The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: 1.03 Power Broker
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier keeps up the pace in its third episode, giving Sam and Bucky a side quest from the main narrative that excels for its worldbuilding and cinematography.
Power Broker’s opening sequence wastes no time in springing Sam and Bucky’s old enemy Helmut Zemo (from Captain America: Civil War) out of a Munich prison. Bucky – with his history of mindwiping and coercion – being keener than Sam on breaking Zemo out is a nice reversal of expectations, although they both agree Zemo’s knowledge of Hydra and the super soldier serum is key to tracking down the Flag Smashers.
Zemo’s presence introduces a hazardous extra element into the mix and keeps the pair even more on their toes; he also enables Sam and Bucky to temporarily put aside their differences and direct their antagonism towards him instead of each other for a while. Daniel Brühl is exceedingly good as the embittered Sokovian baron with a deep-set grudge against superheroes. There was a lot going on in Captain America: Civil War, and given how Zemo wasn’t quite the chief focus of that film it’s easy to forget just how great a character he is: keenly intelligent, driven, quick-thinking and a genuine threat. Brühl picks up on the script’s moments of subtle menace well.
The oft-quoted maxim that villains think they’re the heroes seems particularly pertinent here, as Zemo perceives the Avengers as a far greater threat than the Avengers, or a group of super soldiers like the Flag Smashers, believe themselves to be. Far from being outright cruel or unkind, the character is extremely polite and abides by a defined code of conduct. Brühl might have been cast as the ‘villain’ in a show where Falcon and the Winter Soldier are the ‘heroes’, but his twisted yet clear morality complicates the conflict; at the same time, you know it’s simply a matter of time before he betrays their trust and turns against them.
A trip to the (fictional) Indonesian island of Madripoor – which more resembles a souped-up, criminal’s version of Singapore or Hong Kong than any city in Indonesia – sees the trio bounce from one close shave to the next at a flurry of dodgy “lowtown” locations. This is where Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter reappears after five years (or over seven years in-universe). Viewers are swiftly brought up to date with her situation: alone and on the run, unable to contact family, and lacking any support from Avengers or government. This version of Sharon has a distinct edge and is far more jaded than when we last saw her (“The whole hero thing is a joke … it’s all hypocrisy.”), which is an interesting direction in which to push the character.
In my review of New World Order, I lauded the show’s direction and framing, and this third episode is no different. The cinematography in Power Broker is stunning, with shots of Madripoor in particular a feast for the eyeballs, and the colour grading allows details of the various sets and character outfits to really pop. Of the multiple fight scenes involving Sharon, the best sees her take down a dozen or so bounty hunters in a shipping yard entirely on her own, with long takes and close but steady camera work highlighting the skills she’s honed over years as a fugitive.
We see more of the Flag Smashers, who are still roaming Eastern Europe, but the bulk of the narrative follows Sam, Bucky, Zemo and Sharon. Likewise, Walker and his military partner Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett) get only a couple of short scenes this week. On the other hand, having another Henry Jackman musical moment – namely Zemo’s theme – sneak its way back into the story is a plus.
Where are we now, story-wise, halfway through the season? Well, the team of Sam, Bucky and Sharon are back together – before the latter heads off on her own, no doubt to return later on – and all the other key players are on the board – Walker, Zemo, Karli and co. The Sam/Bucky storyline is going strong; the action sequences, costuming and direction are top-notch; the themes – around legacy and responsibility, the iconography of heroes, and who gets to be ‘super’ and who doesn’t – are resonant and thought-provoking.
It remains to be seen just how fulfilling the resolution of the Flag Smashers subplot will be. An intriguing reappearance from a side character from past MCU films at the end of Power Broker, however, sets up an even wider net of characters and motivations for the show to play with across its remaining three episodes.