The banter of this episode! The banter. I was furiously writing down jokes before I realized that this was just going to be one of the most elemental parts of this show, the chocolate in the chocolate chip cookie. The show is really funny, and it shows promise in being hilarious every week. I mentioned this in my last recap, but Bucky and Sam have one of the most organic dynamics in the MCU. It helps that the actors have a strong connection, both with each other and with the original Cap, Chris Evans, but their camaraderie is relatable to one of the oldest tropes of male friendship: they’re both soldiers. Or veterans, though I’m not sure if they’d describe themselves that way now. Between Sam’s government contracts and Bucky’s urge to make amends, it’s clear that they’re disinterested in letting their fighting days stay in the past.
That kind of funny, familiar, respectful but childish bickering among soldiers is rare in the movies but wonderfully expanded in TV shows. The Korean War-set M*A*S*H picked up on that funny brotherly spitefulness, Band Of Brothers has a wide array of these surreal bonding moments, and the one-season-wonder sitcom Enlisted actually made the main soldier characters brothers. Despite their churlishness and frustration, Sam and Bucky clearly care about one another and hold each other in high respect. In fact, Bucky’s main frustration, as it comes out in their soul-gazing (!) therapy session (!!), is that Sam giving up the shield says something about Cap being wrong about Sam, and maybe Cap being wrong about him.
Sam responds the same way every friend that’s tired of having the same fight seven times in one week: Did Bucky ever think he was doing what he thought was right?
Can I say what a relief it is to have such an emotionally intelligent main character in this show? Sam is wary of the new Captain America, wary of Bucky’s simplification of Cap’s legacy, and wary of seeing the Flag-Smashers reduced to a terrorist organization. I mean, I guess if you’re comparing him to someone like the rich, sheltered, and arrogant Tony Stark, or even the man lost in time, Steve Rogers, anyone would come across as more aware of the world and himself. But as the police cars that surround Sam and Bucky when they’re simply bickering in the street emphasize, Sam simply cannot move through the world the way Cap (or even Bucky) did. He is constantly aware of himself and how the world reacts to him.
It’s almost maddening that Bucky doesn’t seem to understand Sam’s viewpoint, especially after Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) is introduced. Bucky met Isaiah in 1951, during the Korean War, when Isaiah was sent to find him on the peninsula after so many others had died trying. Apparently he ripped part of Bucky’s arm off, which, even for a secret super soldier seems like an amazing feat. Bucky takes Sam to him after they realize the Flag-Smashers are all supersoldiers.
And then Isaiah goes deeper into his story: for his success, they jailed him for 30 years, and ran experiments him on a regular basis. It’s sickeningly familiar to not just the Tuskegee experiments, but the myriad ways that Black people in the United States have been experimented on and targeted by the criminal justice system, while given little to no recourse. I would link to some of those stories, but you can do the research yourself when you have the stomach for it.
As it was, I was tearing up just listening to Isaiah talk, as Lumbly does so much with such a short scene. It’s clear that Sam is just as rattled. Bucky tells him that Cap didn’t know about Isaiah, but he also didn’t want to expose Isaiah to any more unwanted attention. But this is exactly what Sam has been trying to emphasize to Bucky. If he had taken the shield and done what he’d wanted, he would not be treated with grace or kindness, not by the U.S. government and perhaps not even the American people. He would not be welcomed as a hero because he’s barely treated with any respect as it is.
There’s something really amazing about how this series is slowly leading us to how Sam can become Captain America. It’s clear that it’s not a problem of nerve or intelligence or compassion. It’s that Sam feels there is no easy way to go into the role without feeling like an imposter – or even worse, being treated as one. While Bucky is frustrated with Sam “giving away” the shield, it’s because he sees Sam’s goodness as incredibly obvious. Of course Sam should be the Captain America in Bucky’s eyes – not just because Cap trusted him, but because Sam helped find and protect Bucky with just as much emphasis as Cap did. For Bucky, if that act wasn’t good and kind and compassionate enough for Sam to naturally walk into the role of Captain America, maybe Bucky isn’t good enough to be worth those risks. And if Bucky can’t turn to Cap to legitimize his worth, Bucky longs for Sam to lead him instead.
It helps that they are also united in their intense dislike and distrust of the new Captain America, John Walker. Played by Lodge 49’s Wyatt Russell
with an incredible balance of friendliness and a more sinister edge, John steps into the role of Captain America with all the comfort and righteousness of someone who feels assured of his owning it. Even while we see him in a vulnerable moment, he’s in his high school locker room, reminiscing about the good old days before his girlfriend and best friend come and pump him up. Apparently he’s there to give an interview at his old high school! That’s definitely a sign of someone who’s experienced strife in his life, and learned from it, and doesn’t take his successes and job for granted, right? On a totally unrelated note, so funny how the new Cap turned out to be a white guy—so lucky how that just worked out!
Despite his fears, John reads as both humble and relatable on camera, even as the interviewer points out his many accomplishments. Not only was he a celebrated special ops soldier with three Medals of Honor, he scored really high in strength and “intelligence,” which I’d really want to know more about. He emphasizes that he’s not Tony Stark or Bruce Banner, but what kind of intelligence does he have exactly? Even saying what his college major was would mean something. And yes, I checked, they do have majors at West Point.
He jumps into the role not just at his old high school, but when he suddenly appears on the scene as Sam and Bucky follow the trail of the Flag-Smashers. He appears on the scene at the last minute… even though he later reveals he was following the whole thing through Sam’s Redwing tech. Bucky and Sam can barely stand him, and while Sam tries to give him more of a chance, he gives up when John essentially says that having Cap’s sidekicks (sorry, “wingmen”) would help legitimize him as Cap. “It’s always that last line,” he says, as he follows Bucky off the truck. While John is unrelenting in wanted to hunt down the Flag-Smashers, Sam is not as gung-ho. As he says, John’s dismissal of the Flag-Smashers’ needs for resources is something only someone with resources would say.
The Flag-Smashers are given a lot more sympathy in this episode. Led by Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman, a woman with the most enviable freckles I’ve ever seen), their slogan is “One People, One World,” a much more idealistic philosophy than they’ve previously been painted. Their current host and sympathizer even refers to them as “Robin Hood.” But they’re on the run not just from the government, but from someone they call “The Power Broker,” who may also be the person texting Karli death threats.
- What was the funniest moment for you? When Bucky fell through the trees? When they had to get real close for a therapy session? When Bucky celebrated the death of Falcon’s Redwing drone? No wrong answers here.
- Apparently there is the Global Repatriation Council to help people after the Blip.
- Bucky read The Hobbit in 1937? What a nerd. What else do you think he read? The Great Gatsby? The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith? The answer to that last one might surprise you.
- I like how the subtitles call Sam “Falcon” and John “John.” We know whose side these captions are on!