Falcon and Winter Soldier episode 2 recap: New Captain America ratchets up the tension – CNET

Falcon and Winter Soldier

Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are super best frienemies.

Marvel Studios

After catching up with our two best Captain America boys last week, the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — The Star-Spangled Man — hit Disney Plus Friday. The Marvel Cinematic Universe show takes place around six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, as the world deals with the sudden reappearance of billions of vanished people after a five-year absence.

Wingsuit-wearing Air Force vet Sam Wilson, also known as Falcon (Anthony Mackie), was chosen to be the next Captain America by Steve Rogers. However, he decided no one should take up the mantle and handed the iconic shield over to the US government. The politicians clearly saw this as an opportunity, so they quickly chose a new Cap — likely one they could control.

Our other hero, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), is struggling to make amends for his many murders as brainwashed assassin the Winter Soldier. Sam and Bucky didn’t cross paths in the first episode, but they’re done plenty of verbal jousting in the past.

We’ve also got antinationalist group the Flag Smashers running around causing trouble. Let’s leap into SPOILER town for episode the second.

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Even in prison, Zemo looks like he’s hatching an evil plan.

Marvel Studios/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Going to see Zemo

At the end of the episode, lacking any leads on the Super Soldier Serum-empowered Flag Smashers and at odds with new Captain America John Walker, Sam agrees to Bucky’s plan to meet an imprisoned Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) for intel.

We last saw Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, when he reactivated Bucky’s programming and used him to drive the Avengers apart. The former head of a paramilitary group in Sokovia, Zemo lost his family when Ultron attacked his country’s capital city. He blamed the Avengers for this, and became obsessed with destroying the group.

Black Panther stopped Zemo from taking his own life after his plan was complete, and he was last seen in CIA custody. This episode reveals that he’s in prison in Berlin, and he’ll no doubt play mind games with the boys in the next episode.

Revealing Isaiah

The Super Soldier Serum was used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America during World War II, but the original version was lost and its creator Abraham Erskine was killed by a Hydra assassin. It was recreated by groups like Hydra and the US government in the years since, enhancing people like Bucky. Experiments with the formula also led to the creation of the Hulk and the Abomination

Bucky reveals the existence of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a super soldier during the Korean War. They had a tussle in 1951, during the Korean War, when Bucky was under Hydra’s control. Isaiah apparently took half of Bucky’s bionic arm — much like Iron Man would later do in Civil War.

Isaiah Bradley in Falcon and Winter Soldier

Isaiah Bradley, a super soldier who fought Bucky in the 1950s, doesn’t want to revisit the past.

Marvel Studios/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Bucky tries to convince Isaiah to tell him and Sam how there are more super soldiers out there, but he isn’t happy about the questioning and ultimately boots them out.

“You know what they did to me for being a hero? They put my ass in jail for 30 years,” says an angry Isaiah. “People running tests, taking my blood, coming into my cell. Even your people weren’t done with me.”

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In the comics, Isaiah was one of 300 Black soldiers used as guinea pigs by the US as it tried to recreate the serum. On a mission, he took on the Captain America mantle — an act the military saw as treasonous, and which got him thrown in prison. He was ultimately released and sworn to secrecy, but the legend of the Black Captain America began to spread.

It sure sounds like something similar happened in the MCU. Isaiah’s mention of “your people” is a reference to Hydra, which infiltrated SHIELD after World War II. His treatment is evidence of the chilling lack of ethics in attempts to recreate the formula.

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Patriot, as he appears in the comics.

Marvel Comics

Living with Isaiah is his grandson Eli Bradley (Elijah Richardson). Eli’s comic counterpart is empowered by an infusion of his grandfather’s blood and becomes Patriot, a member of the Young Avengers along with Wiccan and Speed. Between this show and WandaVision, the MCU could be building up its own version of the teenage superteam.

A run-in with the law

Immediately after learning of the racially problematic treatment of a Black super soldier, Sam is understandably upset as he and Bucky leave. It attracts the attention of some passing police officers on the street, prompting one of them to ask if Sam is “bothering” Bucky and to ask to see Sam’s ID. The officer backs down only when he realizes Sam is an Avenger.

It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch, especially after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last May. Between this and the scene in the bank in the previous episode, it’s clear this show isn’t steering clear of race as an issue.

John Walker

Much as I wanted to hate the politician-approved Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) starts out pretty likeable and has excellent Steve Rogers-esque hair. He even has a Bucky-style partner in Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), also known as Battlestar, and tries to convince Sam and Bucky to work with them.

“You didn’t think the shield was gonna end up here,” he says, understanding Bucky’s anger. “I’m not trying to be Steve. I’m not trying to replace Steve. I’m just trying to be the best Captain America I can be. It’d be a whole easier if I had Cap’s wingman on my side.”

John Walker in Falcon and Winter Soldier

John Walker flaunts his power as the new Captain America.

Marvel Studios/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

The last part bugs the heck out of Sam, and he turns down the offer. Walker tries to convince them again in Baltimore, and reveals a sinister side when he’s rejected.

“Stay the hell out of my way,” he says, giving off some major supervillain vibes.

Setting off the police siren was pretty obnoxious though — a clear warning sign that Walker is a jerk.

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Sam and Bucky work through the tension.

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The Duo

Sam and Bucky’s rivalry is massively entertaining throughout the episode, and we learn that the major threats faced in the MCU have been divided into the Big Three —  Androids, Aliens and Wizards — since they all apparently fit into one of those categories.

Despite the tension between them, the pair make an excellent team when they take on the Flag Smashers. They only lose because they’re surprised and totally outmatched by the eight super soldiers. 

During an impromptu therapy session, Bucky reveals his aggravation with Sam springs from Sam’s rejection of the shield despite Steve choosing him for the role. If Steve was wrong about Sam, maybe he was wrong in thinking Bucky could be redeemed for his crimes as the Winter Soldier.

‘One world, one people’

The Flag Smashers are led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman, whom you may remember as masked marauder Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story). They’re Robin Hood-style “freedom fighters,” determined to stop global elites who took back power after the Blip, and they’re getting cover from civilians as they move around.

We also learn about the Global Repatriation Council, which is reactivating citizenships, social security, healthcare and other resources for refugees displaced when billions of people suddenly returned. Basically making sure that the status quo returns.

Karli Morgenthau in Falcon and Winter Soldier

Karli has a super soldier surprise for Bucky.

Marvel Studios/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

“The GRC care more about the people who came back than the ones who never left,” says Karli, hinting at the division that’s arisen in society. “We got a glimpse of how things could be.” 

She also alludes to some sort of big event they have planned, likely some kind of attack.

However, they’re being pursued by goons working for the unseen Power Broker, after Karli seemingly took something belonging to them; likely the Super Soldier Serum. In the comics, Power Broker is a name used by multiple people. The common element is giving people superpowers so they’re left in Power Broker’s debt — John Walker and Lemar Hoskins’ comic counterparts were enhanced through this process.

Observations and WTF questions

  • Former SHIELD agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) gets a shoutout from Sam — she was apparently branded an “enemy of the state” after she aided the fugitive Cap, Sam and Bucky in Civil War.
  • Walker’s interview takes place on the football field at Custer’s Grove High School, Georgia. That’s his hometown in the comics. 
  • He’s interviewed ABC’s Good Morning America — Disney has owned ABC since 1996.
  • Bucky read The Hobbit when it came out in 1937, making him some kind of pop culture hero. Wonder what he thought of the movie trilogy?
  • Bucky asks Walker if he ever jumped on a grenade, alluding to pre-Super Soldier Serum Steve doing so during World War II — a moment that proved his heroism. 
  • I would love a flashback to Isaiah’s 1951 battle with the Winter Soldier.
  • Karli’s comics counterpart is Karl Morgenthau, the first person to take on the Flag-Smasher identity. He spread anti-nationalist sentiment through acts of terrorism, and had a major beef with Cap.
  • Who is Zemo playing chess with? In the spirit of wild theorizing, let’s say… Doctor Doom?

Join us for more Easter eggs and observations next Friday, when episode 3 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hits Disney Plus. 

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