by @holocronGeorge for @mar_tesseract
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – Episode 2
Following last week’s somewhat slow start, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier kicked it up a notch with a second episode full of action, suspense, emotion, and buddy-cop antics. Episode 2, titled The Star-Spangled Man, sees John Walker be named the new Captain America, much to the dismay of Bucky Barnes. The ex-Winter Soldier teams up with Sam Wilson, the man Steve Rogers passed the shield along to, on a mission to investigate the Flag Smashers.
The Star-Spangled Man feels like what we all wanted, but didn’t quite get, from the premiere episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. New World Order felt more like a re-introduction into the lives of Sam and Bucky than it did a full-fledged pilot to a big budget, MCU television series. And, while it was a nice change of pace to see Avengers like Falcon and the Winter Soldier tackle mundane, daily tasks, the episode fell a little flat. The series’ second episode, however, suffers from no such problems.
Picking up where New World Order left off, we’re introduced to John Walker – the new Captain America. I appreciated that the episode didn’t portray Walker in such a light as to make viewers immediately dislike him and root against him. Walker’s first scene is humanizing; he’s isolated and contemplative as the weight of the country rests on his shoulders, a stark contrast to the perhaps villainous depiction we might’ve expected. As the episode goes on, our perceptions of Walker remain muddled. Wyatt Russell portrays the character with a vulnerability and approachability, which is ingratiating, but one can’t help but feel like he’s arrogant and undeserving of the title of Captain America.
Episode 2 really excels when it expertly blends buddy-cop action with political thriller suspense. Excluding some occasionally awkward dialogue, the rapport between Sam and Bucky evokes the ‘love ‘em, but hate ‘em’ relationships we’ve seen and love from buddy-cop films like 48 Hours or Bad Boys. Meanwhile, the episode’s plot evokes the political thriller elements of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War in the best possible way. There’s a grand, James Bond-like feel to the episode, with our titular characters globetrotting to uncover the motivations and schemes of the seemingly villainous, super soldier Flag Smashers.
The Star-Spangled Man offered a closer examination of the shows ‘villains’ (villains in quotations as we suspect there may be some twists and turns to come with this group). Erin Kellyman is unmasked after her appearance in the premiere and seems to be playing a role eerily similar to Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Not that we’re complaining, however, as Kellyman was a standout in Solo and always steals the scenes that she’s in, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier being no exception. Speaking of villains, we also get our first look at Daniel Brühl’s Zemo this season. Zemo is a terrific character from the comics and it was obvious that his journey in the MCU had not concluded with Captain America: Civil War. It’ll be interesting to see the paths of Zemo and Bucky converge again in what seems to be, at least initially, a collaboration.
The episode also offers a number of poignant moments that stand out amidst the thrills and action. The imagery of red and blue lights flashing as police officers approach Sam and Bucky in the street was bone-chilling in its resemblance to real world racial horrors. It was also touching to see Sam’s brief, yet intimate and playful conversation with a young boy who calls him ‘Black Falcon.’ In a show about the aftermath of Captain America featuring a black character as the lead, I really hope that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues to explore the state of the nation and racial tensions of the real world in similarly poignant ways.
The ‘couples therapy’ session with Sam and Bucky struck a great balance between despair and humor. Yes, seeing Sam and Bucky in a couples therapy session like this, getting uncomfortably close and exchanging sly insults, was hilarious, but seeing Bucky’s disappointment at Sam’s decision to relinquish the shield and seeing Sam’s attempts to defend his decision really stuck with me. After two episodes, the show’s exploration into concepts of legacy and expectations is really intriguing.
The Star-Spangled Man wasn’t without its faults, however. The pacing of the episode feels somewhat off at times, largely attributable to several scenes that seem like they last a bit too long. This issue is exacerbated by dialogue that doesn’t always flow as well as one would hope and expect, especially given the MCU’s impressive track record in this department. But, perhaps what was most unusual about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s second episode, was how disconnected, in many ways, it felt from the previous episode. Central plot lines from the previous episode, like Sam trying to save the family boat and Bucky trying to make amends, are left entirely unaddressed in this episode. It’s obvious and inevitable that the series will circle back to these plot points, but it felt a little off-putting that these threads were entirely neglected, albeit in favor of a much more enthralling, plot-focused episode. Finally, the writers made a bold decision in not showing our titular characters together in the first of only six episodes, which built anticipation for their inevitable meeting in the following installment. However, when Bucky approaches Sam at the hangar, their first meeting in the series just fell kind of flat. These are characters who we’ve seen together in the likes of The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame, but it didn’t feel right that Sam and Bucky meet up once again in such an underwhelming fashion.
A significant improvement over the series’ pilot, The Star-Spangled Man sees our leads team up in an episode that brilliantly blends buddy-cop action and political thriller suspense. As the plot thickens and new elements, like John Walker and the Flag Smashers, are added to the chess board, the show continues to unfold in a fun, tense, and emotional way, despite some hiccups with pacing and dialogue.
Images courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney+