Sam, Bucky, and Zemo’s navigation through this underworld – from dark affairs behind the scenes to sprinting for their lives as they elude the bounty hunters – is pure John Wick. It is not a coincidence; This week’s episode is written by John Wick writer Derek Kolstad. The similarities are also found in the action, which this week is significantly more brutal and thorny than the footage from the previous episodes. Knives are thrown into the arms and draw blood, and we even see a person impaled by a thrown metal rod. It’s surprisingly complete for an MCU project.
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Much of the fighting is due to Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter, who can finally show her face after the MCU brushes her aside after the Civil War. And, like with Zemo, we see a very different side of the character. Forced to live off the grid after allying with Steve against the Sokovia Accords, Sharon has become a dark figure surviving on Madripoor by dealing with powerful clients. This situation made her bitter and her tone with Sam and Bucky is ruthless and at times sarcastic. While this approach makes Sharon a compelling and hardened character, Kolstad made sure that this situation was underpinned by sadness. Sharon has been forced into this difficult life by the fallout from the Civil War, which she notes happened because she didn’t see Captain America’s flaws.
Sharon’s situation deeply affects Sam and further complicates his relationship with Steve Rogers’ impending legacy. This is reinforced by the discovery that Dr. Nagel reverse engineered the Super-Soldier Serum from the blood of Isaiah Bradley for the CIA and Power Broker. Now Sam has come to wish that he would destroy the shield and end the line. The inner conflict at the heart of the series has reached an all-time high, which sets Sam perfectly for the final three episodes in which he finds out what the idea of Captain America means to him.
Sam’s feelings contrast directly with those of Bucky, who always sees the value of what the shield represents. Bucky threatening to take the shield himself is a nice nod to the comics in which he became Captain America, but also adds fuel to the antagonism between the two friends. And unlike episode two, which felt a bit unbridled with its buddy comedy banter, the dialogue between Sam and Bucky is top notch in this episode. The situation itself presents all the substance needed to turn the heat up, from Bucky’s reckless prison escape to their Angry Shield debate.Less in the spotlight this week, Captain America and the Flag Smashers. John and Lemar have just enough material to keep them in the game, but the little time spent with Karli and his team does more lifting to help them contextualize them. As noted in the last episode, the Flag Smashers have a noble cause, again underscored this time by the oppressive RCMP camps that house those who have returned from the Blip. But there is still a lot of muddy water here; the politics behind the GRC story is underdeveloped, and Karli’s use of lethal explosives further blurs the line between the Flag Smashers’ role as victims or terrorists. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier have triumphed in their straightforward approach to their political elements, but so far the Flag Smashers feel unnecessarily indirect.
With all of this, episode three no longer needs to offer any more excitement. But, just before the credits roll, we have a surprise appearance from Wakanda; Ayo. Bucky’s connection to the African nation has always been an important part of his modern development, but I don’t think anyone expected a connection to Black Panther in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. There’s no context to Ayo’s arrival yet, but if Wakanda gets involved, then maybe the global situation is way bigger than we initially thought.