DISCLAIMER: I was provided access to this episode by Disney+.
Editor’s Note: The following review will only contain necessary spoilers, and only what appears on Disney+ descriptions and marketing materials.
If there’s been one running theme of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s the discussion of the legacy of the Captain America shield. So, like my last episode review, this review will evaluate the legacy of the shield as well as the episode itself.
Let’s start with the man who originally wielded the shield, Steve Rogers. Steve was a skinny kid from Brooklyn who professed “I don’t like bullies” when Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci), the inventor of the Super-Soldier serum, asked him why he wanted to be a soldier so badly. This quality drove Steve not to sign the Sokovia Accords, which put him in direct conflict with the country he swore to fight for. In the story of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there are many bullies like income inequality, racial inequality, among many others. Yet, the world has no one to fight those bullies. So, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) takes it upon herself by forming The Flag Smashers.
For much of the miniseries so far, Karli is portrayed as the Captain America the world deserves, not the one it has (I swear that reference to The Dark Knight was unintentional), something Nico (Noah Mills) even suggests within the episode, by saying the people need “a leader who looks like them, who understand their pain. And from what I understand of her motivations thus far, I get it. However, her methods often resort to “kill who’s in my way, ask questions later,” something Cap would never stand for.
Baron Zemo, whose whole purpose in the show is related to killing any living Super-Soldier or any attempt at recreating the serum, quickly deduces that since Karli willingly took the serum, Karli has become a supremacist who no longer is to be reasoned with. When Bucky reminds Zemo that “the serum never corrupted Steve,” Zemo simply responds with “Touché. But there has never been another Steve Rogers, has there?”
The reason why is, as Dr. Erskine explains the night before Steve becomes Captain America is, “good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power.”. In the context in which it is explained in Captain America: The First Avenger, it is used to differentiate between Steve and Red Skull, which seems fairly straightforward. One is a guy who wants to protect his country from bullies, and the other is a Nazi who harnesses The Tesseract’s power to advance Nazi ideals. In that context, there’s an obvious hero and villain. In the context of “The Whole World is Watching,” all sorts of shades of grey are brought to the surface.
Sure, Karli isn’t Red Skull, but that’s not the point Zemo is making. The point Zemo is making is that Karli has a dark side to her that the serum is starting to amplify. After learning where Karli will be later that day, Sam decides the best way forward; if what Zemo is saying is true, he needs to use his grief counseling background to reason with her. The ensuing conversation is fantastic, with Sam listening to Karli’s opinion that the Global Repatriation Council is not helping anyone while saying he disagrees with her methods. Unfortunately, Karli doesn’t agree, saying that he’s “either brilliant or hopelessly optimistic”, in that killing brings progress, leading Sam to respond with, “Well, can’t I be a bit of both?” This is what makes a good Captain America. Someone who can listen to what his enemies have to say and would often fight amongst them if he thought their methods were for the greater good and weren’t harming anyone.
Now, let’s talk about the shield. When Tony Stark claimed “that shield doesn’t belong to you” after Steve disabled his Iron Man armor in Captain America: Civil War, Steve dropped the shield because the shield became a weapon that hurt those closest and that the mantle of Captain America wasn’t a symbol he no longer wanted to represent.
Within the episode (and throughout the miniseries), that notably doesn’t happen with John Walker’s Captain America. Frequently, John Walker opts to use the shield as a weapon. In last week’s episode alone, he used the shield to slam a suspect against a wall after said suspect spit on him. In this episode, he does a lot more. Not only does he challenge Sam to a fight for no reason whatsoever, but he also attacks Nico in a fit of rage and uses the shield in a way that can only be described as horrific.
The horrific image of John Walker’s Captain America screaming at Nico while he screams still lives in my mind almost a week removed from the episode. The name Captain America is no longer a beacon of hope and justice, and the miniseries has a lot of work ahead of it to erase that image from viewer’s brains, not even mentioning the in-universe characters.
“The World is Watching” is one of the best television episodes I’ve seen in quite a few years. The story never lost my interest no matter how many times I watched it; Wyatt Russell’s acting is simply superb, and I can finally say that I can’t wait to see what happens next week on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available to stream with a Disney+ subscription. New episodes will be released every Friday.