'Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Episode Two: An Examination of John Walker
By Liam McKeone
The second episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier went live last night. In case you missed what the foundation of the show is and what to expect from this season, let me direct you to my Episode 1 review from last week that sets the stage. Or you can watch it yourself, but that's a time investment and whatever and you can trust me! So give it a click. Then come back.
Episode 2 gave us our first interactions between Sam and Bucky and lived up to expectations, while expanding upon the shocking end of last week's episode and further filling in the foundation for what, exactly, is going to be the driving antagonist force for Marvel's second dip into series production. Most importantly, it introduced what I believe to be a pivotal character whose role will define what the series is about and what it wants to get across. This will focus in on that particular character. His name? John Walker.
Spoilers follow for 'Falcon and the Winter Soldier': Episode 2. You have been warned.
I want to talk about John Walker. John Walker, as we quickly find out, is the new Captain America. Sam gave up the shield that Steve Rogers gave him, presumably believing he was not worthy of what it represented. The U.S. Government turned around and gave it to Walker, the only soldier to win the Medal of Honor thrice and presumably played a crucial role in all sorts of special forces operations. The showrunners are trying pretty hard to set him up as, at the very least, a sympathetic figure. This week's episode kicks off with Walker having a self-conscious moment in his high school locker room, trying to convince himself that he is worthy of the shield and role his bosses gave him.
That continues into the episode even as the focus shifts off Walker. He gives Sam and Bucky a ride back after a failed attempt to deal with the current Big Evil Group they are trying to stop (in this case, the Flag Smashers). He offers to work together with the two former Avengers before vaguely threatening that they should not get in his way. All that is to say that Walker doesn't seem like a bad guy, or at least that's what we're supposed to think at this point. Yes, he's a pale imitation of Steve (even if he has something resembling superhuman powers, but not quite the same level as Steve or Bucky) and any time a government agency forces something to happen in Marvel shows, it turns out poorly. But Marvel already did the whole "person/thing we thought was good is bad, actually" with the entire plot of the second Captain America movie. I don't think Walker is ultimately going to be working for the Flag Smashers. It's a well-used trope in super hero movies.
But if that is the case, it makes Walker even more interesting. What if he really is just a good dude and a good soldier trying and failing to follow in Captain America's footsteps? What lengths will he go to in order to fulfill what his own personal vision of Captain America is? Will that turn him into a bad guy? The show already set a strong contrast between Walker and Rogers in the (absolutely awesome) fight scene that took place upon two 18-wheelers, when Walker shot an enemy and presumably killed him.
That isn't something we're used to seeing the guy carrying around the Captain America shield do. Steve used guns before, most predominately during his missions in Nazi Germany in World War II. But viewers never saw Steve shoot and kill a human like we did with Walker in only the first episode we met him. That isn't to say that Captain America operates by the same creed as Batman and refuses to kill people. We've seen Steve kick dudes so hard they probably shattered their skulls upon impact. But not in the same cold-blooded way Walker took down a member of the Flag Smashers.
What does that contrast suggest? It could be our first hint that Walker is eventually going to become an enemy that Sam and Bucky need to battle in order to save the world. A super soldier with no real moral standards is a dangerous thing and apparently way more common in the Marvel universe than anyone was previously aware of. The core of the Flag Smashers is made up of enhanced humans like Walker. His willingness to not only take down but kill anyone who stands in the way of what he believes to be his mission could be our first red flag (pardon the pun) about the guy. Walker very well might be leading the Flag Smasher's effort to return the world to a Blip existence, where humanity is so desperate to survive that differentiating based on race or nationality doesn't matter.
But, again, that just seems too simple. Wandavision was an excellent piece of media in part because it was extremely creative. You had no idea what was going to happen next. The biggest twist in the series (if you know, you know) came out of nowhere. Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn't have nearly as convoluted a base concept and so far has been way more straightforward, but that doesn't and shouldn't mean Marvel is retreating to well-tread super hero plot patterns.
Walker is a fascinating character and we the viewers have no idea what the creator's plans are for the new Captain America. But he was the most important part of an episode that revealed the head terrorist of the Flag Smashers and sent Bucky and Sam to couple's therapy. That says something. Walker will be key to the plot in one way or another. Next week should provide some clarity as to exactly what role he'll play, and whether he'll get directly in the way of Sam and Bucky.