This week’s episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier proves, without a doubt, that it’s entirely possible for bad guys to come good. Whether they can stay good, however, is the real clincher.
On the one hand, we have Baron Zemo, the villain at the centre of Captain America; Civil War. Zemo, whilst his methods were deeply, utterly awful, had some level of motivation: his homeland was wiped out, courtesy of The Avengers. A heroic act radicalised a great many people (including the Maximoff twins, incidentally). In the case of Zemo, there was only one rational outcome: erase the mechanisms that make superpowered people, and in turn, stop places like his homeland being annihilated.
After he achieved his mission, it seems he calmly accepted his fate. He’d done what he set out to do. Sam and Bucky go and meet him in prison, and upon hearing there’s super soldier serum out in the open, of course he agrees to help them. He’s nothing if not practical, and the greater part of this episode manages to portray him as… hell. Likeable.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier
He’s manipulative, true; he seems to know he’ll have to cut Bucky loose in a Winter-Soldier-esque flurry deep in the slums of Madripoor to help aid their ruse. But he also repeatedly does things that are either principled (coming back for Sam, Bucky and Sharon when he could have bolted), or hilarious (quietly shimmying away like nobody is watching at a raucous dance party). He jokes with his elderly butler, perhaps the last vestige of his former status as Baron of a dead country, about giving spoiled food to his guests. He executes the man who smirkingly gloats about having experimented on Isaiah Bradley. In fact, he exhibits many of the traits we seem to like in our heroes.
But can he continue to veer, ever so slightly, towards being a true ally? If Bucky can fight to strike the red from his ledger, why not Zemo?
This episode is also replete with other tiny, gratifying reveals. The notebook which Bucky is using to make amends to his former victims isn’t just a nod to the notebook Steve Rogers used to catch up on what he missed: it is that notebook. Karli Morgenthau and her band (my interview with Erin Kellyman, who played Karli, is right here) stole the doses of serum to give themselves an edge, and they appear to be stealing supplies intended for refugees which the GRC aren’t actually distributing at all. It seems Fake Cap’s global good-guy cabal is actually up to something pretty dark. But then again, Karli seems willing to kill a building full of handcuffed people – is she good? Is she bad? Or, like Zemo, has she been radicalised?
Then, there’s Sharon Carter.
“Wow. She’s kind of awful now.”
Words spoken by Bucky as he lounges in the neon-soaked hideout of Sharon Carter. Great-niece of Peggy Carter, Sharon has gone from bright-eyed, ballsy idealist to gun-toting, scowling cynic. Bucky isn’t wrong – Sharon has become a dark, weary shadow of her prior self. But is this all an act?
I talk with Melbourne comedian Sami Shah every week once The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (or Wandavision) wraps up. And Sami posited a fascinating theory: Sharon is undercover. Is she in Madripoor working for Nick Fury? In the comics, Sharon is known as Agent 13, a spy with an incredible ability to deceive and obfuscate. I don’t believe Sharon would flip so hard against her deeply held beliefs. Secondly, Sami suggested Sharon is the Power Broker, a theory certainly backed up by the frankly improbable level of personal security and power this formerly unassuming agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. has at her disposal.
The episode wraps up with a goosebump-inducing return to the world of Wakanda, with Bucky following a trail to an alleyway where he encounters Ayo, a Wakandan warrior clearly on the trail of… something. We’re halfway through this six-part story, and already there’s an array of fascinating characters on the board.
But who is good? Who is bad? And who, in the end, will claim the shield and become the new real Captain America?
Hell… will Steve show up? Will Isaiah Bradly suit up once again? Or will Isaiah give Sam his old suit? The possibilities are, thanks to a smart, fun story and some wonderful performances, endless.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney+.