[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” Episode 5, “Truth.”]
“They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.”
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These words, spoken by Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) halfway through “Truth,” the fifth episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” rather explicitly state the central point of conflict thus far in the series: Sam’s ongoing struggle with accepting the mantle Steve Rogers passed down to him. That it took this long to get to this point might be the single greatest factor holding “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” back from being a really great limited series.
Much has been made about how knowing its best entry point can be critical to a show’s success, and while “Truth” didn’t feel like a pilot, it definitely felt like an early episode setting the table for an entire season to follow (give or take our titular heroes splitting up yet again at the end of the episode).
With all due respect to The Flag Smashers, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and even scene stealer Baron Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), would this season not have been made inexorably better by condensing the events of the first four episodes into two, allowing for Sam and Bucky to form the partnership they do in this episode earlier, and then, you know, find and fight the big bad side-by-side?
Still, at least it’s here, in “Truth.” Episode 5 treated viewers to a very quick coda to last week’s murderous Cap, before easing into an extremely relaxing hour filled with MCU name drops and easter eggs, boat repair, and several montages (each better than the next).
As mentioned, “Truth’s” cold open kicked off with a three-way fight echoing the climactic sequence at the end of “Captain America: Civil War,” and while it’s arguable that everyone in that conflict had their own rational reasons for violence, this fight only cements how far John Walker has fallen since assuming the mantle of Captain America. Wyatt Russell again busts out a Christian Bale-esque “I AM CAPTAIN AMERICA” before ripping the wings off Sam’s Falcon uniform (again, a likely nod to Bucky doing the same in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”). It takes all they can muster, but Sam and Bucky eventually defeat Walker, with a grimacing Bucky dropping the blood-soaked shield as if to say, “If you had just accepted it, none of this would have happened.”
Walker is promptly given a less-than-honorable discharge by the government, stripped of his rank, and set to receive no benefits in retirement. Things couldn’t be looking worse for The Villain Formerly Known as New Cap, when a surprising face in a somewhat familiar place arrives in the form of Selina Meyer, er, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), or Val for short. A character sometimes known as Madame Hydra in the comics, Val offers Walker a literal (in the parlance of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”) lifeline, stating that the best decision he ever made in his life is picking up the phone when she eventually calls him.
Meanwhile, in a busy first half of the episode, Sam leaves behind his broken wings for Joaquin Torres to repair (and potentially sport), Bucky finds Zemo in Sokivia (and makes amends), the Flag Smashers realize that their actions have led to their closest allies being deported, and finally, Sam brings Cap’s shield to Isaiah Bradley’s doorstep. (“Leave it covered. Them stars and stripes don’t mean nothin’ good to me”).
His following monologue reveals the entirety of Isaiah’s story, from being infected with the Super Soldier Serum in a manner echoing the Tuskegee Experiment, to fighting against the will of his captors to save his fellow soldiers, to being separated from his love and finally earning his freedom, only when a kind nurse forged a form listing him deceased.
While beautifully acted by Lumbly, one can’t help but wish to have seen some of this in flashback, potentially as a stand-alone episode akin to “This Extraordinary Being,” the outstanding black-and-white entry in “Watchmen.”
Then the episode shifts and becomes the show most fans of Sam and Bucky have been waiting for: Two Guys, A Boat, and Bouncy Disc.
Now that’s obviously hyperbole, but it’s almost impossible not to notice the uptick in fun the minute Bucky shows up in Louisiana and introduces himself to Sarah (Adepero Oduye), much to Sam’s chagrin.
Yes, there’s likely two or three too many B-roll shots of boats on the water, and one too many needle drops, but once again, the sequence showcases that “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is strongest when it allows its titular leads to play off one another. Who’d have thunk it?
That isn’t to say that the entire Louisiana storyline is nothing but buddy comedy quips and jazzy needle drops; it’s also home to the deepest scene yet between these heroes, all within the context of throwing the shield around. (“Hey Cap, you wanna have a catch?”)
First, Bucky apologizes to Sam, admitting that he and Steve didn’t understand what it meant for a Black man to be handed the shield. Then Sam, using his background in grief and trauma counseling, challenges Bucky to do the work of offering the names in his book closure, as opposed to just seeking closure for himself.
The scene is potentially the highlight of the series, showcasing the preternatural chemistry that Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie have built over the course of four films, and it’s telling that it featured heavily in the teaser trailers; it feels like the start of something, perhaps of a beautiful friendship. Alas, we only have one episode left.
Here’s hoping the finale brings our heroes together almost immediately and allows them to share as much screen time as possible.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” debuts new episodes Fridays on Disney+.
Echoing my above sentiments, it’s a bit maddening that we won’t see Sam’s Captain America wing suit until the finale.
One last point on Sam’s advice to Bucky about closure, I couldn’t help but think of this moment from High Fidelity, where John Cusack’s Rob envisions Bruce Springsteen giving him advice, as a version of how Bucky has been approaching his list. “They’d feel good maybe, but you’d feel better.”
I would watch hours of “This Old Boat” on TLC with Sam Wilson and James Buchanan Barnes: “Why didn’t you use your metal arm?” “Well, I don’t always think of it immediately. I’m right-handed.”
Bucky’s admission that he and Steve had talked about passing the shield down to Sam is confirmation that Bucky knew exactly what Steve was about to do at the end of “Avengers: Endgame” when he said goodbye to Cap. “You’re taking all the stupid with you.”
I’d just like to take this moment to thank Anthony Mackie for putting in the work for that last montage. “All day, baby!” “Uncle Sam!”
Also, this entire series will have been worth it for the image of Sam’s nephew tracing the lines in the star of the shield.
We only briefly touched on the Julia Louis-Dreyfus cameo, but it’s incredible to see her enter the MCU fray, as there’s plenty of juicy tidbits in the character’s comic history to allow for Zemo-like crossover opportunities.
The strangest sequence of the episode was the mini-montage when Sam decides to call in his family’s favors, and we get B-roll of the gulf. It definitely took me out of the episode for a second.
This week in What Are The Flag Smashers Up To?: Well, Sharon Carter, who is either so deep undercover it’s remarkable or we have to accept is a baddie now, helps Batroc the Leaper escape an Algerian prison to aid the Flag Smashers in their plot to murder everyone on the Global Repatriation Council.
Speaking of the GRC, the bureaucratic entity with a name so banal they have to be nefarious, maybe don’t design your conference room after the war room in Dr. Strangelove if you’re trying to keep your evil under wraps.
And lastly, our first post-credits scene in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!” Beginning with hammering echoing the homage to Iron Man at the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” we get a glimpse of a now completely-unhinged John Walker using the medals awarded him by the government to adorn a new non-vibranium shield. My guess is, much like the “WandaVision” post-credits stinger introducing White Vision, this is the first MCU appearance of US Agent. But I’ve been wrong before.
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