Episode 4 shines light on the Flag-Smashers leader, brings us the TRUE villain of the series and features some unbelievable performances. What were the best moments? How does the episode grade out?

SPOILER WARNING!!! This Falcon and Winter Soldier review contains HEAVY SPOILERS AND THEORIES about the direction of the series and the next phase of the MCU. Click below for my series premiere review.

What worked:

“There has never been another Steve Rogers,” says Baron Zemo early on in episode four, a central theme that we’ll be talking about a lot this week. As this series has progressed, Falcon and the Winter Soldier has seemingly only gotten better and better. This week’s episode featured a ton of heart. It gave us some backstory behind Karli Morgenthau and her motivations. It gave us some incredible moments including Bucky Barnes and John Walker. The positives this week go on and on so let’s break it all down.

The Fall of John Walker

This has to be the starting point of this week’s review. If you’ve been reading my reviews (thank you by the way!), then you would know that I had John Walker pegged to eventually take the super-soldier serum. His character arc has been building to this moment and it delivered (and then some). In the little screen time Wyatt Russell’s John Walker had this week, I felt his presence and performance was terrific. The scene of John Walker standing over a dead body as the credits roll will surely be the talking moment of the week. Walker’s turn into US Agent will surely go down as personally one of my favorite moments of the season.

Seeing the iconic shield used in such a violent manner on a civilian while drenched in blood was just about as heartbreaking as it gets.

As I had written and predicted on our podcasts, John Walker has been finally revealed as the true villain of the story. Many of those who complained about this series felt like the needle or story wasn’t moving fast enough. During the previous three episodes, we’ve seen bits and pieces of John Walker’s character beginning to crumble under the pressure. We’ve seen him frustrated about not receiving the respect Steve had received as Captain America. The set up was nailed in this series, especially the contrast between Sam and Lemar.

Before we go forward, let’s take a couple steps backward. Going back to the origin of The First Avenger, one would easily see John Walker as the ideal candidate for the Captain America position on paper. This is undoubtedly why the Government had zero hesitation on giving him the shield. But when you dig a little deeper, John Walker is unhinged, temperamental and aggressive. He’s a soldier, not a leader. Like Abraham Erskine said from the jump, “Whatever happens, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” The flaws and corruption of the Government have truly taken center stage since WandaVision.

In contrast, Steve Rogers was idealistic. He was a good man, a natural born leader who believed in the soul of a person and fought for injustice.

He refused to back down despite each time the odds were against him. I loved how Steve’s legacy was shown in episode four. Even a member of the Flash-Smashers idolized him growing him. “Captain America gave me hope that there are good people in this world.” It’s beyond clear that the last 5 years has sucked all the good out of the world, and there is one left standing, and that man is Sam Wilson.

I think John Walker’s breakdown in episode four also signals a complete arc for one of our favorite characters sooner than later. With John Walker soon to be on the run, no Captain America in sight and odds quickly stacking up against Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson, it’s time for Sam to finally accept who he really is: a leader. Sam’s refusal to accept the shield came up (again) in episode four. I fully predict that this episode cemented the fact that Sam Wilson will in fact become the new Captain America in the very near future.

Click below for our episode 4 spoiler review & discussion

What an incredible opening…

The flashback to Wakanda showing how Bucky recovered from being the Winter Soldier was incredible. No, we didn’t get to see T’Challa make an appearance. Wouldn’t that have been incredible? However, I have to give a quick nod to Sebastian Stan’s performance not only this week but in this series in general. It was beautiful moment and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion for Bucky’s character. It’s been a long road for Bucky in the MCU and seeing his immense amount of fear evolve into anger to happiness, followed by the words “you are free”…. Easily one of the best moments of the season.

While it’s good to see his conscious cleared, nothing gets my juices flowing more when we see him go full Winter Soldier in this series. Bucky had some standout moments in episode four. Much of this season for Bucky has centered around his ability to rise over the demons from his past. Similar to Baron Zemo, I’m starting to get the feeling that Bucky’s character is also a means to an end. I think this series is drawing some clear parallels between some of the characters in this show. Similar to Sam finally picking up the shield, I feel that Bucky’s character arc may be coming to an end sooner than later.

What does it mean to be a hero?

A lot of what made episode four so great revolved around the question: what does it mean to be a hero? John Walker may have taken up the mantle as Captain America, but the world has significantly changed since Steve did so a long, long time ago. I really enjoyed Karli Morgenthau’s backstory this week, especially the parallel given between Steve, Sam and Karli. “Karli is the only one fighting for them and she’s not wrong,” says Sam to Zemo and Bucky during an early part of episode four. If you can’t see by now that Sam is the next Captain America, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Sam’s ability to understand the perspective of others through compassion was a major eye opener for Karli, that there might still be good people left in this world.

The funeral sequence was heartbreaking. “I don’t remember my mother, or father, or siblings, Grandparents, cousins. I just remember being alone, worse than being cold or hungry or scared,” says Karli while saying her final farewell to a friend that raised her and one of the only people that gave her love. The respect Karli showed Sam was incredibly symbolic. Even I was skeptical about the Flag-Smashers until this episode. I thought it was too much filler in a series featuring only 6 episodes of some of our favorite characters. But now I see the parallels. What does it mean to be hero? I think Karli’s role is for Sam to recognize that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sam now fully understands how broken the world has become and why he is the only one to become the real Captain America.

YOU DO NOT MESS WITH THE DORA MILAJE

I can’t end this review without bringing up the Dora Milaje. Unbelievable. Watching Ayo kick the crap out of John Walker and Lemar Hoskins was pretty incredible. They are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Their involvement was clearly one of the last straws for John Walker taking the super-soldier serum. “They’re not even super-soldiers,” says Walker as he lays on the ground following the fight. Lemar’s death (RIP LEMAR!) was clearly the trigger that led him to becoming US Agent, but his confrontation with the Dora Milaje was a major eye opener for the decorated soldier.

Lastly, fingers crossed that Bucky eventually makes amends with Ayo, the woman who helped free his mind. I’m sure we’ll get to that within the last two episodes.

What didn’t:

Nothing. Pure perfection.

Final Thoughts & Grade:

I can’t get the bloody shield image out of my head. It’s an incredibly strong metaphor and major needle mover for what it means for the series going forward. WandaVision shined when it addressed adult issues such as Wanda’s trauma and feelings of immense loss. In comparison, I think Falcon and the Winter Soldier truly shines when it touches on the gray areas between hero and villain. From Karli to John to Sharon, not everything is black and white and I’m really enjoying deep diving into these concepts. In similar fashion, I think Star Wars is at its best when it’s deep diving into the gray areas of what it means to be a Jedi or Sith. There are always two sides to a coin and that’s when it’s most fun.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues to raise the bar after each episode. This was top to bottom my favorite episode of the series to date. It significantly moved the needle with the story, gave us an incredible villain and truly set the stage for the last two episodes. We got incredible action sequences led by Bucky and the Dora Milaje. It gave us heartbreaking imagery which I’m sure we’ll be talking about all week long. If Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a rollercoaster, then I’m guessing the first four episodes was reaching the top of the first incline. Make sure your seatbelt is in the upright position because the last two episodes are going to be a wild ride.

Grade: 10/10