The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Season 1 Episode 2 Review: The Star-Spangled Man
Conflicted emotions towards the new Captain America abound as Sam Wilson and Bucky indulge in buddy-cop banter.
Episode 2 sees The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hit its stride and embrace what the show’s marketing promised. After complaints of being separate in the premiere, Bucky and Wilson are united and paired in a fight against the “terrorist group” Flag Smashers. There’s plenty of banter to be had, some of which hits highpoints as the series shifts gears from somber and serious to the lightheartedness and brotherly banter that Marvel movies are so known for.
As enjoyable as the camaraderie between the leads is, I certainly miss the smaller moments that the premiere tackled. Fortunately, some of those can be found in the second outing as well. Wilson continues to struggle to accept that some day, he can be Captain America, or he might as well have been had he not handed over the shield. At least that’s what Bucky thinks. But Wilson is also aware of his environment and the political climate and understands that simply going rogue and self-declaring himself as America’s hero would not have been Cap’s way of doing things. In that choice, he already comes across as the right candidate for the job.
For now, the mantle rests with John Walker who is portrayed with nuance as someone you could root for and yet detest for his arrogance at the same time. There’s a convincing air of humility and smug in Wyatt Russell’s performance and he never quite sways one way or another. It’s fascinating because tentpole characters generally skew towards the light side or the dark but walking such a tight rope leaves you both sympathetic of his vulnerabilities and the weight of expectations mounted on his shoulders, and conflicted of his loyalties and ways of operating. Russell balances both sides well and turns it into an intriguing character study.
This harkens back to Captain America: The First Avenger in that the government is clearly only interested in using the superhero title as a propaganda tool. Americans need to be inspired and need a “white” hero to look up to, one perfect in grades and physicality with a spotless track record. And Walker knowingly or unknowingly is the guinea pig who will play to the government’s hands. Somewhere, Walker probably knows this, explaining the aura of cynicism that emanates behind his charade of idealism.
Even the Flag Smashers get a lot of screen time. The mastermind (or so?) Karli Morgenthau is revealed as a female and their motivations become clearer as well. They prefer the pre-blip, post-snap world where boundaries between nations ceased to exist as the world was left in chaos. It’s probably not so much the mess that they’re fond of but the belief that countries and artificial geographic borders have no purpose and only serve to pump discrimination up. It’s still fuzzy how their small heist mission of stealing medicine supplies is going to help dethrone the world order but at least there’s enough that you can see their viewpoint.
Undoubtedly the heart of the episode is the buddy-cop bromance between Sam and Bucky. As weird as it seems arriving on the heels of tormented explorations of their psyches, it’s good to see they can have a laugh about it for a change. The staring contest elicits some good laughs and I imagine Marvel is going for a tone that strikes the right balance between humor and seriousness, as they do with their MCU properties.
Also captivating is the reveal of Isaiah Bradley, technically America’s first black superhero who was ruthlessly experimented upon for 30 years before Bucky kept him hidden from the rest of the world. The reveal is game-changing for Wilson and his eyes simultaneously light up and dim out when he learns of his existence and how they treated him. It makes him even more dubious about accepting the mantle of Captain America, further reinforcing his realization that he’s not necessarily going to be subject to a good fate. As if to make the point clear, he’s pulled up by cops and almost arrested for trespassing before he has to remind them that he’s the “Falcon”. Again, very evocative of the George Floyd incident and it’s clear director Kari Skogland and writer Michael Kastelstein aren’t afraid of tackling these issues.
The lone action sequence is competently executed but flies by too quickly for you to fully absorb the punches and kicks delivered. And some of the humor feels tonally off coming on the heels of the more somber premiere. That said, the wheels have begun to spin as multiple subplots are set up convincingly in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Enough teases are plotted to drive up your interest and if those aren’t enough, the return of Zemo in the final shot should certainly pique your curiosity into pressing the play next button. Kudos to my patience and will-power for holding off and writing this review instead.