The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Episode 4 – The Whole World Is Watching Review
The week began for THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER with it riding the meme wave as it revelled in the entirely predictable internet infatuation with Baron Zemo’s dancing. It ended, as did the fourth episode THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING, with the series providing a much darker meme. Where Steve Rogers’ Captain America represented everything America could be, John Walker’s Captain America finds himself embodying what, to many, America has become. It’s this how we see ourselves/ how the world sees us dichotomy that’s at the heart of this pulse-pounding episode.
With his patience running thin and growing frustration at his own lack of progress in taking down the Flag Smashers, Captain America (Wyatt Russell) attempts to commandeer Bucky and Sam’s investigations, intent on arresting Zemo if nothing else. But Walker has reckoned without the presence of Wakanda’s formidable Dora Milaje and underestimated Zemo’s usefulness and cunning.
THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING sees THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER finally reach the stage where there are things…spoilery things…worth discussing, so this debriefing will need to be classified with a
from here on out.
After three episodes of spinning its wheels fast enough to give the impression of motion without actually getting anywhere, episode four delivers the first episode which feels cohesive, coherent and kinetic as its various plot threads are finally woven into a taut and compelling narrative rope, one strong enough to lift the series out of a quagmire of its own making.
We get to see some of Bucky’s time in Wakanda, between CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, particularly the pivotal moment where he finally finds himself free from the Hydra mind control and it gives some depth and flavour to his very personal connection to the nation of Wakanda and its people.
One of the major issues I’ve had with THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER is that it hasn’t seemed to have a particularly high regard for its lead characters. Indeed, it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen The Falcon do any, well, Faclon-ing. THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING corrects both these slights in short order. Both Bucky and Sam seem smarter, wiser and far more competent than they have so far – perhaps Zemo’s savvy has rubbed off on them. The action sequences – and there’s more than one this time, are also a vast improvement and again Sam and Bucky seem to have remembered how to fight after their frankly poor showing on top of the lorries back in THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN.
The other aspect which improves significantly is the series’ thematic coherence. The shield – and what it represents – takes centre stage again and the implications and inferences are profound. THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING deconstructs the shield by viewing it from the perspectives of each of the players in this drama. For Bucky and Sam, it’s an aspirational, inspirational symbol of everything that Steve Rogers personally stood for. For Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), it’s a symbol of the deflection of the authorities which have failed so many people of the world, a barrier to separate those in need from those who have. For John Walker, it’s a status symbol, an indemnity against any and all actions and, finally, a weapon with which to enforce his will.
There’s always been an uneasiness to the way the shield sits with Walker, almost like the principle which governs the ownership of wands in the Harry Potter universe. While the shield can’t really choose the wielder, there’s something to be said about there being an unspoken need to earn the right to carry it and an archly political appointee like Walker hasn’t earned that right. More than that, you can tell he knows that and it’s eating him up inside. It’s into this increasingly corrupted psychology that the Dora Milaje twist the knife as they abjectly humiliate America’s poster-boy in a pitched battle over custody of Zemo (and surprise Bucky with the Five Point Palm Exploding Arm Dropping Off Technique too).
It’s the failure and dishonour which breaks Walker, or maybe just the façade of what Walker was pretending to be, and reveals the petty, privileged, frightened might-makes-right bully he’s always been. No wonder he’s the Captain America chosen to represent the USA in the 21st Century. Driven by the single-minded, unironic embrace of Heinlein’s idea that violence is the supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived, Walker pursues the only course he sees as a viable path to inflicting that violence on those he feels are disturbing. Zemo’s mission to eradicate the scourge of the super soldier comes tantalising close to succeeding but one vial is all it takes to create the very thing Zemo was desperate to avoid.
THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING ends on arguably the most iconic image the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced since Captain America stood alone against the assembled hordes of Thanos in the wreckage of the Avengers Compound. It’s the exact counterpoint to that image, hammering home the polarised nature of contemporary American identity. After dancing around, jabbing and feinting, THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER has finally drawn blood. Let’s see if the final two episodes will see the series go in for the kill.