Sam, Bucky, and Zemo’s navigation through this underworld – from shadowy deals in back rooms to sprinting for their lives as they evade bounty hunters – is pure John Wick. That’s no coincidence; this week’s episode is penned by John Wick writer Derek Kolstad. The similarities run into the action, too, which this week is significantly more brutal and bone-crunching than sequences in previous episodes. Knives are thrown into arms and draw blood, and we even see a person impaled by a thrown metal rod. It’s surprisingly full-on for an MCU project.
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Much of the fighting comes courtesy of Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter, who finally gets to show her face again after the MCU cast her aside post-Civil War. And, as with Zemo, we see a very different side to the character. Forced to live off-grid after she allied with Steve against the Sokovia Accords, Sharon has become a dark figure surviving in Madripoor by dealing with powerful clients. This situation has made her bitter, and her tone with Sam and Bucky is ruthless and occasionally sarcastic. While this approach makes Sharon a compelling, hardened character, Kolstad has been careful to ensure this situation is underpinned by sadness. Sharon has been forced into this hard life by the fallout of Civil War, something she notes happened because she failed to see Captain America’s flaws.
Sharon’s situation affects Sam deeply, and further complicates his relationship with the looming legacy of Steve Rogers. This is furthered by the discovery that Dr. Nagel backwards engineered supersoldier serum from Isaiah Bradley’s blood for the CIA and Power Broker. Now, Sam has come to wish that he’d destroyed the shield and ended the line. The inner conflict at the heart of the show has hit an all-time low, which perfectly positions Sam for a final three episodes in which he discovers what the idea of Captain America means to him.
Sam’s feelings directly contrast against Bucky’s, who still sees the value in what the shield represents. Bucky threatening that he’ll take the shield himself is a nice nod to the comics in which he did become Captain America, but also adds fuel to the antagonism between the two friends. And in contrast to episode two, which felt a bit unrestrained with its buddy comedy quips, the dialogue between Sam and Bucky is top-notch in this episode. The situation itself presents all the substance required to turn up the heat, from Bucky’s reckless prison break to their angered shield debate.Less in the spotlight this week is Captain America and the Flag Smashers. John and Lemar only have just enough material to keep them in the game, but the short amount of time spent with Karli and her crew does do more lifting to help contextualise them. As laid out in the last episode, the Flag Smashers have a noble cause, further emphasised this time by the oppressive GRC camps holding those returned from the Blip. But there’s still a lot of muddy water here; the politics behind the GRC story is under developed, and Karli’s use of deadly explosives further blurs the line between the Flag Smashers’ role as victims or terrorists. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has triumphed in its direct approach to its political elements, but so far the Flag Smashers feel needlessly indirect.
With all of this going on, episode three doesn’t need to offer any more excitement. But, just before the credits roll, we get a surprise appearance from Wakanda; Ayo. Bucky’s connection to the African nation has always been an important part of his modern-day development, but I don’t think anyone was expecting a link to Black Panther in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. There’s no context to Ayo’s arrival just yet, but if Wakanda is getting involved, then perhaps the global situation is far greater than we first thought.