NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” are present in this review
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier triggered a dramatic move toward its overall climax with last week’s episode, following John controversially murdering Flag-Smasher underling, Nico in full view of the Latvian public. As expected, this act has massive repercussions that echo throughout the penultimate episode of the miniseries this week. “Truth” is a full hour-long offering with lots of ground to cover, as the pieces must hastily move into place for next week’s series finale. It sets the stage for that hotly-anticipated final episode very effectively, but the sheer volume of plot elements and commentary currently being juggled by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier means that the series loses some of the incredible momentum it’s been soaring on over the past couple of weeks.
At least this episode begins with an excellent hand-to-hand fight though, as Sam and Bucky corner a fleeing Walker, and are forced to beat him down in order to take back Captain America’s shield. Walker is then subsequently stripped of his rank and authority, as well as the mantle of Captain America, by the U.S. government, who are naturally in damage control mode after their glorified mascot caused an international incident. This reaction is definitely reasonable, and it does echo a similar turn in Marvel Comics lore, where Walker lost the Captain America mantle under similar circumstances. Even so, Walker’s demotion and dishonourable discharge may have simply invited a new obstacle, one that’s naturally the significant Marvel cameo that was teased by Disney and Marvel Studios in the lead-up to this episode.
After Walker and his wife sit outside the courtroom, following John’s demotion, dismissal and public humiliation, they’re approached by a woman named Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Yes, that’s a ridiculous amount of names (she suggests one can call her, “Val” for short, albeit only internally, so I suppose I’ll do that from here on out!), but, “Val” is a huge new character, one with an appropriate amount of star power behind her, as she’s played by Seinfeld and Veep alum, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It’s already impressive that Louis-Dreyfus being a part of The Falcon and the Winrer Soldier at all, let alone who she was portraying, was never leaked, especially when the character was originally planned to make her debut in Marvel Studios’ repeatedly-delayed Black Widow movie, now set to premiere this July. Putting that achievement aside however, this character could put a key puzzle piece in place regarding the identity and agenda of the Power Broker, still the most mysterious, yet influential figure behind many of the events in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
In Marvel Comics lore, Val is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, one that was even the ex-lover of Nick Fury, believe it or not. Later on, she ultimately defects to Hydra in the printed panels, and becomes the second rendition of Hydra leader, Madame Hydra. In all likelihood, Val is a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially since S.H.I.E.L.D. fell many years ago, at least as far as the public is concerned, assuming the events of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series are still canon in the MCU. The fact that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is skipping over the first Madame Hydra could be a sign of hope for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans in fact, after WandaVision threw that show’s canonical status into question, since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. already featured the first Madame Hydra, Ophelia Sarkissian, during its fourth season, specifically as a virtual identity of cybernetic Season 4 arch-villain, Aida. Perhaps this means that the altered appearance of the Darkhold in WandaVision doesn’t actually mean anything, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s events, at least as far as its first four seasons go, still happened in some form in Marvel Studios’ mainline MCU canon.
Okay, now that this establishment is out of the way, Val hands Walker a burner phone, and suggests that he wait for her call. Considering that Walker is freshly burned and extra unhinged, this perfectly sets him up as a blunt instrument for the Power Broker, whether it’s Val herself, or Val is simply another underling. Speaking of underlings, Sharon Carter’s status as hero or villain also continues to be nicely thrown into question here. She continues to have her own stake in the struggle against the Power Broker, going as far as to hire (or, more accurately, re-hire) Georges Batroc to aid the Flag-Smashers during an upcoming operation against the GRC. This attack will take place during the all-important vote to decide the fate of refugees that are currently stuck in the GRC’s camps after The Blip, and it’s sure to be a focal point in next week’s big climax, especially as Karli ominously shows Batroc her many followers, all rallying together and ready to strike!
Like I said, the setup for next week’s series finale is sublime, giving fans no shortage of exciting teases to chew on over the coming week. That being said though, the dense story material and uneven focus across The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s many characters and factions do lead to some significant pacing problems this week, as well as another frustrating instance where Bucky largely gets shafted in the storytelling. Bucky does get some quality time with Sam in this episode, helping him fix up his parents’ old boat, and even developing a bit of a flirtation with Sarah, but it’s clear that Sam is meant to be the primary focus in the narrative here, especially as he starts taking his first serious steps towards succeeding Steve Rogers as Captain America at long last. For Bucky fans, that may be frustrating, especially when Bucky is supposed to be seeing his own significant developments upon reconciling his old, dead identity as the Winter Soldier.
Bucky does get one impactful moment this week though, even if it’s a bit frustratingly short-lived. This moment comes when Bucky confronts Zemo at the Sokovia Memorial, holding an empty gun on Zemo and firing, thus proving that he could have killed Zemo, but chooses not to. This is followed by the Dora Milaje taking Zemo into custody, before Ayo suggests that Bucky stay out of Wakanda for a while. It’s a bit of a hasty wrap-up to this show’s Zemo storyline, but there is nonetheless an important tidbit dropped by Ayo before she leaves, namely that Zemo will be imprisoned on The Raft. The ever-faithful Marvel super-villain prison is not nearly as populated in the MCU as it often is in the printed panels at this point, but, again, assuming Marvel Television’s shows are all still MCU canon, The Raft does currently house at least a couple of antagonists from Marvel’s Netflix shows! Considering that Zemo leads super-villain squad, the Thunderbolts in Marvel Comics lore, and General Ross oversees The Raft in the MCU, might this be a tease that characters like Luke Cage’s Diamondback and Jessica Jones’ Trish Walker could be about to re-enter the MCU in a future project?
As I mentioned though, Bucky ends up largely overshadowed by Sam in this episode, after Sam goes to see Isaiah Bradley again, only to learn the horrific implications of Isaiah’s time as a super-soldier, most of which mirrors the Marvel graphic novel that inspired it, Truth: Red, White and Black. Isaiah was one of several Black soldiers that were experimented upon with Super Soldier Serum, and ultimately abandoned by the U.S. government in the fallout of WWII, with Isaiah as the lone survivor. Intentionally cut off from his late wife, and eventually dumped back in Baltimore as a forgotten relic, Isaiah is understandably bitter about the symbol of Captain America, and the so-called mantle of an All-American hero. This forces Sam to confront the true depth of implications behind being a Black Captain America, as well as whether he’s truly ready to stand up not only as a symbol for a better American ideal, but also as a symbol of Black equality and human rights.
Fortunately, after Sarah finally agrees that she can’t sell the late Wilson parents’ boat, Sam’s world begins to come together, and he begins to train in earnest to wield Captain America’s shield. There are a lot of really cute callbacks to Sam’s and Bucky’s time with Steve during this moment, one that also sees Bucky ready to accept Sam’s call, once he gets a final lead on Karli. Joaquin happens to come through with that lead before long as well, revealing that the Flag-Smashers are in New York for the GRC vote, right as they begin their attack on the council. We don’t see the result of this attack beyond lights dimming for now, but like I said, this climactic Flag-Smasher attack is bound to be a central focus in next week’s final episode for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, one that will no doubt see Sam break in his new identity as the third Captain America of the MCU. He even has a costume seemingly ready to go, after Bucky requests one be built for Sam in Wakanda, as one last favour before Bucky’s (likely temporary) exile from the nation.
“Truth” is a highly rewarding penultimate episode for Marvel fans and devout MCU followers, but in having to try and wrap up such a far-reaching, massive series of events, this latest episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was bound not to juggle everything perfectly. This miniseries has presented a ton of real-world allegories as well as startling implications for future, post-Blip events in the MCU, and one hour by itself isn’t really enough to satisfyingly wrap up all of the many ongoing narrative elements in the show. Perhaps there should have been seven or eight episodes comprising The Falcon and the Winter Soldier instead of just six, but either way, at least the show is primed to go out on a high note next week. With Bucky finding the clarity he needs to finally move forward with his life, and Sam finally stepping up as a new Captain America in earnest, the stage is set for a truly epic final battle, but also one that comprises many enemies. John Walker, Val de Fontaine, the Power Broker, Georges Batroc, and both Karli Morgenthau and the rest of the Flag-Smashers are all ready to stand against Sam and Bucky, likely ensuring that at least some of these dangerous foes will unfortunately live to fight another day in the MCU’s future.
- Sam stepping up to accept the mantle of Captain America
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus' surprise debut as Val de Fontaine
- Excellently sets the stage for next week's finale
- Sprawling narrative has some pacing issues
- Bucky's storyline feels a bit glossed over