No one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a more punch-worthy face than John Walker (Wyatt Russell), who continues to besmirch the Captain America legacy in Episode 2 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, “The Star-Spangled Man.”
The title of the episode probably makes you roll your eyes, but worry not! Things are so much worse than you think.
***WARNING: From this point forward, there will be spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode “The Star-Spangled Man.” If you haven’t watched it yet, then turn into a bird and fly far, far away from here.***
The mantle of Captain America is not just throwing a shield, and it has a longer, deeper, and more troubling history than we knew about. Some of this potential history is coming to the MCU, with the comics pointing the way in a number of areas. For one thing, John Walker goes by the name “U.S. Agent” in the comics, but this show has yet to call him that. Until they do, he’s still Fake Cap. Or Captain Fauxmerica.
Walker has been on a publicity tour that’s right out of The Boys. He winds up on Good Morning America, filmed back at his old high school, where the marching band plays a version of, that’s right, “Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger.
(How DARE they! It’s an insult to Sam, to Steve, and to Alan Menken, who wrote the melody of the song. Thankfully, David Zippel’s lyrics aren’t sung because that would've been too much.)
Fake Cap tells the interviewer that he has big shoes to fill. Ya think? He’s a decorated soldier and he tested very well in shield-throwing, but… we still hate him. Bucky (Sebastian Stan) catches some of the interview and he’s not having it either.
He goes right to Sam (Anthony Mackie), who is still in the middle of chasing down the Flag Smashers, aka the group of masked people who want to bring the world back to what it was during the five years after the Blip. Bucky rails at Sam for giving up the shield and Sam counters with, “You’re not gonna come here in your over-extended life and tell me about my rights.”
Sam is convinced that the group he’s after may be a part of the big three: Androids, Aliens, or Wizards. Bucky asks if they are fighting Gandalf, to which Sam responds with, “How do you know about Gandalf?”
“I read The Hobbit, in 1937, when it first came out,” Bucky proudly states. That J.R.R. Tolkien classic didn’t come out in America until 1938, so Bucky must have chased down a British copy of the book, which was no easy find. He must have been really hot for it. We don’t blame him.
Soon enough, Falcon is flying out of a plane and Bucky’s simply jumping out of it and slamming into the ground after removing the jacket sleeve covering his stylish Wakandan-made arm. The banter between these two is already hitting critical levels when they confront the Flag Smashers — who are stealing a truck convoy of vaccines — led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman from Solo: A Star Wars Story).
She hands Bucky his butt, rips Red Wing in half (sorry, Sam), and then Fake Cap arrives alongside his own sidekick, Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennet). He’s more than that, though — after they all get kicked off of the convoy, Hoskins reveals that his superhero name is "Battlestar." In the comics, Lemar Hoskins used that name (first appearing in 1986), but he was also the fifth character to use the name "Bucky."
So Fake Cap has a Bucky, too. It's like he's trying to be Steve.
“I’m not trying to be Steve,” Fake Cap assures our guys. “I’m not trying to replace Steve. I’m just trying to be the best Captain America I can be.”
He then refers to Sam and Bucky as Steve's "wingmen" — and Sam’s done. With nowhere else to turn, Bucky takes Sam to Baltimore, where another deep-cut from the comics is waiting to be revealed.
They go to the home of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who Bucky met during his brainwashed days in 1951. Created in 2003 for the comic Truth: Red, White, and Black, Bradley was part of an attempt during World War II for scientists to recreate the super-soldier serum on Black men, something highly reminiscent of the real-world Tuskegee Experiments. In the comics, Bradley held the mantle of Captain America before Sam Wilson ever took up the shield.
We don’t know what the MCU version of Bradley’s full history is yet. All we know is that he almost certainly has some serum in him, he doesn’t like Bucky, who he fought in Vietnam, and that the U.S. government royally screwed him over.
“You know what they did you me for being a hero? They put my ass in jail for 30 years,” he says before kicking Sam and Bucky out of his house. He’s not the only super-soldier around, either, because, as we've learned earlier, all of the Flag Smashers have been juicing, too.
Sam isn’t thrilled that the history of this man has been covered up. “You’re telling me there was a Black super soldier decades ago and nobody knew about him?” he says to Bucky. Even Steve Rogers was unaware of him, but Bucky knew. The hits keep coming for Sam because the Baltimore police proceed to roll up and harass him, which is the last thing he needs. It’s only when they recognize him as a famous hero that they stand down.
Bucky isn’t so fortunate because he’s missed his court-mandated therapy, so they’re all off to prison.
Nobody panic, though! Fake Cap is there to help out our heroes because he wants their help in return. Bucky’s therapist is there too, and she’s not letting him go without a session. She forces Sam to attend, and that’s how we finally get Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes into couple’s therapy.
“Suppose that while you’re sleeping a miracle occurs. When you wake up, what is something you would like to see what would make your life better?” the doctor asks.
Bucky’s response: “In my miracle, he would talk less.” Sam was gonna say the same. They move onto a “soul-gazing exercise” which they turn into a staring contest, and ultimately it all comes down to trust about the shield. As Bucky says to Sam: “If [Steve] was wrong about you, then he was wrong about me.” (Ouch.)
They decide to finish up this mission (get to the bottom of these vaccine-stealing super soldiers who are upset that the government is taking better care of people who got un-Blipped rather than those who were here the full five years), and then they’ll never talk again.
Sam sums it up perfectly: “Thanks, doc, for making it weird. I feel much better.”
Fake Cap and Battlestar can track the perps, but after this truly awful day, neither Sam nor Bucky wants to deal with them. Bucky can think of one person they can go to for answers, and Sam knows exactly who he’s talking about. They'd rather deal with a villain than spend another second with Fake Cap.
Mozart pops on, and we see Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) in prison. That's who they're going to see, most likely next week.
How is the Captain America: Civil War villain going to help? Who sent Karli a threatening text? What role will Isaiah Bradley play in this series, and how does Alan Menken feel about Fake Cap?
The most troubling thing here, however, were the words of Isaiah Bradley about how he was treated when he was done being a hero. If the government can blatantly abuse and forget someone like him, what's to stop them from doing the same to Sam Wilson?
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stream every Friday on Disney+. A sorcerer is a wizard without a hat.