Updated: Apr 19, 2021
I’m just trying to be the best Captain America I can be. — John Walker, to Falcon and Bucky
Episode 2, “The Star-Spangled Man” wastes no time introducing us to the new Captain America, John Walker, a former football star and decorated veteran. Giving us his entire backstory is a priority, even before putting Falcon and the Winter Soldier together for their first mission. The very public debut of a new Captain America, carrying the shield that Falcon entrusted to The Smithsonian, felt like a betrayal by the government, who gave Sam NO indication that they intended to use the shield in this way. Bucky is also furious, and mad at Sam for being so naive and giving up the shield.
The writers try very hard to get us to like and sympathize with this new Cap, but you either love him or hate him. Like Sam and Bucky, Marvel fans will be loyal to Steve Rogers and automatically not like him, but much of the public in the episode does. The publicity machine works overtime to generate public support; there are CAP IS BACK! posters everywhere you look.
Bucky invites himself along on Sam’s next mission to Europe, even though Falcon tries very hard to dissuade him during the flight, to the point of jumping out of the airplane before it lands. That doesn’t stop Bucky, who leaps out without a parachute, Cap-style. His SuperSoldier strength and Vibranium arm help him survive a 200-foot freefall. Badass.
Once Sam realizes Bucky isn’t going to take the hint, he reluctantly teams up with him, and we get a healthy dose of the buddy cop banter that this series will either succeed or fail on. The chemistry between these two actors is solid, though, so no worries there.
The action sequences and special effects continue to be first-rate and movie-quality. Like WandaVision, I suppose when Marvel is only producing a limited number of episodes (6 in the case of F&WS), it’s easier to throw decent money into each episode.
We get a thrilling, high-speed rooftop battle atop semi-trucks between Falcon, Bucky and an obviously SuperSoldier-juiced squad of FlagSmashers. Wasn’t the SuperSoldier serum process supposed to a rare thing? Suddenly, superstrong people are everywhere. The FlagSmashers are also revealed to be more than a one-dimensional anarchist group. They seem to be helping a lot of people in a Robin Hood kind of way. And surprise, surprise…John Walker crashes the fight, along with his own “Bucky,” who calls himself Battlestar. Sam and Bucky of course do NOT want help from these guys, but they also won’t take the hint to buzz off. Walker kicks some serious butt, and we have to wonder whether to believe him when he says he has no special abilities or strength.
After they return to the States, and for reasons that were kind of vague, Sam and Bucky seek out the help and advice of an elderly man, a character that was introduced in the Marvel Comics mini-series TRUTH in 2003. TRUTH was the story of Isaiah Bradley, a black U.S. soldier that was experimented on with an early version of the SuperSoldier serum, before it was given to Steve Rogers. The story was inspired by the infamous Tuskeegee Study (1932-1972), where poor black men were experimented on with syphilis strains to see its effects when untreated. Unfortunately, the TRUTH experiment eventually gave Bradley brain damage. The man Sam and Bucky meet has apparently suffered the same fate. The SuperSoldier serum hasn’t seemed to do much to retard Bradley’s aging. He seems every bit of 95 years old. Whatever they hoped to learn from him, they left empty-handed. It makes us wonder why this sequence was created, since it didn’t accomplish much, other than to introduce us to a character that was known as “the Black Captain America.” Perhaps it was also to introduce us to his grandson Eli, who is the young hero Patriot in the comics, and a member of the Young Avengers.
The episode concludes with Bucky being arrested for violating the terms of his pardon/parole…skipping therapy. Which is corrected immediately by making BOTH him AND Sam undergo a very humorous session of face-to-face couples therapy.
Watch Falcon & Winter Soldier, airing Fridays on Disney+