Unfortunately, these high points stand tall among an episode that struggles to work with its many other plot threads. While a ‘time out’ episode to mold characters ahead of a finale might work for a show with many more episodes, at just six chapters The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really needs to be precise with its pacing. But in episode five, very little advancement is made in terms of plot. The Power Broker, the looming presence over the whole season, hasn’t even shown their face yet, and it’s difficult to see how their storyline can even properly start, nevermind conclude satisfactorily, in a single episode. There is the chance that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s surprise cameo as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine – a character who has been everything from a SHIELD agent to one of Hydra’s top operators in the comics – could be the missing link. But without any establishment of who she is and what – if any – threat she poses, the cameo makes no real impact on the story.
Flag-Smasher Explained: A Minor Captain America Villain Is Now a Major MCU Threat
Also lacking impact is Zemo’s arc, which appears to have been abruptly brought to a halt with his arrest. If this is actually the last we see of him, then his departure is so underwhelming that you have to wonder if he fulfilled any genuine purpose in the show at all. We can only hope that a scheme befitting this complex villain unfolds in the finale, as having the Dora Milaje march him off to the Raft is too simple an ending for him. Potentially Zemo’s advice to Bucky about killing Karli will turn into a last minute plot point, but with Sam and Bucky being on the same page right now that feels like unnecessary tension. And if this is the end of his arc, then it positions Wakanda’s involvement in the show as disappointingly surface level.
While Zemo has been an enjoyable personality through his episodes, without any grand scheme to enact you can’t help but wonder what the show could have focused on were he not included. The answer to that comes in this episode’s Karli storyline, which for once actually directly shows us the GRC and their headquarters as they prepare to vote on the Patch Act. The inner workings of the GRC have been surprisingly ignored for such a vital component of the show, and I can’t help but feel that this oppressive agency should have been a major part of the season. Seeing their bureaucratic inhumanity enacted on screen would have helped further contextualize the Flag Smashers’ actions, and helped maintain the morally grey elements that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier thrives on.
Not that Karli is morally grey anymore. While there’s still a chance for supporting characters like Dovich to hold the Flag Smashers’ anti-nationalist values in a sympathetic way, the use of embedded agents whispering “one world, one people” in the same way as the MCU’s earlier “Hail Hydra” scenes simply paints Karli as a radical terrorist too far gone. There’s still time, of course, but right now it feels like one of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s most interesting story threads has been oversimplified.John Walker continues to fare much better than Karli as the show’s antagonist. While the progression of his arc continues to be exactly what we all saw coming from the moment he put on the suit, there’s some fascinating implications explored in the courtroom scenes as he’s stripped of his rank. “I only did what you asked of me” he shouts. “You built me.” It’s a damning line that indicates that a Department of Defense-endorsed Captain America was always doomed to fail. Captain America is not a weapon to be wielded by the state; whoever holds that shield must have their own moral compass and set of values. This once again highlights Steve’s important fight against the Sokovia Accords and bolsters Sam’s own progression.
Walker’s story is far from over, though, as the mid-credits scene of him creating his own shield demonstrates. While his predictable arc remains satisfying enough, I’d love to see Marvel pull a curveball with him in the final episode to really provide the season with some late-game sparks.