If The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn’t enough “Captain America spin-off” for you already, then you’re in luck – because this week’s instalment brings in two more characters from Chris Evans’ erstwhile franchise, namely Daniel Brühl’s baddie Zemo (the mastermind behind all the scraps in Civil War) and Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter, the grand-niece of Steve Roger’s one true love Peggy who is pretty handy in a fight herself.
And yes, Steve did snog Sharon at one point, despite still being in love with her ancient auntie. It was pretty weird.
Anyway, now all these figures are together in the Disney Plus sandbox, it’s time for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (a title that is the scourge of wordcounts, by the way) to kick into another level. And on that front, episode three did not disappoint.
Beginning with a reminder that John Walker (Wyatt Russell) isn’t quite the Captain America we’re used to, it’s not long before we’re back with Bucky and Zemo as they face off in a cell. Last time this happened, Bucky went on a killing spree – but this time, he’s not under Zemo’s control. Or at least. not directly.
Because somehow, even from his position of weakness Zemo seems to be pulling the strings. Within minutes of catching up with Bucky he’s convinced him and Sam to break him out of jail (or at least convinced Bucky, who Ozymandias-style has already orchestrated the escape before Sam knows abouHut it). A moment later and he’s got them on his private plane, sipping champagne as he brings them to a mysterious island nation called Madripoor, where the three hope to find the truth about the super-soldier serum that’s apparently empowered the Flag-smashers.
Altogether, Brühl is having a lot more fun here than he did in Captain America: Civil War – in fact, I can’t remember him ever being as…sassy?…as he manages to be in this episode. Whether he’s convincing Sam to try out his “fashion-forward” clothes or pontificating on Marvin Gaye’s Troubleman soundtrack (“it is a masterpiece James…complete, comprehensive. It captures the African-American experience”) this version of Zemo adds a certain flash of fun to proceedings. And they’ve even now retrospectively made him a Baron, tying into his comic-book persona (where he’s a masked villain called Baron Zemo. And yes, it’s the same mask he wears in this episode).
In Madripoor (a fake country taken from the Marvel comics), the unlikely trio follow a series of videogame-style fetch quests, which involves Bucky going undercover as his former Winter Soldier self (and incidentally, isn’t it odd how much better at fighting he is when playing a villain?) This eventually leads to the death of a significant crime boss and a bounty being announced on Sam, Zemo and Bucky. Luckily, they have a Guardian Angel looking out for them…
Enter Sharon Carter! Introduced as a potential love interest for Steve Rogers in the second Captain America film, Sharon hasn’t exactly been a huge part of the MCU, but she still seems to have borne the worst of its difficulties since we last saw her. After stealing back Captain America’s shield and Sam’s wings for the climactic battle in Captain America: Civil War she’s apparently a wanted woman, forced to live on the run and move into crime to support herself.
Sam blames his years “blipped” for his lack of attempts to help her, but this whole situation does slightly strain credulity. In the five years or so between Infinity War and (most of) Endgame, did Steve really not think to help Sharon, when all she did was pick up some gear for him? Considering pretty much all the Avengers on Steve’s side did worse than Sharon and were pardoned, why is she getting the short end of the stick?
Either way the experience has left Sharon pretty cynical – “she’s awful now,” Bucky notes after she cuts down the idea of superheroism in general and Captain America specifically – but willing to help in return for a pardon. Before long she’s brought Sam, Bucky and Zemo to a shipping container, which is actually a secret lab, which contains Wilfred Nagle. Don’t worry about remembering his name, he’ll be dead in a minute.
Before he goes, though, Wilfred handily fills us in with some plot exposition about what exactly is going on. Turns out that he was hired by HYDRA, then the CIA to recreate the super-soldier serum, using blood samples from Isaiah Bradley (introduced last week as a kind of follow-up Captain America. Though if they recreated the serum well enough in the 1950s to make him, when did they lose the formula again?) to make a more streamlined, easy-to-administer serum.
Then Nagle was blipped, his research gathering dust – and when he returned he went to the mysterious Power Broker to have it continued more profitably. Unfortunately for him, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and her flag-smashers stole all 20 vials, giving them the strength we’ve seen in previous episodes.
His job done, Nagle is promptly shot by Zemo – he’s still on his anti-superhero crusade, after all – and Sharon’s attempts to fight off thugs outside leads to the explosion of the lab. It seems like Zemo, masked and dangerous, could be behind it all – but after fighting a few of the bounty hunters he instead finds another fancy car and picks up his new bros, ready to chase down a lead about Karli. I could see this as just the start of a beautiful friendship.
Karli herself is mourning a friend who died of tuberculosis, stealing food supplies and getting more ruthless day by day. Elsewhere her pursuer John Walker is getting frustrated by the dead ends, opting to go off-books himself to track down Sam, Bucky and Zemo and hopefully complete his mission.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s another wrinkle. In Riga, where Karli was hinted to be shacked up, Bucky notes a small metal sphere on the ground – following a trail he finds his way to meet a familiar face, introduced in Civil War.
“I was wondering when you were going to show up,” he says to Florence Kasumba’s Ayo, a member of the Wakandan royal guard the Dora Milajae last seen in Black Panther.
“I’m here for Zemo,” she replies. As helpfully noted earlier in the episode, the Wakandans have not forgiven him for orchestrating the death of their erstwhile King T’Chaka…
Altogether this was a particularly packed episode, slightly longer than normal as we got a sense of the shape that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is taking. Clearing up the mystery of the Flag-smashers this early was probably a good move (though we still don’t know who the Power Broker is…Sharon?), and Zemo has brought a surprising amount of fun and laughs for a guy who previously spent his time listening to voicemails of his dead family and doing murders.
And the Wakanda-based twist? Well, it may be our first look of how Marvel will continue that country’s story following the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman last year, and is sure to attract some attention for that.
How exactly it’ll all tie together in the end is anyone’s guess, but it definitely feels like we’re building to something big. My money’s on a buddy comedy starring Daniel Brühl and Sebastian Stan, only on Disney Plus, summer 2024.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier continues Fridays exclusively on Disney Plus. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year now. Check out the rest of our Sci-fi and Fantasy coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.