The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier reaches the halfway point of its short season with an episode that feels largely transitional. It gets the job done in terms of sheer entertainment value, but it really feels like this show is still setting up the players for the bulk of the story it has to tell. This week brought Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter (a.k.a. Agent 13) and Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo back into the narrative while also dropping in a few other familiar faces and names along the way, including Erskine and Ayo. Ultimately, Sam and Bucky stayed one step ahead of the new Captain America in their efforts to stop the Flag Smashers, going across the world to track down the origin of the new super soldiers and get back together with old friends. As Sharon says, it’s “one hell of a reunion.”
“Power Broker” opens with the new Captain America getting a bit more desperate. He’s already pulling out the “Do you know who I am?” card when he feels disrespected, and that’s never a good sign. The short run time of the series overall makes this feel a little rushed, doesn’t it? New Cap went from being happy on GMA last week to kind of flailing this week. Anyway, he knows that they’re drawing blanks and that they’re going to have to “bet on someone who’s got a better hand.”
While Sam and Bucky are fighting over what to do about Zemo, he’s breaking out of prison. It’s all a bit too easy — this ain’t exactly Mission: Impossible — but it does get Zemo back with Falcon and the Winter Soldier for the bulk of the episode. He agrees to not make a move without their approval, but even they can’t really believe that’s legit. They learn that Zemo is rich enough to have a garage of classic cars and a private plane that they can take to Madripoor to “scale a ladder of lowlifes.” They’re starting with a mid-level fence named Selby. There’s an interesting chat on the plane about how quickly leadership can turn to chaos in which Zemo basically draws a line from Hitler to Red Skull to Captain America. When people are put on pedestals, their flaws are forgotten, and that leads to problems. In a sense, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about the people behind the folks on the pedestal. They may not get the spotlight, but they’re almost more important when it comes to keeping the world safe (or the opposite).
Cut to Latvia, where Karli Morgenthau is hiding out and saying goodbye to someone important named Donya Madani. It’s a brief scene meant to humanize Karli a bit in that she’s fighting for the people often left behind by the heroes of the world.
Off to Madripoor, where the guys are all dressed up. Sam is even taking an alias, a smooth dresser named Conrad Mack, a.k.a. the Smiling Tiger (check out the notes below for more on where that comes from and a little history of Madripoor). On their way to Lowtown, they’re escorted to an underground club of surly faces and complicated drinks. A thug for the Power Broker makes it clear that Zemo isn’t welcome, but the Winter Soldier serves as his protection, kicking the ass of some bar toughs in a poorly choreographed bar fight. (Surprisingly choppy in the editing department here for the MCU, both in this scene and the later stuff with Sharon.)
They meet with the nefarious Selby and get a name that matters: Dr. Wilfred Nagel. And then “Smiling Tiger” gets a call from his sister Sarah. He can’t turn off his phone? Come on, Sam. This is Undercover 101 stuff. Smiling Tiger tries to play tough on his phone with Sarah, but then sis calls him Sam and things get intense. A shot bursts through a window and a bounty comes out for Selby’s killers instantly. Who shot Selby? And how did a bounty go out so quickly? They’re already on the run, framed for her death.
They run right into Sharon Carter, who has been off the grid in Madripoor since the action of Civil War. Don’t forget: She stole Cap’s shield and helped them track down Zemo. So she’s on the run, although she’s barely hiding in a nice place in Hightown. How did Sharon know they were in town? It feels like a question that the show may not answer beyond the fact that she’s clearly a little powerful in Madripoor. She’s gotten “kind of awful now,” as Bucky notes. “You know the whole hero thing is a joke,” she asks two heroes. It’s kind of a quick turn for Sharon since the last time we saw her, but a lot has happened in the MCU since Civil War. They offer to clear her name if she helps them.
She does almost immediately — the plotting here sometimes feels incredibly rushed — as our two heroes are about to have what feels like a fun night on the town in Madripoor, but Sharon jumps in to say they found Nagel. They track him to a shipyard — there are always shipyards — and find a hidden lab where Nagel is jamming to some Mel Tormé. There’s some monologuing and Nagel reveals that he is the one who rebuilt the super serum. He made 20 vials. There could be a lot of super soldiers.
As all the bounty hunters in town descend on the location — and Sharon fights off most of them — Zemo shoots the doc and then things get really intense. It turns out one of the bad guys brought a rocket launcher! Zemo escapes, puts on his cool mask, and gets villainous, but it’s kind of a fake out. He returns to Sam, Sharon, and Bucky. But she can’t leave Madripoor. Is that it for Sharon? Probably not, because she has a “big problem,” which she mentions to someone after her old friends leave. Is she working with the Power Broker?
The episode ends with a quartet of quick hits. Walker and Hoskins are getting frustrated as they stay one step behind the real action of the world. Bucky is going to take the shield from the new Cap himself. Karli is going to the next level, killing people to accomplish her goals and stay ahead of the Power Broker. Finally, Bucky breaks off from Zemo and Sam in Latvia, following a trail that leads him to Ayo! “I’m here for Zemo.” Uh-oh.
Easter Eggs Assemble
• Not so much an Easter egg as a returning supporting character: The woman in the final scene that Bucky was expecting to come for Zemo is Ayo, played by Florence Kasumba in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. Ayo is a member of the Dora Milaje, the female special forces team from Wakanda that works alongside Black Panther.
• Madripoor has been a location in the Marvel universe for years, first appearing in New Mutants way back in 1985, but it was more closely associated with the X-Universe than The Avengers. It’s located just to the south of Singapore and is more of a small island nation in the books than the bustling metropolis in the show, although it does have a Hightown and Lowtown in the source too. Interesting trivia: Captain America once teamed up with Wolverine there in World War II, marking the first time chronologically that they ever met.
• The broker that the boys go to meet in Madripoor is named Selby, which likely makes her a variation on a Marvel Comics character with the same name who first appeared back in 1996. Male in the comic books, he was a member of the Mutant Liberation Front who could interact with computers and decrypt/download files. When they were handing out mutant powers, he got one of the lame ones.
• The Smiling Tiger isn’t just a made-up player, either. It’s a reference to a Marvel Comic character, of course. First appearing in New Warriors in 1992, Conrad Mack had claws on his fingers and toes (à la Wolverine) and was mute. He was a part of a group of superhumans in Vietnam called Folding Circle and often battled the New Warriors before landing in Madripoor. There’s no evidence he was as snappy a dresser as he is on the show.
• Dr. Wilfred Nagel, the mastermind behind the new super serums, is not a new name to hardcore Marvel fans, and it has a connection to the action of last week’s episode. The name actually appeared in 2003’s Truth: Red, White & Black, and it’s revealed that Nagel was a scientist working for Project Rebirth, the same one that created Captain America. He picked up the work of Dr. Erskine and recreated the Super Soldier Serum to be used on Black test subjects, including Isaiah Bradley.
• Nagel references Dr. Erskine, a nod to Stanley Tucci’s character from Captain America: The First Avenger, the man who created Cap.