The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten to a point where it’s comfortable unloading a ton of info on its audience in just a handful of scenes. Be it information about the current story situation or foreshadowing of a future MCU movie, series, you name it. And yes, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is no exception. So with these weekly articles bout TFATWS, I want to treat them less like episode recaps and more like ongoing discussions. Where I can dive into qualitative aspects of the episode as it relates to the limited series itself, rather than doing a step-by-step recap of the events, because, well, you already know what happened in this week’s episode, right?
That being said, I still have to go over major points in the episode in order to actually talk about them. So if you haven’t seen Episode 3 of TFATWS, also known as “Power Broker,” then you may want to bookmark this page for later.
SPOILERS FOR “POWER BROKER” BELOW!
The third episode of TFATWS ushers us into the halfway point of the series. With just three episodes left after it, Episode 3 strives to reveal as much as it can about the secrets of the Super Soldier serum, which has been alluded to quite a lot since the beginning of the show. “Power Broker” delivers on this goal using seedy locales, lurking threats, and an unlikely alliance between Sam, Bucky, and Helmut Zemo (the villain from Captain America: Civil War, portrayed once again by Daniel Brühl).
Sprinkled in between these important plot points and discussions about legacy and power are character-driven moments, full of the typical quirky banter we’ve come to expect from Marvel movies and shows. While these scenes may not seem like much in the way of plot advancement, they’re a perfect example of what Marvel has been doing best over the last decade or so, especially with these Disney + projects. These seemingly small moments give these heroes some room to finally show their humanity.
Marvel and DC are certainly similar in a lot of ways, but there are some key, discernible differences in how they choose to entertain. DC films tend to go for a larger-than-life, even mythic narrative. They present their own characters almost as Gods amongst men, sometimes literally. Every once in a while, a movie like Birds of Prey or Shazam! comes along to dive into the human aspect of these powerful figures, but it isn’t often.
For the most part, the MCU has tried to seriously humanize and ground most of its characters. Even the space-wandering Guardians of the Galaxy or otherworldly titans like Thanos are in some way tethered to our idea of Earth and the general human experience. Which is why a healthy criticism of Marvel’s output to date is in how its dire, universe-shattering stakes can sometimes get in the way of letting these characters examine themselves and the world (or worlds) around them. Granted, we’ve gotten little moments here and there, like when the Avengers slow down and just hang out for a few minutes in Age of Ultron, but none of the movies have had quite the space or impact compared to the Disney+ shows we’ve gotten so far. We saw this introspection first in “WandaVision”, and now these more contemplative character studies continue in TFATWS.
Just imagine a scene in any of the Marvel movies taking the time to explore the nuances and cultural implications of Marvin Gaye’s “Troubled Man,” which gets its own aside in this week’s episode. The importance of this scene is that it reminds us of how all these characters, even the villains, have a shared cultural outlook. They don’t just exist in a universe of punching and kicking. It might not look like much, but the humorous, yet oddly-placed musical discussion between our titular heroes and Zemo offers a surprising, even refreshing look at how comic book characters might exist as multi-dimensional beings in this heightened world. They have lives and inner tastes, even outside of the camera’s view.
The scene makes each character feel more complete. And just like any well-written story, it makes us forget that these are, in fact, fictional characters. They’re not real people with lives outside of a fifty-minute timeframe. Yet it’s easier to believe that Sam and Bucky do have an existence outside of being The Falcon and The Winter Soldier thanks to how this shows takes its time to develop them as actual people.
A drawback of these scenes is that they sometimes feel a little out of place, as I mentioned before, compared to the heavier elements explored in this episode. With nearly an hour to tell its story, “Power Broker” doesn’t waste a single minute. What we get is a story full of the highest stakes, with nonstop action, harrowing danger, and other buzzwords that give the whole episode a very John Wick style, at least in terms of how modern action gets delivered these days.
The bright and dangerous city of Madripoor helps add to the feeling of thrill and danger this episode emits, with our heroes having to go undercover to unearth a plot much bigger than we’d previously thought. Bucky has to revisit a part of his past he’d been trying so hard in previous episodes to walk away from, for example. But that’s exactly why scenes like the “Troubled Man” conversation are so important. It’s these moments that reminds us of how imperfect these characters are, as they get knocked off the pedestal we subconsciously place them on and that they sometimes stand on of their own accord. The shootout scene after the destruction of Wilfred Nagel’s lab is another example of this (and sadly, we don’t even have time to get into the Sharon Carter of it all).
It’s another important sequence that emphasizes the buddy cop nature of Sam and Bucky’s friendship and why that fits so well in this episodic spinoff of the Captain America movies, complete with that recognizable Marvel comedic timing. I know there are a good amount of people who take issue with the MCU’s overzealous use of humor in the midst of peril, but I think it genuinely does more good than harm in cases like these. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that I watch this show with a friend of mine who hits me with the same kid of back-and-forth banter that Sam and Bucky do, so yeah, these scenes really do feel genuine. It’s why I appreciate how personable and flawed Marvel makes its characters — even Zemo, a villain for who all intents and purposes is a total monster, still isn’t as black and white as you may expect. It’s not hard to understand where he’s coming from with his views on heroes and their actions, because he’s written in such a believable, efficient way rather than being treated as a clichéd comic-book-supervillain plot device who exists so we can see the heroes do something heroic.
“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is so far doing an incredible job expanding the world of the MCU. Not just with new locations and characters, but in continuing the tradition started by “WandaVision.” TFATWS is looking at the past, present, and future of this universe, and it’s diving deeper into the lives and minds of Marvel characters we might not have given much thought before now. Which is why I can’t believe how excited I am to see where this show takes Bucky and Sam next.