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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Recap: Sam Takes the Mantle

Sam Wilson finally grapples with a complicated legacy ahead of a series-finale showdown with Karli Morgenthau

Disney+/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The moment of “Truth” has arrived. Well before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered, showrunner Malcolm Spellman teased the show’s fifth episode as the one fans should be most excited for. Part 5 finally aired on Friday, and boy did it deliver on the hype.

The penultimate episode, which owes its title to Isaiah Bradley’s comic book origin story, Truth: Red, White & Black, brought Sam Wilson together with Bradley for a real conversation after their brief encounter in the second episode ended abruptly. Sam is still processing everything Bradley told him of the wrongful imprisonment and experimentation he faced at the hands of the U.S. government—but by the end of “Truth,” Sam has reclaimed the shield and the complicated legacy that comes with being the new Captain America.

This week’s installment of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier saw its longest running time yet, as it swelled just past the one-hour mark (including credits) for the first time all season. The length was certainly justified; not only did the episode set the stage for a new Captain America, but it potentially teased the next Falcon in Joaquin Torres and John Walker’s transformation into U.S. Agent. Plus, in perhaps the most ambitious crossover event in MCU history, Falcon welcomed Julia Louis-Dreyfus (!!!) into the Marvel universe. Without further delay, let’s dive into this week’s recap.

The Debrief

Screenshots via Disney+

Following the dramatic conclusion to last week’s fourth episode, Falcon picks up moments after John Walker publicly executed a Flag-Smasher. As Walker processes what he’s done, as well as the sudden loss of his partner, Lemar Hoskins, Sam and Bucky arrive for their long-awaited confrontation with the new Captain America. Walker doesn’t go down easily, managing to destroy Sam’s EXO-suit wings and damage Bucky’s vibranium arm before the duo pins him down and gruesomely snaps his arm. By the time the title sequence hits, Sam is wiping the bloodstains off Captain America’s shield, which is now back in his possession.

Following the opening fight sequence, we pivot to the Global Repatriation Council, which has taken over the hunt for Karli Morgenthau and her Flag-Smashers. Our primary characters go their separate ways: Bucky heads to Sokovia to find Baron Zemo and deliver him to the Dora Milaje, Walker goes to Washington, D.C., to face punishment for his crimes in front of the GRC, and Sam travels to Baltimore to meet with Isaiah Bradley and finally hear the full story of the Black super soldier.

In Baltimore, Sam arrives at Bradley’s house with the intention of delivering Captain America’s shield, but Isaiah wants no part of it. As Isaiah explains, during the Korean War he snuck into a POW camp to save other members of his unit after he discovered that the U.S. government intended to blow up the facility. After forcing a number of Black soldiers to unknowingly become the test subjects of a new super soldier serum, the government now intended to kill them in order to destroy any evidence. And though Isaiah managed to free them, they all ended up dying due to the lingering effects of the serum. Instead of being rewarded as a hero, Bradley was imprisoned for the next 30 years, suffering through experiments while the love of his life died without getting the chance to speak to him again, or learn whatever happened to him.

Upon hearing this new information, Sam contemplates whether he should finally take up the mantle of Captain America ahead of the imminent conflict with Karli. But as Isaiah sees it, that job was only ever meant for the likes of blond-haired, blue-eyed white men like Steve Rogers, or John Walker. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America,” Bradley tells Sam. “And if even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.”

Throughout the course of the season, Sam has grappled with his decision to give up the shield that Steve entrusted him with. Isaiah’s tragic story, which has clear allusions to the horrific Tuskegee Study, helps illustrate the impossible position Steve put Sam in when he bestowed the shield on him. Steve, the “great white hope,” as Isaiah calls him, asked Sam to become the patriotic symbol for a country that has for centuries denied Black people the same basic human rights as its white citizens—and yet always has profited off of their sacrifices all the same.

Sam goes back home to Louisiana to rejoin his sister and collect himself. There, he decides that, in spite of what he’s learned from Bradley, it’s time for him to become the next Captain America. “Isaiah has been to hell and back—if I was in his shoes, I’d probably feel the exact same way,” Sam tells Sarah. “But what would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice, if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?”

Sam passes the time waiting for the next lead on the Flag-Smashers by fixing his parents’ boat—with an assist from Bucky and some old family friends—and training with the shield. (Sam gets really good at performing various flips in the process.) Between all the shield throwing, beer drinking, boat fixing, and heartfelt conversing, Sam and Bucky begin to come together as a real partnership. After spending much of the season embroiled in conflict, Sam and Bucky finally come to respect and understand each other as they learn to work as a team. Bucky even presents Sam and his family a gift: a mysterious box from Wakanda (more on this in a bit).

Meanwhile, Karli and her crew of Flag-Smashers are preparing for their final move to take down the GRC. The Council is set to vote on the Patch Act, which aims to relocate refugees displaced by the Blip. The Flag-Smashers travel to the States for the first time, meeting with the French LAF mercenary Georges Batroc in New York ahead of the vote. Batroc the Leaper—who’s still alive!—is supposedly interested in taking down Sam in retaliation for the Falcon thwarting the LAF’s plan to kidnap the U.S. government’s military liason in the series premiere, but earlier in the episode Sharon Carter called him with a new job offer. If Carter is, in fact, the Power Broker—which seems more plausible by the episode—it’s possible Batroc is planning to double-cross Karli. For now, though, the villains have teamed up, and Karli and her legion of freedom fighters are ready to do whatever it takes to make their vision of a world without borders become a reality.

In the episode’s final moments, Sam opens up that box from Wakanda. And while it’s not clear what’s in the box quite yet, the look on Sam’s face clearly signals that Shuri cooked up something good in her Wakandan lab. It’s hard to imagine Sam will stick to the ground as he heads into the final battle in New York, so maybe he’ll have himself a new-and-improved EXO suit made of vibranium—one fit for the new Captain America. After Howard Stark gave Steve Rogers a shield built from what must’ve been stolen vibranium in Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s only fitting that, all these years later, Sam will receive his own Cap gear as a gift from the Wakandans.

With Sam on his way to New York to face the Flag-Smashers, the stage is set for the season finale. Sam will need all the support he can get as Karli gathers her army. Bucky is likely already back in the Big Apple, hopefully heeding Sam’s advice to provide closure for at least one name on his list of people to make amends with: Yori Nakajima, who still mourns the loss of his son and continues to dwell on how he was mysteriously killed, years after the Winter Soldier took his life. There’s also a chance that Torres will join the fight with a freshly repaired EXO suit after Sam told him to keep its broken parts, carrying the mantle of the Falcon as he does in the comics. And while it seems unlikely that a sudden transformation will take place in the finale, “Truth” also gave us another glimpse of Eli Bradley, who only briefly appeared when playing basketball outside his grandfather’s house. Sam’s commitment to become the new Captain America could inspire Eli to go down the same path his character took in the comics, becoming the Young Avenger known as Patriot.

Regardless of who’s fighting alongside him, though, the world is about to witness the first Black Captain America in action—even if there are those unwilling to accept him.

A Deeper Dive

John Walker

After losing the shield and getting his arm broken within the first 10 minutes of this week’s episode, things only get worse for John Walker. Despite his three Medals of Honor and life of service to the U.S. government, Walker is stripped of his title as Captain America and told he won’t be receiving a rank in retirement. The GRC barely even lets him speak for himself in his council hearing before threatening further discipline and ordering him to bring back the shield. You almost feel bad for the guy. (Almost.)

But Walker isn’t done just yet. As he’s sitting with his wife following the hearing, the couple are joined by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who informs Walker that his decision to take the super soldier serum has made him a valuable asset to “certain people.” She does little to explain who she is, but she clearly knows much about Walker already, and tells him to expect a call from her in the future. And in the first post-credits scene of the season, Walker is already busy forging himself a new shield.

Although the context has been entirely different, Walker’s arc has followed a similar path to the one his character takes in the comics. He consumed the super soldier serum (indirectly from the Power Broker), became Captain America and, after he was too slow to save someone close to him, cracked under the pressure of his auspicious title and killed an enemy in an act of vengeance. Walker keeps telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s Captain America, so maybe he’ll try to hold on to the title. Or this could mark the moment he becomes the U.S. Agent, the moniker he uses after Steve Rogers takes back his old job in the comics.

Although Walker told Sam, Bucky, and even the Hoskins family that he killed Nico the Flag-Smasher in retaliation for killing Lemar, beneath his denial he must know that Karli is responsible for his best friend’s death. While he’d likely want the original shield back to restore his honor, his priority may be to finish what he started and get vengeance on Lemar’s true killer. And—considering Zemo told Bucky he’d have to kill Karli because Sam wouldn’t be able to do what’s necessary—Sam might have to be the one to prevent Karli’s death. Whatever Walker’s motives are, expect him to confront both Karli and Sam in New York.

I’ve called this man Bootleg Cap and Bargain-Bin Cap this season. Now, as he whips up his own knock-off Captain America shield ahead of the finale, those titles feel as fitting as ever.

Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

Julia Louis-Dreyfus—or perhaps I should say, 11-time Emmy award–winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus—now exists in a universe with talking trees, gun-toting raccoons, and shape-shifting aliens, and I couldn’t be more here for it. When Spellman hyped up a major cameo in this episode back in mid-March, I never would have guessed it’d be Selina Meyer walking through the door as the newest villain in the MCU.

Louis-Dreyfus appears as the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a character with a long history in the comics, dating back to Strange Tales in the late 1960s. And while Val graces us with her presence for only a matter of minutes, Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson reports that Louis-Dreyfus will have a bigger role in the MCU moving forward. In fact, according to Robinson’s sources, Louis-Dreyfus was supposed to make her debut in Scarlett Johansson’s prequel film, Black Widow, before its many delays due to the pandemic. The former Veep star has somehow managed to keep her lips sealed about her new role for the past few years (even if her Veep costars couldn’t resist hinting at it in a 2019 Vanity Fair profile).

In the comics, Valentina has close ties to many of the same characters and organizations that have appeared in the Captain America franchise, including Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Hydra. She’s a sleeper agent who has risen to the highest ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D., becoming the leader of an elite group of female agents known as Femme Force—as well as one of the many characters to take on the title of Madame Hydra. There’s many directions Falcon can take with Valentina if she reemerges in the sixth episode, along with future projects in the MCU. It’s possible that she’s been the Power Broker all along, but as Sharon Carter’s streak of mysterious one-minute appearances continues, it seems more likely that the title belongs to Carter after all. As Robinson also suggests, Valentina could become a villainous Nick Fury of sorts (who happens to be a romantic interest of hers in the comics), assembling a team that could become the supergroup known as the Thunderbolts, with Walker as its first member. Whatever Valentina’s role is in Falcon and beyond, this absurd fact is worth repeating again: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is now a part of the MCU. Cue the music, and break out your best Elaine dance.

Next week, join me again for our final recap of the season as we witness the rematch between Sam Wilson and the Flag-Smashers, as the MCU officially ushers in its new Captain America.