The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
A talky penultimate episode of Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sets the stage for a showdown in the series finale between Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers and two potential Captain Americas: Sam Wilson and John Walker. While the thematic explorations of history and heroism in “Truth” are admirable, the pace sags a bit in the season’s longest episode (so much boat work), and some of the episode’s more serious dialogue feels overly scripted. However, the writers are clearly defining the themes of the season and setting up how this show is going to impact the MCU, which appears to be getting richer in its dissection of what it truly means to be a hero.
Let’s start with the show’s representation of flawed heroism, a theme that works its way through the entire episode. First, there’s John Walker, a man who has been called a hero by his country for most of his life and watches all of that torn away thanks to his own vicious pride. On the other end of the spectrum is Isaiah Bradley, a hero who the government disowned and abused, a man who was left behind by a country he served and history books that wrote him out. Somewhere on the fringe is Karli Morgenthau, a woman who considers herself a hero to her people. Caught in the middle of all of this are Sam Wilson and James “Bucky” Barnes, two men trying to determine what the word “hero” means to them.
“Truth” starts with a showdown. Walker is running, flashing back to the murder he just committed in public. An authority figure killing an unarmed person in public has added weight given the events of the last year, even if this show often feels a bit surface-level in the handling of its most complex themes — at least it’s trying to deepen a genre that’s too often “good guys vs. bad guys.” It’s interesting in this first scene how Cap 2.0 is flashing back not to his crime but his “motive,” the death of his BFF. His priorities are still misplaced, and always will be.
Sam tries to cool down Walker with “heat of the battle” talk, but it erupts in some strong fight choreography between the three men. It looks as though John is playing for keeps once more, like it would be fine with him if he had more blood on his shield, including that of the closest ally of the man who used to hold it. He pulls off Sam’s wing and holds the shield in his “murder position” again, but Sam and Bucky work as a team to get the shield away, something Walker never really did with Hoskins. After all, especially in the MCU, teamwork makes the dream work. Both Sam and Bucky hold the shield in this scene, although Bucky drops it to Sam in the end. After some exposition about Bucky going to take care of Zemo and Karli being on the run, Sam takes the shield as he leaves (and the wings stay with Torres, by the way). Is he finally Captain America? And maybe Torres is the new Falcon? That would follow the source trajectory.
Cut to D.C., where Walker is being chastised in front of a council, told he will no longer act in any capacity as a hero for his people. He’s stripped of his title and authority, and Walker loses his temper A Few Good Men style: “I only ever did what you asked of me! What you told me to be and trained me to do!” Again, the idea that the government makes this kind of murderous hero is certainly interesting, but kind of only given lip service here, although Wyatt Russell is quite good. He always is.
Cameo time! There had been rumors of a major actor appearing in episode five, starting the rumor mill buzzing about who it could be and who they might be playing. It doesn’t seem like anyone guessed Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, right? She finds Walker and his wife in the hall, encouraging the former hero’s dark side with lines like, “You did the right thing.” She’s going to be the Steve Bannon for John Walker, bringing him back into the spotlight from behind the scenes.
While Karli learns her base was raided, Bucky finds Zemo at the Sokovia memorial statue, and he scares him for a minute by pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun. This is an interesting scene on rewatch in that it almost implies that Bucky has matured in the way that Sam later encourages him to, valuing making amends over enacting vengeance. The old Bucky would have shot Zemo. The new one hands him over to Ayo and the Dora Milaje to live out his days in Wakandan custody. An interesting thing to note: Ayo tells the White Wolf not to come to Wakanda, which feels like it could be a plot point in the future of the MCU.
Sam goes to talk to Isaiah Bradley, giving Carl Lumbly a few excellent speeches about Red Tails, tetanus, and a long legacy of abuses against Black people and dismissal of Black heroes in this country. Sam’s questions are a bit obvious and “leading for TV,” but it’s a strong scene that gets a very crucial line in: “They will never let a Black man be Captain America,” followed by something even more nuanced: “No self-respecting Black man would ever want to be.” What does it mean to be a hero for a country with a history of such abuse toward your people? If the arc of this series is to make Sam Wilson into Captain America, that’s a point with which future writers will have to wrestle.
The conversation sends Sam home to his sister to help fix up the boat to sell it. Sam decides to call in favors earned by the generosity of their parents, and Bucky even shows up to help (and flirt with Sarah). This is heroism in small communities — people getting together to keep a family business from going under. Of course, it helps to have a super metallic arm around to get the job done.
As Sam lies to Lemar’s parents about the circumstances around his death and Sharon calls Batroc for a job, Sam and Bucky play with Cap’s shield and discuss its legacy. After it seems clear that Bucky is cool with Sam being the one to carry it, a Rocky-esque training montage follows for Wilson, who learns how to use it like a boomerang. Stan has been the more interesting performer this season, but Mackie certainly sells the action scenes well.
Cut to New York, the scene of an upcoming council meeting to vote on the Patch Act, and where Karli and Batroc are meeting in the park with plans to destroy them. She now has more firepower; he wants to kill the Falcon. It’s about to go down. Who will emerge a hero and who will be the show’s true villain?
And then there’s the first post-credits scene of the season! It’s kind of a lame one, a reminder that John Walker isn’t done, as he’s seen building his own shield. Uh oh.
Easter Eggs Assemble
• The big question out there for most viewers is probably who the hell JLD is playing. She’s the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (or Val), a character who first appeared way back in 1967 in an issue of Strange Tales. She became a recurring player in the world of Captain America and started her life as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., even becoming Nick Fury’s lover (who else can’t wait for that reunion down the MCU timeline?). Get this: She drove a wall between Cap and Fury by flirting with Mr. America and then later the same thing happened when Cap dated Sharon Carter! She’s trouble. Here’s where it gets interesting: In an issue of Secret Warriors in 2009, Val secretly joined Hydra, and was revealed to have been a Russian sleeper agent her entire time in S.H.I.E.L.D. It feels like that is the Contessa who has been introduced to the MCU.
• Ayo says that Zemo will live out the rest of his days on “The Raft.” Remember what that is? It’s a special prison built for people with abilities, where prisoners have no contact with the outside world. Remember where members of the Avengers were being held in Captain America: Civil War? Yeah, that place.
• Does Sharon’s call to Batroc and then his meeting with Karli mean that Carter is the Power Broker? Much has been speculated about who has been pulling the strings in that role, a notable one from the comic books, and it would be a bit surprising for that to be kind of blandly revealed to be Sharon Carter, but crazier things have happened.