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Connections to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe came fast and furious in Episode 3 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as did callbacks to Marvel comics. In many ways, the episode titled "Power Broker" functioned as a direct sequel to the MCU film Captain America: Civil War.
If you haven't seen that particular entry and are interested in this show, now would be a fine time to check that movie out. A lot of this episode's events will make much more sense.
***WARNING: Spoilers lie ahead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode "Power Broker." If you haven't watched it yet, fly away! Get OUTTA here Dewey, you don't want this.***
After a commercial from the Global Repatriation Council (helping to restore the world after the pandemic Blip), we're back with John Walker (Wyatt Russell), who is on the trail of Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). He's loving his Captain America privilege and even manages to get a "Don't you know who I am?" into a conversation. He still sucks.
Our real heroes, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) are in Berlin, where they reunite with Civil War villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) who may know something about the hot new serums. He tries the old trigger words on Bucky, but knows they won't work anymore. He also slips in the idea that Sam and Bucky are just assuming that HYDRA has something to do with all of this.
Bucky lays out a way for Zemo to break out of prison, Sam realizes that it's an actual plan, and Zemo is free. Not to worry, Bucky says, "He is crazy but he still has a code." After going through a lightning round of the Civil War plot, Zemo tells them he is invaluable. Sam tells him to shut up.
Sam then gives Zemo his soon-to-be patented line: "Where do we start?"
It turns out that Zemo is in fact a Baron, as he is in Marvel Comics, and he's also rich! He's been rich this whole time, and before boarding a private plane, he collects some effects, which include his comic-accurate purple mask. Baron Zemo gets a look at Bucky's list of amends, which is written in the same little notebook where Steve Rogers once wrote down all of the stuff he had to catch up on. (If you hear something, it's the sound of our hearts breaking.) Sam recognizes it and continues to go on about "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye.
Bucky isn't as impressed by the song as he should be. Zemo himself appreciates it in a racist way, saying, "It is a masterpiece, James. Complete. Comprehensive. It captures the African American experience." Sam's response? "He's out of line, but he's right."
They're off to Madripoor, a famous location from Marvel Comics that features both a "Low Town" and a "High Town." The trio head to the Low Town area in disguises, with Bucky having to resume the guise of the Winter Soldier once more. It's no holiday for Sam either, because he has to wear a pimp-like suit that he dislikes. Zemo gives him the identity of Conrad Mack, aka The Smiling Tiger, a character taken directly from the comics.
Created by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley, Mack first appeared in New Warriors #19 in 1992. A version of Mack is probably in the MCU already, as Zemo gives the identity to Sam, who has to admit that he does look a little similar. The trio's entry into a Low Town bar is clocked by a hooded figure before Sam "Smiling Tiger" Wilson drinks something with snake innards in it and Zemo harps on talking to someone named Selby. He has no interest in the "Power Broker" who runs this town.
After pretending to go back into Winter Soldier mode for a brutal fight (complete with his musical riffs), Bucky, Sam, and Zemo end up with Selby. Zemo tells her he wants info on the serum, and offers her Bucky (complete with controlling words) in exchange. She tells them that the serum is in Madripoor, and it was concocted by Wilfred Nagel.
Nagel is another cut from Marvel Comics, as he was the scientist that led the effort to recreate the serum in World War II on subjects such as Isaiah Bradley. Nagel was working with whoever this Power Broker is, and Selby knows more, too! Sam then blows their cover by getting a call from his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye). Selby is about to kill them, but a shot comes through the window and she's toast.
Every bounty hunter in Low Town is after them now thanks to this, but shots from their "guardian angel" keep saving them. They're coming courtesy of the hooded figure from the bar, who turns out to be Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) returning to the MCU for the first time since Civil War.
"Well, this is too perfect," she says.
She's off the grid because she got in huge trouble after helping out in her prior appearance. Nobody helped her, and everyone (save Sam, who referenced her in Episode 2) likely forgot she existed. Bucky's solution to her problems is to ask her for help, which she gives because she's a Carter. They're off to her flat in High Town, where she now traffics stolen art.
Sam apologizes for not coming to her aid sooner, citing confusion following the pandemic Blip as an excuse. She references him giving up the shield, and asks about Fake Cap. Everyone takes a second to drag him. It's a merry moment, followed by Sharon agreeing to take them to Nagel with Sam helping her in exchange. A party then takes place in Sharon's loft, and Zemo dances like no one's watching.
After some light breaking and entering into Nagel's lab, as well as Bucky threatening the scientist with bodily harm, Nagel tells them that HYDRA brought him into the Winter Soldier program after their four test subjects in Siberia failed (seen in Civil War). Then, when HYDRA fell, he was brought into the CIA.
Using samples they provided (almost certainly taken from Isaiah Bradley), Nagel was able to recreate a serum. Not for HYDRA, but for the CIA. All of this malarkey may, for once, not turn out to be because an evil shadow organization has infiltrated the U.S. government. Instead, the U.S. government itself may be portrayed as flawed with no help from anyone. Look at what they did with the shield, look at what they did to Isaiah Bradley. No HYDRA involvement was needed for that garbage.
As Sharon goes to beatdown town on some encroaching bounty hunters up top, Nagel says his experiments hit a blip (literally) when he got snapped. After his return, the project was abandoned, and Karli stole what vials he had. He adds that Karli called a few days prior, asking about the Latvia-based Donya Madani, who we saw dying earlier in the episode. There's no serum left in the lab, and with seemingly nothing left to offer, Nagel gets shot dead by Zemo. After an RPG blows up the lab, everyone fights their way out. Sharon even has the added fun of fighting her way through an onslaught of Sam/Bucky banter.
Zemo proves useful in this fight, donning his mask and blowing up everything in sight. He steals a car and picks up Sam and Bucky, but Sharon isn't going to go with them. They part ways, though she's still interested in the pardon that Sam mentioned. Just to drive the Civil War callbacks home even more, Sam (in the backseat) references that Bucky (in the front) probably isn't going to move his seat up. Bucky affirms this notion. In Civil War their positions were switched, what a merry turnaround! Oh, these two!
Sharon, meanwhile, gets in a mysterious car. She's got something other than stolen art going on. Karli and friends hit a supply depot in Lithuania, with Karli somehow knowing that Nagel is dead. She blows the entire place after taking the supplies despite the fact that the people inside were alive.
After all of this drama, Sam is feeling guilty. "Maybe I made a mistake," he says, in terms of the shield. "Maybe I shouldn't have put it in a museum, maybe I should have destroyed it." Why would he say that? Guilt over Sharon possibly, but he's in no way over the insane injustice done to Isaiah Bradley. The gang heads to Latvia, because the now-dead Donya Madani is their new lead.
Bucky goes off by himself, following some familiar tracking balls. Sure enough, the episode had one surprise remaining. Bucky says, "I was wondering when you were gonna show up," and he turns to see Ayo (Florence Kasumba) of the Wakandan Dora Milaje.
Ayo appeared in Black Panther, but before that, she was present when T'Chaka was killed (thanks to a plot by Zemo) in Civil War. She tells Bucky, in Wakandan, that she's there for Zemo.
We'll likely get some details about Bucky's time in Wakanda thanks to Ayo and certainly more of Baron Zemo loving life. Sam is still struggling with the burden of a legacy he gave up, but he'll get there. Fake Cap sucks, and the government can't be trusted. Though we already knew it, we know it even more now: Sam Wilson is the one who should be holding that shield. Pimp suit or no pimp suit, he's the only one worthy.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streams new episodes every Friday on Disney+. The new show Sharon Carter: Art Thief streams never because we made it up.