*** WARNING: This review contains spoilers for all current episodes of Falcon and Winter Soldier ***
The last episode of Marvel’s action-packed series saw John Walker (Wyatt Russell) go rogue after the death of his partner at the hands of Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), viciously killing an unrelated ally in front of a gasping crowd. Oh, and he also took the super soldier serum.
With Captain America’s shield still bloodied, Walker is tracked down by Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) who try to convince him to turn himself in. Walker becomes incensed when they ask for the shield, and a rather cool warehouse battle ensues. After some close calls, the pair prize the shield from him and he is stripped of all rank and privileges back in the US.
It’s very interesting to see the downfall of this character, a man who in many ways was just doing what he was ordered to do – he just happened to do it in front of a crowd with camera phones. Yes, there are subtleties missing from the way he does business that mean he has lost his way, but you can believe in the idea that he might feel betrayed by his country for seeking vengeance for his friends. Why the government would just let a traumatised, highly dangerous super soldier go free into the population is a bit iffier, but who are we to judge?
Outside of the hearing, a fabulous and fast-talking figure approaches Walker and his wife. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, played by Veep herself, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, appears to sympathise with his plight and that he would be well served to answer his call. In the comics, the character is a former SHIELD agent with a connection to Nick Fury, and is rumoured to appear in the forthcoming Black Widow. We think it’s safe to say, from the way the character is introduced here, that she may not be all she seems.
Then follows a lot of soul searching. With the government taking over the investigation into Flag-Smashers, Bucky tracks Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) down to the Sokovia memorial. The pair appear to reconcile for their past, before Bucky proves he is not The Winter Soldier anymore by showing he has the chance to kill Zemo, but instead turning him in to Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and the Wakandans. That’s Zemo out of the picture, and Bucky appears to not be welcome in Wakanda, but that doesn’t prevent him from asking Ayo for one last favour.
Sam visits Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), to further understand why the super soldier was abandoned by his country. Isaiah bitterly recalls decades of torture at the hands of the government, being separated from his wife who died while he was imprisoned. He says to Sam that those in power would never let a Black man be Captain America, and because of what that role means, “no self-respecting Black man” would want it.
Heavy stuff from Marvel, and a laudable conversation to have for a brand that, for a decade, built its universe around films starring White men. It does, however, pose a problem for where Sam goes from here. Isaiah’s argument is valid, but if we follow that then what does that mean for Sam’s future? Marvel isn’t going to solve systemic racism, and it certainly isn’t going to do so in an episode and a half of television. There’s going to have to be some good writing to make it seem like they didn’t just move on from the problem like it isn’t there.
After the big talks comes a bit of R&R. Sam goes home and opens up to his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) about his conflicted feelings about taking up the shield (as Valentina points out earlier, it isn’t legally the government’s so Sam is free to take on the mantle). He reconnects with his family, and calls in some favours to fix their boat. Cue a “buddies” montage where Bucky turns up to help with the boat, and they begin to bury their differences. Sam begins to train with the shield, and Bucky apologises for not understanding his ‘co-worker’s’ (they don’t like ‘partners’) perspective. Sam advises Bucky to “do the work” on his past trauma, and the pair go their separate ways. In a conversation with Sarah, Sam believes the problems associated with the shield don’t mean he should stop fighting for what it stands for, or rather, what he believes in. He opens up a case brought to him by Bucky, containing the wings broken by Walker earlier. They have been repaired by the Wakandans, and Sam appears ready to wear them again.
As for Karli, she and the Flag-Smashers attack the GRC (Global Repatriation Council), with a weapon given to them by Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) in exchange for a chance to kill Falcon. Interestingly, it also appears the connection was made through Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). Is she a villain, or another shades of grey character with sympathies for Karli’s cause? One person we know is definitely up to no good is Walker, who is seen making his own shield in a mid-credits scene.
At around fifty minutes, episode five does a lot of scene setting for next week’s presumably epic Falcon and Winter Soldier finale. The moral complications presented in this series are a lot deeper than the first few episodes had us believe, and with the final hour or so on the horizon (running times have been all over the place), the scene is set for a face off that will have huge implications for the MCU moving forward. At the very least, we’re glad everyone’s stopped pining for Steve Rogers.
As one City AM reader pointed out to us last week, it’s not categorically confirmed that he’s dead, we’ve simply been told that he’s “gone”. So, there’s a chance that the old, Joe Biden-resembling Rogers we saw in Endgame is sitting somewhere, wondering why no-one’s texting him.
New episodes of Falcon and Winter Soldier are available every Friday on Disney+