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Yes, Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode Two Addresses Racism in the Marvel Universe

So after a rather restrained first episode, I went into this week’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier wondering “Are they going to mention the race thing?”

I mean, last week we saw Falcon turn over Captain America’s shield, only for it to be bequeathed to a very white man who is now the new Captain America. I wondered if the show would address that, and in a sort of slow-burn way, they did. And this week’s episode hints at some really big things for the show in terms of how much heavy lifting it’s willing to do.

We open with our Fake Captain America preparing to walk out onto his high school football field to take part in a Good Morning America interview. He practices his Captain America voice. He’s a highly decorated military hero who’s worried about his new role.

This episode goes a long way to humanize the new Cap — Captain Unfairica — and it really adds some depth to the character before his inevitable heel turn. Because we know this is headed to a big dust up over that shield.

Also, the new Captain America grew up in Georgia, so I am reassured that my fellow statesman is on the level for the time being. We would never falsely suspect our own, like in some sort of Olympic bombing scenario. Never.

This episode also cuts it with the foreplay, and we see Bucky and Falcon reunited without much fanfare. Bucky bursts into frame to tell Falcon he shouldn’t have given up the shield. Bucky feels betrayed. He tries to prescribe to Falcon about what he should and should not have done, but again, this isn’t an America Bucky is familiar with. For so many reasons.

One thing I think was missing from the first episode that people were excited about when this show was introduced is the fun banter between Falcon and Bucky. Well, let me tell you, this episode is chock full of bants. We’ve got a wealth of bants coming in from all directions.

Falcon is shipping out to investigate the mysterious terrorist organization the Flag Smashers. He suspects they might be one of “The Big Three.” That being “androids, aliens, and wizards.”

This is a very Joss Whedon type of comedic beat — who is very problematic now, but also his fingerprints are all over the MCU for better or worse.

Regardless of its genesis, this sort of humor is very true to Marvel’s roots. Falcon says every time they fight they are fighting one of the three sort of ridiculous characters.

Remember that at its heart, Marvel was always about people like you and me given extraordinary abilities. Through it all they’ve had problems that were beyond imagination and those as pedestrian as making rent. The highest compliment I can give Falcon and the Winter Soldier so far is that it has captured that balance.

The compliment I am least likely to bestow on this show is “Title most convenient to type repeatedly.”

Anyway, Bucky joins Falcon on the way to Munich. Compared to the first episode, this feels a bit more focused. I know this is natural when you aren’t bouncing back and forth between A, B, and C storylines, but already this show feels much more refined in terms of structure.

After a banter-filled stakeout — IS THERE ANY OTHER KIND!? — Falcon and Bucky give chase to the Flag Smashers, who appear to be smuggling various items. Bucky boards a moving tractor trailer to find a somewhat diminutive figure hiding in the shadows. She meekly emerges, and then BAMMM proceeds to beat the brakes off of Bucky.

It’s the leader of the Flag Smashers, played by Erin Kellyman. She and her fellow co-conspirators pop on their “You can’t tell these are our stunt doubles” masks, and they battle Bucky atop a moving truck. Kellyman’s character immediately earns her bona fides by catching Falcon’s Redwing drone and shattering that thing with a rising knee strike like so many Kenny Omegas.

Falcon and Bucky seem hard pressed by the terrorist forces. Suddenly a shield flies in from off screen, and we see the arrival of You Can’t Believe It’s Not Captain America.

Our new hero proves to be little help. He, Falcon, and Bucky are dispatched with relative ease, and they realize what they are dealing with — Super Soldiers. Same as Captain America and Bucky.

Captain Fauxmerica manages to coax Falcon and Bucky onto a ride back to base. They swap exposition, which let me tell you, works a lot better on a moving set. Just check out the scene from Jaws where they argue with the mayor on a ferry. Instead of having your characters march up and down hallways while they prattle off lines, put them on a barge or a train car. It really livens things up.

After their defeat at the hands of the Super Soldiers, Bucky tells Falcon there is someone he needs to meet. The title card reads “Baltimore, Maryland” and I think, yep, it’s John Waters.

John Waters to the MCU, y’all! Bring it! I bet he doesn’t know what any of this Marvel shit even is! I love this man. Protect him.

My hopes are most expertly dashed, when Disney and Marvel decide not to introduce John Waters to their multibillion-dollar franchise, but there is an awesome scene as the Falcon walks through Baltimore. Or as Fat Trel would freestyle: Bodymore, Murderland.

Anyway, some young Black kids exclaim “Hey, it’s Black Falcon,” as our heroes approach. Falcon pauses to ask about the black part, which harkens back to when all Black superheroes were practically required to include that signifier.

And this is where the show takes its boldest step yet. Bucky leads Falcon to Isaiah Bradley. A forgotten hero in the Marvel universe.

I don’t like to use the term “casual viewers” because it encourages this sense of entitlement that fans feel when their beloved properties are adapted for a wider audience. I would never support the same sort of tribalism we’ve seen with so many comic book characters in the past. Instead, I would encourage you to appreciate that comics have made so many massive steps forward in terms of representation and progress that when these new episodes air, TV audiences are playing catch-up.

In the Marvel universe, Steve Rogers became Captain America after receiving the Super Soldier Serum during World War II. The recipe for that serum was soon lost, various organizations have spent decades trying to recreate it. This includes the United States government, which experimented on Black recruits to recreate the formula. Isaiah Bradley was one of those recruits.

As Bucky and Falcon argue about this new revelation, squad cars roll up with their blues and reds flashing to question Falcon. That is until they recognize him as a superhero out of uniform.

Despite all this racism, Bucky ends up getting cuffed after missing his court-mandated therapy session.

The new Captain America quickly secures Bucky’s release. We are treated to a couples therapy session with Falcon and Bucky. They touch knees. We enjoy the simple joy of two men enjoying each other’s strength.

And with all that, the table is set. I’m really looking forward to how the show pulls at all the narrative threads introduced in this episode. Please join me next week to see how Papa Doc from 8 Mile and Carter Baizen from Gossip Girl overturn systemic racism and the military industrial complex.

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Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

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