An unintended upside of writing these episode reviews is I haven’t actually read many other reviews of the series. I didn’t want to skew my views, so to speak. From what has trickled through from Twitter headlines is the same weird “it acts an awful lot like a tv show” reviews that puzzled me on WandaVision. Isn’t that the point? Anyhow, from what I’m gathering is my scores have been higher than a few of my favorite reviewers.
As we reach the end of Season 1, we again pick up just about where we left off LAST WEEK: Karli Morgenthau has the Global Repatriation Council(GRC) meeting under lockdown. Sam, having figured out the target, has rallied the troops. Bucky is joined by Sharon Carter, who is back in the States. A nit to be picked? This is all in the same day Sam’s suited up and gotten to NYC from Louisiana in the blink of an eye, all while figuring out all the Wakandan Super Suit bells and whistles. Sam’s Wakandan Tech Captain America Suit is pretty nifty here, by the way!
The pieces quickly fall in place; Sam and company realize Karli wasn’t going to do anything in the building and her plan all along was to get the GRC on the move and kidnap them. While trying to secure the GRC, Sam’s confronted by Batroc the Leaper, trying to get his revenge for Sam costing him a payday in EPISODE 1. During this fight, Sharon and Bucky are tasked with saving the council. Sharon tips her hand with a giant red flag on her ultimate unveiling as the Power Broker when she goes WMD on a Flag Smasher and poisons him with a mercury bomb to stop him.
Bucky isn’t as successful stopping the Flag Smashers as Karli calls him, distracting Bucky long enough for the hostages to get taken away.
Next we get John Walker, ignoring the Senate committee mandate, in his Captain America uniform and his handmade Gobots-quality Cap Shield, calling out Karli and joining the fight.
There’s some great action beats here, between Walker and Karli, Sam trying to free hostages from a helicopter, and Bucky freeing hostages from a burning transport. Ultimately Walker’s left with a choice, to save a transport about to fall off the side of a building or continue his quest after Karli. Walker makes a hero’s choice and tries to save the transport. This nearly fails when he’s overwhelmed by the remaining Flag Smashers. Thankfully, Sam gets his chance to shine in his Captain America debut as he catches the falling transport, utilizing his souped-up Falcon wings now a part of his Captain America costume, to secure the transport and release the hostages.
My biggest gripe with this episode is the Walker segments here. One wonders if shortcuts were taken during the long gap in filming created by Covid, but Walker helping out here and basically being welcomed by Bucky and Sam rings hollow. I do appreciate a good tweener anti-hero-type but Walker clapping Bucky on the back after they teamed up to capture the rest of the non-Karli Flag Smashers seemed off. Nowhere in this episode do Sam or Bucky confront Walker or even give lip service to an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality while they were facing the Flag Smasher challenge.
I don’t even think you would have to change THAT much for a more sympathetic John Walker. Even something as simple as him being honest with Lemar Hoskins’ family could have gone a long way towards making him less of a dick. But as given on screen, it didn’t feel earned and one of my favorite shots of this episode was his rinky dink imitation Cap Shield falling to the ground dented to pieces.
That aside, with most of the Flag Smashers under arrest, we finally get official confirmation that Sharon Carter is, in fact, the Power Broker, having broke bad from her time on the run after CIVIL WAR. I’ll admit, I didn’t even consider it on her initial intro earlier this season and it took better minds than me to broach the possibility. I was blinded by Sharon’s blind devotion to Steve Rogers in her early MCU appearances and right up until the unveil, I had hoped there was a twist in place.
Don’t get me wrong, it works here and does present a huge storytelling opportunity for wherever the Captain America story goes in the future, whether that’s back to film or further Disney+ seasons. Just, the idea of an ostracized Sharon becoming a crime lord after being forgotten by Steve and Sam post-Civil War does bum me out!
Confirmation comes as Karli and Sharon have a one-on-one, Sharon asking Karli to come back to Madripoor and work for her, Karli telling Sharon she has no interest and her goals are bigger than petty crime. Batroc interrupts here and tries to blackmail Sharon. This goes about as well as you would imagine as Sharon kills Batroc the Leaper. In the skirmish, Karli shoots Sharon but only wounds her as Sam hits the scene.
Sam, oblivious to Sharon’s actual role as the Power Broker, tries one last time to talk Karli down. Karli’s beyond reason at this point and continues to punish Sam, who is still refusing to fight back. After getting the upper hand on Sam and having him at gunpoint, Sharon shoots Karli to death, at this point taking Sharon’s secret to the grave as only the audience is in on her new identity.
Sam brings Karli’s body out to where the press and GRC have gathered. The GRC members insist the plan to remove all refugees is still on and Sam gets his moment to shine, giving a Steve Rogers-worthy speech on why the GRC plan is wrong, why this is a chance for real fundamental change across the world, and how he understands Karli’s complaints more than anyone can imagine. As a Black person taking on the Captain America name and ideals, he’s going to be a focal point of hate just for being who he is; In carrying that shield, he carries the burden of everyone that came before him. This speech also seems to make a dent in a listening John Walker, as he seems to get some self-awareness that he never deserved the Shield to begin with.
We get a quick cutaway here to the remaining Super Soldier Flag Smashers being readied for transport to the Raft for imprisonment. Their trip is cut short when their transport explodes, cutting to the watching butler to Baron Zemo. Again, it’s a shame Zemo’s pretty far gone as far as full redemption goes, because his bizarro take on Bruce Wayne, complete with his own bombing Alfred, would be an amazing show to watch. A smiling Zemo gets the news in his prison cell, ending the super soldier threat for now.
Sam, fresh off his Captain America debut, visits Isaiah Bradley one last time. Isaiah, having watched Sam’s speech, has a begrudging respect for Sam and while the weight of all that has happened to Isaiah is still there, he for the first time in a long time has hope. A hope for what is possible, a hope for what should be. A hope that only a true Captain America could bring. Sam also brings Isaiah to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian, where we finally see Steve Rogers (in archival picture form). We also get the actual reason they are there: Sam has established Isaiah’s place in history with a memorial for Isaiah and all the super soldiers the government had hidden until this point.
We get a few wrap up montages next, giving some closure to many of the season’s side plots. Bucky finishes his atonement list, finally owning up to the kill that has haunted him most. Walker fully takes on the US Agent mantle under the guidance of Julia Louis Dreyfus’s Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Sharon finally gets her pardon, only to double down on the darkside and calls someone saying now that she’s back in the government’s good graces, she’ll have access to government tech and secrets. And, again in my favorite underlying bit of the series, we get Sam and Bucky, no Captain America or Winter Soldier, but Sam and Bucky, getting a semblance of normalcy at Sam’s house, having a celebration with Sam’s family and the people of Louisiana.
This week? 7/10
I loved the action, Sam’s suit, acceptance of the Shield, and Bucky’s resolution and coming to something of a peace for his Winter Soldier past. I’d have gone even higher if not for the handling of John Walker, whose final episode treatment seemed a lot more on the hero side of things than the prior episodes set the stage for.
Like I said, I’m a sucker for the day to day stuff with Sam and Bucky, their interplay carried the show and I hope we get more seasons and movies and whatever else the MCU creative team wants to give based on these characters!