With each episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes continue to unravel the long-winding thread of the MCU’s history with the super soldier serum, while simultaneously expanding upon the new world of the present.
Though last week’s installment ended with a tease of Baron Zemo’s imminent return, this week also saw Sharon Carter reemerge from the shadows, as well as a familiar face from Wakanda. The third episode, “Power Broker,” continued to delay the series’ reveal of that titular character, the mysterious person chasing after Karli Morgenthau, but it did answer a lot of questions about his past and his conflict with the freedom-fighting Flag-Smashers. Halfway through Falcon’s run, it’s beginning to look like the Power Broker is the show’s true villain.
Between Carter’s return, Zemo hitting the dance floor as a free man, and a cameo from the Dora Milaje, the third episode delivered a handful of surprising moments. With a lot to unpack, let’s dive right into this week’s recap.
When Baron Zemo was teased in trailers before the start of the season, it wasn’t clear how the villain of Captain America: Civil War would find his way out of prison and into the plot of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The one thing that seemed almost certain was that whenever Bucky found the guy, the Winter Soldier would be swinging his vibranium arm right into the baron’s face. But when the pair are finally reunited in “Power Broker,” Bucky is the one helping Zemo break out of prison.
Despite their tumultuous history, Bucky knows that Zemo is his and Sam’s best chance of picking up the trail of the super soldier serum now that they know that Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers have at least eight super soldiers. Bucky convinces Sam to let him meet Zemo in his Berlin cell alone, and after he and Zemo catch up a bit (in a conversation which includes a brief attempt to brainwash Bucky again), Bucky rather easily stirs up a fight in the prison to provide Zemo an opportunity to escape in the chaos. As for Sam’s voice in the matter, Bucky takes the classic “ask for forgiveness, not permission” route, and tells his partner about his “hypothetical” plan to break out the mass murderer just moments before Zemo arrives at their meeting place. With the three reunited—in a garage full of the Zemo family’s luxury vehicles, no less—they take the baron’s private jet to meet one of his old contacts in Madripoor. Madripoor is a fictional, relatively lawless island nation in Southeast Asia; it hasn’t appeared in the MCU yet, but it may sound familiar to comic book fans, as it has appeared in titles like X-Men since the 1980s. Crucially, it’s also a place where, as Zemo explains it, the Power Broker is “judge, jury, and executioner.”
In Madripoor, which segregates its population into High Town (for the wealthy) and Low Town, Zemo leads Sam and Bucky to the seedier side of the island to find Selby, a fence and former connection of Zemo’s. In order to meet with Selby, they must first put on a bit of a show, with each playing an assigned role: Sam as the Smiling Tiger (a snake juice–swilling man named Conrad Mack, who’s an actual character from the comics), Zemo as himself, and Bucky reprising his role as the notorious Winter Soldier. (While Bucky can rather miraculously walk the streets of New York and go on dates in complete anonymity these days, it seems like everybody and their mother recognizes the Winter Soldier in Madripoor.)
Once in a room with Selby, Zemo offers up the Winter Soldier’s services in exchange for some information about the new super soldier serum. Selby reveals that the Power Broker employed a scientist by the name of Wilfred Nagel to reproduce the serum, but before she can provide his whereabouts, the trio’s cover is blown when Sam—who very foolishly forgot to put his phone on Do Not Disturb mode before the meeting, evidently—gets an untimely call from his sister. Just as Selby gives the order to kill them, an unknown sniper takes her out. With Selby’s death pinned on the trio, Zemo, Sam, and Bucky are quickly targeted by seemingly every bounty hunter in the city. The mysterious sniper helps them all escape, before revealing herself to be Sharon Carter. She’s not exactly excited to see any of them again, to say the least, but she does take them back to her place in High Town.
Since helping Cap steal back his shield and get Sam his wings back in Captain America: Civil War, Sharon’s become a fugitive from the American government, starting a new life selling stolen classic artworks in Madripoor. She cuts a deal with Sam to help them find Nagel if he’ll get her name cleared back in the U.S. Clearly, they all found each other at the exact right time: Sharon’s about to host an exclusive party filled with sketchy high-society types—the perfect place for her to gather intel on Nagel, and also for Zemo to break out his dance moves.
The next day, Sharon leads the motley crew to Nagel’s secret lab, hidden within shipping containers at a port in Madripoor. Held at gunpoint, Nagel explains that he previously worked on Hydra’s Winter Soldier program, then for the CIA, where he used Isaiah Bradley’s blood samples to begin to create a new version of the super soldier serum. (It’s worth noting that the evil scientist, who appeared alongside Bradley in Marvel’s Truth: Red, White, and Black series, doesn’t mention Bradley by name; Nagel doesn’t view his test subjects as human beings.) But before he completed his work, Nagel was one of the many to be snapped to dust, and when he returned five years later, the project had been abandoned. The Power Broker funded Nagel’s work thereafter, and he successfully produced 20 vials of the stuff before Karli and Co. swooped in and stole it all for themselves. Now, the Power Broker is searching for his serum, with the only lead to Karli being a connection she has to someone named Donya Madani, who recently died at one of the Global Repatriation Council’s displacement camps.
As Sam and Co. draw out all this information from the creepy scientist, Sharon is busy dealing with the bounty hunters still on their trail. (And when I say “dealing” with them, I mean she’s gruesomely killing all of them one by one.) She rejoins the crew inside the lab just in time to witness Zemo kill Nagel, and in the ensuing explosions and chaos that follows, Zemo escapes. Or at least it seems like he’s escaping—but after donning his trademark purple mask from the comics, Zemo returns to help Sam, Bucky, and Sharon narrowly slip the clutches of the remaining bounty hunters.
However, having escaped the chaos of Madripoor, Sam and Bucky’s troubles are just beginning. Separating from Sam and Zemo as they follow their Madani lead in Riga, Latvia, Bucky comes face-to-face with Ayo (Florence Kasumba), one of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, who’s come to see why the man who killed King T’Chaka is suddenly a free man. Zemo may be helping the cause for now, but bad things usually happen when you break a villain out of jail—and with Wakanda coming into the picture, things just got even more complicated.
“Power Broker” also spends some time focusing on the conflict between the GRC and the Flag-Smashers. The hypocrisy of the GRC—whose motto is “Reset. Restore. Rebuild.”—is on full display when its uplifting advertisement that opens the episode is immediately followed by John Walker and his team of armed GRC officers raiding a civilian café in Munich. In the previous episode, Walker’s partner, Lemar Hoskins, hinted at his proclivity to try to punch his way out of problems—Walker does just that in the café, taking a needlessly violent tact with the owner that underscores the new Captain America’s dangerous temper. Walker’s quickly becoming unhinged, and as he and Hoskins switch their focus to tracking down Sam, Bucky, and Zemo, it’s beginning to look like he, too, is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
The Flag-Smashers, meanwhile, are going from sympathetic figures to all-out villains—on the one hand, they’re helping impoverished and neglected communities. On the other hand, they’re trapping GRC officers in buildings and blowing them up. It’s pretty hard to sympathize with that.
Guess Who’s Back
Baron Zemo has returned, as mischievous and unpredictable as ever. Even though he chose to save Sam, Bucky, and Sharon in Madripoor, it’s evident he can’t be trusted. But although Zemo is definitely way too trigger-happy, and will surely find a way to betray his new allies at some point, he still makes some valid points about a world that even Sam is starting to lose faith in. “The danger with people like [Steve Rogers], America’s super soldiers, is that we put them on pedestals,” Zemo tells Sam and Bucky on the way to Madripoor. “They become symbols. Icons. And then we start to forget about their flaws. From there, cities fly, innocent people die. Movements are formed, wars are fought.”
Zemo explained in this episode that Sokovia, his native city that the Avengers sent flying in Age of Ultron, has essentially been erased from the map, and here he might as well be summarizing the state of the world in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He speaks the truth about putting soldiers on pedestals, as we’re slowly seeing with John Walker as the new Captain America—though the point also extends to Falcon fighting LAF on behalf of the U.S. government.
The Flag-Smashers, meanwhile, are evidence enough of the kind of movements Zemo speaks of—the ones that lead to wars. Zemo and Morgenthau are interesting counterpoints in this story, characters with plenty in common but also plenty of traits that divide them. Both have been displaced by the world-shifting battles of superheroes; both rebel against the idea that world governments have civilians’ best interests in mind; both appear willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. But they obviously differ in crucial ways: Zemo wants to rid the world of superpowered individuals; Morgenthau has become one herself. It’ll be an interesting encounter when Zemo comes face-to-face with Morgenthau, to say the least.
Zemo claims that he wants to finish the job that he started when he eliminated the Winter Soldier program, and he likely won’t stir up any trouble with Sam and Bucky as long as their partnership is mutually beneficial. Considering his cleverness and vast wealth, though, it’s safe to say he isn’t going to willingly return to his prison cell by series end. But with the new Captain America on his trail and the Dora Milaje already at his doorstep, going back to jail may be the least of his concerns.
Although Sharon proves to be a major help, her involvement feels a little too convenient. She was already at Selby’s bar by the time Sam and Co. arrived, she was quick to kill Selby, and she seems to be very familiar with the Power Broker and his dealings. She also seems to be hiding something: after saying goodbye to Sam and his crew, Sharon is picked up by an unknown companion. “We’ve got a big problem,” Sharon tells the woman. “Actually, a couple of them.”
Before the Blip, and before she became a fugitive, Sharon Carter was one of the few people who consistently helped Steve Rogers and stuck by her morals, even when Captain America was treated as an enemy of the state. The former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has understandably grown cynical of the superhero business since the events of Civil War. All these years later, she seems colder than she once was—to reiterate, she’s making a living selling stolen fine art in a lawless city and killing people without blinking an eye. Her reappearance comes with a ton of unanswered questions: Is she working for the Power Broker? That’d at least explain her sweet apartment in the nice part of town in what is essentially the Power Broker’s kingdom, and more important, how she was able to track down Negal so easily. Or maybe something else is at play—she could just as easily be plotting against the Power Broker. Either way, it seems clear this won’t be the last we see of Agent 13 in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Early in the episode, Sam mentions that the Wakandans won’t be happy if Sam and Bucky were to spring Zemo, and sure enough, by episode’s end Wakanda has already sent Ayo after them. Ayo was actually the first member of Wakanda’s elite all-female king’s guard to appear in an MCU film, when she served as T’Challa’s bodyguard in Civil War. Now she’s here as the MCU reintroduces the Dora Milaje and Wakanda and continues to explore the post-Blip world in Phase 4. General Okoye’s second-in-command, who should already be familiar with Bucky thanks to the White Wolf’s brief stay in Wakanda, will not be an easy person for Bucky to refuse, and there’s little chance of Ayo and her nation moving past the killing of T’Challa’s father.
It’s difficult not to wonder how the series might have approached this Wakandan plotline if not for the passing of the great Chadwick Boseman, though it remains to be seen how much more we’ll see of Wakanda beyond Ayo’s cameo. This could possibly lead to a glimpse of the direction Ryan Coogler will take for Black Panther 2, as well as the franchise’s challenges without its king. But at least for the purposes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Ayo is here to remind us that Zemo’s past has been neither forgotten nor forgiven. (Even if the guy seems like a surprisingly good hang.)
With half of the season already in the books, Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues to expand upon the new world of the MCU by bringing back the ghosts of its past. Sam Wilson has yet to reclaim Cap’s shield—right now, he’s wondering whether he would’ve been better off destroying it. But the past continues to reshape his understanding of the super soldier serum and Captain America’s complicated legacy, and that reckoning may be what he needs to eventually retake the mantle himself.