When you have to turn to a villain for assistance, you know you’ve reached a moral tipping point. It’s a classic trope, made most famous by The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal Lecter. Descending further into the underworld of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Power Broker”, the third episode in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier takes us into some of the seedier aspects that have only been hinted at in some of the films up to this point.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
The return of Helmut Zemo was teased at the end of the last episode and it’s a treat to watch Daniel Brühl return to the role. Of all the villains from Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Zemo was the most intriguing one. Without any superpowers to speak of, Zemo managed to disintegrate the Avengers, shattering Earth’s Mightiest Heroes without ever throwing a punch. Someone with that level of forethought is dangerous on so many levels. Here, we see Zemo lounging in a German prison reading the classics when he is visited by Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson.
The jailbreak sequence was quite a lot of fun, particularly since Bucky is explaining it as a hypothetical scenario right up to the moment Zemo walks into the garage and Sam flips out. The scenes with Zemo were well done throughout, with Brühl bringing understated charisma to the role and really living it up (the scene of him dancing is going to be a meme after this). Beneath that charming façade, the darkness that drove him to break the Avengers is still there and as the fight scene at the dockyard shows, Zemo is still capable of violence. At some point, I anticipate him turning on Sam and Bucky but that may not happen until at least the next episode or the second to last episode.
This episode also brought back Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13. Left to her own devices in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, Sharon has become an embittered but effective part of the criminal underworld in Madripoor. Fencing stolen art and smuggling, she seems to be connected to something if the ending of the dockyard scene is any indication. Given that she didn’t have the support system Cap and Sam had when they went rogue, she is right to be bitter toward Sam and Bucky. She still helps but I think this is more of her playing an angle. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sharon is somehow in league with the Power Broker, a character that has been looming in the shadows since the middle of last week’s episode.
With all of the fun in the episode, though, there were two major moments where the show went dark. The first was the introduction of Wilfred Nagel, the man who managed to “perfect” the Super Soldier Serum for the Power Broker. A victim of the Snap, Nagel had been working for HYDRA before their collapse and was proud of the work he had been doing. When Isaiah Bradley mentioned in last week’s episode that both the U.S. Government and HYDRA had been experimenting on him in prison, including taking blood samples, I figured that Nagel’s Serum was derived from Isaiah’s samples. Zemo’s execution of Nagel was justified in my opinion. You could smell the mad scientist coming off Nagel at a hundred paces. And it fits with Zemo’s earlier scene discussing how Super Soldiers on pedestals lose themselves in the adulation of others, forgetting that they are still flawed human beings capable of mistakes.
Up to the ending of this episode, Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers have been daring Robin Hoods, stealing food and medical supplies to help those displaced when people came back from the Snap. But here, we see Karli cause the deaths of dozens of people with an explosion after the group’s latest heist. This level of bloodshed won’t go unanswered and it’s the start of a descent into darkness that Karli doesn’t appear to be fully ready for. On a moral level, I can understand stealing hoarded supplies to help those in need, killing a dozen or more defenseless people after they’ve already been subdued is a step too far. Perhaps Karli and the others will realize this before its too late but I don’t believe that’ll be the case.
And lest we forget Fake Cap, John Walker. John’s beginning his own descent into a dark place in this episode. His scenes with Battlestar were few but memorable, particularly when they found the site the Flag Smashers had been holed up from the previous episode. The level of disrespect Walker is given and his reaction to it are not good signs. Walker seemed one step away from killing the citizen who’d been helping the Flag Smashers. In the comics, Walker allies with the Power Broker and becomes one of Cap’s staunchest adversaries. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the route the show takes.
But the fun of next episode is going to be how Ayo of the Dora Milaje plays into the events. With Zemo on the loose, it was only a matter of time before Wakanda got involved in some way. Zemo is responsible for the death of King T’Chaka and that is a debt the people of Wakanda won’t soon forget. As with the ending of last week’s episode, I’m intrigued to see where the show takes the story from here.