*SPOILERS* The latest episode is called “Truth”, and it effectively sheds light on many of the main and supporting characters and their personal histories, while weaving in the themes of heroism and its cost on both the hero and those who look up to them.
Starting with John Walker, we see a man hailed as a hero by his country, only to fall short of the demands and expectations placed upon him when it matters the most. His pride, stubbornness, and self-doubt are his undoing, and Sam and Bucky bring him back to earth in a fantastic opening sequence. The other side of the coin presents us with Isaiah Bradley, a genuine hero used, abused, and then discarded by the very country he served so honorably. A broken man, victim to the injustices of a system where he’ll always feel like a second-class citizen, he wants nothing more than to vanish from the annals of history, rather than rightfully take his place among its greatest heroes.
And somewhere in the middle, we find Sam and Bucky, each trying to come to terms with what makes a hero in the first place. Each is driven by both a desire to do good and to live up to being the kind of man Steve Rogers believed him to be. And at the same time, each is full of self-doubt, whether as a by-product of their experiences or a lack of faith in a world that might not embrace them in a new light. For Bucky this means atoning for his deeds as the Winter Soldier, while for Sam it means stepping up to be the next Captain America.
Then there’s the lead Flagsmasher, Karli Morgenthau, a well-intentioned woman seeking to become a hero of the people. But as I mentioned last time, the way she’s portrayed, she comes across more as a villain posing as a savior. This episode only reinforces that view, as she shows no remorse for her actions, and only doubles down on her dangerous rhetoric. When she says to her followers, “They’re not going to stop. Not unless we make them.”, her meaning is clear – “No matter how many people we have to kill.” And yet, the show still treats her as though she was some kind of anti-hero, rather than a villain. No one even mentions the fact that she murdered Battlestar in the previous episode, let alone actually lays blame for the act at her feet. There’s no talk of bringing her to justice or making her pay for what she’s done – the only character that kind of talk is reserved for is John Walker. It’s interesting how one is painted straight up as an unhinged murderer but the other bears no blame for their equally-heinous actions.
An interesting moment comes near the climax of the episode, when two Flagsmasher operatives exchange the greeting “One world. One People.” It immediately brought to mind the exchange, “Hail Hydra”, that was used in the same hushed tones by that group’s members. It’s intriguing that, just like Hydra, the Flagsmashers think themselves above governments and borders and laws. To them, every life matters – or at least it does as long as they’re on the right side. With one episode left, it remains to be seen whether their actions will unify or further divide what is shown to be an already-fractured world population.
As an aside, one exciting moment came in the form of the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (call her Val, but don’t call her Val – just keep it in your head), in a delightful introduction to a post-trial John Walker and his wife. As a character in the comics who was both a leading agent of SHIELD, working directly under Nick Fury, and later Madame Hydra, the de facto leader of Hydra, it’ll be interesting to see where the MCU takes her, and what it will mean for John Walker. Does he become US Agent, as in the comics, and follow a path of redemption for his sins? Or does he become Captain Hydra, mirroring the “Secret Empire” comic book retcon of Steve Rogers having been a sleeper agent for the terrorist organization since before his inception as Captain America?
Either way, it hopefully leads to the formation of the Thunderbolts, Marvel’s version of the Suicide-Squad, which at some point in the comics, counted both Zemo and John Walker among its ranks as ex-criminals working for the government to atone for their crimes. Zemo has become a fantastic character and a fan-favorite, and it would be a huge missed opportunity for Marvel not to cash in on this fact, and develop him even further. I don’t know about you, but I’m already looking forward to the next time he breaks out those sweet European dance club moves. And let’s face it, it would be great to see him get a redemption arc and step into the role of a hero himself.
All things considered, each character shown in this episode still has it in them to be a hero. It’s not just a desire to do good that matters. You know what they say about the road to Hell, after all, and many of the self-proclaimed heroes in this season are undoubtedly going to end up as villains through and through. A true hero does good, even when it costs them everything. Steve Rogers always put the welfare of others first. He was ready to sacrifice himself when he was at his weakest, leaping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, just as much as when he was at his strongest, armed with Thor’s hammer to face down Thanos’ entire army alone.
Are the Falcon and the Winter Soldier each worthy of becoming heroes? Just like Steve, we know they are, and we can’t wait to see them embrace their destinies as the new Captain America and Bucky (or will it be the White Wolf?).
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