And with the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the picture of the post-Blip world is coming more clearly into focus. Governments are destabilized, certain parts of the world experienced a taste of peace while half its population was gone, and, seemingly, the US had a plan for Captain America.
The episode also offered a number of introductions which seem to lead the mystery away from Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and toward an unexpected enemy. So let’s dive in and glean what we can from the program’s latest episode and what a new truth might mean for Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
(Photo by © Marvel Studios 2021)
But before we get into the geopolitical aspects, let’s give a few moments to Sam and Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) relationship. Yes, it is totally hetero and totally platonic, but it is interesting the way the Captain America strand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has used film romance dynamics to charge scenes between Steve (Chris Evans) and his partners.
Going by a certain reading of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Bucky is very much Steve’s ex while Sam is, essentially, the new boyfriend. By utilizing rom-com dynamics, the film created a great shorthand to understand the emotions involved. And once we get to Bucky and Sam sitting in that old Volkswagen in Captain America: Civil War, their rivalry for Steve’s friendship proved to be a great source for comedy. That dynamic only grows stronger as events position them into being a couple.
Or, at least a couple in terms of the way the Captain America movies engaged with the romance tropes. Dr. Raynor’s (Amy Aquino) choice to immediately employ couples therapy tactics on them not only lampshades that aspect of the dynamic, but plays into the characters’ discomfort with being a de facto couple. Also, it once again proved to be wildly funny as both Mackie and Stan play off of each other in a truly great way. Whether their dynamic is purely Odd Couple or something more just depends on how intensely you ship them.
But all their discomfort does lead to one key point about Bucky: he’s worried Steve was wrong about his ability to change. Presumably, this will be Bucky’s objective for the rest of the season.
In 2003, Marvel released a series called The Truth: Red, White & Black. Written by Robert Morales with art from Kyle Baker, it told the story of a parallel Super Soldier program conducted on Black servicemen during World War II. Much like the real-life Tuskegee Experiments, it was conducted under false pretenses and without the explicit consent of the men involved. In the Marvel Universe, the experiment led to the deaths of at least 299 men. The one survivor, Isaiah Bradley, wound up with the full benefits of the Super Soldier Serum. Unfortunately, the wider US government was not so accepting of a Black Captain America and Isaiah was sentenced to life in prison after he went AWOL to destroy a Nazi Super Soldier lab. He is later pardoned and released, but exists as a legend known widely to Black Americans, but to few outside that community.
And thanks to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he’s now a part of the MCU in the form of the great Carl Lumbly. His story has been altered somewhat – he is now a Korean War vet – but we think that context is more powerful for the MCU as the mid-20th Century is something of a blank slate for Marvel to work with. On a purely historical front, it’s amazing for any modern series to even acknowledge Korea. And by placing Isaiah’s story closer to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the government’s disgraceful treatment of him – locking him away for 30 years – becomes just that much starker. At no point during the movement was anyone even aware of Isaiah!
Then there’s the truth for Sam here: a Black Captain America came into existence in 1951 and only Bucky knew about him. That’s a tough fact to process and an indication of what might’ve happened had Sam just kept the shield for himself. It is pretty easy to imagine the government burying him (literally) and handing it to John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
Considering how easy it was for those Baltimore Police to not recognize the Falcon, the people propping up Walker probably wouldn’t have to work too hard to make Sam disappear.
(Photo by © Marvel Studios 2021)
Meanwhile, in Europe, we get a better idea of where the Flag-Smashers are coming from. In the wake of the Blip ending, a Global Repatriation Council was formed to help returning people reestablish their lives. According to Walker and Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), this includes reactivating Social Security numbers (for US citizens), setting up healthcare options, and more. We also learn some of the people who were displaced now live in camps.
But during the five years half the world’s population was gone, people like Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) experienced a “taste” of a world without borders, worries of overpopulation, and (we assume) corporate autocracies besides Stark Industries. Reclaiming that version of the world is her stated fight and it’s hard to argue with all her points. Some, though, are easier to combat as they sound eerily reminiscent of Thanos’s grim calculus. How does one “reclaim” a world of only 3 billion people except by killing 3 billion “undesirables”? That thinking can only lead to something awful. At the same time, the sense of community she seemingly clings to can be scaled to include the returnees – unless, of course, she believes all the world leaders who also returned would object to that.
That ambiguity is baked into the character, of course, as she is partially based on Marvel Comics’ Flag-Smasher, Karl Morgenthau, a Swiss anti-nationalist who came into conflict with Captain America, The Punisher, and even the Red Skull. Though his intentions of a world without nationalistic superiority were noble, his preferred method to further his goal, terrorism, indicated a flaw in his thinking. Cap even told him as much.
For the moment, we’re going to assume Karli shares this flaw. But that’s presuming her stated goal is true. Perhaps the Flag Smashers are just ruse. Her apparent association with Power Broker indicates a much more fluid morality.
As the name implies, the Power Broker is a person of means who offers super abilities and assets for personal gain. Curiously, the first version of the character was introduced as a satire of the health and fitness craze emerging in the late 1970s. Some of his schemes revolved around a wrestling promotion for super-powered people. He also ran afoul of John Walker and Lemar Hoskins. But perhaps the most intriguing thing about the Power Broker is his long association with Dr. Karl Malus, a mad scientist interested in the creation and application of superpowers. Is it possible they are the source of the Super Soldier Serum powering the Flag Smashers?
Malus previously appeared in the second season of Jessica Jones in the form of Callum Keith Rennie. There, he was one of the IGH scientists involved in the creation of Jessica’s (Krysten Ritter) powers and her mother Alisa’s (Janet McTeer) more problematic life. Malus presumably committed suicide when he blew up his lab, but as it is still unclear if the events of that series really happened in the MCU, the character could be in play. Or, at the very least, he could have perfected a stable serum variant for the Power Broker before his death.
Well, presuming the Power Broker is the source of the serum Karli’s using and the person hounding her via text messages. The story seems to be tying these things together, but it is possible they are separate things.
Meanwhile, as Bucky notes, the arrival of a stable of Super Soldiers is a definite problem. If Karli got her hands on the serum, is there more out there? If it is in the hands of the Power Broker – for the moment, we’re going to assume the series is using the nameless version of the character instead of Curtiss Jackson – they could unleash a terrible force on the world.
Or a terrible force for Zemo to control. But we’ll consider him more next week.
(Photo by © Marvel Studios 2021)
As mentioned above, the episode also introduced Lemar Hoskins – aka Battlestar. The character has an interesting behind-the-scenes history which is relevant to the show’s running themes. In preparation for John Walker to become Captain America in the comics in 1987, writer Mark Gruenwald decided he needed a Bucky of his own. Already established as a member of the Bold Urban Commandos (BUCs for short), he chose Lemar to become the fifth Bucky and appeared as such for a short while. Eventually, writer Dwayne McDuffie explained to him “Buck” is a derogatory term for African Americans originating from the days of slavery. The two agreed to rename him Battlestar and a story developed for Lemar to highlight the problem and switch to the new persona. The story also firmly established Lemar as Walker’s partner instead of a sidekick.
Considering the way The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has highlighted the treatment of Black superheroes thus far, we expect some of Battlestar’s history will come into play across the remainder of the season. At the moment, he seems pretty happy to be part of the counterfeit Team Cap, but it is easy to imagine his status could change soon. In the moments we have with him so far, it is unclear if he is Walker’s partner or sidekick. Clarifying that role will be key.
Of course, some of that depends on what sort of man John Walker turns out to be. For the moment, he seems forthright, but that slight suggestion of territoriality in his last moments with Sam indicates he may not be as noble as Steve.
Then again, has any man ever been as noble as Steve?
Thumbnail: © Marvel Studios 2021