This week’s episode, no. 4 of 6, of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier opens in the past, six years ago to be exact. A one-armed Bucky, then going by his African name White Wolf, sits around a fire in a Wakandan forest, and that alone tells us we’re in for some treats.
Meanwhile, Ayo begins to recite the trigger words that Zemo used to transform Bucky into the mindless killer version of the Winter Soldier. We see a montage of scenes that remind us how ruthless the Winter Soldier was when he was under HYDRA control. Buck begins to cry as he realizes that Shuri’s (Letitia Wright, Black Panther) work to remove the Winter Soldier programming from his head has succeeded.
Fast forward to the end of last week’s episode, where Ayo and Bucky are continuing their conversation. Ayo is explaining to Bucky how she cannot believe he has broken out the man who killed their king (T’chak, T’challa’s father) after all they have done for him. Bucky, speaking Wakandan, explains that Zemo is a means to an end, which seems to be enough for Ayo to allow him an eight-hour window to complete his mission. Mental note: if a Black woman “model struts” off like that, and you’re still alive with all your body parts, consider yourself lucky.
As the title card fades, we enter Zemo’s safe house, Bucky announces that the Wakandans are in Riga and they want Zemo. The men then discuss the mission at hand. Zemo quips that the aspirations behind the entire Super Soldier program have led to some unintended consequences, such as the Nazis, Ultron, or the Avengers. And for this, if nothing else, Karli needs to die, and he is prepared to complete that mission. He goes on to say that the desire to become superhuman cannot be done without some malicious intent. And that anyone with that serum ultimately wants to rule the world, with one notable exception: Steve Rogers.
But we can all agree there has only been one Steve Rogers and the odds of there being another are long. The men decide to see if they can catch up with Karli at the memorial services for Donya Madani.
At the Flag Smasher’s camp, Karli and her crew listen to a newscast detailing the fallout from their destruction of the GRC storage facility at the end of the previous episode. After recanting the extent of the collateral damage caused by the bombing, it is then explained that the GRC has stepped into high gear. The bombing has gotten Karli and her team closer to the outcome they are fighting against. The GRC is now drafting legislation that will speed up the reforming of borders and the resetting of the world back to what it used to be pre-Blip. This is the absolute antithesis of what the Flag Smashers are trying to achieve.
Zemo, Sam, and Bucky reach the GRC resettlement camp in the hopes of finding out about the funeral arrangements for Donya Madani. They are met with passive resistance as these refugees are loyal to the Flag Smashers. Why wouldn’t they be? They are a group of internationally displaced individuals and one of their own is fighting for a cause they see as their own. Outsiders like Sam and the GRC have only offered empty promises but in the end only served to make life more difficult. After singing perhaps one of the worst renditions of “Bah Bah Black Sheep” ever, Zemo manages to bribe some kids into giving him the information he wants with some Turkish Delights aka candy.
Back at the safehouse, Sam explains his empathy for Karli and her cause. He understands that the people are protecting her because she not only looks like them, but she is one of them, and fighting for something they all want. With half the population gone after the snap, the world had to come together to push on. The need to fight on as one people outweighed the old conflicts, borders, and rules that keep us separated today as a planet. And when the other half came back, all that changed in an instant. Makes you wonder if the Avengers should have used the Infinity Stones to put things back the way they were before the snap, instead of keeping that five-year span intact. Sam clearly believes Karli isn’t hell-bent on destruction so much as trying to protect hers and the interest of the people in the same position as her.
Zemo eventually admits that the funeral is happening later that day, but he’s sparse on the details as he feels that is his leverage. Bucky prepares to pounce on Zemo before being calmed down by Sam who says he has a better idea. Sam then calls in a favor from Sharon who explains that they must see this mission through. With Nagel dead, the Power Broker is prepared to scorch Earth to get what he wants, the serum.
Realizing she could be woefully overmatched, Karli and one of her comrades head to a cemetery to retrieve the remainder of the serum. Karli is conflicted about using the serum to create more fighters for her crew. The comrade explains that her hesitance to use the serum is probably an indication that she is doing the right thing. Most importantly, he explains to her that, in his mind, she is the most deserving of the Captain America mantle since Steve Rogers. Steve made him believe that there were decent people in the world, and Karli does the same. They agree, that like the shield, the notion of good and bad is an outdated concept. With the world being a more complicated place than previously, the black and white that prevailed before, is now one big shade of grey. Heroes in this new era need to be equipped to deal with that uncertainty.
New Cap and Battle-cat finally catch up with Bucky, Sam, and Zemo, obviously it is difficult for two Avengers to keep a low profile in a place like Riga. Faux Cap tries to take control but is quickly rebuffed by Sam who says he can talk Karli down. It takes Lemar to help Cap realize that fighting isn’t the best option if they can talk her down, and New Cap reluctantly agrees. Upon reaching the location of the funeral, Zemo is promptly handcuffed, and Sam is only given ten minutes to accomplish his goal.
Sam looks on as Karli recounts how Donya Madani helped her and others after things changed back. Her speech definitely gives us the impression that we could be wrong about Karli and her motivations. Clearly, she only wants to help those who have been forgotten in the race to return the world to what it used to be. She reminds us all that the struggle is real, and far from being over, we quickly cut to John Walker, the petulant man-boy who is growing more impatient by the second.
After the ceremony Sam approached Karli with the hopes of reasoning with her. What they both realize is that they have more in common than differences. Sam also exposes that there are absolutely some flaws in Karli’s thinking. He helps her realize that some of what she is doing is no different than what she claims to be against. She helps him realize that he and his sister and pretty much in the same position as her and her people. Sam explains that he agrees with what she’s fighting for, just not the way she is going about it. It is a moment that makes us realize why Steve thought Sam should be the next Captain America.
Yes, the job is important, but how you do the job is just as important when you’re a symbol as large as Captain America. What was becoming a productive conversation ends when Faux Cap busts in to arrest Karli who escapes. But not before losing the serum and being shot in the stomach by Zemo, who destroys all the vials but one. Walker knocks Zemo out, picks up the vial and stashes it in his pocket. Meanwhile Karli and her team hatch a plan to divide our heroes and kill Walker.
Back at the flat, Zemo asks Sam if he would take the serum to which Sam quickly says no. Zemo is impressed but explains that no matter what Karli, is not the person Sam thinks she is. He goes on to say that super soldiers cannot be allowed to exist and Sam retorts by saying “Blood is not always the answer.” That’s when Bucky says what we’ve all been thinking, in that there is something wrong with New Captain America. If game recognize game, then it is safe to say crazy recognizes crazy, which Bucky definitely is. Right then, new Cap and Battle-guy barge in, setting up one of the best set pieces we’ve seen thus far.
Enter Ayo and the Dora Milaje who intend to take Zemo to Wakanda for justice. New Cap, thinking he has a say in this situation, attempts to pull rank claiming the Dora have no jurisdiction. Ayo retorts by declaring the Dora Milaje have jurisdiction no matter where they find themselves. Lemar should have warned John Walker of what happens when you get on the wrong side of Black women who are intent on completing a task. Nonetheless, Walker audaciously puts his hand on Ayo who responds with her Vibranium spear. Sweeping Faux Cap off his feet, the Dora jump into action subduing both New Cap and Battlestar.
Although they did try to warn Faux Cap of his folly, Bucky and Sam jump in as an attempt to calm things down as the situation begins to come to a head. Sam holds his own momentarily before being dispatched, along with New Cap who is put down and embarassingly loses his shield. Ayo, using some sort of Wakandan pressure point technique, makes Bucky’s whole arm fall off and the fighting ends. During the melee Zemo was able to “El Chapo” and escape via a sewer hatch in the bathroom.
Disappointed, the Dora “allow” Faux Cap to have his shield back and leave the men to reflect on what just happened. We can see in Walker’s eyes that he realizes how inadequate he is: “They weren’t even Super Soldiers,” he says. It also shows he missed the whole final act of Black Panther, he’s lucky Okoye (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead) wasn’t there, the outcome may have been different, and not for the better.
Standing in a café, Lemar attempts to console the dejected John Walker. While it wasn’t the outcome they wanted, the serum and its source was destroyed. There is more discussion around the serum and using it, but what is really at the heart of this conversation is how different both Lemar and John are from Steve and Sam. Lemar and John are battle-hardened, they have seen and lived the horrors of war before becoming Cap and Battlestar. They have fought and been rewarded for an unconventional war they felt was fought wrong. For John, being Captain America is finally a chance to fight the way he feels is right, which at least for now, seems to be bullying people into doing what he wants. Steve Rogers hated bullies.
Karli calls Sam’s sister Sarah in the hopes of finding a reason to trust Sam versus killing him. Sarah echoes the sentiments of many African-Americans when she says: “My world doesn’t matter to America, so why should I care about its mascot?”. She ultimately convinces Karli that Sam is not working for John Walker. Karli sends along the meeting information but not before threatening Sarah and her kids.
Even though Karli asked for Sam to come alone, Bucky tags along. They show up to the meet dressed in their costumes ready for whatever might happen. During the ensuing conversation, Sharon (who has been tracking New Cap via satellite) lets Sam know the Flag Smashers have been found by Faux Cap and Battlestar, or vice versa. Bucky and Sam rush off to intercept.
Busting into the Flag Smasher stronghold, John and Lemar split up, and John quickly realizes Lemar is gone. We quickly find out Lemar has been captured by two Flag Smashers and tied up. Cap searches for his friend and is ambushed by Flag Smashers who appear and disappear like ghosts. Sam arrives on the scene just in time to see New Cap display a level of strength we hadn’t seen before. Together they fight the Flag Smashers while Battlestar is freeing himself in another room. As the fight continues Bucky shows up to lend a metal arm. In the confusion John is grabbed from behind and subdued as Karli hurls toward him knife in hand to deliver the coup de gras. Lemar tackles Karli who in turn delivers a rabbit punch that sends Lemar flying across the room into a stone pillar seemingly relieving him of his life. At that point everyone stands down. John in a panic runs over to his fallen pal, who he is unable to revive. Realizing the mistake they have just made, the Flag Smashers scatter and flee.
John Walker, in a fit of rage, crashes through a window and jumps to the street in pursuit. He spots one of the Flag Smashers and corners him. Unable or unwilling to contain his rage John uses the shield to murder the Flag Smasher as Karli and others, as well as the entire globe thanks to all the smartphones locked onto hi,, look on in horror. In perhaps one of the most symbolic scenes of the season, we see John Walker, the most inadequate of Captain Americas, standing unapologetically with a bloody shield as the world watches on.