This article contains The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3 spoilers.
The reason Marvel’s Disney+ shows work as a concept is because the movies gave us plenty of interesting characters who sadly didn’t receive enough of a spotlight. The relationship between Wanda Maximoff and Vision only got a few minutes across several movies. The Falcon had his moments, but he was always portrayed as more of an extension of Captain America and didn’t really have a lot of time to explore his life or character. Bucky Barnes was a major part of the Captain America trilogy, but the emphasis was on trying to overcome his troubled history and the latter two Avengers movies didn’t really do much with him.
Even with near two dozen movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets mixed up in spinning too many plates at a time. That’s why the third episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “The Power Broker,” is such a breath of fresh air. It feels like a real follow-up to Captain America: Civil War without being overwhelmed by the Avengers, the high-profile new heroes, and Marvel slamming its action figures together. Not that those weren’t fantastic in their own right, but it really says something when Helmut Zemo – the villain of the movie – felt like the least important link in the chain.
Daniel Bruhl returns as Zemo – now depicted as a rich baron like in the comics – to aid the reluctant Sam and Bucky. His role feels a lot like Loki in Thor: The Dark World. He’s done some horrible things that can’t be atoned for, but he makes for good company and we somehow end up wanting to see the best from him. To his credit, Bruhl’s performance makes Zemo incredibly likeable and charismatic, but as this episode shows, such things can shield you from the horrible truth.
For instance, the new Captain America John Walker and the Flag-Smashers spent the previous episode buying our good will and making us think that they’re not all bad. Those two parties take a backseat in the third episode, but we do start to see that no matter how well-meaning the two sides are, they still come with sinister undertones and it sets things boiling for the latter three episodes. Not that our title characters are so pure, considering the episode straight-up starts with them helping cause a prison riot/break-out.
Much of the episode deals with Madripoor, known for being an underworld death trap in the comics and home to Wolverine’s alter-ego Patch. We don’t get to spot any grand hints to the inclusion of mutants in the MCU during these scenes, but we do get to see our heroes and Zemo schmooze through seedy locations while delightfully playing off of each other. Soon enough, we get a special guest character to join our crew. It’s someone you might expect, but that’s okay, as there’s another, bigger surprise appearance later on.
And no, it’s still not Wolverine. Instead, it’s Sharon Carter, still on the run after the events of Captain America: Civil War, and now with a much more cynical worldview and an absolutely brutal fighting style.
Of our two protagonists, this is definitely more of a Bucky episode. The moment he confronts Zemo, it plays out exactly as you’d expect. Zemo says the Winter Soldier trigger words and they do nothing, but we later realize that there’s more to his history than his handlers’ whispers. As the episode unfolds, Bucky’s past as an assassin almost comes off as an addiction. It’s not just something he runs from, but something that part of him wants to return to. Maybe he shouldn’t be going on globe-trotting adventures to fight super soldiers in the first place. It might be doing more harm than good.
Falcon is once again nagged for trying to have a little agency in his life beyond his connection to Steve Rogers. It isn’t enough for Bucky to make Sam’s refusal to be the new Captain America about him. Now Zemo plays the same game, this time agreeing with Sam’s decision, but reflecting his own opinions on the Cap mantle and the negative connotations that come with it.
Probably my biggest negative from the episode comes from an otherwise good scene involving the origins of the new super soldiers. One moment establishes so early in the series that despite the fun adventure, the status quo is the status quo and the MCU refuses to be changed too much by the developments of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’s like that sobering feeling people had when WandaVision’s unique weirdness and mystery reverted back to CGI sky battles.
As we hit the halfway point, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really does feel like the perfect follow-up to Captain America: Civil War. It isn’t just because of the underused players getting to do more, but it’s a new spin on the same general concept. There was a horrible tragedy and in the aftermath, everyone feels like they’re the hero of the story. Instead of superheroes duking it out with other superheroes, our parties are more diversified and include everyone from well-meaning terrorists to an American symbol with a chip on his shoulder to a scheming, European Bruce Wayne who dresses like Dumb Donald from Fat Albert. It won’t be as epic as the airport fight, but everything is going to come to an explosive head soon enough.
I can’t wait to see what’s next and I have my fingers crossed for some Thunderbolts action down the line.