent the series wondering what Darth Vader would do.
Of course, there has to be an element of mourning to what this series is about. Captain America was the heart of the Avengers franchise and to simply carry on would be odd. However, focusing so much on who isn’t in this series distracts us from who is. If Falcon and The Winter Soldier are to be established as more than listless sidekicks, the grieving period should be coming to an end.
New episodes of Falcon and The Winter Soldier are available every Friday on Disney+.