Hello, and welcome to your weekly recap of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. These are meant to be read after watching, so they will go deep into spoiler territory. You have been warned!
In “The Star Spangled-Man,” Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) fought the Flag Smashers in Munich alongside the new Captain America (Wyatt Russell) and Battlestar (Clé Bennett), but were unsuccessful in their attempt to recover the stolen Super Soldier Serum. Desperate for leads, Sam and Bucky decide to visit Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl),the Sokovian Armed Forces Colonel turned terrorist responsible for creating the rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
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Episode 3, “The Power Broker,” begins with a message from the Global Repatriation Council that feels a little bit like a prescription drug commercial and a lot like one of those insufferable “We’re here for you” ads you’ve seen a hundred times during the of COVID-19 pandemic:
“When half of us came back, it was time to rejoice and reunite. The Global Repatriation Council knows that for many it wasn’t that easy. So much has changed. But we’re here to help you find your way. Helping you back into your homes and jobs. Helping you navigate changes to society, laws, and borders. Helping you get back to the way things were. GRC, the Global Repatriation Council. Reset. Restore. Rebuild.”
Red, White, and Brute
Back in Munich, the new Captain America is bustin’ down the door of one of Karli Morgenthau’s (Erin Kellyman) allies, Rudy (Neal Kodinsky), the cafe owner seen in last week’s episode. “You Americans have become brutes,” he says, and he’s not wrong. John F. Walker’s Captain America is not Steve Rogers. Walker tries to interrogate Neil who refuses to answer his question and instead spits in his face. Walker roughs up the cafe owner and screams, “Do you know who I am?” to which the man responds, “Yes, I do. And I don’t care.”
Outside, Battlestar attempts to reason with Walker. “Listen, she’s giving displaced people shelter and medicine,” he says. “That kinda thing creates loyalty, man. I know you want this. I get it. But we’ve literally tried everything we can here. So has Langley, and we keep drawin’ blanks.”
Having regained his composure, Walker knows he can’t do this without the help of some bonafide Avengers. “So we bet on someone who’s got a better hand.”
In Berlin, at the headquarters of the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, Sam and Bucky prepare to meet Zemo, but Bucky wants to go in alone. “You’re an Avenger,” Bucky says. “You know how he feels about that.”
“It’s not like you two were known for frolicking in the sun together,” Sam replies.
Bucky confronts Zemo, who’s in a cell fit for Hannibal Lecter. The terrorist steps out of the shadows and begins reciting the HYDRA code phrase that once controlled the Winter Soldier’s actions. “Longing. Rusted. Seventeen…”
“Those days are over,” assures Bucky.
“I know,” laments Zemo. “I just wanted to see how the new you reacts to the old words.”
Bucky tells Zemo that someone has recreated the Super Soldier Serum. “You are assuming HYDRA has something to do with this, which is why you came to me, which means you are desperate,” he replies. “Luckily for you, I know where to begin.”
Sam and Bucky need to break Zemo out of jail. They meet in a secluded location where Sam tries to reason with Bucky. “He blew up the U.N., he killed King T’Chaka and framed you for it. Did you forget that? You think the Wakandans forgot about it? It’s a rhetorical question. They didn’t.”
Bucky walks Sam through a hypothetical scenario in which they spring Zemo. We’re taken step-by-step through a very elaborate plan only to discover that it’s already happened. “When Steve refused to sign the Sokovia Accords, you backed him,” says Bucky. “You broke the law, and you stuck your neck out for me. I’m asking you to do that again.”
Zemo spent years hunting people HYDRA recruited to recreate the serum. “Because once it’s out there,” he warns, “someone can create an army of people… like the Avengers.” Zemo ended the Winter Soldier program once before and has no intention of leaving his work unfinished. To uncover the truth, they’ll have to scale a ladder of lowlifes. “First stop is a woman named Selby. Mid-level fence I still have a line on. From there, we climb.”
Welcome to Madripoor
Zemo, Sam, and Bucky take the Baron’s private jet to Madripoor, an island nation in the Indonesian archipelago. Divided between wealthy Hightown and impoverished, crime-ridden Lowtown, Madripoor is a haven for pirates and other criminals. Created by Chris Claremont and Steve Leialoha, the exotic locale made its Marvel Comics debut in 1985’s New Mutants #32 and was featured heavily in Claremont’s Wolverine series.
During the flight, Zemo lectures Sam and Bucky on the dangers of hero-worship — a little bit of foreshadowing about what may become of John F. Walker’s Captain America. He says that the danger with people like America’s Super Soldiers is that we put them on pedestals. “They become symbols. Icons. And then we start to forget about their flaws. From there, cities fly, innocent people die. Movements are formed, wars are fought.”
Zemo, Bucky, and Sam — posing as an African rake named Conrad Mack, AKA the Smiling Tiger — make their way into the depths of Madripoor to meet Selby (Imelda Corcoran). Conrad Mack, by the way, was first introduced in 1992’s New Warriors #19 as a mute feral being covered in orange fur and sharp claws. The offer is simple: Selby tells Zemo everything she knows about the Super Soldier Serum and she gets the Winter Soldier in return, along with the code words to control him, of course.
As it turns out, the serum is in Madripoor, being developed by Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi) a character that first appeared in the 2003 series Truth: Red, White & Black alongside Isaiah Bradley, the Black Captain America. Before the gang can get more information on Nagel’s location, the deal goes south and Selby is shot by Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). An enemy of the state, the great-niece of S.H.I.E.L.D. founder Peggy Carter has been hiding out on Madripoor, as the island nation doesn’t allow criminal extradition from within its borders.
Carter isn’t ready to play Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. again, however. “You know the whole hero thing is a joke, right? The way you gave up that shield, deep down, you must know it’s all hypocrisy.” When Bucky tries to interject, she scoffs, “Please. You buy into all that stars and stripes bullshit. Before you were his pet psychopath [pointing to Zemo], you were Mr. America! Cap’s best friend.”
To quote Bucky, “Wow, she’s kind of awful now.”
Sam makes a deal with Sharon. She helps them find Nagel and he’ll get her name cleared. Sharon, who is something of a hustler and art dealer, throws a party for her well-connected clients, leading to a pretty hilarious scene of Zemo cutting loose on the dance floor. During all the fun and frivolity, Sharon gets a lead on Nagel’s whereabouts and we’re off to the docks, where the gang uses a hidden doorway in an empty storage container to gain access to the scientist’s secret lab.
As they begin to question Nagel, bounty hunters converge on the docks, leaving Sharon Carter to whip some serious ass. Back in the lab, we get a megalomaniacal monologue from Nagel that explains everything:
“I was brought into HYDRA’s Winter Soldier program to pick up their work after the five failed test subjects in Siberia. When HYDRA fell, I was recruited by the CIA. They had blood samples from an American test subject with semi-stable traces of serum in his system. After much labor, I was able to isolate the necessary compounds in his blood. I was a god. I did what no other scientist since Erskine was able to do. But mine was going to be different. No clunky machines or jacked-up bodies. Mine was going to be subtle, optimized, perfect.”
Using Isaiah Bradley’s blood, Nagel was able to recreate the serum. Before he was able to complete his work, however, he turned to dust during the Blip. When he returned five years later, the program had been abandoned, so he came to Madripoor. The mysterious Power Broker was more than happy to fund the continuation of his work. 20 vials were made, now in the possession of Karli Morgenthau. Once all the useful information is extracted from Nagel, Zemo shoots him dead. Way harsh, Helmut.
Wrappin’ It Up
In Vilnius, Lithuania, we catch up with Karli and Dovich (Desmond Chiam) outside a GRC Supply Depot. The Global Repatriation Council has six months’ worth of supplies sitting around collecting dust, so the Flag Smashers are stealing them and distributing them to the people who need them most.
Meanwhile, in Berlin, Captain America and Battlestar are connecting the dots. Walker knows that Sam and Bucky broke Zemo out of prison, but as Battlestar points out, they can’t accuse them of something without evidence. “Which is why you and I are just gonna run with this one for a minute,” says Walker.
Battlestar replies, “So I take what happens next isn’t a strictly on-the-books type thing, is it?”
“Lemar,” Walker begins, “If we get the job done, you think they’re gonna sweat us on the how?”
Zemo, Bucky, and Sam, meanwhile, make their way to Riga, Latvia, to search for Karli. Before they can get down to business, Bucky has a run-in with Ayo (Florence Kasumba), a member of the Dora Milaje — the personal bodyguards and royal security of the Black Panther. The warrior has only one thing to say. “I’m here for Zemo.”
“The Power Broker” is another strong episode of the Disney+ limited series created by Malcolm Spellman and directed by Kari Skogland. Mackie and Stan’s chemistry continues to be the selling point of the series, while it’s super-fun to see returning characters like Sharon Carter and Baron Zemo re-framed by the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. They’re not in the same shape we left them in – they continue to develop alongside the major characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is nice to see. As for John F. Walker’s Captain America, I fully expect him to get absolutely JUICED on some Super Soldier Serum and have a Battfleck-level roid rage episode where his mean streak is exposed to the world.
For me, the real highlight of this episode is the introduction of Madripoor as yet another extremely cool locale for our heroes to explore. It’s the Mos Eisley Cantina of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a wretched hive of scum and villainy that I can’t wait to see more of. It’s also a key location from the X-Men universe, which already has my gears spinning on how the MCU will bring Xavier’s mutants into the fold.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Who is the mysterious Power Broker? Will we see Isaiah Bradley again? Will John F. Walker finally snap? And what will Ayo do when she gets her hands on Zemo? Join me next week for an in-depth breakdown of the latest episode!
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