No one is going to be accusing this series of taking it’s time. This episode is packed full of storytelling but at no point does it get bogged down in exposition.
The opening is the mirror of the first episode. There you had Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) contemplating about the meaning of the shield and how it didn’t feel right for him to become the next Captain American. Here we are introduced to John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the man who is going to carry on the legacy, not is some bravado action scene but as a man lost in his thoughts in his high-school locker room. He is being interviewed on ‘Good Morning, America’ and he is just a man, no gadgets or super-strength (although he maybe the best soldier in the world), who just wants to do what’s right for the country.
This announcement is the trigger to get our two heroes together and the thing to drive a wedge deeper between them. Bucky (Sebastian Stan) blames Sam for giving up the shield. In his eyes Steve Rogers chose Sam to be the new Cap and he can’t understand why he didn’t take up the mantle. As the two bicker Bucky invites himself to be part of the mission that Sam is on and they end up on the way to Germany.
This launches us into this episodes big action scene. Sam has tracked the Flag Smashers, an anti-borders terrorist group, to a warehouse in Munich where they are loading supplies onto trucks. The terrorists clearly are super-soldiers as they are lifting the pallets by by hand and a scan of their trucks show that they have a hostage. The heroes spring into action with Bucky chasing down the trucks on foot while Sam flies behind but they run straight into a trap. The action sequence is on a par with the previous episode and again wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. Bucky fights on and around the trucks while Sam weaves between them and the traffic using his wings. The problem is you have one super-soldier and a normal man fighting eight enhanced terrorists. Enter the new Cap with his own sidekick Battlestar (Clé Bennett) to not quite save the day but at least stop Sam and Bucky getting killed.
The episode then goes on to pose a number of questions. New Cap just wants to work with Sam and Bucky. He has done nothing wrong and is just doing his job. Our heroes are just outright refusing to accept him. He has a government mandate and Sam and Bucky are private contractors if not straight up vigilantes. Walker is a bit cocky but not offensively so. Are our heroes actions going to cause problems down the line? Walker has always been the best and you get the feeling that this is the first time he hasn’t been welcomed with open arms.
How bad are the Flag Smashers and where did they get their power? The Flag Smashers are a group of disenfranchised individuals who lived through the blip. They had to survive when half the population vanished. The supplies they were smuggling where to be taken to camps of people who had been misplaced when everyone one returned and they feel more attention is being given to the returnees than the survivors. The head of this group Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman) is treated like a hero and seen as a modern day Robin Hood. She receives a death threat because of something she had stolen (presumably a super-soldier serum) revealing that there are other villains in play. These are later revealed to be the Power Brokers and they are hunting the Flag Smashers.
But the biggest question ask is about race issues and it looks like Marvel aren’t going to tiptoe around it. Sam thought that Steve and Bucky where the only super-soldiers and wants to know where these new ones have come from. Bucky tells Sam that there’s someone he needs to meet. That person is Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) who in the comics was retroactively in a second group of men to receive the super-soldier serum in a storyline where it was tested on African-Americans after Steve Rogers went missing. He was the only one to survive and became the second Captain America. Bucky had first encountered Bradley during the Korean War when they were hunting each other during the time Bucky was under Hydra control. Bradley failed his mission and spent the next thirty years in jail.
Sam is clearly shaken by the fact that he has no knowledge of this and why Bucky hadn’t told anyone until now. Bucky had kept silent because he wanted to spare Bradley anymore pain but understandably this doesn’t sit will with Sam. A white man had decided not to reveal information that would have had a massive impact on black culture. To hammer the issue home more Sam is then stopped in the street by the police for arguing with a white man.
The one answer we do get in the episode is why Bucky is antagonistic towards Sam. The pair have a joint counselling session and after Sam leaves Bucky reveals that he believes that if Sam doesn’t take the shield then Steve was wrong and if Steve was wrong about that he could be wrong about the fact that Bucky is still a good person.
The episode closes with Sam and Bucky again refusing to work with Captain America and Battlestar. From what Bradley said to them they turn their attention to Hydra. There is one man who can give them the information and that’s Zemo, the man that split the Avengers.
This episode delivers on the promise of the series. You have rip roaring action, buddy cop banter, and social issues all wrapped up in a nice warm Marvel blanket. Every character feels important and nothing is wasted.