What to Watch Verdict
Where has this show been all season? Nice to see it get there, even if it's way late.
💥 Sam trying to wipe the blood off the shield is a very good shot, as is Bucky dropping the bullets.
💥 John Walker is met by the only person fit to employ him.
💥 Sam's meeting with Isaiah is one of the most powerful moments of the series.
💥 Everything Walker says about the government is correct. They created him, he was just following orders. But because they discharge him there's no meaningful discussion about their part in all of it.
💥 Makers of live-action comic media are on a time out from the use of slow motion.
This post contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Check out our last review here.
"They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be."
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has had a very rough couple of episodes. This week, however, feels like a completely new series. There's no erasing the murdering of a Black man to progress a white dude's story, or the fact that there was a while where the series felt like it was going out of its way to throw micro-aggressions at its own damn protagonist. But, it is nice to finish an episode and feel that genuine Marvel excitement again. Bonus: there is a very exciting cameo that we'll get to shortly.
Things kick off with a showdown between Falcon (Anthony Mackie) Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and John Walker (Wyatt Russell). The boys know that they can't allow him to hold the shield any longer, so they take it from him. The choreography here is largely admirable, and we do get the satisfaction of Walker's arm being broken when he refuses to release the shield. There are some questionable moments when the vibranium shield doesn't completely eviscerate other metals it comes into contact with, but that feels like a little bit too much of a dorky nitpick.
The boys regain control of the shield, but Karli (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag Smashers are in the wind. As a result, everyone kind of goes their separate ways. Bucky heads to track down Zemo (Daniel Brühl) so he can hand him over to Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and the Dora Milaje, while Sam heads to have an overdue chat with Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly). The apprehension of Zemo goes off without a hitch, and White Wolf seems largely back in favor with his friend. Or, at least back in favor enough to ask for her help. But more on that later, Sam's meeting with Bradley takes priority here.
"The world’s different now. I know people," Sam insists after hearing Isaiah's story. The elder super soldier gives him a look to remind him of how dumb he sounds, and he may be right! But this moment actually illustrates a key reason why Steve Rogers chose Sam to carry the shield. Sam still believes. Not in what America is, but what America can be. That unfaltering and sometimes downright infuriating optimism in what the future can be is part of what made Steve Rogers Captain America, and the same will be said for Sam Wilson very shortly. Everything Isaiah says is true. He's right to be bitter and over the idea of fighting. His disenchantment would have been earned without what the government did to him. So the fact that the super soldiers went through their very own Tuskegee experiment only hammers home the fact that every word Bradley says is true. Right down to the fact that "they will never let a Black man be Captain America."
But here's the thing about that — it's not "their" choice.
As Madam Mother-freaking-Hydra (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) reveals: the government does not own Captain America's shield. Technically, it's an asset of Stark Industries (thanks, Howard!). An argument could be made for Wakanda as well, given the vibranium. But, the bottom line here is that the U.S. Government doesn't have one single say in who carries that shield, so they can sit there in the war rooms and be mad about it.
Kind of buried the lede on Madame Hydra, but Ophelia Sarkissian Valentina Allegra de Fontaine makes a visit to Walker after the the government discharges him from any future service. She knows he's taken the serum and that he doesn't have the shield. She also knows that she has big plans for him, but she's not ready to drop what it is just yet. Instead she leaves him with her card and scoots off into the distance in her very attractive high heeled boots.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans likely recall that the MCU already has a Madame Hydra (portrayed by Mallory Jansen). I have no explanation for you yet! It's possible this character will strictly go by Viper, as AoS' Madame Hydra was more AI and less the literal ruler of Madripoor. We'll likely get more answers on that in the season finale next week.
This week's chapter is one of those fascinating episodes where few major plot points occur but everything that goes down truly matters. Sam leaves young Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) with his broken wings, signaling that the future Falcon may be closer than we think; Karli makes a deal with Batroc the Jumper (Georges St-Pierre) in an escalation attempt now that her people are actively being killed and deported; not to mention the major moments between Sam and Bradley and Bucky and the Dora Milaje.
The best moments of the episode, though, are the ones that occur between Bucky and Sam in New Orleans. Bucky still has no idea who he is without Steve, and watching him open up to another person — and flirt with Sarah (Adepero Oduye) — is tremendously heartwarming. There's nothing saccharine about their connection, a lot of it is honestly just two dudes doing dude stuff (fixing a boat), but the bond is there and it's way stronger than either of these two doofuses realize. Even better, there are huge moments of substance between the two. We get confirmation that Steve told Bucky his plan, and that Buck acknowledges that neither one of them knew what they were really asking when they requested a Black man become Captain America. The "how could we?" at the end of his admission was an extremely nice touch.
Then, on the flip side, Sam gives Bucky the advice he's needed to hear all along. This poor guy's running around trying to figure out who the hell he is, but he's really just continuing his pattern of revenge. Sam teaches him what an actual apology is, and the fact that they can't be used to make him feel better if he ever wants them to truly mean anything. All of this goes down during a training montage. All future training montages are now contractually obligated to say things that white dudes need to hear. It's written the rule books now.
Also in the rules? Creators of comic book media are on a time out from slow motion. Y'all can have it back when you learn to use it properly.
All in all, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier delivered a remarkable penultimate episode. The "yikes" from the past two episodes can't be erased, but the series that insisted it intended to say things finally started doing so. Sam finally understands what he has to do (and has a shiny new super suit that they refused to show because they're teases), Bucky has a direction, and Karli's about to make a major mistake if they don't stop her.
There is a stinger in the credits — John Walker is creating his own shield that obviously, scientifically, will do literally nothing against the actual shield. Right? Right?! The strength of vibranium matters, people!
Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.