All of us carry the weight of our associations, friendships, loves, and family throughout our lives. Sometimes, the weight is light and we hardly ever notice. And there are times where it hangs around our shoulders, dragging us to our knees and keeping us there. Episode 2 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, titled “The Star-Spangled Man”, deals with the weight all of the main characters are carrying and how each of them is dealing with that burden.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
The first few minutes of the episode are spent with John Walker, the new “Captain America” as he gets ready for an interview on Good Morning, America. Walker’s routine is not that dissimilar from Steve’s during his USO tours after becoming Captain America: the nervousness, the flubbing of his lines, etc. We get a chance to see the man under the mask, his wife Olivia, and his best friend/fellow soldier Lemar Hoskins (aka Battlestar). The pomp and circumstance of the interview, with autographs, selfies, and the marching band attempt to invoke the pageantry of “Captain America” but there’s something missing in Walker’s eyes, something Steve had in abundance: compassion.
During Walker’s interview, it’s mentioned that he’s the first person to be awarded three Congressional Medals of Honor (for the record, only 19 people have ever been given two and the last ones were during World War I). There’s a montage showing Walker training, fighting, practicing with the shield, doing Captain America stuff. But there’s something off about Walker. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it becomes apparent as the episode goes on, particularly during the short drive with Bucky and Sam after the failed operation in Munich. When Walker brings up working with Bucky and Sam, it’s not out of any genuine desire to work with them. He wants to pull some of the shine off of them, legitimize him as the new “Captain America”. But as Bucky points out during the episode, just because Walker has the shield doesn’t mean he’s Captain America. The conversation at the end outside of the police station sealed the deal for me as far as my opinion of Walker: he sees it as his duty to obey orders, regardless of their morality.
In other words, the antithesis of Steve, who befriended Sam simply because they were had similar backgrounds as soldiers and who broke the Avengers to save his best friend.
Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have amazing chemistry together and their timing was on perfect display during this episode. Bucky is still dealing with his demons and his annoyance with Sam giving up the shield is revealed in the brief joint session with Dr. Raynor: if Sam gave up the shield, that means Steve was wrong about Sam being the one to replace him. And if Steve was wrong about Sam, then he could be wrong about Bucky being worth saving. That’s a bitter pill to swallow and one that Sam isn’t willing to consider. For his part, Sam did what he thought was the right thing, the moral thing to do, which is something Steve would have supported, even if he disagreed.
The Flag Smashers are proving to be an intriguing group of characters. I hesitate to call them outright villains at the moment, especially given that they are stealing medical supplies to give to those in need. They have the support of every day people, who arrange safe houses for them. But most surprisingly, they all possess the Super Soldier serum, which was supposedly lost when Bucky recovered the samples created by Howard Stark in the early 1990’s. Super soldiers with a political agenda does not bode well but they merely seem like zealots to me at this point. I don’t think they’re going to be the big bad of the series but I could be wrong.
Speaking of Super Soldiers, I want to touch on the scenes in Baltimore with Sam, Bucky, and Isaiah. I didn’t know who Isaiah was during the episode but found out after I did some research to write this review. Isaiah Bradley, aka the Black Captain America (which incidentally makes his grandson, Eli, Patriot from the Young Avengers) was one of 300 African American soldiers who were experimented on to reproduce the effects of the Super Soldier Serum used on Steve during the Korean War (in the comics). Here, he’s a bitter old man who lost 30 years of his life to a government (and HYDRA) who sought to use him as a guinea pig to reproduce the serum’s effects in others. This smacks of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a notorious study where African Americans were experimented on by the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control (for four decades). Isaiah is justified in his bitterness and his reaction to Bucky coming to see him is one of angry curiosity.
Even at his best in The Winter Soldier, Steve couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Bucky in Winter Soldier-mode.
Isaiah took part of Bucky’s arm and won the fight. If Isaiah’s wallet doesn’t have BMF on it (Google that if you don’t know what it means), there’s something seriously wrong.
Isaiah’s experience should not be shocking to anyone who has spent even a cursory amount of time studying U.S. History. African American soldiers in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were treated as little better than cannon fodder and abused routinely by their white superior officers (since high-ranking African Americans weren’t a thing for a good long time). Couple the scenes with Isaiah with the scenes of the police pulling up on Bucky and Sam and automatically assuming Sam is harassing Bucky and you have a pretty accurate depiction of what I mentioned in the first essay on this series: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The ending of the episode and the reveal that Helmut Zemo is going to be making an appearance in the next one left me feeling ready for the next episode. So far, I’m enjoying this one as much as I did WandaVision.