THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
Review by Stacey Jones
EDITOR’S ALERT: This is the fifth in Stacey Jones’ ongoing discussion of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Like it says in the title of this post, a world of SPOILERS awaits below the thin red line. Oh and also an assumption that you’re familiar with the MCU!
Episode Five is called Truth. Is there a more loaded word in any language?
Moments after last week’s closing minutes, John Walker is lost in his trauma. Reliving his murder of the Flag Smasher with Lemar’s counsel echoing in his mind, he screams, knowing that he bears full responsibility for his partner’s death.
The pressure of the job demands results he cannot provide, not even enhanced by the soldier serum. On his knees, alone, John knows the truth. He’s not Captain America, and he’s never gonna be. Confronted by Sam and Bucky’s refusal to perpetuate the Big Lie that John’s ego needs to survive, Walker loses control.
John yelling “why are you making me do this!?” while he fights was a big moment for me. I know this behavior well. I grew up in a home with a man whose reaction to not getting his way was to rage, and bellow, and lie, and abuse… both mentally and physically. He needed the people around him to support his version of reality, and when that didn’t happen, it was trouble. People like this exist in our world and they are medically ill, and while we can loathe their actions, we must also accept that they need healing.
As a viewer, I have to accept that while Walker is a force of chaos within this story, he’s not a capital “V” villain, but instead, a failed hero. He has no intent, in the end, other than to do the right thing… but the machine that made him did not give him the tools to do it.
This gives the relationship between Walker and his creators a Frankenstein-ian tone. What havoc the monster wreaks will eventually be visited upon the creator of the monster, no matter how hard the creator attempts to duck responsibility. Despite the many ways humanity finds to tell this story to itself, we still find ways to go down that road over and over again.
Flag Smasher rises because others have failed to take responsibility for millions of displaced humans. Power Broker rises because when Sharon did the right thing and needed support, no one took the responsibility to give her that. Who puts the villains on the table? Who needs the villains, to appear a hero?
In one of the most beautiful shots in the show so far, Bucky, in silhouette against a beam of sunshine, returns the bloodied Shield to Sam. There’s a look, but Bucky lets the blood on the Shield say it for him as Sam accepts the Stewardship of the Shield once again, just in time for the coming final battle.
The fight scene reveals the truth about John Walker. He’s walking wounded, a collection of unhealed wartime traumas and programmed with a broken philosophy that can offer him no solutions, and handlers oblivious to his actual needs as a human being. As a trauma specialist, Sam understands this inherently.
When I started this weekly column, I had Walker pegged as one of the real baddies the team would face, and that was easy enough, but I’d reduced the show to broad, comic book strokes and tropes when the Truth is much more complicated.
John Walker, as a product of US military and foreign policies, combined with a marked lack of treatment for psychological trauma for those who have served, is a very real world, right now situation that has perpetuated itself almost generationally; a perverse tradition of handing down an ideology fueled by unhealed trauma.
John Walker IS the white counterpoint to Isaiah. Both men are symbolically representative of their respective skin tone’s troubled history, and we can see how both of them are trapped in those handed down traumas and ideas, too scared to face an option that Sam ultimately accepts in this episode when he accepts The Shield.
Zemo and Bucky resolve their complicated relationship at the Sokovian monument with a measure of responsibility and a sense that there’s hope for redemption for the charismatic anti-hero, in a scene that removes him from the game board. For now.
The episode also continues to address Black issues head on, in the conversations Sam has with Isaiah, his sister Sarah, and even Buck. The Shield has a complicated history as a symbol of what has come before. But Sam, through the eyes of his nephews, understands that the Shield still has meaning. as a symbol of hope, and an ideal to strive for. A promise to fulfill.
Tony Stark might have called it philosophical warm light for all mankind.
Stacey Jones is an award winning writer, composer, musician, and rebel philosopher who was, in fact, the overall winner of the 2nd running of TVWriter™’s now gone but not forgotten contest, The People’s Pilot. TVWriter™ is happy to welcome him back to the fold