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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 recap: moral complexity among the superheroics

John Walker hangs his head in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4
It's not easy being the new Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 (Image credit: Marvel/Disney)
About this episode

- Episode 4 (of 6), 'The Whole World is Watching'
- Written by Derek Kolstad
- Directed by Kari Skogland
★★★★

Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follow.

Back in the original Captain America’s day, sorting the heroes from the villains was easy – Cap and his Howling Commandos good, HYDRA and the Nazis bad. In the subsequent decades of the MCU, however, lines of morality have become significantly more blurred, with shades-of-gray ethics and ever-shifting points of view coming to the fore. Never has this been more the case than in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where only the two title characters are definitively heroes – and even they’ve got their fair share of issues to work through.

Obi-Wan Kenobi once told Luke Skywalker that “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view,” and ‘The Whole World is Watching’ is that sentiment played out on an epic scale. Are the Flag Smashers “terrorists” or “revolutionaries”? Would Earth have been a better place if the 50 per cent snapped out of existence by Thanos had never come back? Is new Captain America John Walker making the world safer, or is he a dangerous hothead with a shield? Perhaps the answer is yes to all of the above… Because this episode makes the most of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s appetite for keeping your allegiances and sympathies in motion – while also delivering a couple of genuine shocks.

Although one of the main themes of this instalment is ambiguity, there’s little doubt that everyone is after Baron Zemo. The Captain America: Civil War antagonist may not get to show off his dance moves this time out, but he still has to be fleet of foot to keep ahead of the various groups who want him back in prison.

Walker and his partner, Battlestar/Lemar Hoskins, have him on their hit list, but front of the queue are Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, who want Zemo to face justice for the bombing that killed their former king, T’Chaka. Bucky has a long history with Ayo – she helped him override his Winter Soldier programming – but that’s only enough to give guarantee a brief stay of execution for Zemo.

Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4

Sightseeing around Riga isn't quite so much fun with Flag Smashers around. (Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

When the Dora show up to get their man, it’s the best fight scene of the series so far, a beautifully choreographed sequence where Wakanda’s elite guards prove more than a match for a Falcon, a Winter Soldier, a Captain America wannabe and his friend – they even reveal that Bucky’s vibranium arm comes with a handy quick-release mechanism. Ironically, of course, the fight to bring Zemo into custody is the distraction that aids his escape.

And it’s good for the series that he’s still at large, because Daniel Brühl may now be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s MVP. Despite the seriousness – and real-world relevance – of the show’s more political themes, there’s still room for a character who can simply have fun being the bad guy. He’s the sort of man who responds to questions about killing Nagel, the scientist behind the Super-Soldier Serum, with a true politician’s answer: “Do we really have to litigate what may or may not have happened?” 

And yet, while Zemo’s clearly not to be trusted, he’s usually on hand with a pertinent, food-for-thought question – even if Karli Morgenthau’s motives are well-intentioned, does the desire to become a superhuman automatically turn her into a dangerous supremacist? Are Super-Soldiers inherently a bad thing?

While Zemo’s true plans remain unclear, it now seems unlikely that he’s the Power Broker – smashing up all those vials of Super-Soldier Serum would seem a spectacularly short-sighted business move if he is. Sharon Carter remains the more likely candidate – especially as she seems very keen for Sam and Bucky to find Karli. Besides, how many art dealers do you know with access to top-secret spy satellites?

Meanwhile, the more we learn about Karli and the Flag Smashers (not a ’60s beat combo, sadly), the more intriguing – and human – they become. As Karli describes the way Mama Donya took her in, it’s clear she has a genuine urge to help people – and when the group describe the borderless world that existed after the Blip, you start to understand the twisted logic in Thanos’s plan.

Sam Wilson, Baron Zemo and Bucky Barnes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4

We don't know Baron Zemo's motives – but it's great to have him around. (Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

But at the same time, her rap sheet includes the deaths of innocent civilians, as well as threatening to come after Sam Wilson’s family to get to him. As a result, the scenes between Karli and Sam are among the most powerful in the episode, both of them wanting to see good in the other, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Sam’s idealism, calmness and desire to avoid the spotlight are arguably what drove him to turn down Captain America’s shield. Ironically, his drive to find a peaceful solution shows he probably is the best person for the job.

That said, after John Walker’s exploits this week, the position of Captain America may not be quite so attractive…

Despite everything else going on, Walker’s misguidedly gung-ho approach inadvertently makes him the most pivotal player in the episode. While he genuinely seems to want to make a difference – and have his highly decorated military career count for something positive – his hot-headed inability to look for a peaceful solution turns him into a liability. Defeats to the Dora Milaje and the Flag Smashers leave him doubting his abilities, but he really is the last person who should be allowed anywhere near the Super-Soldier Serum – the fact he’s in possession of the last vial in existence is bad news for everyone.

Especially after a closing scene that ranks among the most visceral – and chilling – in MCU history. Sure, you don’t see much on screen, but you don’t need much imagination to feel the full impact of the moment Walker takes vengeance for the accidental killing of Lemar – the image of a guy in Captain America’s uniform beating a Flag Smasher to death with the shield will linger long in the memory.

It’s a moment sure to have major repercussions for the next two episodes because – with the incident filmed on multiple cellphones – the whole world really will be watching. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has made a lot of Cap’s shield being a symbol. Now it’s covered in blood, it’s a symbol for all the wrong reasons…

John Walker and Lemar Hoskins in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4

Captain America and Battlestar stand by for action. (Image credit: Marvel/Disney)
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER RECAPS

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

Get all the intel on what's happened to Sam and Bucky so far with our recaps on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3.

Verdict: 

The image of Captain America carrying a blood-stained shield will be the big takeaway, but there’s more to this brilliant episode than John Walker revealing the dark side we always knew he had. While ‘The Whole World is Watching’ has its superhero moments – including Sam giving his Falcon suit a rare bit of action – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is clearly prioritizing its more human angle.

Whether or not you agree with the characters – and you frequently find yourself changing your mind in a matter of minutes – every single one of them has a plausible, human motive. That even includes John Walker, whose out-of-control last act display was driven by revenge and rampant insecurity about his place in the world. 

Now that he's seemingly powered-up by the Serum, we can’t wait to see how the last two episodes play out – it’s clear it’s not going to end well for everyone.

Karli Morgenthau in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4

Karli remembers Mama Donya. (Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

Marvel-ous facts

  • King T’Chaka of Wakanda was the father of T’Challa, the eponymous Black Panther played by the late Chadwick Boseman. He was killed when Zemo bombed a United Nations meeting about the Sokovia Accords in Vienna.
  • Ayo also points out that Shuri helped Bucky (who she refers to as the White Wolf) overcome his Winter Soldier programming. Shuri is T’Challa’s genius younger sister, played by Letitia Wright.
  • When Sam says that Zemo has done an “El Chapo”, he’s referring to Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, who famously escaped from prison through a tunnel under his cell.
  • Before speaking with Karli, Sam Wilson references his time counseling military veterans. This is his job when he first meets Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • While we don't see Walker take the Serum on screen, he does seem powered-up in that fateful last scene – possibly making him the most dangerous character in the show.
  • Fans of Baron Zemo’s dancing last week will be disappointed that no rug is cut this time out. But, always eager to embrace a meme, Marvel have released an extended cut of Zemo getting his moves on:

New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are available on Disney Plus every Friday.