How have we spent more time waiting for another surprise Disney Plus cameo? Really, you'd think Marvel fans would have learned after the Paul Bettany debacle, wherein WandaVision's much-vaunted surprise cameo was revealed to be none other than Bettany himself, who had simply made a joke about his double performance in a later episode.
But that hasn't stopped us all desperately wondering who another rumoured cameo could be in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with showrunner Malcolm Spellman previously indicating that episode five would include a big guest star. Would it be an Avenger, a contemporary of Thor or a classic character from the comics, making his or her MCU debut? Or would it just be, you know, Captain America?
Well, happily episode five finally answered that question for us because it turns out the cameo is none other than Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, following in the footsteps of Kathryn Hahn in WandaVision as a comedy actor parachuted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to steal scenes and shake things up.
Portraying a spy from the comics called Countessa Valentina Allegra de Fountaine (try saying that with a mouthful of Zemo's Turkish delight), it seems like Louis-Dreyfus may have a greater role to play in the MCU, with her character attempting to recruit Wyatt Russell's John Walker like a sort of evil Nick Fury assembling the Avengers. Still, for now, her role remains a bit of a mystery – just like Walker's own future.
Because overall this was not a great week for the new Cap. Fresh from his very public extrajudicial murder at the end of the last episode, Walker is taken to task by Sam and Bucky (Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan), with the duo forced to take him down and take back the Captain America shield in a drawn-out battle that's sure to get fans excited.
Punches (and shields) are thrown, Walker shouts things like "why are you making me do this?!" sporadically and it's touch and go for a while, with Bucky knocked out and Sam's wings torn in the well-choreographed battle. But, in the end, Sam and Bucky manage to wrestle the shield away (though Walker's arm appears to be broken in the process), ending this new Cap's reign of terror before it could truly begin.
Soon, after a quick catch-up with Sam's sidekick Torres (fans aware that Torres became the second Falcon in the comics may note Sam leaving him his broken wings) we see things getting even worse for Walker, who is stripped of his rank, his Captain America responsibilities and dishonourably discharged for his actions, only narrowly escaping a court-martial. Oddly, something about this situation almost doesn't ring true – to be honest, it's easy to imagine the "brass" covering this up rather than publicly refuting it – but either way Walker is on his outs. And even his nice wife (who really should have more of a role in this story – how does she feel about her husband's murdering, magic steroid-taking ways?) can't distract him from the pain of his friend Lemar's death, or this fallout.
Elsewhere, Sam and Bucky are picking up loose ends. Despite his sneaky escape last week, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) does decide to go quietly when Bucky tracks him down, stealing one last glance at the memorial to the people of Sokovia before submitting. Bucky chooses not to kill him, which is probably good. Killing surrendered villains probably shouldn't be plan A.
And then the Wakandans turn up to take Zemo back to the Raft, the US supervillain prison from which he already escaped once. It fees like Bucky could have done that himself but, hey, it's always nice to see the Dora Milajae – and even though he's persona non grata in Wakanda after springing Zemo in the first place, Bucky still asks them a favour. To be continued... slightly later in this recap.
Sam, meanwhile, heads back to Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) to find out the truth about the Black super-soldier. Anyone who's read the classic comic-book storyline Truth: Red, White & Black by Robert Morales might know most of it, but the headlines from this version are that Isaiah and some other soldiers were guinea pigs, injected with different versions of the recreated super-soldier serum (lost in World War Two when HYDRA blew it up) and told it was a tetanus vaccination.
Following this, Isaiah and his less stable fellow test subjects were treated as less than human, sent into battle and almost murdered to prevent the truth about the experiments getting out. When Isaiah tried to stop this he was thrown in jail for 30 years, experimented on and dead to the world while his wife lived, had a child and died without him.
"Those stars and stripes don’t mean nothing good to me," Isaiah tells Sam when the latter tries to show him the shield – and it's not hard to see his point when he tells the Falcon that no self-respecting Black man would take on the Captain America mantle.
The whole discussion gives Sam a lot to think about but tuning up his family's fishing boat (yes, that storyline from episode one is back) gives him some distraction, especially when Bucky turns up to help out in one of a few montages in the episode. In between flirting sessions with Sam's sister and lots of boat-fixin', Bucky eventually apologises for his anger towards Sam before (and in this episode), having blamed him for giving up the shield and enabling Walker's tenure as Captain America.
"The legacy of that shield is complicated to say the least," Sam says, while Bucky acknowledges that he and Steve hadn't really considered the implications of what Sam would feel taking on the Captain America mantle. Oddly, Bucky then suggests that the shield is "the closest thing [he's] got to family", which is genuinely one of the weirdest things I've ever heard, and Sam rightfully tells him he needs to start moving forward and properly making amends instead of mooning after vibranium frisbees that sort of used to belong to his best pal. Isn't this a parallel universe shield anyway, as per Avengers: Endgame?
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Anyway, with this, Bucky heads off, ready to answer Sam's call when he needs him. Sam, in turn, decides it's about time for a training montage, learning to use the shield (and doing some unnecessary press-ups, considering the great shape he was already in) before cracking open a case Bucky brought from the Wakandans that presumably carries his new wings – and we can imagine they have a rather patriotic look.
Overall, it's an episode which almost feels like a finale, tying up loose ends like Zemo and offering some satisfying emotional closure for the characters. But there are still a few story points to finish up next week. Walker, realising he hasn't truly avenged his friend's death, decides to head after Karli (Erin Kellyman) again, fashioning a new shield himself in the series' first post-credits scene. Sharon (Emily VanCamp) pops up briefly to hire a shady character, while Karli herself decides to attack the Global Repatriation Committee's all-important vote that will send refugees back to their home countries from before the Blip (yes, I keep forgetting what her storyline is about as well).
Joining her is George St-Pierre's mercenary Batroc, last seen being beaten up by Sam in the series premiere and out for revenge. And, while some of Karli's boring army have their misgivings about aligning themselves with criminals, enough of them answer the call to set up a fight to remember in next week's finale.
Overall, episode five is certainly the best of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier so far, leaning in on the series' best elements – Isaiah Bradley, the action, John Walker – and actually taking forward the 'next Captain America' plotline. It offers a glimpse of what this series, which has disappointed some fans, could have been – and as we return to the muddy Flag-smasher storyline for the finale, I have to confess I'm far less interested in how that plays out compared to this week's story.
Still, I'll be watching, if only to see whether Sharon really is the Power Broker (she freed Batroc and hired him for Karli, right?) or if Chris Evans turns up in old man make-up, as hinted by Wyatt Russell in a recent interview.
And who knows? If Walker, Rogers and Wilson are all there at the same time, you'd have to agree that the finale "caps" things off quite nicely.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concludes next Friday 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.