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There's a big difference between amending and avenging, and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is the only one in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier who seems to know the difference. Episode 5, titled "Truth," features brutal history informing the violent present, with Sam caught in the middle.
Ultimately, he's not going to let the past, the present, or the future decide who he is going to be. He makes his own choice. Whether it's a broken boat or a broken country, Sam Wilson is a man of service.
**WARNING: Spoilers will follow for Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If you haven't seen it yet, drop that shield and get outta here Dewey.**
The opposite of Sam Wilson is John Walker (Wyatt Russell), someone who is only in this to make himself feel good. Fresh off his murder of the unarmed Nico (Noah Mills) last week, Walker freaks out in a warehouse before justifying his actions to Sam and Bucky (Sebastian Stan). He twists the truth and blames Nico for the death of Lemar (Clé Bennett). He tells our heroes that they don't want to come at him like this, but yeah… they do.
During a brutal fight between the three of them, Walker shouts, "Why are you making me do this" at least once, because it's always someone else's fault, isn't it? He rips off Sam's wings and says, "I am Captain America." (As Tywin Lannister once said, anyone who has to say "I am the king" is no true king.) He's still using the shield in murder mode, but thankfully they get it away from him and he's down.
Sam picks up the still-bloody shield, and starts to clean it off. But even beginning to wash that blood off is going to take more work.
Bucky leaves to finish up with Zemo (Daniel Brühl) right as Torres (Danny Ramirez) enters, telling Sam that the Fake Cap situation is bad. (Thanks, Torres, we know, sweetie.) Karli (Erin Kellyman) is in the wind, so all they can do is wait for a lead.
"Sometimes there's nothing to do until there's something to do," Torres says. Sam takes the shield but leaves his busted wings behind with Torres.
Walker is kind of forced to own up to his actions. He's stripped of the Captain America title as well as his benefits by the U.S. government. He's won't get court-martialed because of his previous record, but this doesn't stop him from complaining and continuing to shift the blame. The council he was put in front of references their own dignity (?) while Walker talks with his wife Olivia (Gabrielle Byndloss). This conversation is soon interrupted by a woman in high-heeled boots strutting up, and... it's Julia Louis-Dreyfus! And she's not playing Selina Meyer or Elaine Benes.
She's Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a character from Marvel Comics who was created by Jim Steranko, first appearing in Strange Tales #159 in 1967. Most notably, she became a new version of Madame Hydra in Secret Warriors. If she stays around in the MCU (here's hoping that she does) and ends up as Madame Hydra, she'd be the second version of that character we've seen. Aida (Mallory Jansen) became a version of her during the framework arc in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (You can read more about Madame Hydra here.)
"You can just call me Val, but don't call me Val? Just keep it in your head," she says to Walker, ignoring Olivia. She gives Walker all of the coddling that the council didn't give him, and pretty much tells him what we already know: He's only facing consequences because the whole world was watching when he committed murder. If there were no witnesses, the authorities would likely have no problem pretending it didn't happen.
She mentions that the shield itself is a "legal gray area" (Selina Meyer would know), she co-signs more BS, and then leaves him with a blank business card.
Karli, meanwhile, takes stock of her losses and shouts, "How many times do we have to pay with our lives just to citizens of this god-damned planet?" Before we've even wrapped our minds around this line, we cut to Sokovia, where Bucky catches up with Zemo at the memorial that Zemo mentioned a couple of episodes ago. Zemo reiterates that Karli cannot be saved, going on to say that Sam is as stubborn as Steve Rogers.
Zemo thinks that Bucky, on the other hand, is a killer. Bucky holds a gun to his head and is about to prove him right, but click… no bullets. What, do you think he's stupid, Hans Zemo? He took them out. Ayo (Florence Kasumba) takes custody of the Dancing Baron, and she tells "White Wolf" to stay out of Wakanda for a little while. Bucky asks her for one more favor before she leaves.
We go back to Baltimore, where Sam learns more hard truths from Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) after passing Isaiah's grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) in the street. Sam has the shield, but Isaiah wants nothing to do with it. Sam tries to get him to knock it off, but Bradley has been through too much. "If you ain't bitter, you're blind," he says.
Bradley tells Sam his awful history. None of it was caught on camera, so America had no problem painting right over it.
He never had any delusions that he was ever going to be the "next" Captain America, even though he had some successful serum in him. This is America, after all. Some of his serum-injected friends got captured, and the government wanted to bomb the POW camp where they were being held to get rid of the "evidence." Before they could do this, Bradley went in and rescued them. He didn't get a Steve Rogers First Avenger-style thank you, though. He got locked away and was experimented on for 30 years.
Sam wants the truth of this story to be told, but Bradley just wants to be left alone. Sam says things are different now, but Bradley counters, "You think things are different? You think times are different? You think I wouldn't be dead in a day if you brought me out?"
"They were worried my story might get out, so they erased me," he continues. "My history. But they've been doing that for 500 years." He calls the shield a "white man's shield" and then drops the harshest line of all on Sam:
"They will never let a Black man be Captain America. Even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be."
With Isaiah's story in tow, Sam calls his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) and goes home.
He may not be able to do anything on a grand Avenger scale at the moment, but he can fix his family boat. He calls in favors and the community comes together, and soon enough Bucky arrives as well with a special box from Wakanda. He helps with the boat and trades looks with Sarah. Sam likes the first thing but completely shuts down the second. We go from this to Walker talking with Lemar's family, and they believe that the man responsible for their son's death received justice. This isn't true at all, but such is the way of things. America's legacy of lies and perverted truth is alive and well in John Walker, and Isaiah Bradley isn't gonna be surprised about that.
After a brief moment with Sharon "Art Thief" Carter (Emily VanCamp) making a phone call and promising "double" to someone (What is her deal on this show?), Bucky wakes up to Sam's nephews playing with the shield. He is about to chastise them, but then he smiles instead. After Sarah knocks both Bucky and Sam off of boat-fixing duty, they move to a homemade shield-tossing training course in Sam's backyard.
"The legacy of that shield is complicated, to say the least," Sam says. He would know, he's gotten a course in that troubled legacy for five episodes now. Bucky apologizes for chastising him about giving it away, explaining that the shield is the closest thing he has to a family.
Sam doesn't let that linger. Steve Rogers was great, but you know what else he is? Gone. He's gone. It didn't matter what he did or didn't think. "You gotta stop looking to other people to tell you who you are," Sam says, going on to lay some tough love on Bucky, who is still having nightmares. He thinks that a part of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him. When Sam tells him to do the work, Bucky mentions his amends.
"You weren't amending, you were avenging," Sam tells him. The process of making amends is not a selfish act, it's the complete opposite. Sam sums it up with one line:
"You've got to go to them and be of service." If there's one line that is pure Sam Wilson, it's that one.
The boat is finally fixed, but just as Sam is about to paint over his parent's names and get ready to sell it, Sarah tells him to stop. Sam is, of course, relieved: Here's some history that he can preserve. Sarah asks him if the truth of Isaiah Bradley is going to prevent Sam from being himself, and Sam comes to realize that as horrible as that history is, it's not going to stop him.
"What would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn't willing to stand up and keep fighting?"
He begins a serious training regimen with the shield, with the object and all that it represents flying way too fast at his face. He's almost afraid of it — until he adapts. He fuses his tosses with some of his Falcon leaps, his big new theme is heard clearly, and by the end of the training montage, he's able to catch the shield with minimal effort.
His nephew admires both him and the shield.
In New York City, Karli meets with Batroc the Leaper (Georges St. Pierre) and a whole lawn of followers, ready to stop a GRC vote on moving 20 million refugees back to their countries of origin. There's some arguing and posturing at the GRC meeting, but then the trap is sprung.
Torres lets Sam know that Karli is in NYC, and thankfully, Sam's more than ready. He finally opens the box from Wakanda that Bucky left him, and though we don't see what's in there, who wants to bet that it's a set of vibranium wings? Not to be outdone, John Walker spray paints his own Cap shield in a mid-credits scene. Good job, champ!
There's one more episode left, and many story threads to address. What exactly is Julia Louis-Dreyfus' deal? Can Karli be redeemed? Will Sam and Bucky admit that they're friends? What, we ask again, is Sharon's deal? There's a lot more too, but that wasn't where our minds were while watching this episode. In terms of history being preserved and truths coming to light, events in the real world simply cannot be ignored while this episode was watched.
It may only be the MCU America, but a Black man standing up with his young nephews looking on and Isaiah Bradley's legacy at his back and choosing to be of service is no small thing. Sam Wilson is not doing this because an old white man handed him a shield at the end of a movie. He's doing it because he's choosing to do it. Despite the past and despite the present, Sam Wilson is going to serve.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streams every Friday on Disney+.