Spoilers for Episode 4 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follow!
When The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was first announced, it was a promise made by Marvel that the legacy of Captain America would finally get a chance to be explored in-depth, defining what it actually means in this new post-blip MCU. For 5 years the world was in turmoil as half the population disappeared, and this series clearly wants to make its stand on the people who were left behind versus the those who returned, and the hardships of bringing everyone back together. While the narrative has previously committed to the latter, episode 4 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes a step towards the former while also, unfortunately, taking a step back as a whole.
In this week’s outing, we continue to follow the disgruntled partnership of Sam, Bucky, and Zemo as they look for leads on the possibly misconceived terrorist group known as the Flag Smashers and their leader Karli Morgenthau. Before all this, Bucky uncovers a piece of Wakandan technology, leading to a private reunion with Ayo of the Dora Milaje. He is reminded of when Ayo and him spent time together during his Wakandan refuge, training to erase the Winter Soldier program’s hold on his mind. The Dora Milaje are here to collect Zemo for his crimes seen in Civil War, but he is of course too crucial to give up in the search for the Flag Smashers and their squad of modern super soldiers.
Bucky is given eight hours to give up Zemo, enough time to eventually find Karli. But before Sam can convince her to back down from the war she’s about to lose control over, John Walker – aka the new Captain America – begins losing grasp of his own reality. The false Cap attacks the Flag Smashers and secretly takes possession of the last of the super soldier serums. Chaos ensues between all parties in episode 4, as the Dora Milaje lose Zemo, Flag Smashers find themselves cornered, and Walker takes a plunge towards darkness and does what Steve Rogers would never do, kill in cold blood.
Throughout the near hour long runtime, there are many instances in which potential is shown; whether it’s John Walker’s loss of reality as the pressure of being Captain America weighs down or how Karli’s pursuit of freedom plummets her into a hole of superiority she can’t climb out of. All of this is quite good and interesting, but it gets bogged down by the ongoing juggling act this show started with in episode two.
While seeing Ayo and the Dora Milaje is undeniably fun, it doesn’t distract from some uncanny choices. Like the fact that Karli was already established as a revolutionary who wants to aid and teach those being taken advantage of in this new world… and now she’s threatening Sam’s sister and nephews, the same people she is fighting for. I’m guessing every piece of Marvel TV on Disney+ has to have its “CW moment” of cliches or corniness. First, it was in WandaVision during its finale and now it’s here in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Key roles skewing out of character seem to be a running theme. If it isn’t Karli, it’s John Walker suddenly taking the serum before the final act when there isn’t a lot to push him to do that in the first place. Would it have made sense for the serum to be taken after Walker’s best friend Lamar is killed in action (as suggested by a specific conversation they have here)? Yes. What we got was a pivotal character choice happen off-screen, feeling rushed and not very earned. Take away Walker killing a member of the Flag Smashers with the shield at the closing moments and there isn’t much left to praise. We got less Sam and Bucky than we had before, it’s still not clear what exact entity Karli’s plan is targeting, and Zemo is here to apparently be the comedic relief. Nonetheless, even though episode 4 took a step backwards towards the end, the rest is fine.
While it can be difficult to expect similar action to what we saw in the series premiere, where Falcon is flying through a canyon battling helicopters, that doesn’t mean condensing the set pieces is inherently bad. When Sam and Bucky suit up and confront Karli, a fight breaks out where we see Bucky do his famous knife flip, which is great for fans of The Winter Soldier. This is where we see these characters at their best. The action and high energy have yet to let down on expectations. Writer Derek Kolstad (the John Wick Trilogy) has clear experience with making fights feel personal and realistic, and he does so here as he did last week. In a way, the action has done a lot to visually show the progression of these characters since the first episode, especially John Walker.
Walker’s downfall is not only archived in shots where he feels distorted, but also in the way that he slowly becomes more aggressive. When Steve Roger was Captain America, we always remembered his moments of vulnerability and never thought to shame him for that. We instead embraced his faults, which lead to our growing loyalty. With Walker, he doesn’t allow himself to be vulnerable to we the viewers. It’s to the point where he feels owed just because he wears the suit and holds the shield. Putting your heroes on a pedestal only leads to your own crumbling – Walker learns the hard way that he’s no Steve Rogers here. While the build up is good for an eventual turn to his comic self, U.S. Agent, there’s just a cold feeling that the series could have utilized more time for Walker to bathe in his self-pity and helplessness.
Episode 4 of the The Falcon and The Winter Soldier won’t disappoint many because it points to somewhere that will likely not be very surprising. Everything so far has not colored outside the lines of a normal product from Marvel Studios. With that said, there is every reason to believe that this show will conclude in a fashion that people will love and want to see more of because we came for Sam and Bucky first and foremost. No mater how convoluted the characters around them get, we’ll always want more of the optimistic flying hero in Sam and the tortured super soldier in Bucky.