Seeking answers from Zemo, Bucky has a hand – possibly a whole arm – in breaking him out of prison so that he can help them trace the passage of the Super Soldier serum back to its source. That leads to the hive of scum and villainy known as… Madripoor. But if they are going to successfully uncover the origins of the modern serum variant – and how it got to the Flag-Smashers – they will need some help.
That aid comes in the face of an old friend, one whose past ‘transgressions’ have apparently not being forgiven on any official level and led her to make her own way in the world. But with the whole port against them, can even Sharon carter get them out alive? And if she does… there’s someone else waiting for Zemo in the shadows…
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was always mnarketed as an action-outing and Anthony Mackie and Senastian Stan have lived up to their commitment. But, interestingly, it’s Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter that gets the most intense action sequences with some well choreographed and well-edited hand-to-hand combat in the nooks and avenues between tightly-packed shipping containers. There’s very little of the balletic wirework you might expect – the fighting is of the gritty, painful and iron-bar-in-your-face variety. So, perhaps it’s not a huge surprise to find that the script-writer here is Derek Kolstad, the man behind all three John Wick outings.
Carter, as acknowledged in this episode, has been rather shabbily-treated. The last we saw of Sharon – the great-niece of Peggy Carter and once, now awkwardly, a possible love interest for Steve Rogers) she torpedoed her own SHIELD career to help Steve, Bucky and Co when they were considered hero-non-grata by the US government. Despite everyone else being given a get-out-of-jail-free card, she’s still, technically, an ‘enemy-of-the-state’ and while some of her character feels re-conceptualised in the wake of those events (now a trader in illicit works of art in Madripoor’s high-end districts, though clearly keeping her hand in espionage game?) the fact she has found a niche for herself far away from American shores has a lot of potential. But apparently it’s not far enough…
It’s delightful to see Madripoor not only name-checked but also featured. For the uninitiated, Madripoor is the dirty secret of Marvel Comics, a port-side city in the Far East (somewhere between Singapore and Sumatra) that evolved from an old pirate hang-out into other, bigger alternative modern revenue-streams; the home of many a lowlife, smuggler, felon and opportunist (and also an under-the-radar Logan/Wolverine who might fit all of those descriptions at some point) and which could give Mos Eisley’s cantina a run for its scum-and-villainy. Yes, being Disney+ this is a slightly santitised version of the port – where violence and crime and mild profanity are okay, but the R-rated features and seedier, sexier kind of free enterprise are still firmly off-camera – but there’s always something to enjoy with a rain-soaked, neon-hued urban vista on show. It’s a quick visit, but it would be interesting to see a Disney/Marvel series set up store and make a base of operations here at some point (possibly X-Men-related?).
Like Sharon, Zemo also seems to have gone something of a flamboyant personality change to fit the story. He still sees the world though his experiences… and almost every contact with super-powered people has ended in tragedy or pain for him – leaving him amoral and dangerous. (Remember, he is the man who killed the King of Wakanda and framed Bucky for it). In most ways he’s not sympathetic or even an an anti-hero, but his reasonings here have some internal logic (stop superheroes being created) and it’s telling that his co-operation with Sam and Bucky sees them all operating for similar reservations about the super-soldier serum, whether they’d admit it or not. However there seems to be some tonal revisionism here. Zemo is a despicable character as well as a sad one, one who very much should be languishing in prison, but now he seems to be the well-known head of an evil empire complete with an Alfred-like butler, Oeznik (played by prolific veteran actor Nicholas Pryor, who once appeared in the film The Falcon and the Snowman), vast resources and a more sardonic sense of humour. Rather than a sad and desperate man, he’s now a kingpin-in-exile. It feels like the character has been grafted on to the needs of the plot and it’s strange that while there are several opportunities for him to turn on or run out on Sam and Bucky throughout this episode, he actually keeps his word, albeit in a self-serving way… But he’s strolling around (after casually walking out of prison, no less) almost as if no-one quite knows how to write him… but want him to stick around as a foil for the bickering heroes. (The arrival of Wakandan warrior guard Ayo – played by Florence Kasumba – in the closing seconds of the episode, wanting Zemo to pay for his crimes, spells big trouble for everyone… and might tie into the proposed Wakandan-themed series from Disney+ that’s got the greenlight recently)
Despite further confirmations that everyone has been getting their hands dirty over replicating the Super Soldier serum, the mention of Isaiah Bradley is really the only time this action-heavy, spy-fi episode gets to any of the social-commentary we’ve seen on race so far. In relative terms it’s the ‘lightest’ episode so far. However the Flag-Smashers are given more nuance by their shifting moral stance: they’re essentially robbing the rich to feed the poor, but doing so in a way that some seem not to value the lives of the people from whom they steal. In the morally-dubious world that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is painting, it seems everyone is compromised to some extent and that includes John Walker, the ‘new’ Captain America who is clearly having anger-problems.
We’re halfway in to the series and most of the major players are now on stage. It will be interesting to see how the back-half of the season plays out…
- Production Design / VFX9