The Falcon and The Winter Solider is having a fast middle

A couple weeks back, I wrote a piece talking about my feelings towards the first two episodes of Falcon and Winter Solider. To summarise, I was pretty lukewarm on them. Like the first act of a movie, the series was still settling into its setting and its characters and it hasn’t been until now, two episodes later that I’m starting to see where the writers were going.

In the past two episodes, there have been three major additions to the series storyline that have improved the show exponentially: The reintroduction of Zemo to the series from Civil War, the increased focus on the villains (the Flag Smashers) and the development of John Walker as the replacement Captain America in the series.

To which I conspicuously notice that it’s not either of the titular leads I’m mentioning in that list. As I said in my previous post, Sam and Bucky really aren’t the charismatic leads carrying this show. If anything, they’re just our viewpoint characters, getting caught in the flow of the supporting cast and being swept along for the ride. Which is most certainly true of their newly liberated companion Zemo.

Daniel Brühl plays the returning Zemo a little differently in this series than he did in Civil War, which kind of makes sense. I mean, in that movie he was a man driven by a grief and rage, willing to die for the sake of vengeance. Now, he’s had time to sit and dwell in a prison cell for a number of years, which I’d imagine gave him plenty of time to come to terms with it all.

The consequence is that we get a much more playful Zemo than we did in Civil War, one that is far less dry and displays much more of a cheeky wit. I mean, he has to, just to offset the very straight and dour the main duo’s performances. Or else we’d have a very dry main trio to follow if that were the case. With Sam and Bucky essentially being dragged along by Zemo for these two episodes in his continues vendetta against super powered individuals.

It’s that mission from Zemo that has turned out to be the real driving force behind this series as these episodes go on. After seeing the first two episodes, I had the impression that the series was going to focus on race as it’s big central theme. With the idea of a black man becoming the new Captain America being the thing that Sam has to deal with. As it turns out though, that was too raw a nerve for even the progressive MCU to touch upon in this series.

Rather, the series instead has been one about the idea of how power and the burden that comes with it corrupts. Zemo’s main drive for helping Sam and Bucky is that he powerfully believes that super-powered individuals should be destroyed. It’s why he assassinated the Winter Solider candidates in Civil War and it’s why he assassinated the scientist that developed the new super soldier serum that the Flag Smashers have been using.

It’s a drive that has been seemingly justified in the series thus far, as people abusing their power has been the rule rather than the exception when it comes to the Captain America brand of super solider serum. As of the 4th episode of the series, the main villain appears to be Karli Morgenthau, the leader of the Flag Smashers. A collective of people who want to bring the world back to how it was during the five year blip where half of the world’s population had vanished.

While I find the core of Karli’s drive admirable; fighting for a world without borderers, where all nations and people come together. In practice, her cause really doesn’t make any sense. However, it is really fascinating to me to see how the world is responding to the blip and what the world was like during those five years. But I really don’t understand what Karli wants the world to do now that everyone is back.

Her goals don’t make a massive amount of sense, which is why I feel like her presence as a villain really always was a big old red herring to get us to the point we ended on with the brilliant final shot of episode four. Wyatt Russell really has been the breakaway best part of this series for me in what little of it he has shown up as John Walker.

As I mentioned in the previous post I wrote about the series, he is a dirtier, cheaper looking imitation of Steve Rogers. I’ve seen people online describe him as a character with a very punchable face. Which I totally get. Walker is a character who is the perfect combination of smug and insecure. Which ends up leading him down a dark path when the pressure in him starts to increase.

From the moment we first meet Walker, it’s obvious that he’s not a bad guy. He’s served in the military, he has a girlfriend and a best friend who care for him. He looks up to Steve Roger and realises the heavy responsibility burdened on him by becoming the next Captain America. So while he might not be a bad guy, neither is he a great man. He’s just a normal guy, one not ready for the massive burden of becoming a superhero in the world of the MCU.

I do find it a but odd that man who has served in the military and earned numerous honours for his actions in combat would buckle under the pressure like Walker does in this series, but maybe it’s just the added pressure of being in the public eye that does it. Either way, when Zemo destroys all but one vial of the super solider serum and Walker finds the last remaining sample he is faced with a choice.

I do like that Walker wrestles with the idea of taking the serum or not. It’s obvious that the good man is still in there, but his growing frustrations at getting his ass kicked, by the super-powered Flag Smashers, then by the not super-powered Dora Milaje really forces his choice, by the time we see him walk into a trap in which the Flag Smashers intended to kill Captain America, he has already taken the serum and become an equal to the previous Captain America… at least in terms of strength.

The final sequence of episode four is a chilling one, and one that really did help me turn a corner on this series. Walker, in the fight against the Flag Smashers, witnesses his best friend take a fatal wound and die in his arms. His adrenaline already high, he goes off the handle and beats one of the terrorist group to death. Doing so in a very public setting, standing up with blood and gore covering the iconic shield.

It’s a powerful visual and one I feel is absolutely worth the buildup to it.

Here’s the thing. I can’t blame Walker for what he did here. The Flag Smashers are terrorists and mass murderers. On top of that, they just murdered Walker’s best friend right in front of him. Walker’s response is pretty justifiable in my eyes. But I’m just a man, I’m no hero like Steve Rogers was. And neither is Walker. My one major concern for the series going forward is all of the nuance that has gone into Walker’s character thus far will fly out of the window with this action.

I don’t want Walker to have snapped and become some unhinged lunatic from this point forward. Obviously, the right decision for him at this moment would to be return to America to hand over the shield and turn himself in. Which is never going to happen, because this is a superhero show and he needs to become the new villain for the the final two episodes. I just hope that he continues to be good man making incorrect choices. Much like Bucky was during Winter Solider and Civil War.

Somehow I can’t see it though.

I originally intended to go more into Walker’s character and how I wonder if his actions were the self aware writers making a commentary on real world America’s presence abroad and how how the rest of the world perceive them as a violent, international bully. but this post has gone on long enough already. So I’ll sit on that one for a while and maybe return to it when the sereis is over if I still feel that way.

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