The Madripoorian: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier “Power Broker”
Previously: Bucky and Sam were trying to remain in the superhero business in the wake of the naming of a new Captain America with unclear loyalties and an even unclearer agenda. He had something to do with the Global Repatriation Council AKA the GRC, a shadowy intergovernmental organization in charge of reshuffling homes and food in the wake of the sudden reappearance of 3 billion people, which was currently under siege by antifa supersoldiers called the Flag-Smashers. Bucky and Sam started following up leads on where the supersoldier serum is coming from, including secret supersoldiers from the ’50s, and my personal favorite Marvel villain, Helmut Zemo.
We open on an anodyne commercial for the GRC, featuring lots of gauzy shots of reunited families and friends, and an announcer who sounds curiously like Paul F. Tompkins. “We’re here to help you find your way,” promises the announcer. “Helping you find your way back into your homes and jobs. Helping you navigate changes to society, laws and borders.” It’s really irritating how they keep saying all this stuff changed during the Blip, but don’t specify how! Wouldn’t want political subtext in our series heavily influenced by ’70s conspiracy thrillers, now would we?
After the commercial ends, we cut to a shot of a heavily-armed German police van with “GRC” stamped on the side, filled with soldiers and John Walker AKA Captain America II. They’re raiding the last known location of Karli Morgenthau, leader of the Flag-Smashers. She’s nowhere to be found and no one’s giving her up. Walker is furious that she keeps escaping his grasp, and even furiouser that the Captain America title seems to be commanding so little respect these days. Battlestar says they can’t do anything more. “So we bet on someone who’s got a better hand,” says Walker ominously.
In Berlin, Bucky insists on talking with Zemo himself, in case Sam’s history with the Avengers causes some awkwardness. Zemo barely even tries to talk with Bucky before he brings up the inevitable prison breakout we all know is going to happen. Later, Bucky and Sam are in a garage somewhere and Bucky’s talking about how they should spring Zemo out of jail to help them track down the serum. Sam is balking at the idea because of the possible diplomatic consequences. Bucky walks Sam through an escape plan which is depicted as (what we assume is) a flash-forward, but not until Bucky has finished detailing the plan that we realize it actually happened already, as is made evident when Zemo walks down the stairs to the garage.
Bucky finally cows Sam by bringing up his history of defying international law for his principles. And this show is awkwardly grafting the movie Zemo onto the comics Zemo—not only is this Zemo a former special forces operative and intelligence officer, but he’s also a baron with access to obscene familial wealth. The trio stop to gather some things, including a familiar purple mask that Zemo left on the dashboard of a vintage car for some reason, and take off in a chartered plane to see a woman named Selby. She’s living in a pirate haven called Madripoor, in the Indonesian archipelago, but in order to gain entry, Bucky’s going to have to slip into his old Winter Soldier character.
In a GRC resettlement camp in Latvia, Karli Morgenthau is hiding out disguised as a refugee. She gets called inside to hold the hand of a random dying woman.
Shanghai Madripoor (good job trying to pass off a city three times bigger than New York as Just Some Place!), the three semi-fugitives are dressed in their best criminal duds, with Sam in an eye-scorching suit playing an African millionaire named Conrad “The Smiling Tiger” Mack. (We get a hilarious line from Zemo, responding to Sam’s sartorial objections: “Only an American would assume a fashion-forward black man looks like a pimp.”) Their car into the city is flanked by an ominous motorcade of masked and armed motorcyclists. Their entrance to the city is scored by some sort of Asian trap music, in the first of several weird musical choices this episode will have. They park and take a short walk through several dozen movies’ worth of seedy neon-drenched Asian metropolis before approaching the club of the subtly named Power Broker, flanked with orangutan skulls.
“The Smiling Tiger” has his “usual” drink at the bar (a shot with eggs cut from a live snake), while some lowlife types warn Zemo that the Power Broker doesn’t consider him welcome ’round these parts. Zemo has the Winter Soldier attack the lowlives, making sure to cause a big commotion that the club’s patrons capture on their smartphones. This gets them an audience with Selby, the first rung on their ladder of lowlives, whom they question over the whereabouts of the super-soldier serum. In exchange for the info, Zemo promises Selby she can have the Winter Soldier, along with the book of code words needed to activate and control him.
Their cover is almost blown when Sam gets a phone call from his sister Sarah about the boat and the loan. He does a heroic job of trying to bluff his way through it, but Selby smells a rat and orders them killed, seconds before taking a bullet through her own neck from an unseen gunman. They try to power-walk away from the scene of the crime, but they hear all the criminals on the street get text notifications that Selby is dead, and there’s a revenge bounty for her killers à la John Wick: Chapter 2, except this time it’s even sillier because they’re paying the bounty in Bitcoins. Soon everyone’s spraying bullets in their direction.
However, their assailants keep getting cut down by bullets from the same hidden gunman who killed Selby, who’s apparently ensconced in the apartments overlooking the street. The leader of Sam and Bucky’s mysterious guardians turns out to be Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), not seen since Captain America: Civil War. Since she went off the grid, she’s been making a living hustling stolen artwork.
They try to enlist Sharon’s help in finding the source of the re-engineered super-soldier serum, who’s a doctor working for the Power Broker named Wilford Nagel. In exchange, they offer to try to clear her name and get her charges dropped from when she went rogue and aided and comforted Steve Rogers, Sam, and Bucky. She says she doesn’t want their help, she’s mad at them for abandoning her, she doesn’t believe in her country or in superheroes anymore, but also yes please.
After a weird scene of the threesome dancing awkwardly at a party in Sharon’s art gallery, they track down Dr. Nagle to a secret research lab hidden in a cargo container. They find him less than conversational. Meanwhile outside, Sharon is getting assailed by one bounty hunter after another. After Bucky menaces him, Dr. Nagel spills the story: he was first working for HYDRA, and then recruited by the CIA and was finally able to recreate the super-soldier serum from Isaiah Bradley’s blood. However, Nagel disappeared in the Snap, and when he came back to life five years later, his program had been abandoned; luckily, he found a willing patron in the Power Broker. He succeeded in making twenty vials of serum, which were then stolen by Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers.
Despite the fact that the Power Broker is now after her, Karli somehow thought it would be a good idea to contact Dr. Nagel a couple days ago to ask his help with the sick woman we saw earlier, who’s named Donya Medina and bears an unspecified but loving and familial relationship with Karli. Donya is apparently dying of tuberculosis thanks to the camp’s overcrowded conditions. Tuberculosis? Call me crazy, but I don’t think you need to call a brilliant research scientist for that, particularly one who hates you! I think that’s the kind of thing a regular doctor might know about.
Dr. Nagle discreetly hits a panic button while he’s talking. Meanwhile, No-Longer-An-Agent Carter is still outside John Wick-ing dudes all over the place. Seriously, she’s killing so many people.
Zemo unceremoniously kills Dr. Nagel at the end of his speech. Immediately afterwards, somebody sitting atop a nearby cargo container hits Nagel’s lab with a rocket-propelled grenade. The blast throws them off their feet. Zemo disappears. Bucky, Sam, and Sharon escape before the fire spreads to some gas canisters and causes an explosion that levels the rest of the lab.
Soon, Bucky’s lack of familiarity with action movie tropes causes the party to get pinned down. Zemo puts his purple mask on to kill their assailants, and then immediately pulls it off. They escape into an open cargo container, and Zemo follows after pulling off his mask, again. He only had it on for like two seconds. He pulls up in yet another one of his expensive cars and takes Sam and Bucky away, while Sharon escapes in one of her own expensive cars.
Later on, the Flag-Smashers assault a GRC supply depot in Latvia, stealing GRC-hoarded supplies to give them to the people in the camps. Morgenthau’s confederate is astonished when she bombs the depot after leaving, with GRC soldiers still tied up inside. “This is the only language they understand,” Karli explains. As this happens, Bucky, Zemo, and Sam are on their way to Latvia; It seems Sam called his twinky intelligence guy and found out that Donya Medina recently died in a GRC camp in Latvia.
John Walker and Battlestar are in Germany now, having learned that Zemo broke out of prison soon after meeting with Bucky. Previously, Walker had implied that they were going to surveil Bucky and Sam, wait for them to break Zemo out, and then follow them, but it seems they didn’t do that. Since they don’t have any formal evidence of Bucky and Sam’s involvement in Zemo’s escape, Walker asserts that they’re going to have to go off the books to find them.
Zemo’s plane arrives in Riga and the threesome take a stroll down the street. Bucky excuses himself to “take a walk” and picks up a couple of weird beeping spheres he’s noticed. The spheres turn out to be some kind of hyper-advanced Wakanda technology. He walks to a completely empty square, addresses a person who’s nowhere to be seen, and the camera swings around to reveal Ayo (Florence Kasumba), a member of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, who tells him “I’m here for Zemo”.
Next week: Sharon Carter decides to forget Sam and seek a pardon from her great-uncle Jimmy. Baron von Zemo has to take a break from his caper to put down a peasant uprising on his fief.