‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ Episode 2 Review – ‘The Star Spangled Man’
After its solid debut last week, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is back now, and with a vengeance. While New World Order might have been a good episode and a solid start, this chapter is exactly what the show promised to be, and it delivered. Let’s review some of what happened in the episode in a non-spoilery way, and after that, we’ll address the details in the spoiler territory.
Kari Skogland is back in the director’s chair this week, with Michael Kastelein writing the script. Malcolm Spellman, who is also the head writer of the show, took over writing duties last week.
First of all, this episode has around the same amount of action as the last one, but I actually liked it even more this time around. Some of the choreography done in the first episode was cool, but to me, Marvel is not the strongest franchise when it comes to fistfights (unless the Russo Brothers are directing, and maybe a couple of others). They usually show the person throwing the punch and quickly cut away, hoping the sound design will do the job for them. They used that technique a lot in New World Order, and they do it again this week, but not as much. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
I like my action to be in a wide frame so that I can at least see the people involved from their waists up, and Marvel doesn’t always deliver on that front. Fights usually feel brutal to me because of the sound and visual effects showing the repercussions. But again, this is not always the case, and the fight scene in this episode was one I really liked.
I wanted to talk about the action sequence first to get it out of the way, because the stuff I’m really interested in was the rest of the episode. On the surface, the promise of this show was a spy thriller full of action between the two Captain America sidekicks. On a deeper level, the show is supposed to be a character study of the two, showing their inner conflicts via their interactions, which are always fun and engaging. This episode delivered that.
In storytelling, characters usually reveal themselves through conflict, whether it is with another character or a situation. When a character is forced to make a choice, they are always revealing something about themselves to the audience. And before that choice, characters are usually faced with a conflict they must resolve. And there is a lot of conflict in this episode between all of the characters involved. And I mean all of them.
At the end of last week’s episode, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced a new character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: John Walker as the new Captain America (known in the comics as US Agent), played by Wyatt Russell. In this episode, we have the chance to spend a bit of time with Walker, as well as with Bucky and Sam, not only dealing with each other but also with the consequences of having a new Captain America. By introducing such a disturbance in the flow of things at the end of New World Order, Kevin Feige and the creative team for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier laid the grounds for a big inner conflict with our characters.
I’d like to continue this discussion in detail, so let’s move on to some spoilers. Before we do, if you haven’t watched the episode, give it a chance as soon as you can, because the show is finally speeding up.
Warning – spoilers to follow
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is running for six episodes. This probably means that the show is structured as a three-act story, with each act running for two episodes.
An act typically ends with our protagonist or protagonists making a choice that will move the story and the plot into a new stage, the next act. For example, in 1977’s Star Wars, the first act ends with Luke deciding to leave Tatooine after his aunt and uncle are murdered, and act two ends with Luke joining the attack on the Death Star. If you think about Lord of the Rings as one story, act one (mostly known as The Fellowship of the Ring) ends with Frodo deciding to leave the Fellowship and continue his journey alone, and then Sam deciding to go with him. In fact, all nine characters made a choice at the end of each act – and that’s why that story will stand the test of time for decades to come. You can make the same case for almost any movie you can think of, even the three phases of the MCU, or its most recent installment, WandaVision.
Using Lord of the Rings as an example is particularly useful here, because its three acts are at the same time divided into three acts, according to the three-act structure each movie follows. A similar case is made here, although each act of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will probably be divided up into two parts. The first part of act one introduced us to our main characters, set up some of their basic conflicts, and ended with the introduction of a new element, that is at the same time a key player in the show (hence his introduction in the first act of the show) and a major disturbance for the characters, John Walker as the new Captain America.
Let’s get more specific. This episode opens with a series of scenes featuring Wyatt Russell as Walker, and what it means to him taking on the mantle, or rather, the shield. Darby talked in last week’s podcast discussion on New World Order about John Walker not being particularly nice in the comics, and that he will probably be some sort of antagonist at the end. Whether or not that ends up being the case, I don’t know, but from this episode, it sure looks like they are (at least immediately) not going in that direction.
They might pull the plot twist thing in the final episodes and reveal that he’s actually a bad guy, but I really hope they don’t, and here’s why. The thing that will make this show stand out is, like I’ve been saying, each character facing something they were not expecting and having to deal with it. If they go the traditional route, with Walker being a bad guy, our heroes will only look more heroic at the end, but it won’t necessarily give them an arc.
I love that so far, the guy on paper looks like the perfect Captain America. One of my favorite moments of the episode was when Bucky asked the question: “You ever jumped on top of a grenade?” And yes, he did, four times, actually. On the surface, that was a funny moment, but on a deeper level, it raises the question: Why wouldn’t this guy be worthy of the shield? He has three Medals of Honor, and he was willing to sacrifice himself several times to save his platoon (at least that’s what it’s implied, so let’s run with it). Does he seem cocky about his new mantle? Maybe, but maybe he also knows what the symbol represents, and he likes to inspire people while wearing the costume.
This is a great dilemma for Bucky. The easy answer to the question is that Steve didn’t choose him, and in the Marvel Universe, he is the ultimate man, the moral compass. But what if by the end of the series’ run, John Walker has proved himself so many times that even Bucky has to go, “well, that was pretty heroic. Steve would have been proud.” One thing that I was a bit bothered by is that Captain America is now supposed to be under the full control of the US Government but was running around Europe chasing two free agents, and nobody raised their concerns?
Bucky’s ultimate worry is revealed in the therapy scene, which was one of the episode’s highlights. If Sam feels like Steve was wrong by choosing him as the new Cap, what else was he wrong about? Sam’s response is just pure gold.
Let’s take a detour here for a second and go over to where our terrorists are. We enjoyed a bit more time this week with the group that we now know is lead by Erin Kellyman’s Karli Morgenthau. We saw how they operate and even the fact that they have supporters all across Europe. I really hope in the coming episodes we spend even more time with them and learn what their intentions and, most of all, motivations are. They seem pretty evil when described by our heroes, but maybe there’s more to it. We actually already got some of it this week, with Karli’s line “The GRC care more about the people who came back than the ones who never left,” but let’s see more of that!
Going back to the act structure of the show, the end of this episode confirms that the first act is ended with this episode, as our two main characters made an irreversible choice – to bring Zemo into the picture. This actually came as a surprise, as at least I was expecting Daniel Brühl to be behind the whole terrorist operation, not to be an ally (or at least be introduced as one). We didn’t see a lot of Zemo in the trailers, so I wonder if this is why – Were they hiding the fact that he is going to be a protagonist rather than an antagonist? When last week’s episode finished, I was ok with it, in the sense that I was not dying to see the next one. This time around, I am eager to see the first conversation between Zemo and both the Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Some additional comments:
- Apparently, Redwing is dead (for now). On the one hand, I was sad to let it go, but on the other, I wasn’t on board with the approach they had for it in the show. Sam talked to it (and about it) like it was another human being, which was getting kind of weird.
- Still no Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, but I’m guessing she will appear next week with Zemo.
- The introduction of another supersoldier, but this time from the past, was a great addition. Isaiah (played by Carl Lumbly) was a very nice touch, and I hope we get to see him again. It felt logical that the Government would try to fight a supersoldier by creating another one, but the twist of the suffering he had to go through after essentially winning the fight, was jaw-dropping and infuriating at the same time.
- Right after that scene, Sam Wilson went through yet another racism bit, with the police officer almost arresting him for having a discussion with a white man. Anthony Mackie’s performance here was outstanding, but Sebastian Stan essentially playing every audience member, was even better. It was funny how this time the fact that he was an Avenger came in handy, unlike last week. I do hope we see more of this going forward.
Miguel Fernández is a Spanish student that has movies as his second passion in life. His favorite movie of all time is The Lord of the Rings, but he is also a huge Star Wars fan. However, fantasy movies are not his only cup of tea, as authors like Scorsese, Fincher, Kubrick or Hitchcock have been an obsession for him since he started to understand the language of filmmaking. He is that guy who will watch a black and white movie, just because it is in black and white.