The Falcon and The Winter Soldier – Season 1 Episode 4
“The Whole World Is Watching”
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier continues the search for the Flag Smashers and their supply of the Super Soldier Serum as Wakanda further complicates the situation.
Ayo’s appearance at the end of the previous episode raised the stakes in a really meaningful way. Wakanda’s reluctance to involve themselves in events outside their borders is well established so the appearance of someone from there adds a significant measure of importance to the events playing out. T’Challa started the work towards making Wakanda a player on the global stage but such a stance isn’t reversed overnight and the specific reason for Ayo approaching Bucky is because Zemo killed King T’Chaka but regardless of the reason they are involving themselves and that carries weight especially in a show that has political machinations running in the background. They also link into the idea of violent revenge that becomes prominent as the episode progresses.
Ultimately the Dora Milaje don’t serve a major purpose in the overall plot beyond enabling a really exciting action sequence but their presence is significant in other ways. For one thing it allows for brief insight into Bucky’s past through a flashback depicting the moment he realised he was free of the Winter Solider programming. It’s an intensely vulnerable moment that Sebastian Stan plays wonderfully. The burden being lifted is visible in his performance along with the realisation that nobody will be able to use those words to control him ever again. It sets up a debt he owes to the Wakandans and helps justify the way he relates to Ayo in the rest of the episode.
It’s also immensely satisfying to see the Dora Milaje make a mockery of John as he fights with everything he has. He is no match for them and they expend very little effort knocking him around. Bucky’s almost gleeful reaction as he stands on the sidelines watching and taunting John was a great touch as well. It reinforces that Bucky has no respect for the new Captain America while also furthering the notion that John feels powerless in the face of the situation he’s trying to resolve.
The Dora Milaje also clearly have no respect for the new Captain America to the point that they almost reclaim the shield that once belonged to Wakanda. It’s not something that was explicitly stated but there was certainly a strong impression that Steve was considered a friend to Wakanda so that naturally extends to them accepting that he would be able to wield something made of Vibranium responsibly. That’s certainly not the opinion they have of John so they almost take it back but opt to leave it behind possibly because they trust Bucky to reclaim it. Once again it isn’t explicitly stated but there’s a definite connection that can be explored here. The circumstances that led to it being in Howard Stark’s possession in the first place are completely unknown so it’s definitely a background element that would be interesting to go into.
This is a really big episode for John in a number of ways and the commitment to making him a character with a broad range of motivations helps to make him engaging. A lot is done with him where the show could very well get away with simply making him an obstacle to Sam and Bucky. He certainly starts out that way when he catches up with them, condemns them for working with Zemo and forces them to work with him. It’s another example of him exerting the privilege that he feels comes with the title of Captain America and wrongly assuming that he’s in control when the opposite is very much true. Sam and Bucky don’t respect him but have no other option but to work with him since he isn’t going away and has access to resources that could be a problem for them.
Despite this, Sam and Bucky insist on proceeding in their own way. John is all about taking Karli and her supporters by force where Sam thinks that empathy is the best approach. He references his prior role counselling traumatised soldiers and sees that skillset as the best way forward in this case. A brief conversation between Sam and Bucky interrogates the Flag Smasher ideology and adds further texture to the post Blip world with Sam pointing out that there was unprecedented unity during the five year period where people were gone. He references countries opening their borders, jobs being available and a general focus on working together to rebuild. There was no nationalism and differences were cast aside in pursuit of building a better world to honour those lost. The suggestion is that when motivated by extreme grief people come together and realise what’s really important. Following the return of those that disappeared the world returns to normal and all that progress would seem to have been washed away.
This complicates the issue significantly and shows that the Avengers didn’t consider the entirety of the implications of what they were doing. Of course it’s undeniably heroic to return countless people following what Thanos did but it’s also undeniable that problems now exist because of that. In many ways the world and people moved on so there is resentment created by the step backwards that has happened since. It’s easy to see how people like Karli would feel betrayed and cast aside though that still doesn’t mean her actions are justified. Bucky even directly questions Sam on whether he thinks the ends justify the means where she’s concerned and he makes clear he agrees with the cause but doesn’t agree with their methods which further highlights that there are no easy answers.
Sam’s way of dealing with it in the short term is to try getting through to Karli by showing that he understands what she’s going through. He calls back to his sister’s financial issues depicted in the first episode and talks about how he understands what it feels like to be dismissed by a system that should be in place to help. The major difference is that Sam hasn’t become radicalised by his views on this where Karli has and tries to encourage her to find a better way to express her views. In the conversation it becomes clear that she is very far gone in her crusade and doesn’t see the people she has hurt or killed as being innocent because she believes them to be part of the problem though she definitely isn’t beyond reason. Sam was very close to getting through to her until John stormed in and ruined any headway he was making. The intent behind this is clear as it’s much easier to have Karli remain a villain for as long as possible but her conversation with Sam definitely had a lot more potential than the episode allowed. Many interesting points were raised and their positioning on a complicated issue was really compelling so it’s unfortunate it was interrupted by an action sequence.
John’s intrusion further highlights how ill suited he is to the role of Captain America as he exerts his influence in a forceful way rather than trusting in people to do the right thing. Steve saw fighting as a last resort and always tried to understand what people were fighting for whereas John has decided what is right and looks to enforce that with the tools available to him. Basically he looks to force a “better” world rather than helping to create one through his example. His actions directly interfere with what could have ended up being a peaceful resolution and invites further retaliation as a result. It does lead to a victory in a sense with all but one dose of the Super Soldier Serum being destroyed but the ends still don’t justify the means just as Bucky mentioned earlier in the episode.
He pockets the final dose for himself and takes it before the end of the episode. This comes after a brief moment where he discusses the implications of this with Lemar. He asks whether Lemar would take the serum if given the opportunity and Lemar admits he would without hesitation because he doesn’t see any problem with it. He sees it as amplifying what is already there which made Steve a better man than he was already and made Karli more destructive. He clearly believes that he is righteous enough for the serum to be a positive influence on him. John’s reaction indicates that he sees himself the same way and this is reinforced by him pointing out that the medals he was given were to distract from the horrific acts committed in order to earn them. He mentions things done in Afghanistan not being what he would consider to be right. Holding that belief supports his eventual decision to take the serum because he feels that he understands the difference between right and wrong. Being made to follow orders that result in actions he doesn’t agree with is a quick reminder that he’s a tool of a broken system regardless of what he believes.
Under the influence of the serum, John is proven to be a far from ideal subject judging by his reaction to Lemar’s death. He hunts down the one responsible and brutally murders him in the street in an act of passionate revenge. Prior to this point a streak of arrogance and entitlement had been seen in John that was leading up to this moment. When things aren’t going his way his instinct is to lean on people and the death of his friend caused him to become unhinged to the point that he brutally murders someone. This is in full view of onlookers who film the event and let the world see the new Captain America in a less than flattering light. Using the shield to commit this murder is certainly deliberate as it taints the symbol. The image the episode ends on is the shield covered in blood signifying the corruption of what it is supposed to represent. It’s an impactful visual and ties into the importance of symbols and the effort that goes into making sure they aren’t corrupted. Steve stood for what America should be where John is an example of what America arguably currently is. His default reaction being to retaliate with a show of force makes that statement plainly and now the world gets to pass judgement on what he has done.
John’s reaction mirrors Steve’s reaction to Bucky’s “death” in Captain America: The First Avenger. In that film he had to deal with the same kind of loss that John dealt with but his reaction was to meditate on it and then take the fight to those responsible to honour his friend. He still chose to fight because there was a War on and the stakes demanded it but the situation was entirely different and his mindset was nothing like John’s. This feeds into Steve’s actions in the other films he appears where force was always a last resort and brutal retaliation was never an option for him. John is very much the anti Steve Rogers who has corrupted everything he stands for so people more deserving will have to rehabilitate that image.
Aversion to using force is further explored in Sam’s conversation with Zemo. Sam is asked if he would ever consider taking the Super Soldier Serum and he responds in the negative without hesitation which impresses Zemo. Ridding the world of Super Soldiers is what motivates Zemo because he believes that an army of Gods among mortals is unacceptable and that they should be destroyed. Sam’s response is to liken Zemo’s rhetoric to that of a God and makes sure to point out that violent retaliation is not the solution. Once again, Sam naturally showcases the values that Steve upheld and has incorporated them into his daily life. Sam has the same kind of conviction as Zemo but is able to use his to propel things in a more positive direction. The show is slowly heading towards the point where the temporary alliance with Zemo is unsustainable because the outlooks on how things should play out are so radically different.
An excellent episode that plays to Sam’s strengths and furthers the idea of corrupted symbols through John Walker in a really visceral way. The arrival of the Dora Milaje adds weight to the situation even if their purpose is mainly to facilitate an action sequence. Their very presence carries significance in a show where political machinations form the background because of the Wakandans established isolationist tendencies. Ayo’s presence also allows for a powerful flashback depicting Bucky realising that he was finally free of the Winter Soldier programming showcasing an excellent vulnerable performance from Sebastian Stan. The action sequence involving the Dora Milaje knocking John around as Bucky gleefully taunts him from the sidelines was excellent and reinforced Bucky’s lack of respect for the new Captain America. John is once against portrayed with complexity starting off as an obstacle to Sam and Bucky and transitioning massively as the episode progresses. Despite being forced to work with him, Sam and Bucky decide to do things their own way which involves Sam approaching him with empathy calls back to him counselling traumatised soldiers and allows for meaningful exploration of what the Flag Smashers stand for in a way that allows what they stand for to be understandable while still condemning their methods. Sam and Karli’s conversation is excellent and starts to dig into what motivates her as well as why Sam is in a position to understand her though it is cut off too quickly.
John’s intrusion to this conversation further highlights how ill suited he is to the role of Captain America. He exerts his influence in a forceful way rather than trusting people to do the right thing. He decides what is right and looks to enforce that with the tools available to him. He’s forcing a “better” world rather than being the example that can lead to one. His eventual decision to take the serum is debated slightly and brings in John’s views on the actions he was ordered to take in Afghanistan that he doesn’t believe to be right. It justifies his decision to take the serum for himself because he believes he understands the difference between right and wrong though being a less than ideal candidate is made clear very soon after. Lemar’s death prompts him to brutally retaliate and murder the one responsible in full view of onlookers who film it. Soon after the world will see what he did and be encouraged to pass judgement on him. The image of the shield covered in blood is powerful because it tarnishes that symbol as well as everything that Steve stood for. He has corrupted it and those more deserving now have to rehabilitate it. The aversion to using force is further explored through Zemo and Sam’s discussion that both further showcases Sam casually practising Steve’s values and points to the alliance with Zemo being unsustainable because of the radically different outlooks on how things should play out.
- the Dora Milaje presence adding further weight to the overall situation
- the Dora Milaje knocking John around as Bucky gleefully taunts him from the sidelines
- Sebastian Stan’s stunningly vulnerable performance in the flashback where Bucky is freed from his programming
- John continuing to be a complex character with a variety of motivations
- further evidence that he is not the ideal inheritor of the shield through his forceful actions
- the striking image of the bloody shield indicating the corruption of that symbol
- Sam calling back to his counselling background and approaching Karli with empathy
- a meaningful exploration of the Flag Smasher ideology by bringing in the background of the Blip
- Sam casually showcasing Steve’s values in everything he does
- the strong suggestion that the alliance with Zemo is unsustainable through his conversation with Sam
- Sam and Karli’s conversation being cut off too quickly and ending the compelling exploration of the complex issues being discussed
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