We’re running a weekly recap of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+. There are spoilers, duh! You’ve been warned.
Having grappled the shield back from John Walker in this week’s penultimate episode, Sam Wilson travels to Baltimore for a heart-to-heart with Isaiah Bradley. Isaiah, if you recall, was first introduced back in episode two, when we the audience—along with Sam—learned that Isaiah was the world’s first Black super soldier. We also learned that as repayment for his super heroics, the government imprisoned, beat, and tortured Isaiah for three decades.
But that was only the half of it. Now, in Isaiah’s living room, Sam learns the whole story.
It turns out, Isaiah had been one of a handful of super soldiers created by the United States in secret. Then, when some of Bradley’s fellow soldiers were captured in combat, the military’s top brass considered bombing the POW camp to oblivion rather than let the secret of their experimentation leak. Isaiah, good man that he is, would have none of it. So he infiltrated the camp and set the prisoners free. His subsequent thirty-year imprisonment was the cruel reward for such valor.“I owe you an apology,” the Winter Soldier tells Sam. “I’m sorry.”
It’s not lost on me that Isaiah’s rescue scheme was nearly identical to Captain America’s prison break from the original Captain America: The First Avenger film. Back then, Steve Rogers disobeyed a direct order by crossing enemy lines, breaking into a Hydra prison, and liberating scores of American POWs from death and experimentation. Was Steve sent to prison for his insubordination? Heck no!
Rather, Steve was given a command of his own unit to turn the tide against Hydra and win the war for the Allies.
And good for him! That’s what he deserved. But Isaiah deserved the same and never got it.
This is America, where the white hero is lauded and the Black hero is loathed. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America,” Isaiah advises Sam. “And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be.”
Ever since the closing minutes of Avengers: End Game, I’ve been chomping at the bit to see Sam as our new Captain America. Admittedly, I was disheartened when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier began with Sam giving the shield up.
What’s going on here? Just take the shield already, Sam!
This is where I’ve pegged the story wrong. But I’m trying to learn.
As a white man, I can only know on a cognitive level that this country sees and treats me differently than it does my Black friends. I know it, but I don’t experience the disparity.
No. Scratch that. That’s not correct at all.
Actually, I do experience whiteness, but only insofar as I experience it as normative. To the extent that I experience friction while navigating my place in America, it’s not tied to the color of my skin. That is, I feel no pressure to apologize for being my happy self in a white body taking up the space that’s already reserved for me in a white-normative society.
And so, Bucky’s admission may as well be mine. “When Steve told me what he was planning, I don’t think either of us really understood what it felt like for a Black man to be handed the shield. How could we?”
“I owe you an apology,” the Winter Soldier tells Sam. “I’m sorry.”
Here’s what we’ve learned. As a self-respecting Black man, Sam must deconstruct his American-ness to become America’s Captain. He must deconstruct the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful to not just be the Captain, but to desire the mantle that destiny keeps thrusting upon him.
Like Isaiah said, America won’t “let” Sam become its Captain. But isn’t it obvious by now?
Sam doesn’t need America’s permission.
The world witnessed John Walker murder an unarmed Flag Smasher, so it’s no surprise this part of the story would echo the scores of videos of unarmed Black men killed at the hands of white police officers. Like the vast majority of those officers, John Walker will face no ultimate accountability for murder. They may strip him of his rank. They may even fire him. So what? John is a murderer. Isaiah is a liberator. Remind me again which of these men they sent to prison?
Zemo’s exit was kind of a bummer for me. It felt unceremonial. This series has done a fine job morphing the Baron into the kind of scoundrel you want to keep around. Like Loki.
When Bucky surrendered Zemo to the Wakandans to serve his remaining sentence on the raft, I found myself hoping the big cats at Marvel Studios will find ways to make this character useful for future plots. That’s not to say he deserves his own series quite yet. But a cameo would be nice.
Speaking of future series, six episodes is waaaay too short for this show. I’m disappointed that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has finally hit its stride, only to be finished with just one more episode left. And while I’m excited for the finale, there’s too much to wrap up. It’s an impossible task. I’m expecting disappointment.
Lastly, did you see the trailer for Shang-Chi just dropped? It comes out this fall. That feels good, doesn’t it?
For us MCU fans, the year 2020 robbed the simple joy and cadence of event films every year. But along with Black Widow this summer, we’ll finally get back to the rhythm with two bona-fide features this year.
Nature is healing!