Instant reaction post: “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” S1, E2 ‘The Star-Spangled Man’

Sam and Bucky in 'The Star-Spangled Man'
Sam and Bucky in ‘The Star-Spangled Man’

This episode is packed with goodness! I was going to just post on Facebook, but I just had so much to type that it made sense that I would put it here instead.

This post is actually more of a recap than reactions. But they’re in there.

We start off with an introduction to John Walker, whom we saw appointed as the new Captain America in the last episode. He seems like a good guy on first glance. He’s no Steve Rogers, but his resume isn’t bad. (Winning the Medal of Honor 3 times is impressive, I’ll give him that.) They do have one thing in common though: it seems Walker’s preferred modus operandi is to punch his way out of things too.

We see him go on the equivalent of Steve’s USO tour, with marching bands, cheerleaders, autograph signings and handshakes. He handles the shield amazingly well, and hey, he also has a Black guy as his wingman! The parallels are uncanny. (I’m kidding, btw.)

John Walker on his Captain America public tour in 'The Star-Spangled Man'
John Walker on his Captain America public tour in ‘The Star-Spangled Man’

Cut to Bucky watching the news interview with John Walker and shaking his head. He goes to find Sam at the Air Force base where Sam is about to depart on a mission to find the leader of the Flag Smashers. After arguing for a bit about how Sam shouldn’t have given up the shield, he follows Sam to Munich, Germany, where they’ve traced the Flag Smashers to a warehouse. Banter banter banter.

They see the Flag Smashers load stuff into container trucks, and discover what appears to be a hostage in the truck, which leads them to chase down the trucks as they drive off. This leads to the scene in the trailers where you see them fighting on top of container trucks and Bucky’s ass being whooped by a little girl, in Sam’s words.

Karli Morgenthau in 'The Star-Spangled Man'
Karli Morgenthau in ‘The Star-Spangled Man’

What you didn’t see in the trailers is the new “Captain America” and his Black friend Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar(?!) suddenly dropping in from a helicopter and joining in the fight. At that moment, watching John Walker wield the shield in that uniform, in the presence of Cap’s best buddies, felt like a betrayal of the worst kind. Bucky held the shield for a hot second before it was snatched back by John Walker, and you can see the wrongness on his face that he was fighting alongside a Captain America that wasn’t Steve.

Sam and Bucky are taken out of the fight halfway through, leaving Walker and Hoskins to fight the super soldiers in the truck. Since neither of them are actually supersoldiers (as far as we know now anyway), the fight ends soon after that, but not before Walker executes a deft sleight of hand with the shield that saves his friend from being killed after Hoskins is flung off the truck. That was pretty cool.

Not so cool was how jarring it was to see Captain America wield a gun as well as a shield. While Steve did use a gun in Captain America: The First Avenger, he only did it during the Howling Commandoes montage of taking down bases. And after he woke up in the modern day, the shield was his only weapon.

Sam and Bucky are walking along the road, presumably to the airport, when Walker and Hoskins drive past in a jeep. At first, they ignore Walker’s overtures to offer them a lift, but after he cajoles them further (and reminds them that the airport is at least 20 miles away), they decide to get on.

Lemar Hoskins and John Walker offer Sam and Bucky a ride in 'The Star-Spangled Man'
Lemar Hoskins and John Walker offer Sam and Bucky a ride in ‘The Star-Spangled Man’

Walker isn’t oblivious to the fact that they dislike him and are highly suspicious of his motives (or more accurately, the motives behind the organisation backing him). But he insists he isn’t trying to replace Steve, and he’s just trying to be the best Captain America he can be. Their underhanded methods of hacking Redwing and tracking Sam’s movements leave much to be desired though, and Bucky has enough when he hears that Hoskins’ codename is Battlestar. Is it because it sounds very cheesy, or because the shield is now in the hands of people who sound happy to go to war, which is entirely against what Steve stood for? I have no idea. But here’s a fun fact: in the comics, Hoskins is “Bucky” to Walker’s Captain America.

Sam stays on the jeep a little longer, but gets off too when Walker says that his job would be a lot easier if he had “Cap’s wingmen on [his] side”. I guess they want no part of it because they represent Steve now, and if they’re seen on John Walker’s side, it implies that Steve would have agreed with whatever John Walker’s Captain America is doing, which is wrong because Steve was against bullies, no matter which form they took.

We see a bit on the Flag Smashers led by Karli Morgenthau (the “little girl” who whooped Bucky’s ass). Their rationale is revealed, in which they hate that the government is devoting their resources to the refugees who came back from the Blip, and are ignoring the ones who never left. Apparently, they just stole some very important stuff, and now other bad guys are after them.

I guess Bucky and Sam eventually walk back to the airport, because the next time we see them, they’re on the cargo plane heading back to the US. Bucky wants to steal the shield back, but Sam reminds him that the last time they did that, Sam and Steve went on the run for two years. Oh, and Sam also reveals that Sharon, whom we haven’t heard from since Captain America: Civil War, was branded enemy of the state due to her role in helping them. Showrunner Malcolm Spellman has teased that Sharon has “grown up” since we last saw her, and she’s no longer the same Sharon. Which makes sense. Being hunted as a fugitive is bound to harden any former government operative. Look at Jason Bourne!

Anyway, Sam sounds like he wants to give up, since they’re outmatched by a bunch of super soldiers and they’ve got no clues. But Bucky says that isn’t entirely true, and he brings Sam to meet Isaiah Bradley, a Black super soldier he fought in the ’50s while he was still under Hydra’s control. Isaiah is now an old man who wants nothing to do with super soldiers or the government anymore after said government rewarded his heroism by throwing him in jail for 30 years and experimenting on him.

(By the way, what’s up with all these super soldiers? I thought no one has successfully recreated Erskine’s serum, but everyone that has tried so far seems to be doing a bang-up job of creating knock-offs. See: Bucky, Hulk, Isaiah Bradley, and now all these new super soldiers coming out of the woodwork.)

Sam is upset that no one ever mentioned that there was a Black super soldier in the ’50s, which I think is because Sam would have appreciated the role model. Bucky says he didn’t tell anyone because Isaiah had already been through enough.

This part of the episode made the biggest impact on me, because it reminds us again starkly that being a Black person in America is complicated, and includes a history of being betrayed and oppressed by their country. (The Tuskegee Experiment is the most infamous case of unethical studies conducted on Black people by the U.S. government, among all the injustices that Black people have had to suffer throughout American history. Isaiah Bradley’s comic book origins — he also took on the mantle of Captain America — mirror this experience of being forcibly experimented on.)

Also, did you see when Sam and Bucky were arguing on the street, a police car stops in front of them, and the police officers ask to see Sam’s ID, but not Bucky’s? And then even though both of them were in the argument, the police officers ask Bucky, the white man, if Sam was bothering him, and not the other way round? And then another police car pulls up in what would have been an *escalation* of the situation (and not *de-escalation*, which is what police officers should be doing), if the police officers hadn’t recognised Sam as an Avenger?

Anyway, the situation ends with Bucky being arrested (because he missed his court-mandated therapy session), which is ironic, given that in such situations where police officers step in to interfere with Black people going about their business and escalate the situation, it usually ends with the Black man being arrested — even in times when the Black man hadn’t done anything wrong, or had done things that if a white man did it, wouldn’t have caused the white man to be arrested, but somehow when a Black man does it, he’s charged with a crime.

At the police station, Dr. Raynor the therapist arrives, but it wasn’t her that helped get Bucky released — it was John Walker, who turns up again to Sam and Bucky’s displeasure. Before they leave, Dr. Raynor forces Sam and Bucky to have a joint therapy session as a condition of Bucky’s release. At first, it starts out comedic and fun, banter banter banter, sitting way too close for Bucky’s comfort. ? (I love this two!)

But it turns serious when Bucky asks Sam why he gave up the shield, and in doing so, reveals his own insecurity about who he is as a person and whether he can achieve redemption. Sam only says that perhaps Bucky or Steve won’t understand, but he did what he thought was right. Then he says that instead of continuing to hash out this issue, how about they work this case together, then go their separate ways and never bother each other again, which Bucky says is fine with him. (Obviously not.)

They meet with John Walker and Lemar Hoskins again outside the station. Hostilities abound between Bucky and Walker. Sam steps in to calm things down before they get too heated, but basically rejects Walker’s request to work together. Walker then leaves them with an ominous as hell parting shot to “stay the hell out of my way”, accompanied by ominous as hell music. Sounds like his true colours are coming out!

(Also, anyone else feels a shudder every time John Walker calls Bucky “Bucky”? It’s a nickname used by Steve and people who are actually close to Bucky! Not for random strangers like a not-Steve Captain America! I don’t even remember if Tony or Nat ever calls Bucky “Bucky”!)

Cut to the Flag Smashers again. They’re hurrying to get somewhere with their stolen goods, but some other more powerful bad guys have caught up to them. One of the Flag Smashers sacrifices himself so that the rest can get away. Anthony Mackie talked about how Marvel always has this convoy of 6 SUVs or something going somewhere in every movie. While I dispute the “every movie” part, this series has certainly fulfilled its quota of SUV convoys.

It sounds like this Power Broker will be the Ultimate Big Bad of the season. I thought that it was Zemo at first. But as we find out in about two seconds, Zemo is still in some empty-looking prison facility somewhere in Germany(?), so maybe not. Maybe this Power Broker is someone high up in the government or the Global Repatriation Council, kind of like how World Security Council Secretary Alexander Pierce turned out to be the modern day head of Hydra. Maybe it’s even that asshole guy we saw in the first episode who thanked Sam for giving the shield to the Smithsonian, and then turned around to appoint someone else as Captain America!

I hope we find out if Zemo was Blipped. I think he probably was, because otherwise, when better to make an escape from said prison facility than when half the world has vanished and the world is in chaos?

And I definitely want him to say Bucky’s trigger words again, so we can see Bucky’s reaction to this aspect of his brainwashed past being dredged up again! I have faith in Shuri removing all the triggers from his mind in Wakanda, so I doubt they’ll work, but it’s always nice to see a confirmation.

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