‘Star-Spangled Man’ introduces us to the new Captain America, and unites our two protagonists as they track down the season’s Big Bad.
‘Star-Spangled Man’ begins with our new Captain America, John Walker, who realizes he has incredibly big shoes to feel but is annoying everyone with his very presence so far. His introduction at his old High School, with the marching band playing a version of the original ‘Star-Spangled Man With a Plan’ song and other excessive patriotism and Americana, just feels off with Walker and it’s really not his fault.
He hasn’t given us any reason to hate him other than the fact he’s not Steve Rogers, but at this point, that’s enough. The shield was supposed to go into a museum, but the government pulled this random dude in and everyone is Big Mad about it. And I’m including myself here because gosh, I really dislike seeing him with the shield and I just can’t help it.
The unfair disdain towards Walker continues in Germany, where Bucky and Sam get their butts handed to them by the Flag Smashers and struggle to hold their own against the group of super soldiers. That is, they’re on the losing end until Walker and his partner come in and save the day. Boo! Nobody liked that. Once again, Walker didn’t really do anything wrong, but he’s not Steve.
Both Bucky and Sam give him the cold shoulder regardless of how helpful he has been. They refuse a simple ride to the airport until Walker wears them down, but then their conversation goes south and they ditch the ride and walk. He just can’t win them over even after saving their lives, and I can see the frustration getting to him even as he tries his best to be polite to them and do his job to the best of his ability.
The only point where Walker is actually a jerk is after Bucky and Sam had been continuously mean to him over every little thing, so can you really blame him? He’s just doing his job, which nobody appreciates. I actually feel sort of bad for him. He absolutely should not have the shield, but it’s not like he was the one that made this decision. Our ire should be aimed at the government who made the decision, but he’s the one in the suit so he’s the one that gets the anger. Tough luck, my dude.
When we catch up with the group of Big Bads, we’re introduced to the character Karli, who, along with her companions, is revealed to be a super-soldier. Her casting in this is going to throw me off, because in Solo she played someone who was originally assumed to be a villain but ended up being incredibly sympathetic and not so blatantly evil. I’m going to continue to have doubts in my mind that the Flag Smashers are actually the bad guys here, and that’s largely thanks to her being cast in this role. They probably are the bad guys (I have not read the comics, so hush with the spoilers), but I just loved her portrayal as a sympathetic antagonist in Solo so much I’m struggling to see her as a simple villain.
Part of my hope for added depth also comes from my hope that the Flag Smashers aren’t just a group of lazy villains meant to paint Globalism as a big scary concept, as I discussed in my review of the first episode. I’m hoping for more complexity than that, and she’s somehow given me hope that we could get something more here. As the MCU evolved, they’ve been able to become more nuanced with these types of things, most notably in Captain Marvel with the Skrulls, so I’m going to pray they show that nuanced portrayal of the antagonists here as well.
Beyond introducing Walker to us and establishing our antagonists, a huge aspect of this episode was establishing the chemistry between Sam and Bucky without the presence of Steve. There’s a large amount of resentment from Bucky towards Sam for giving up the shield. Bucky wants to respect that Steve gave it to Sam and feels that he gave it up too easily, paving the way for Walker to take up the mantle. This antagonism between them spills out in the form of sarcasm and constant needling at one another.
The best example of how this chemistry will play out comes from the therapy scene and, guys, I’m about to launch into shipping talk so brace yourselves. Run away now if this isn’t your thing. Warning, warning! Shipping ahead!
The therapist used couples counseling techniques with Sam and Bucky, which, uh, really helps establish a new ship for me. They both loved Steve in their own ways, and are coping with his loss with less than healthy habits. Sam has turned internal with his emotions, feeling he didn’t deserve to be Captain America. Bucky, while he has his own issues with self-hate, aims his ire at Sam for giving up the mantle and disrespecting Steve’s wishes. While their antagonism has thus far been mostly playful, there’s clearly more depth to it and it all revolves around their feelings about Steve’s legacy. But somehow by the end of it all, they will learn to love each other. They will, guys. And the fanfic is going to be great.
What’s this ship called? Sucky? Bam? Walcon? Wucky? Fu-… okay, I’m not going to finish that thought because we try to keep the language clean here. Language! I’ve heard it’s possibly called ‘Winter Falcon,’ and that’s way better than any portmanteau I could come up with.
There were a lot of things that will need a lot more explanation very soon, such as Isaiah and the fact that other super-soldiers have clearly been around for a long time. Add onto this the fact that Isaiah is a Black man who was jailed for 30 years after being a hero and kicking Bucky’s butt a long time ago, and the potential for some interesting storylines opens up. This revealing scene is followed up with one where Sam gets harassed by police and asked for an ID while Bucky stands by. How well will they continue handling this issue? I look forward to finding out.
Then we have that closing shot of Zemo, who I strongly suspect is the person who was texting Karli with threatening messages earlier in the episode. Or maybe I’m just assuming that’s the case because I’m being hopeful for some depth for the Flag Smashers once again, and I could be totally off the mark here. Even Zemo was a fairly sympathetic villain due to his backstory, so if they just leave the Flag Smashers flat with his inclusion, it’ll feel like an even bigger letdown. I’m far more hopeful after this episode than I was with the first one, though, so I’m feeling pretty great about this potential.
‘Star-Spangled Man’ reaffirms my belief that we shouldn’t at all try to compare this to WandaVision. While the two shows are within the same universe, WandaVision was an experimental format that focused on avoiding confronting one’s grief. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a more traditional format, and deals with confronting grief through internalized self-hate and a heaping amount of sarcasm. They are not the same. They are both quality, but are apples and oranges and cannot be compared.
I’m going to enjoy the ride here and just keep my fingers crossed that we get more depth to all the plot elements that have shown potential so far. I hope the show doesn’t drop the ball, because it can be absolutely incredible if it nails the landing.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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