This series isn’t hanging about. After the previous episodes reveal that Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) were going to meet with Zemo in his German prison cell, Bucky has broken him out before the opening credits roll.
The last time we saw Zemo (Daniel Brühl) was in ‘Civil War’ where he was a broken yet successful villain. While his backstory created by ‘Age Of Ultron’ is still in place, now the comic book version of the character is fully embraced and Brühl plays him with the swagger of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector or, probably more appropriate, Ian McKellen’s Magneto. Our two heroes and the villain find common ground over the fact that they don’t like there being new super-soldiers knocking about with the possibility more being created with a new serum.
Zemo may have work for Hydra but he is an independently wealth Baron and he whisks them all off to the island nation of Madripoor (the biggest hint that the X-Men are on their way so far) in his private jet complete with butler. There they are hoping to track down the Power Broker, a mysterious high level underworld figure, who the super-soldier serum was stolen from.
The Flag Smashers were the group that ripped off the Power Broker and last episode were portrayed as Robin Hood-esque figures. Led by Karli Morganthau (Erin Kellyman) they are clearly trying to help people who have been left displaced by The Blip. We catch up with them in Latvia, with the name of the country coming up on the screen, and you get the feeling this is Marvel teasing the fans again. The name is so close to a much in demand fictional Marvel country that choosing this as the easily misread location must have been on purpose. We see Morganthau mourning for a dead mentor who has succumbed to tuberculosis due to the squalor that the displaced are living in but just as you are getting on their side Morganthau commits a full on act of terrorism so now they have blood on their hands.
In Madripoor Sam, Bucky, and Zemo explore the the underbelly looking for information to track down the serum. Bucky has to pretend he is still in Winter Soldier mode to get them a meeting with one of Zemo’s former connections but, just as they get a lead on the mad scientist behind the new serum, it is Sam that blows it by not having put his phone on silent and having to take a call from his sister. They are miraculously saved by a mystery sniper but a bounty is put on all their heads in a John Wick 3 style.
Their saviour turns out to be Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) making her first MCU appearance since ‘Civil War’. Having been outlawed by her own country she has made herself at home in the underworld as a dealer of high end art but has beef with Sam and Bucky over their pardons. They track down the serum scientist, who was Hydra then CIA then dusted and returned, to the port and he is being funded by the Power Broker. While Sam, Bucky, and Zemo are getting the information from him Sharon is going full Jason Bourne to fight off all the approaching assassins.
They find out that the scientist has made twenty doses of the serum, which was obtained from Isaiah Bradley’s blood, and they were all stolen. Zemo then shoots him to prevent more being made as his aim is to live in a world without superpowers. You then think he has turned on the heroes as he dons his comicbook accurate mask and starts taking down everyone in sight. But when all the choas dies down he drives up to Sam and Bucky, in a sports car he has managed to find in a shipping container, and offers to carry on the mission. Although for different reasons, all three of them don’t want the serum to be used. Although Sharon doesn’t leave with the guys she is more deeply involved than she is letting on as she is picked up by one of her own people and says that she now has a problem.
We don’t get much of John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the new Captain America, in this episode but what he see doesn’t show him in a good light. There is a scene with him trying to get answers about the Flag Smashers from the owner of the safehouse that they used where he uses the line ‘Don’t you know who I am’. This is followed up y him and Battlestar investigating how Zemo escaped where he claims people won’t care how he gets the job done as long as he gets results. He is shown to be craving respect but he hasn’t done anything in the uniform to earn it.
While not as outwardly political as the pervious episode we do get some shield talk. Both Sam and Bucky feel that it is disrespectful for Walker to have the shield and Sam says he wishes he had destroyed it. Bucky sees the importance of the shield as symbol and says he his fully prepared to fight for it and carry it himself. This is setting the show up for a climax where Sam decides the shield is rightfully his and all the implications that will have.
The episode has a nice little capper when Zemo flys the heroes to Riga, Latvia (again giving false excitement when the name pops up on the screen). When they reach their destination Bucky tells Sam and Zemo he is going for a walk. He has seen small metal balls he recognises scattered around the area. Ayo (Florence Kasumba), one of Black Panther’s Royal bodyguards is there to meet him and she wants Zemo. Ayo was on duty when Zemo killed King T’Chaka so will be out for blood but will also probably feel betrayed by Bucky, Wakanda’s White Wolf, because he freed him.
The series is now half way through and with the stage now set can really fly for the lasr three episodes. It’s time to strap in for explosive action, earth shattering revelations, and a large portion of social commentary.