The second episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered yesterday, bringing some tonal shifts from, and an overall improvement on, the story presented in the first episode.
Oddly, Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) weren't even in the top three most interesting things in the episode, which I would rank as 1. John Walker (Wyatt Russell) 2. The Flag Smashers and 3. Isaiah (Carl Lumbly).
The main thing I like about Isaiah is Carl Lumbly's performance. I've seen Lumbly in a few things--he's actually been in a few DC productions, including the excellent Justice League animated series from the early '00s, when he played Martian Manhunter--but I never took notice of him before. His energy when he confronts Bucky is captivating. You can see the restraint he's exercising and sense decades of anger simmering under the surface. The delivery on his lines is so tightly controlled, he reminded me a bit of Christopher Lee.
Following up on the mention of the global financial impact of the Blip is the organisation called The Flag Smashers, a ragtag group apparently based on an intriguingly complicated character from the comics who was only a villain most of the time. Flag Smasher in the comics represented a philosophy of ant-patriotism (to be an antagonist for the patriotic Captain America); here the group represents a not dissimilar globalist philosophy that keys in nicely with current politics. And it is a much more thoughtful use of the Blip as a continuing story element--I bet, in many ways, things must have been better during those five years. That was Thanos' idea, after all, that having none of the resource scarcity caused by overpopulation would lead to a reduction in conflict and civil strife. John Walker talks a little bit about the difficulties involved in post-Blip "repatriation" and it seems likely that all kinds of bureaucratic, as well as financial, chaos must have been caused by so many people returning from the dead. The banks are liable for all those bank accounts and property must have been redistributed or appropriated in who knows how many ways. It makes sense there'd be a group of people who look back fondly on those simpler times.
I was happy to see they didn't take the obvious route and just make John Walker a douchebag. He's captivating for the whole episode in kind of the way Anakin Skywalker is in Phantom Menace--no matter what he does, you're constantly looking for this or that little sign that indicates he's a villain, or the early stages of his path to villainhood. So the longer he's just a sweet, normal guy, the longer the tension holds. But he's more complicated than that because he does come off as smug a bit, and he can't resist giving a too presumptuous plea for Rogers' friends to be "at his side". As Sam says, it's always that last line.
Sam himself still feels like a blank, especially since there's no followup on his character building from the first episode. He has a couple of good one-liners, though. I also like how he ended the therapy session by saying, "Thanks for making it weird." Bucky, meanwhile, has two problems now--dealing with his past as a killer and dealing with his resentment of Sam and John over the shield. The action sequence was much, much better in this episode, partly for how well it incorporated the character drama, and I loved the split second where Bucky had to decide to hand John the shield.
The scene also featured a much more exciting use of Sam's wings.
I'm looking forward to seeing Daniel Bruhl next week, hoping the show makes better use of him than Civil War did.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available on Disney+.