The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 2 (Disney+)
Written by Michael Kastelstein
Directed by Kari Skogland
It should be literally impossible to discuss a piece of Captain America media without the conversation becoming political. This is something that’s annoyed me about the candy-consumption of so much fandom is that they want their entertainment divorced entirely from a discussion about current events and the state of the world. That might work to an extent with Guardians of the Galaxy or the Silver Surfer, but when the characters are very much tied to the government and foreign policy, you cannot avoid it. The fundamental nature of Captain America is a product of World War II-era jingoism. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been used to tell nuanced stories that make critiques of the United States, but we are simply not going to ever get something like that from Marvel. Marvel has repeatedly partnered with the American military-industrial complex to help mythologize “the soldier” in popular culture. In Black Panther, they couldn’t let Wakanda be autonomous; they had to inject a CIA agent in as one of the good guys. So it is literally impossible to talk about this Disney+ series without getting political.
The premise for this season has become pretty clear in this second episode. Sam & Bucky will be on the hunt for the Flagsmashers, who are using a variant of the super-soldier serum to achieve their goal of a borderless world. That is literally what we are told that apparently makes them the bad guys. I am still waiting to see why I should view the Flagsmashers as bad. They haven’t killed anyone, unlike Sam Wilson and Bucky, who have already killed a good number of people in the first episode (though yes, Bucky’s were in a flashback to his time while brainwashed). As of right now, the Flagsmashers seem like good people to me.
We also have the formal introduction of John Walker, the newest Captain America. He was chosen by the Department of Defense, and we find out he’s a highly decorated soldier. Walker doesn’t have super-powers like Steve Rogers, which makes him a more physically vulnerable Cap. Walker is accompanied by Lemar Hoskins, aka Battlestar. They meet up with Sam & Bucky during their first encounter with the Flagsmashers. Later, Walker warns the duo to stay out of his way when they refuse to join forces with him in hunting down the revolutionary group.
There is a moment from last week’s episode that has been bothering me a lot. When Sam was in the bank, we find out he has no credit and not much money either. When asked about his compensation for being the Falcon, he says he just relied on goodwill. In that same episode, we see him on a mission for the U.S. military, where he puts his life on the line to take out Batroc and his lackeys. Sam is not getting paid to work for the military? With the budget for the armed forces being the most bloated and out of control portion of the budget, you would think they could toss Sam a few bucks. Correct me if I’m wrong, but after the events of Civil War, the Avengers are a government-regulated organization, and there’s no compensation for their actions in complying with these laws while fighting threats to the planet? If this was a show about Daredevil or Luke Cage, that makes sense, but these are literal soldiers. We also know that Tony Stark never financially compensated the Avengers, which makes him even more of a despicable rich bastard, in my opinion.
Ever since Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, the U.S. military has interjected itself into partnerships with Marvel productions. The U.S. Marine submitted script notes to that production to remove all references to military experiments on humans. There had been a reference to Operation Ranch Hand, where the U.S. dropped gallons of herbicides on Vietnamese farms to starve the population. That was cut at the behest of the Marines as well. The military provided Marvel productions with access to bases for filming and a myriad of planes & other vehicles to use as props, the carrot being used to reach compliance. This arrangement led to an onset argument between Jon Favreau and DOD Hollywood liaison Phil Strub on Iron Man’s set. This was over a line about a soldier saying people would “kill themselves” for Stark’s opportunities. Guess who won the argument. The Department of Defense oversaw the editing of the final cut of the picture.
There’s more to tell, and I think this show provides an excellent opportunity to talk about Marvel’s ongoing relationship being a propaganda wing of the U.S. military. Superhero films & television abound with sly ways of propping up the status quo and pushing back against alternative perspectives. There was even a line in this episode about revolutionary groups never really helping anyone, a less than nuanced take that ignores the plethora of ways American military interference & espionage has kept so many nations poor and broken for decades. If look at this show through a politically critical lens isn’t your thing, then I don’t think my reviews will be for you. There are plenty of happy-go-lucky shallow “geek-o-riffic” easter egg obsessed takes out there.