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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Recap: Blood on the Shield

If power merely makes a person more of themselves, what does it mean for Karli Morgenthau to have it? Or for Sam Wilson? Or for John Walker?

Getty Images/Ringer Illustration
Spoiler warning

The new Captain America finally has shown his true colors: At the end of the fourth episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, John Walker brutally kills a Flag-Smasher in Latvia for the entire world to see. Blood drips from Cap’s shield just before the cut to the credits.

Though Walker’s fall from grace may have been inevitable, the moment still serves up a bloody shock that will shape the remainder of the season.

Baron Zemo, meanwhile, is now on the loose, with the Dora Milaje chasing after him, as Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes find themselves caught in a deadly game of musical chairs, with each week presenting a new ally or enemy who poses a challenge for them to deal with. Now more than ever Sam needs to take his old job back, and reclaim the mantle he shrugged off.

For this week’s recap, we’ll follow our typical debrief with a closer look at Walker and the mysterious Sharon Carter, before ending with a little bit of love for the walking meme that is Baron Helmut Zemo.

The Debrief

Screenshots via Disney+

After the Dora Milaje give Bucky and Sam eight hours to work with Zemo before they’ll bring him back to Wakanda, the trio has to get to work quickly. Out of leads, they use Donya Madani’s funeral to locate Karli Morgenthau. Sam is convinced that he can reason with Karli. He recognizes what Karli is actually fighting for and understands that she’s the only one supporting all of the people who have been displaced by the Blip, while the GRC does nothing to help. He understands the distrust Karli has for governmental organizations—after meeting Isaiah Bradley and seeing the Department of Defense give away Cap’s shield, how could he not? While Karli is clearly going about things all wrong—because, you know, blowing up buildings and killing innocent people is obviously a pretty big no-no—Falcon and the Winter Soldier is taking every opportunity it can to show her humanity and good intentions. In their conversation, Sam empathizes with Karli’s loss, and tries to get her to see that she’s becoming just like the corrupt institutions she and her Flag-Smashers are fighting against. “I’m not your enemy,” Sam tells Karli. “I agree with your fight. I just can’t get with the way you’re fighting it. And I’m sure [Donya] wouldn’t either.”

The problem is, the new, highly insecure, highly temperamental Captain America has come to Latvia, too—and he doesn’t take very kindly to people telling him that they know better than he does. Just as it seems like Sam is breaking through to Karli, Walker barges into the room, shattering any semblance of trust. In the chase that follows, it’s Zemo, having escaped after all the big, burly heroes leave him to his own devices for some reason, who ends up successfully tracking down Karli. Yet instead of launching some long-winded speech as any good action-movie villain would, he immediately starts shooting at her, causing her to drop her remaining vials of super soldier serum. With little hesitation, Zemo crushes the vials under his feet. He successfully destroys nearly every dose—except for the one that Walker ominously finds and pockets for himself.


When the group reconvenes at Zemo’s place, their party is interrupted by Ayo and two other members of the Dora Milaje. Like pretty much everyone who meets him, Ayo is unimpressed by the new Captain America, and a struggle quickly follows when the group refuses to hand over Zemo. But the word “struggle” really only applies to one side of the battle here: The Dora Milaje make quick work of Cap, Bucky, Sam, and Hoskins, as the fight ends with the vibranium shield in the hands of one of the Dora Milaje, and a certain vibranium arm lying detached on the floor. The only one who had the right idea in this scene? This guy, who escapes amid all the commotion:

They really oughta keep a better eye on this dude.

The hard-earned lesson here: Don’t mess with the Dora Milaje. But the scene also serves up a lesson to Walker, sending him into a bit of an existential crisis. Walker has stated his desire to live up to the legacy that Steve Rogers left behind on several occasions by now, but after getting his ass handed to him by both super soldiers and a group of Wakandan warriors, his inadequacy in the superhero business fully dawns on him.

The next time Walker finds himself in a fight, he’s already taken the last dose of Dr. Nagel’s super soldier serum in order to level the playing field. And it works—well, “works” is a bit of an oversimplification. Walker holds his own against the Flag-Smashers, bending metal pipes and breaking through walls with ease. But the serum also enables him to act on his worst impulses. After Karli kills his partner, Lemar Hoskins, Walker snaps. He chases after one of the Flag-Smashers, and as the man pleads for mercy, Walker uses the shield—the same prestigious symbol he swore to protect and uphold—to publicly execute him while a massive crowd of pedestrians (with camera phones) look on.

Karli’s goal was to divide Sam and Bucky and kill Captain America, and although she doesn’t do exactly that, she may have made an even greater impact. She’s spent an entire season arguing against nationalistic symbols, and because of her, the United States’ greatest symbol just ruthlessly killed an unarmed person in full daylight. Her following was growing even before this episode—it’ll surely multiply exponentially after this Captain America video goes viral.

Friends or Foes?

John Walker

When John Walker received his proper introduction in the second episode, Falcon and the Winter Soldier made sure to highlight his genuine desire and intention to live up to the legacy of Captain America. But it also hinted at his potential instability and anger, and in each episode that’s followed, the cracks in his confidence have grown as the pressure of the job has heightened.

The hypothetical question that kept arising this week was, “If you had the chance to take the super soldier serum, would you?” When Zemo asked Sam this, the Falcon claimed he wouldn’t without any hesitation. “Blood isn’t always the solution,” he told Zemo in regard to Karli. But when Walker asked this same question to his partner, Hoskins also had no hesitation: “Hells yeah,” he says. “Power just makes a person more of themselves, right?”

For Walker, of course, this was never a hypothetical question at all—and his conversation with Hoskins, along with getting absolutely rocked by the Dora Milaje, was what he needed to decide that powering up was his best option. The difference between Sam and Walker’s choices around the serum are well pronounced, and drive Sam one step closer to reclaiming the shield and the mantle for himself. Once the dust settles and Walker faces the consequences for what he’s just done, it’s hard to imagine that the American government or the GRC will allow the guy to keep walking the streets as Captain America. But it’s now a question whether Walker will give up that shield willingly.

Hoskins was right—power does make a person more of themselves. Unfortunately for Walker, his true self is a person driven by an inferiority complex and a belief that violence can be a solution. As Dr. Erskine once told Steve Rogers, for the super soldier serum to work, it needed “not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” And while Walker may be the perfect soldier, he just proved he’s not the right man for the job.

Sharon Carter

While Sharon appeared in only a few minutes of this episode, it’s becoming increasingly clear that she has some direct connection to the Power Broker. When Sam gives her a call to get information that could help them track down Karli, Sharon picks up the phone while casually walking past a series of armed guards in Madripoor. She tells Sam that she (somehow) has access to a satellite, and reports that “the Power Broker went apeshit when he heard about Nagel.” She also continues to emphasize the urgency in locating Karli. It seems as if she is by no means helping Sam out of some sort of benevolence or a desired ticket back home, but rather because he provides a means of taking down Karli without her or the Power Broker even having to get involved.

We’re now through four of the six episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the Power Broker has still yet to make an onscreen appearance. With time running out for him to show his face, and with Sharon acting as suspiciously as ever, it’s beginning to look like the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent might really be the judge, jury, and executioner of Madripoor herself.

Zemo

While I usually reserve the last sections of these recaps for diving into the key characters of the episode and speculating on where the show will go next with them, this week’s final spot will be used solely to appreciate the one and only Zemo. After he made his Falcon debut last episode, Marvel released the Zemo cut that we all didn’t even realize we needed: a one-hour loop of the Baron dancing in Madripoor. In less than 48 hours, the video already has over 2 million views on YouTube. There’s even a Twitter account with more than 10,000 followers that takes song requests for Zemo to dance to. As The Ringer’s Miles Surrey wrote earlier this week, this is now The Helmut Zemo Show.

In Zemo’s follow-up appearance, the Sokovian native did not disappoint. He’s been locked away for years, and now the man is doing his very best to enjoy life out of prison. While lounging in a bathrobe, Zemo can be seen snacking away, even using a cookie to emphasize his arguments:

When he’s surrounded by people who want to either capture him or kill him, Zemo doesn’t panic, but rather appreciates a good fight when he sees one, and proceeds to enjoy the show with a refreshment in hand:

And, despite being a man of action with quite a penchant for violence, Zemo is even finding the occasional peaceful resolution when confronted with a potential fight:

After “pulling an El Chapo,” Zemo is now on the run—though that might not last long with the Dora Milaje close behind him. While maintaining his new freedom is likely high on his priority list, Zemo already has stated his intention to finish the job he started back in Captain America: Civil War, and he may look to kill off the rest of these new super soldiers himself. The man is still a murderous, untrustworthy villain who almost certainly will find a way to betray Sam and Bucky if given another chance. But Zemo has also been right about a surprising amount of things, including John Walker, and he continues to be one of the series’ highlights. With the penultimate episode arriving next Friday, let’s hope he doesn’t get too far in his escape.