After the final moments of last week's episode revealed an all-new Captain America, this week's episode opens with a very telling moment for him.
He's in his old high school locker room, nervously waiting for his chance to show himself, reliving his old glory days, and ever aware of how failure isn't far from him. Wyatt Russell, who plays John Walker, really does understand the value of underplaying these very human flaws, but in such a way that you can see the potential for it going sideways. This already makes him an interesting antagonist to Bucky / Winter Soldier and Sam / Falcon. Neither of these characters question themselves, and their past is one that continues to haunt them, not inspire them.
Already, one of the big things that the show has going for it is the interplay between Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie as Bucky and Sam. As they're sneaking through the warehouse to try and investigate what the Flag Smashers (wow, what a name) are up to, they bounce off each other like it's a scene from 'Lethal Weapon', a point that director Kari Skogland pointed out to us in a recent interview. Later on, their couples' therapy session just compounds this idea. What's more, it works in context. These two characters previously had a foil for one another - Captain America - and now he's gone, and they've got to deal with each other.
Let's go back to the all-new, all-improved Captain America. A lot of what's driving this episode is seeing how John Walker / Captain America will live up to the shield. The very CGI-heavy fight sequence that looks like it's lifted straight from 'The Matrix Reloaded' shows that while he might be well-meaning, he's very often getting in the way. In fact, all the posters of him around the military base come with a clear 'US Army' logo, reminding us that he's got all the privileges and the ease of bureaucracy around him, while those outside of it are left cold.
The scene where Bucky and Sam go to meet Isaiah Bradley, himself a former super-soldier in the '50s, just speaks to this and the history of how black men in America have been repeatedly betrayed by their own government in real life, whether it's the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments or the entrenched racism in law enforcement. In fact, the very next scene sees Sam being harassed by cops who only back off when they realise he's the Falcon. It's a small scene, but it gets at how even in a world of superheroes, mistrust and abuse of government power and institutional racism is still present. Isaiah Bradley's story in the episode references an excellent comic, 'Truth: Red, White & Black', that delves into this more and is worth seeking out.
That said, you have to wonder whether the series as a whole is going to commit to exploring and examining these uncomfortable themes and issues, or if it's simply going to be one scene in an episode and then neglected again and again. Likewise, the Flag Smashers - aren't they kind of right? Isn't the idea of a world without borders and nationalism basically a good thing? Patriotism has, down through the years, been ascribed all kinds of barbaric crimes. To quote Sean Connery in 'The Rock' quoting Oscar Wilde, "patriotism is the virtue of the vicious."
Of course, this being an action thriller series set in a world that's proven time and again that governments aren't to be trusted, it's entirely possible that the Flag Smashers are some kind of false-flag operation designed to provide a reason for having a Captain America in the first place when world-destroying threats like Thanos and Ultron aren't a thing anymore.
The final moments point us toward the next character to be introduced, or rather, re-introduced - Helmut Zemo, also known as Baron Zemo. If you saw 'Captain America: Civil War', you'll know what to expect. He's basically the Hannibal Lecter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - perfectly able to manipulate anyone into doing anything, and even managed to break up the Avengers for a time.
- If Bucky and Sam are going to be a duo, they're going to need a saxophone-filled theme song together.
- The leader of the Flag Smashers, Karli Morgenthau, is a reference to the comic-book character, Karl Morgenthau. That character's codename? Flag-Smasher.
- Feels like the GRC / Global Repatriation Council is going to be a big part of the series, or maybe the next phase of movies? Who knows.
- Redwing is gone, but honestly, hard agree with Bucky about it being annoying AF