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After Episode Four, I think we all needed a breather and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier provided one with this week’s episode, “Truth”. Consequences, repercussions, and harsh truths were served up in this episode. But there were also lies and deceptions behind those truths, as seen throughout the interpersonal moments. There’s a lot to unpack, including a surprise cameo that I wasn’t expected. Let’s dive in.
Obviously, Spoilers Ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
We start things off with the fight that has been building since the end of Episode One between John Walker (Fake Cap), Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes. And it was everything that I’d hoped it would be. Walker is reeling from the death of Lamar Hoskins and his murder of Nico at the end of the previous episode. Make no mistake about this: John Walker is a villain at this point, no different than Karli Morgenthau is a villain at this stage. But he is a sympathetic villain. It’s clear at the beginning of this episode that Walker is losing his grip, most likely due to severe PTSD. This is not an excuse for his actions, particularly during this brutal fight where it becomes abundantly clear that Walker is trying to murder both Sam and Bucky. I’ve seen a lot of talk in the internet for how Walker isn’t a villain but someone doing what needs to be done.
That is complete crap. Period.
Walker’s fracturing mind is cause to view him in a sympathetic light. But it doesn’t excuse his tenuous grasp on sanity. The fight between the three of them is bone-crunchingly visceral, with no one walking away from it unscathed. While Walker has the shield and the serum, he’s also facing a Super Solider with decades of combat experience (Bucky) and Sam, who fought beside Steve Rogers against threats that make Walker look like a schoolteacher. In the end, Sam spends a few minutes trying to wipe the blood off the shield but it doesn’t come away easily. And its written all over Anthony Mackie’s face: Sam blames himself for this outcome.
I was expecting John Walker to be punished for his actions. The severity of the punishment is not that surprising, since the U.S. Government in the Marvel Universe operates under the same guidelines our real-world government does: We cannot abide bad public relations (or optics). Cold-blooded murder in the streets of a foreign nation, with witnesses, is too much for the government to stand (at least in this case). Walker’s bombastic defense did him no favors either. Credit goes to Wyatt Russell, who has poured himself into this performance with all of his talents. You can see Walker losing his composure with each sentence and he makes a valid point: he’s done terrible things in the name of serving his country and no one raised a stink before. But that was before he put on the suit and shield. Once he became “Captain America”, he was tied to the legacy of Steve Rogers and he simply could not handle the pressure of living up to the original Cap.
The cameo struck me as out of place until I looked up who Julia Louis-Dreyfus was playing: Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (aka Madame Hydra). I’m not sure what role she’s going to play moving forward (rumor has it she was supposed to make her first appearance in Black Widow later this year). I’ve always been a fan of Louis-Dreyfus, particularly on Veep. Getting to see her play a potentially villainous character is going to be a treat.
The best scene in the episode, though, was the conversation between Isaiah Bradley and Sam. Since his introduction in Episode Two, I’ve been waiting to see how much of the “Truth: Red, White, and Black” story arc the writers were going to include. And they used quite a bit of it. Isaiah has every right to be bitter and angry. Thirty years of his life was stolen from him by a corrupt government that used him as a guinea pig and covert operations operative and then threw him away to be experimented on for decades. Sam grapples with the revelations Isaiah brings to light, which are eerily reminiscent of the Tuskegee Syphilis studies I’ve mentioned before. But Isaiah’s story isn’t a new one. And his question of whether Sam truly believes things have changed hits home for Wilson, because he knows not much has really changed. But that is also the moment I believe that Sam accepts the mantle of Captain America, because he wants to be that change.
The scenes in Louisiana are fun, particularly seeing Sam and Bucky actually bond while working on Sarah’s boat. Seeing Bucky flirt with Sarah and Sam’s reaction is priceless. These two haven’t gotten along since their first meeting in Captain America: Civil War but here they get a chance to spend time with one another outside of life-and-death situations. Bucky reveals that he knew what Steve’s plan was when he left to return the Infinity Stones but neither of them understood (and as Bucky points out, how could they?) the pressure and baggage of asking a Black Man to be Captain America. In return, Sam gives Bucky the advice his therapist never gave him during their sessions: making amends is not about making yourself feel better but about providing closure for the people that you hurt to make them feel better. And for his part, Bucky listens, which he never did with his shrink.
For me, though, the turning point for Bucky was facing Zemo and not killing him. Bucky has more reason than most to remove Zemo from life but he chose not to. Instead, he turns Zemo over to Ayo and the Dora Milaje. And to Zemo’s credit, he doesn’t resist or even resent Bucky for his choices. In many ways, Zemo is the most sympathetic of the villains introduced in the MCU since his reintroduction in Episode Three. He’s not a fascist dictator wannabe like the Red Skull or a mass-murderer like Thanos. His points about Super Soldiers and their basis in Supremacist ideology was absolutely correct. But he killed King T’Chaka and his actions resulted in the deaths of trillions of beings across the universe (since his work in Civil War led to the fracturing of the Avengers before the events of Infinity War). Sympathetic doesn’t make him any less of a villain but he’s far more human in his reasons than Walker has been.
The final episode of the series is shaping up to be an action-packed finale, with the Flag Smashers attacking the GRC meeting in New York. Batroc returns to help Karli Morgenthau complete her mission, which can only mean we get another showdown between Batroc and Sam. And perhaps we will get some answers as to where Sharon Carter’s loyalties truly lie. But we will also get more Walker, who was last seen in the stinger constructing his own shield. I’m looking forward to where the ending of the series takes us.