(+++ WARNING: This review contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3 +++)
As Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) continue their globe hoping escapades in search of the person behind the Super Soldier serum’s reemergence in the world, they clearly feel that the one person who can help them get to the bottom of this particular mystery is none other than Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl). A man contemplating the works of Machiavelli when they visits him in his cell. And while other sites will no doubt go to town on all the Marvel Easter eggs in this episode (hey, it is the season, right?), I found this one to be a cunning inclusion. After all, it’s Machiavelli who first proposed that we keep our friends close, but our enemies even closer. Something Bucky – rather than Sam – is more than happy to do.
And, let’s face it, who doesn’t like the tense frisson such pairings of good guys/bad guys bring to the party. Although, Zemo does allow them the access to the underworld they so desperately need. And so a trip to another far off destination begins. But one that Marvel fans will immediately get excited about and – no doubt – jump to all the wrong conclusions. Because that destination is none other than Madripoor, a city closely linked with Wolverine and the X-Men.
Madripoor is a neon-lit Sin City where no-one can be trusted. In fact, it’s a regular hive of scum and villainy and one that Sam, Bucky and Zemo tread through carefully. Just not carefully enough. And when you think the gig is up, they are all saved by the return of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and just in the nick of time.
Interestingly, this episode is the least super heroic of the lot, with the action being very much more street level and not a wing in sight. Espionage and intrigue are the order of the day and this allows for some great scenes between the two heroes and Zemo to be played out. Like I said, everyone loves this kind of stuff. And Brühl plays his part with a great menacing calmness. A wound up spring ready to be released with a mean side line in cruel one-liners. In fact, this episode may very well have you start wondering who are the good guys after all? Especially as the viewers are all too aware that the Flag-Smashers are most definitely freedom fighters and not the terrorists they’ve been framed as being in the opening episode. If they would only stop killing people.
As the trail warms up, we learn that there were another twelve vials of the Super Soldier serum grabbed by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag-Smashers, with this newest recipe having been honed from the stolen blood samples taken from Isiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), whom we met in the last episode. That’s a tantalising carrot to dangle in from of fans eyes, at no mistake. Who will be the recipient of these, whether by accident or design? Marvel could drag this one out for the decade it in the same way they did with the Infinity Gems.
As ever there are plenty of Easter eggs in this episode, beyond the inclusion of the fan-appealing Madripoor. Even Sam’s disguise while in this city of sin has its roots in the Marvel Comics, but one of the bigger inclusions must be Doctor Nagel, who we learn has had to rebuild his life since returning after the Blip. Another inclusion from the all-important Truth: Red, White and Black mini-series that gave us Isiah Bradley, the “Black Captain America”.
As for the new Captain America (Wyatt Russell); his appearances in this episode are minimal, but just enough to remind us he is a far cry from the original. We already know he will never be able to live up to his namesake’s legend, and he just about keeps his anger under control in the opening scene. It’s up to the villain – Baron Zemo – to rightfully remind Sam, Bucky and the viewers that symbols can be dangerous. Idolatry can have its downside. And it’s not the only time Zemo makes sense, either, as Sam has to admit in one scene on his private jet.
One of the main themes running throughout this series is identity. Sam couldn’t bring himself to take up the mantle of Steve Rogers and Bucky is still struggling with his own way in this modern world. Something Zemo deliciously enjoys playing up as he insists Bucky pretend to be the Winter Soldier of the cold War era while in Madripoor. Zemo’s identity is also played with as we learn he is rich. A Nazi Bruce Wayne, but far more in keeping with his part in the comics. After all, as he points out himself, he is a Baron.
And then there’s John Walker, Captain America. Clearly destined to eventually give up the shield, that still leave the question of why will be the next Cap. Or, are we all being bamboozled? Could we really be watching the birth of the Young Avengers unfolding slowly, I wonder? We all know that Marvel Studios are producing a Hawkeye series in which his daughter – and Young Avenger founding members – features prominently. And in the last episode we did see a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Isiah’s grandson, Eli (Elijah Richardson), who becomes the Patriot. Hey, with no new Avengers on the horizon, could this be a long-game target from Marvel Studios, do you think?
Espionage and Easter eggs are most definitely the order of the day and I enjoyed the downplaying of action in favour of dialogue heavy and witty scenes in which the story is allowed to progress at some pace. After three episodes, and three to go, it’s still anyone’s guess where this is heading. But it’s a great way to start your Easter weekend, and most definitely puts the “good” in Good Friday for this reviewer and fan.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming now on Disney Plus