April 1, 2021

Streamin' Meemies: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Ep 2, "The Star-Spangled Man"


Two episodes in, this second Marvel series is more of the typical Marvel offering, as opposed to the metatextual weirdness of WandaVision. I think it suffers a bit in comparison, although your mileage may definitely vary on that. Having said that, this is a solid episode that moves the plot and does some good character work both for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, and surprisingly, John Walker, the heroic, ultra-patriotic, clean-living, square-jawed Captain America replacement. And Wyatt Russell is very good in the role. 

In fact, the opening scene focuses on John Walker and does a good job of giving him some depth. He knows what the Captain America shield represents and is worried he won't be able to live up to it. As he says, "Everybody in the world expects me to be something, and I don't want to fail them." He receives a couple of pep talks, the first from a woman--maybe his wife? girlfriend?--and then his sidekick, Batttlestar. Then he goes out to a televised interview at his high school football stadium where he explains that while he's not a supersoldier, he has guts, and while he never knew Steve Rogers, he thinks of him like a brother.

At that we cut to Bucky Barnes, who is watching this with a horrified, disgusted expression. This does not sit well with him at all, as we see in the very next scene where he barges in on Sam, who is about to take off for a mission in Munich, demanding to know why Sam gave up the shield.

In fact, this is a running theme for Bucky throughout the episode: he cannot understand why Sam gave up the shield, because Steve handed it to Sam and wanted him to have it. He's wondering if Sam is the person Steve thought he was, and if Steve was wrong about Sam, then maybe (which is Bucky's real worry) Steve was wrong about Bucky, too. This revelation comes out during a well-written and acted scene of Sam and Bucky facing off in a version of "couples therapy" demanded by Bucky's therapist Dr. Raynor. The two of them sit close together, facing each other, looking into each other's eyes, and after Dr. Raynor finger-snaps them out of their little staring contest/pissing match, the two of them exchange some stark, honest truths. 

This is not the only stark truth we see in this episode: after Sam, Bucky, John Walker and Battlestar take on the Flag Smashers (who Sam realizes are supersoldiers, suddenly popping up after 80 years), Bucky says there's someone Sam should meet. He takes Sam to visit an older black man in Baltimore, who is revealed to be Isaiah Bradley, a black supersoldier he ran into in Korea seventy years before. (Which means the man's got to be in his nineties, but he's still strong enough to pick up a little metal container of something off his kitchen table and fling it across the room with such force it buries itself halfway into the wall.) Bucky tries to tell Bradley there are more people around like the two of them, and they need to find out where they're coming from and who's making them, but Bradley orders Sam and Bucky out of his house. Outside, Sam unloads on Bucky for not telling him about this man, but Bucky says he didn't even tell Steve. (I hope we see more of Isaiah Bradley. In this one brief scene, we meet a complex, troubled character, well played by Carl Lumbly, who leaves an indelible impression.)

There is some of the usual CGI'd superhero pew pew, including an (overly long) fight scene atop two semi-trucks, where the Flag Smashers are smuggling something out of Munich and kick our four heroes' collective asses. This sequence also has a wonderful moment where Bucky breaks into the back of one of the trucks and tries to free a young woman he thinks is a "hostage," only for the woman--Karli Morgenthau, the leader of the Flag Smashers--to give him a chilling, sinister smile and hurl him clear out of the back of the truck, to smash into the grill of the truck following. John Walker keeps trying to talk Sam and Bucky into working with him, and these scenes inject more than a bit of ambiguity into his character. In one, he's the humble new Captain America who's not trying to replace Steve Rogers, but later on when he pulls his shield-bearing rank to free Bucky from the police station where he was arrested for missing one of his therapy sessions and violating his parole, Walker looks every bit the entitled, clueless white ass. You can tell he wants to be Captain America, or he thinks he does, but he really doesn't understand what being Captain America means. And when Sam and Bucky refuse to work with him and walk away, he turns ugly as he says, "A word of advice. Stay the hell out of my way." 

At the end of the episode, Sam and Bucky decide that the only way to find out who is making more supersoldiers is to visit an old Hydra villain. This is Zemo, the villain from Captain America: Civil War, who we briefly glimpse in the last scene, sitting in his prison cell. 

I guess, for me, the jury's still out on this. It might be worthy, but despite the character work done here, it still seems to be a bit more of the same old-same old. It all depends on what is done with this setup. We shall see. 

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