The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 — out March 26 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — is essentially a stage-setting episode. Before it really dives into the thick of things, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier needs to introduce the primary players. We already know our titular heroes Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Aligned with them but far from friends, we’ve the new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) and his best friend Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett). On the opposing end we’ve the Flag Smashers, led by one Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). Though that’s not all. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 ends by teasing the final big party, returning Captain America: Civil War villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl).
But there might be more one more player here. Deep into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2, as the Flag Smashers are trying to flee in a propeller plane, Karli refers to the people who are chasing them as “power broker’s men”. That’s verbatim from the subtitles in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2. As Marvel comics fans will know, “Power Broker” (capitalised) means something else entirely. Is this what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier alluding to? Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things? We’ll have to wait to find out.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 — titled “The Star-Spangled Man”, directed by Kari Skogland, and written by Michael Kastelein — opens with the new Captain America. John (Russell) is back at his high school where he’s reflecting on his past, when in walks his wife Olivia Walker (Gabrielle Byndloss). She’s only named in the credits; the shared last name and the way they talk all but confirms that they are husband and wife. John is nervous but Olivia thinks he’ll be great. As she leaves, we are introduced to his best friend Lemar (Bennett). John notes that his stint as Cap has been great, but it’s been a lot of “suits, handshakes, speeches, and Senators”. That’s the job, Lemar reminds him and then adds: “Time to go to work,” which John repeats to himself.
Cut to the Marvel logo animation and the non-existent opening credits, before we return to John’s high school. He’s now outside in the school (American) football field, where he’s signing autographs for everyone who’s gathered to see him. There’s a marching band and a group of cheerleaders too. It’s all very American. Disney throws in a bit of corporate synergy too by promoting ABC’s Good Morning America. They even get the show’s correspondent Sara Haines, who runs us through John’s impressive CV: three Medals of Honor, counter-terrorism expertise, and his body has been studied by the government.
John says that he’s no Tony Stark (that’s Iron Man) or Dr. Banner (that’s Hulk), because he doesn’t have fancy gadgets or in-built powers, but he makes up for it in guts. Of course, the original Captain America — Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) that is — also had powers, thanks to the Super Soldier Serum, but that’s another matter.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 then shows us how Sam and Bucky feel about this. Sam has his own matters to deal with though. He’s on his way to Munich to look into the Flag Smashers — the guys who hit really hard, as we saw in the first episode — but he runs into Bucky at the airport, who has a bone to pick with Sam. Bucky is annoyed that Sam gave up the shield, who protests that he didn’t know that the US government would give it to someone else. But the scene then soon careens into goofy comedy, as Sam starts chatting about how the Flag Smashers are at least not part of the “big three”: androids, aliens, and wizards. We’ve seen the exchange before in a The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV spot, and this is the first instance of the buddy comedy the Marvel series is promising.
Bucky follows Sam to Munich even though Sam didn’t want him there. On the plane ride to Germany, they start bickering over how Bucky always tends to stare, how Sam has no plan (unlike Steve Rogers, the original Cap), and that Sam can’t call him “Buck”. That’s what Steve called him, Sam protests, but Bucky says that Steve he knew him longer. Sam then jumps out of the plane — that was his plan — which further annoys Bucky who follows soon after. His landing is far from gracious, giving Sam the opportunity to rub it in. Down on the ground, they head into a warehouse where Sam has tracked the Flag Smashers to. They are loading heavy crates into a truck effortlessly, further proof of how strong they are. Sam wants to wait and see where they go, but Bucky would rather barge in.
In between, Sam chides Bucky calling him “White Panther” over the time he spent in Wakanda, only for the Winter Soldier to respond that he calls himself White Wolf. Hey, Disney, quick change the name of the show: The Falcon and the White Wolf. To be fair, it doesn’t have name recognition — The Falcon and the Winter Soldier it shall remain.
As the Flag Smashers pull out, Sam and Bucky fly/run after them. Bucky enters the back of one and discovers that they are smuggling vaccines, which is very upsetting given the world we live in today. Please don’t do this to us! No way this is accidental, this must have been part of the scenes that were filmed after the pandemic hit. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had to pause production because of COVID-19, which is why it was delayed from its original August 2020 premiere date.
Back to the show. Bucky finds a hostage inside (Kellyman) who turns out to be a Flag Smasher. That throws us into a fight on the Autobahn. While the two trucks drive in parallel — that is some serious coordination, you guys — Sam and Bucky are pummeled by the Flag Smashers. They get some timely help after the new Cap and his friend Lemar show up, but even the additional manpower proves to be no match for the Flag Smashers. Sam stupidly gets his Redwing drone squashed by Karli (Kellyman), Bucky almost ends up being squashed by the tyres, and Walker and Lemar are kicked off the trucks like ants. As they gather their breath, the four come to the conclusion that the Flag Smashers are Super Soldiers — that means they have access to the Serum that created Steve Rogers.
On the ride back to the airport, they talk about the GRC that has been helping put things back together. Lemar reveals he’s part of something called “Battlestar”, which annoys Bucky and he gets off. It’s not something that’s been explored in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in the comics, Battlestar is actually the identity that Lemar adopts as the Captain America sidekick. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems to be pointing in a different direction, which we’ll hopefully learn more about as the Marvel series goes on. As the vehicle stops, Walker says to Sam that he doesn’t want to be or replace Steve — he is just trying to the best Cap he can be. And it’d be great if he could’ve Cap’s wingmen, Sam and Bucky, on his side. That line does not sit well with Falcon at all, who also gets off and follows Bucky.
Back to the Flag Smashers who have arrived in a safe house, where they are greeted profusely by a German man who says they enjoy great support and calls them Robin Hood for what they are doing. Inside, Karli notes to her fellow Flag Smashers that the GRC is useless because it has put the people who were in power before the Blip back in those seats and that it cares more about those who returned than those who suffered through the five years. Karli asks if they are committed to the cause because they have something big in the pipeline and there’s no turning back. They then chant their motto “one world, one people”. From what we’ve been told elsewhere, the Flag Smashers believe in a world without borders — and Captain America is a symbol that stands in opposition to that.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 takes us to Baltimore, Maryland with Bucky telling Sam that he should see someone. That someone is Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), a Korean War veteran whom Bucky met in 1951 while he was the Winter Soldier. Isaiah was among the test subjects the US government used to recreate the Super Soldier Serum — remember this is a time when Steve Rogers was considered MIA and dead — and one of the few who was feared by HYDRA like Steve. But Isaiah reveals that instead of being honoured, he was jailed for 30 years. Isaiah still sees Bucky as the Winter Soldier and demands them to leave. Outside, Sam is really angry that everyone kept this from him. Bucky says he’s the only one who knew about it, he didn’t even tell Steve.
This seems like one of the pillars that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will stand on. The Marvel series is essentially about Sam figuring out his place and identity — and what it means to be a black Captain America for a country that routinely discriminates against people of his skin colour. It’s part of why he gave up the shield. And here is Isaiah, who’s literally been in the situation that Sam wants no part of. Isaiah represents Sam’s biggest fears over picking up the mantle.
As Sam and Bucky’s arguments continue, the police show up and ask Sam to calm down, while treating Bucky as a possible victim. It’s another peek into the casual everyday racism that African-Americans have to face. It’s only when one of them realises that it’s Falcon, do they step down. Funnily enough, after they check in with their precinct, they end up arresting Bucky because he missed his court-mandated therapy. I guess that’s what happens when you take off for Germany on a whim.
At the police station, Bucky’s therapist Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino) shows up. Sam is grateful but she points out it wasn’t she who bailed him out. It’s actually the new Cap, Walker, who says Bucky is too valuable an asset to be kept locked up. He needed him and he’s the government after all. But before Sam and Bucky can be on their way, Dr. Raynor pulls them into an impromptu therapy session as condition of latter’s release. Of course, it’s really an excuse for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 to pull them into a scene where they can give us more of that buddy comedy. It doesn’t go well, expectedly. Bucky reiterates that Sam shouldn’t have given up the shield, because Steve trusted him with it. Sam says they need to accept that he did what he thought was right.
As they step out, Sam and Bucky have a conversation over Flag Smashers with Walker and Lemar. They share some basic intel but friction soon starts to develop. Sam and Bucky can’t stand the fact that a stranger has walked into a position that belonged to their former mutual best friend. Walker says they have a shared goal, but Sam points out that they are more flexible as they are free agents. As they part ways, Walker tells them to stay the hell out his way. This is essentially fuelling one of the thorny conflicts central to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — and it’ll be interesting to see how this further develops over the course of the show. Four episodes remain.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 briefly cuts to the Flag Smashers, who are on a constant run as they are constantly tracked. They are loading the “vaccines” (which is likely Super Soldier Serum) into a propeller plane when the aforementioned “power broker’s men” show up. One of the unnamed Flag Smashers volunteers to sacrifice himself to buy time for Karli and Co. He does exactly that, charging into armed agents (they look like government agents?) as they fire at him.
Back to Baltimore where Sam and Bucky chart out what to do next. They’ve realised that Walker doesn’t have any leads from the chat that they had. Bucky notes that if you want to know about Super Soldiers, then HYDRA is the best shot, given what Isaiah said. Sam sighs in despair because he knows what that means: they have to see Zemo (Brühl). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 closes by showing us where he is, in the same prison cell — was it in Berlin, if I recall correctly? — where we last saw him.