Well, we didn’t see that coming. Or that coming. Or that coming. The third episode of Disney+ and Marvel’s The Falcon and The Winter Soldier saw our heroes hot on the trail of the super-soldier serum—and their investigation was filled with some pretty excellent surprises that helped to cover the fact the rest of the episode was rather dull.
Episode three, “Power Broker,” began with a good old fashion dose of reality. In an almost WandaVision callback, we got a dreamy, sweet commercial of what the GRC (Global Repatriotzation Council) wants people to think they’re doing to people back from the Blip. Next, we see Captain America (Wyatt Russell) and his team, who work for the GRC, busting into a building looking for the Flag Smashers. They’re already gone from this place, but the man who spits in Cap’s face lets us know, the commercial isn’t reality—Americans are “brutes” and he doesn’t care about Captain America.
Meanwhile, as per last week’s cliffhanger, Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) are in Germany to see Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Bucky asks to go in alone and after a brief moment worrying Zemo might reprogram him, things calm down. Zemo seems legitimately shocked to hear about this new version of the super-soldier serum and thinks he knows someone who can help. Sam is less convinced than Bucky but it doesn’t matter. Through a fun, elaborate scene, Bucky explains to Sam how he’d like to break Zemo out of prison, which ends up being an explanation of how he’s already done it. To be honest though, while it’s a very good scene, it seemed a little too elaborate to have actually worked, especially since there was no hint at Bucky even preparing it. Nevertheless, it’s a comic book show, we’ll let it slide.
Sam, understandably, is not okay with breaking one of the world’s leading psychopaths out of prison. He reminds Bucky not just of the fact that Zemo has a grudge against the Avengers, but that he killed the king of Wakanda and blamed Bucky for it. Bucky remembers of course but feels this is the right move and asks Sam to trust him, which he does. And so, for this episode at least, the show basically becomes The Falcon, The Winter Solider and Baron Zemo as the trio set out to solve the mystery of the super serum. Zemo, who reminds Sam and Bucky the name “Baron” isn’t something he just picked up, takes the guys on his private jet to Madripoor, a fictional island in Southeast Asia (comic book fans are probably familiar with it). Along the way, Zemo deconstructs the nature of superheroes, explaining that if you put them on a pedestal, their accountability is lost, a lesson that will come back later in the episode.
After a brief but sad scene where the Flag Smasher’s leader Karli (Erin Kellyman) loses someone who means a great deal to her, the main trio basks in the neon lights of Madripoor. Zemo has a plan to see a bar owner named Selby (Imelda Corcoran) but to get close to her, he’s going to have to play his old evil self, Bucky is going to have to act as the Winter Soldier, and Sam must be The Smiling Tiger, a flashy criminal whom he bears a resemblance too. In retrospect, much of this scene is just kind of fun for fun’s sake (for example, the snake guts Sam is forced to drink) but the ease with which Bucky falls right back into Winter Soldier mode at Zemo’s suggestion does not go unnoticed, by the audience or Zemo, who makes sure to comment to Sam about it. Bucky is obviously trying to better himself, but he’s living on the edge of a blade and it can go either way.
When Selby gives the guys the name of the person who created the super-soldier serum, it seems Zemo’s plan is working. That is, until Sam’s sister Sarah calls, finally circling back to the family drama in the first episode. (Things have been pretty busy for Falcon, flying all over the world and all.) The call blows their cover but, thankfully, a mysterious sniper helps them by killing Selby and clearing the path as they escape. It turns out that sniper is none other than Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who Marvel fans haven’t seen since Captain America: Civil War.
Here’s where “Power Broker” kicks it up a notch for a few reasons. The main one being Sharon’s unexpected, but warranted anger at Sam. She, unlike him and even Bucky, never got a second chance after betraying the government to help them out—she was forced to go into hiding, disconnect with family to keep them safe, and start a new life in Madripoor. It’s one of those “I never thought about it that way” moments for the audience as well as the characters. Plus there’s the added level of VanCamp almost saying: “I didn’t get any of that sweet Avengers: Endgame money!” It’s a powerful, interesting scene that also drives the story forward. Sharon is highly connected in Madripoor as a dealer of fine, but stolen, antiquities and reluctantly agrees to help everyone if Sam can clear her name in the United States.
It’s not a deal he can guarantee but she makes it anyway, and if the ease of her doing all this for them after they betrayed her feels somehow too easy, you’re right. It’s another theme strung through the episode that pays off near the end. Very conveniently (almost too conveniently) Sharon is able to locate the person who created the serum, Dr. Nagle (Olli Haaskivi) who’s held up in a secret compartment in some shipping containers. When Sam, Bucky, and Zemo confront him, he fills in a ton of narrative blanks from the show.
Basically, after the failure of the five super soldiers in Siberia audiences met in Civil War, Nagle was brought on by Hydra to continue the work. Of course, Hydra then fell and the CIA recruited Nagle, which is how he got access to the blood of an American who had been infused with the serum—not Steve or Bucky, but Isaiah. Nagle took Isaiah’s blood and was able to not only recreate the serum but improve it so that the people injected had the same powers without all the added muscle on their frame (which is why Karli and the Flag Smashers look “normal.”). Around the time of his renewed work, however, is when Thanos snapped; Nagle went away, and when he returned five years later, the CIA had shut his work down. So the titular Power Broker, head of crime in Madripoor, decided to finance his research. He made 20 vials before Karli and the Flag Smashers stole it. That about catches us up on all the crucial MCU action that happened off-screen.
It’s a lot to take in and it’s intercut with scenes of Sharon single-handedly fighting off every bounty hunter in Madripoor who comes after Sam, Bucky, and Zemo. Zemo, meanwhile, who has spent his life trying to destroy the super soldiers, tales the opportunity to kill Nagle. That sets off a chain reaction of loud action complete with explosions, missile launchers, and more. Surprisingly, instead of using the havoc to take off, Zemo helps Sam, Sharon, and Bucky get out of the jam. The main thing is, they now have another name to go off of—Donya Madani (played very briefly by Veronica Falcon)—which should give them a lead on Karli herself. Though the three men go off in search of her, Sharon stays and it’s made pretty clear she’s either the Power Broker herself, or working for them. She wasn’t helping Sam and Bucky to help Sam and Bucky, he was keeping her friends closer and her new enemies closer. Or so it seems.
After recent events, Sam finally begins to realize the collateral damage a superhero can leave. It ruined Isaiah’s life. It ruined Sharon’s life. “How many people have to get steamrolled to make way for his hunk of metal?” he asks. It’s an interesting debate and it makes him realize yes, he made a mistake giving up the shield. But not because he donated it, because maybe he should have destroyed it.
Speaking of the shield, Captain America and Battlestar—who spend the episode being a few steps behind Bucky and Sam—realize the pair probably connected to Zemo breaking out of prison. Also, while Karli and the Flag Smashers steal supplies from a GRC office she sets off a bomb there, which is a surprise to her partner. There’s obviously a lot to her character but this revealed her more vengeful, murderous side and it’s obviously not something all her crew agree with.
Finally, as Sam, Bucky, and Zemo arrive in Riga to track Karli, Bucky notices something and takes a walk away from them. It’s there he runs into Ayo (Florence Kasumba) one of the Wakandan Dora Milaje who, as Sam predicted, is after Baron Zemo, the man who killed her king. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier bringing in Black Panther characters is such a good tease it almost covers for what was more or less an overly stretched-out episode. Go to a place, get information, get on a plane, go to a place, get information, get on a plane, etc. There were certainly some fun action scenes throughout, as well as lots of important story information and some interesting philosophical debates, but most of that is buried under a rather repetitive structure.
Nevertheless, if Sharon does end up being the Power Broker, that’s intriguing—Sam finally starting to get his mind around the cost of superheroism is, too. And now, finally, all the players are on the field: Zemo, Sharon, Walker, etc. We’re halfway through The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and while “Power Broker” wasn’t a great episode, it gave us enough ingredients that things should really start cooking from here. Just three episodes left.
- The plane trip had some other fun little asides too, mainly the discussion of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” a nod back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the revelation that the book Bucky uses to keep track of the people he needs to make amends with is the same book Steve Rogers used to reaclimate himself with modern society.
- Being as it’s on Disney+, the scene with all the bounty hunter beepers going off in Madripoor probably felt like a very similar scene in The Mandalorian. However, John Wick writer Derek Kolstad wrote this episode and since that series involves assassins who go after Wick in the same way, that’s probably the more accurate reference here.
- Speaking of bounty hunters, when Sharon casually mentioned that the bounty on Sam and Bucky’s head for killing Selby won’t go away, that seemed significant. Was that her setting up something as The Power Broker? Or was that a bigger, lifelong type thing?
- After the last episode was almost all about him, John Walker doesn’t have much to do in this episode. But the little he does shows him struggling to do even half the work Bucky and Sam are doing, as well as being anxious to take the credit. I’ll be curious to see if he’s able to keep his morals or begin to break bad.
- I both like and don’t like that the show put the idea of super-soldier serum back on the table and then quickly wiped it away. It makes sense that the story stays isolated to this show, which will now be the case since Nagle is dead and Karli mentions she has the last serum in the world. And yet, it’s such a huge idea, one that gets mentioned so many times in the MCU and has impacted so many (even Bruce Banner) it would’ve been fun to see it spread out a bit more.
- The brief scene of Sarah here made me realize I find that side of Sam’s story, and not this cloak and dagger spy stuff, more interesting. I hope we get a lot more of that in the second half of the show. The family trials of being an Avenger.
- Though we can’t say for sure yet, I welcome that the character we assumed would be the show’s villain, Zemo, might be a “hero” and a character we assumed would be a hero, Sharon, might be the “villain.” That’s a simple, but exciting twist that could really work.
- For the record, from my first sentence in the recap: “That” #1 = Breaking out Zemo. “That” #2 = Sharon maybe the Broker. “That” #3 = The Dora Milaje.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.