Warning: this Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 review contains spoilers. If you have not watched the Disney Plus show yet, then bookmark this page and come back when you're all caught up...
There have been few Marvel moments as deeply disturbing as Captain America, breathing heavily, standing over a dead body as onlookers watch through their camera phones. This may not be Steve Rodgers, but seeing the red, white, and blue shield covered in blood has all the hallmarks of an instantly iconic image. Getting to that cliffhanger ending, though, is a messy, action-packed ride.
“The Whole World is Watching” wants each character to ask themselves how far they are willing to go to justify their own ends. That’s explicitly said by Bucky, who tells the Dora Milaje that breaking Zemo from prison is a “means to an end”. However, the two other villains – Karli Morgenthau, the leader of the Flag-Smashers, and John Walker, the new Captain America – are the true embodiment of that question. Karli, as made explicitly clear on multiple occasions, is happy to kill innocent people to create a new world order; Walker is willing to use Super Soldier Serum and brutally murder his enemies.
Let’s start with Walker, whose arc seems to be following a more logical path. We already know that this man will do anything to protect his country, and the moment Zemo’s knocked out by the shield, there’s no doubting Walker’s about to become a beefed-up version of himself. When Battlestar dies – a fridging that’s borderline problematic – and Walker goes on the rampage, dread set in. I was genuinely worried for both Sam and Bucky’s lives, despite their deaths being inconceivable when there are two episodes of their show remaining – such is the power of these final moments.
Karli, however, feels mishandled. This seemingly rational person, who convinces Sam Wilson that she’s actually right about a few things, is willing to commit murder? And she doubles down on “doing it again” in a Gollum-esque comment? Yes, the Super Serum heightens everyone’s senses, but this still feels like a leap. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has spent a long time with Karli, and the more we see from the activist, the more unconvinced I become.
The show has also struggled to fully contend with all the pieces in play. Already, I’ve mentioned Zemo, who’s now on the loose. Though Daniel Brühl has been fantastic as the character, showing a surprisingly understated side to the man who broke the Avengers, the fact the US government has not outright arrested the man makes very little sense. And Zemo effortlessly escaping the Dora Milaje, without any chase feels like a stretch, to the point of being illogical. Meanwhile, Sharon Carter’s doing some shady business, with her scenes certainly playing into theories she may be the Power Broker, adds little to the plot. Speaking of the Madripoor kingpin, the mysterious figure who’s manipulating Karli and hunting the Super Serum gets a few mentions.
There’s a lot going on. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has previously struggled with pacing issues, and here the editing once again feels rushed during certain moments. Zemo’s escape is one of those. Another comes when Falcon, wearing the wings again, seemingly gives up on following Karli, only for her to suddenly be chilling on a balcony, making more plans. These characters are hurtling from set piece to set piece, and some of the connective tissue is getting lost.
Of course, the fights are impressive. The Dora Milaje kicking ass makes for an MCU highlight, and seeing our heroes punch their way through an abandoned building is exhilarating (even if the lack of budget for cool backgrounds is showing). The show wants to deliver movie-esque action, and it’s certainly exceeding at that. “The Whole World is Watching” also feels tonally whole, with fewer ill-fitting quips than in other episodes.
So, do the amazing action sequences, rushed editing, and a few questionable character moments justify that incredible, rage-inducing image of Captain America with a bloody shield? Do the means justify the ends? Just about. Thankfully, Bucky and Sam – mainly Sam – have their shit sorted out. These are good men wanting to do the right thing, there’s just a lot else going on that distracts from that. As a result, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues to be one of the most mixed, fascinating entries in the MCU to date.