We are getting close to the, ahem, endgame.
The fifth and penultimate episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was so much more than mere holding filler, however, before what promises to be an explosive finish next week.
After episode 4's slightly uninspiring formula of kicky-punchy-jumpy-jumpy-punchy-kicky, this was a far more measured and enjoyable hour of television.
Here is a recap of the major talking points from episode 5 of Marvel's show on Disney+.
*WARNING: This article contains spoilers for episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier*
1. Cap is on his back
Episode 5 was a welcome change of pace from its predecessor’s breathless succession of fisticuffs, concentrating on character instead of cracks on the head.
However, there was some leftover action business from episode 4 it had to address off the bat.
We last saw Captain America/John Walker (Wyatt Russell) standing over the dead body of a Flag-Smashers member Nico (Noah Mills), with a bloodied shield and the eyes of the world watching. Damn his most powerful nemesis… social media!
Watch: Watch Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan Hilariously Quiz Each Other on Their Avengers Knowledge
Episode 5 opens with Cap on the run until he is tracked down by Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in that most Marvelesque of fighting locations, an abandoned warehouse.
But unlike a lot of last week’s action, this three-way face-off - reminiscent of Bucky and Steve Rogers duking it out with Iron Man in Siberia in Captain America: Civil War - has an emotional payoff.
Lots of things end up smashed - Falcon’s wings, Bucky’s prosthetic arm and Walker’s real one - before the shield is back where it began this series: in Sam’s safe hands tucked inside that ridiculous round carrying case, which presumably can also be used to keep frisbees and giant frying pans clean.
2. TAKE! THESE BROKEN WINGS!
Sam seems a lot more keen to hang on to that shield than he did four episodes ago, so much so that he leaves his own battered kit with his buddy Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez), who, as Marvel fans all know, goes on to become the new Falcon in the comics.
It’s a fun little scene because the moment is so underplayed - with Torres sounding like he works in KFC instead of the US Air Force.
“You forgot your wings!” he shouts after Sam.
3. Old Cap is back
It was brilliant to see Isaiah Bradley, known as the “Black Captain America” in the comics, return in this episode, not just because actor Carl Lumbly nails the much-earned cynicism of the character, but also because his past is key to Sam’s shield-wielding decision.
In the best exchange of the episode, Bradley talks about the famous Red Tails squadron of African-American fighter pilots and airmen from World War II and warns Sam about replacing Rogers and Walker by carrying a “white man’s shield”.
He tells him: “They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever want to be.”
4. I’M ON A BOAT!
And now, like any superhero series worth its salt, we come to the boat-repairing montage.
I sneered at the first episode with its seemingly banal bank loans and boat payments, but I was riveted, if you’ll excuse the pun, by Sam’s return visit here to his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) in Louisiana.
And who needs a tool kit to patch up your rusty old vessel when you’ve got your own rusty old vessel to repair it?
Enter Bucky the human Swiss army knife, ready to tackle any nautical DIY task in between sipping beer and fluttering his vibranium arm at Sarah (“Don’t flirt with my sister.”).
These sequences are a lot of fun, but they also serve a crucial purpose. This isn’t just any old boat - it’s part of Sam’s legacy, which is why the siblings decide not to sell it.
This is an episode about race and preservation (the key line is Isaiah’s “They erased me from history”) and Sam is determined to carry on the struggle started by those who came before him, even if a justly bitter Isaiah thinks he should steer clear.
As Sam says: “What would be the point of all that pain and sacrifice, if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?”
5. I’M ON A RAFT!
Unfortunately for lovers of awkward dancing, which I’m pretty sure is all of us, this isn’t a Zemo-heavy episode.
We do get a little taste of the motivations of the Baron, played by Daniel Brühl, standing in front of a memorial to those who died in Sokovia, but he is quickly whisked away by Wakanda’s Dora Milaje female bodyguards, led by Ayo (Florence Kasumba).
She says they are taking him to the Raft, the underwater prison where Falcon himself was held during Captain America: Civil War.
Given how easy it was for Rogers to bust Falcon out, I doubt crafty Zemo will be held there for long.
6. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
Just when you thought The Falcon and the Winter Soldier might be running low on surprises, along strolls the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Veep) in a cameo.
She plays the wonderfully monikered Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a shady spy known as Madame Hydra in the comics, who claims to be the answer to Walker’s prayers.
According to Vanity Fair, Louis-Dreyfus had been slated to debut the character in Marvel’s Black Widow movie, but its delay because of COVID-19 means The Falcon and the Winter Soldier viewers enjoy the surprise appearance.
And it looks like “Val” has big plans for Walker.
7. The mid-credits scene
This episode takes a leaf right out of the MCU with its own mid-credits stinger, which shows Walker fashioning a new shield, that includes his Medal of Honour, just after we’ve watched Sam learn how to use the original one with a full-on montage.
The chances are high that Walker plans to use his new weapon on Flag-Smashers leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), who has hooked up with Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), himself on the payroll of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), to infiltrate a meeting of the shadowy Global Repatriation Council (GRC) in New York. Wow, I hope that sentence made sense.
But not unless Sam, complete with a boxed-up gift from Wakanda (a new Captain America vibranium suit? A repaired Redwing? A new boat motor?), can get there first.
Episode 5 verdict: A vast improvement on episode 4, this was a nuanced return to form that put the emphasis back on character motivation. And with Sam finally about to become Captain America, we should be in for a cracking finale next week.
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