After last week’s slow start to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier I was ready for action. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the episode. I am glad the story took its time to catch up with two of my favorite characters, and the enigmatic Winter Soldier especially. Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie have some big shoes to fill, namely their own. I was doubtful a successful translation of their characters to the small screen could be made. But by establishing a good background story for both in the first episode felt like a good start. It is a shame that this second episode mostly ditches that to the side by getting straight into the action. This change in pace is awkward because characters suddenly act different. Bucky quickly confronts Sam over giving up Cap’s shield after it is established they have not been on contact.
I very much want to like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I do, but this is not the best episode I could imagine. For that it is too chaotic with quick jumps in the plot and too many in-universe references that I do not fully understand. But it may also be for other reasons. So far the series has not been procedural, like Agents of SHIELD. Not that I want it to be. But there is no superhero lair, nor one belonging to a supervillain. We do have yet another therapy session with Dr. Raynor (played by Amy Aquino). It comes near the end of the episode so its not like we see its fallout. I appreciated the tension it created between Sam and Bucky after the former joins in. I guess I feel somewhat like the characters, detached from reality.
Not feeling comfortable
Neither Sam nor Bucky feel comfortable in this world, something epitomized when they are stopped by police and they immediately ask Sam for his ID. This detachment extends to the new Captain America, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell). He seems by all accounts wanting to do the right thing. He knows he has big shoes to fill, but he does have the superpowers to match those of Bucky. It is understandable that he would become angry with Sam and Bucky after they rebuff his suggestion to team up. In some ways this seems to epitomize how fans are feeling. It is crazy to think anyone else can fill Chris Evans’s big shoes. This episode symbolizes Sam’s and Bucky’s low-point. As such it is a necessary story to tell, even if does so in a muddled and often melodramatic way.
But there are plenty of bright spots. The creative staff headed by Malcolm Spellman clearly choose to differentiate themselves from Agents of SHIELD by following a non-procedural format. This extends to the villains, those who call themselves Flag-Smashers. They are headed by Karli Morgenthau (played by Erin Kellyman – Solo). We already know they believe life was better during the Blip. No doubt it was, with many now living in refugee camps. However, it looks as though her group is actually helping refugees with vaccines (a little in-universe reference to COVID-19). Considering many of them have enhanced powers obtained through a serum like Steve Rogers it starts to feel as though they are not the ‘true’ villains of the story. The military group that is chasing them may well be, and they may be the US government. This ties in nicely with the larger mystery of the story.
The world is larger than “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”
Where do these enhanced people come from? Who is giving them the serum? Did John Walker receive such a treatment as well? Near the half-way point of the episode Sam and Bucky visit a man named Isaiah Bradley who claims to have fought the Winter Soldier during the Korean War. He was given the serum and became enhanced, but after the war spent 30 years in prison with tests being carried out on him. No doubt not everybody can survive a treatment with such a serum. We also know that Hydra did not take over SHIELD right form the start. It took many decades and even then, SHIELD was never taken over completely until the rise of Alexander Pierce. So, does an element of Hydra live on in the US government? Is Walker associated with them? Sam and Bucky realize they see only pieces of the puzzle.
At the end of the episode, they decide to question Helmut Zemo (played by Daniel Brühl) who is lingering in a German prison. With his re-introduction into the franchise one of the first highlights of this series has been accomplished. And so there we have. I won’t say this episode doesn’t work, it has plenty of nice touches such as Bucky and Sam walking away from a fight after they got their asses kicked. But by being so fast paced it feels like the characters were left behind. Yet a better balance of the story should be established. The many side characters from the first episode such as Yori, Leah and Sam’s sister need to keep on making a presence.