After the disappointing and tepid stint at Madripoor, Episode 4 does a salvaging act and attempts to brings the series back to its somber tone. This is mostly personified by the ending which is undoubtedly the highlight of the series. After accidentally losing his longtime brotherly colleague to the Flag Smashers, John Walker loses it and in a fit of rage, murders the one responsible out there as The Whole World is Watching. While there’s a rushed quality to executing that whole scene, there’s a fair bit of build up leading to that outcome that admittedly, makes it a fitting moment.
Walker has never been projected as outright good or evil, always toeing the line carefully. Wyatt Russell’s performance has maintained that ambiguity consistently, displaying both sides of the character in a bid to make it harder for audiences to choose sides. That said, he’s certainly exhibited some symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar and exhibited an aura of mental instability that seems to be exacerbated once he makes the hard choice to consume the serum. The age old MCU rule comes true and the serum amplifies what you are at your very core.
The use of blood is an interesting choice in the final shot. At first glance, it seems a direct consequence of the leeway afforded to Marvel Studios for airing a show on its own streaming service. But it’s more deliberate than that, purposely showing all the blood in its fully glory to drive home the violence inflicted. The legacy of Captain America as an icon is tainted in those few moments and it occurs so quickly that I couldn’t help but lament and wonder whether it was the time. A decade of iconography ruined by some quick choices made by the US government over the last couple of episodes. Then again, that’s how inefficient government works which was possibly the point at play here.
It’s also a stark reminder of the immense weight the mantle of a superhero carries. This is something we partly dealt with when Parker was projected as the next Tony Stark when he just wanted to be a regular guy. Walker understands the pressure mounting on him and he’s pumping for some quick action to prove to the world that he’s every bit as sincere and worthy of assuming the role as the suits think he is. And under that pressure, he cracks and lets his violent side unhinged. That restraint of doing the right thing in the face of all odds and terrible outcomes is what made Rogers a darling of history and that’s something Walker struggles to match up to before he gives in.
Working backwards, the choice of bringing up Sam’s counseling background and putting it to use as he talks Karli down was again good character use. The resulting exchange is what I’d like to see more of in these Disney+ shows. It serves the purpose of painting Karli as someone much more than a regular antagonist, giving us a chance to sympathize with her. It also shows why Sam would make for a much better Captain America than Walker any day because of Wilson’s capacity for kindness, empathy and understanding, virtues embodied by Steve Rogers.
In a fun fight albeit awkwardly choreographed, the Dora Milaje square off with Walker and are able to beat him hands down. The look on Walker’s face realizing they weren’t even super-soldiers is another trigger that draws him closer towards the irreversible decision of taking the serum. Bucky has a surprise in store for him as well as his Vibranium arm is dislodged. One does not mess with the Dora Milaje and walk away unscathed. And these are technically the “supporting” cast; imagine the damage Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Leticia Wright’s Shuri would’ve inflicted.
Lastly, I’ve got to give special praise to Sebastian Stan. For those unaware of his work outside the MCU, Stan has made them fans realize just how much is he capable of with the right material. The cold opening where he resists the the Hydra commands with painstaking effort and realizes that they finally don’t work on him, that he has been rid of his brainstorming and is a free man, is an incredibly powerful sequence where Stan conveys his feelings of struggle and happiness being in full control of his self and not turning into the Winter Soldier. He owes a debt to the Wakandans and Stan really sells it exceedingly well. Terrific stuff.
Overall, this was a much superior episode than the previous one as it set the storyline on the right path. John Walker is well on his way to a path from which redemption may not be possible. He’s also likely a few steps away from becoming US Agent Walker of the comics but whether the show will dispense him off or keep him for movie appearances down the road is something that we’ll need to wait and watch. For now, there’s no telling what Walker will do next now that he’s tarnished the reputation of his costume.