Last week’s dramatic fourth episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended with what will surely become one of the most memorable images of the season: the new Captain America staring at a crowd of horrified onlookers while wielding his iconic shield, painted with blood. John Walker publicly executed a defenseless Flag-Smasher named Nico—who grew up idolizing the original Captain America—using an often storied symbol of protection as a vengeful weapon of destruction. With Walker juiced up on super soldier serum and breaking bad, it’s finally time for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes to reclaim the shield—and grapple with the complicated legacy that comes with it.
Marvel waited until earlier this week to drop its midseason trailer, which ends with a tease of the highly anticipated confrontation between Steve Rogers’s best pals and the imposter who succeeded him. That further fueled the hype for Falcon’s forthcoming penultimate episode, which the creators have touted as the show’s best installment.
Showrunner Malcolm Spellman even identified the fifth episode as the one he was most excited for fans to see back in mid-March, before the series premiere. “Hands down, [Episode] 5, it just gets real,” he told Comicbook.com. “You’re going to cry.”
Spellman hasn’t been the only one to heap praise on the upcoming episode, either. On last week’s episode of Vanity Fair’s Still Watching podcast, Marvel producer Nate Moore said, “Episode 5 gets to bring a lot of the threads that maybe felt disparate or not fully formed together. … I think Episode 4 is going to be a lot of people’s favorite episode for action reasons and big character turns, but [Episode] 5 gets to really be the culmination of the theme. And I do think, both from an acting standpoint and from a filmmaking standpoint, it’s our strongest episode.”
Moore spoke earlier in that podcast about how the fabric of the show centers on legacy, with the overarching themes interrogating Captain America’s legacy as well as America’s. Presenting the fifth episode as the “culmination” of the show’s examination of legacy aligns with the expected showdown between Walker and Sam, who may finally decide that the mantle Steve entrusted to him would be better off in his hands. Sam gave up the shield, believing that the symbol should be retired alongside the man who gave it meaning, and even wondering whether he should have destroyed it instead after the Department of Defense immediately handed it to Walker.
The teasers from Spellman and Moore could also signal the return of Isaiah Bradley, the Black super soldier who shook up the MCU when he debuted in the second episode. Bucky brought Sam to meet Bradley at his home in Baltimore, where Bradley devastatingly revealed that the American government thanked him for his service by imprisoning him for 30 years and experimenting on him against his will to synthesize a new super soldier serum. But since then, excluding the brief encounter with the scientist who used Bradley’s blood to re-create the serum, Falcon has largely shifted its focus back to the Flag-Smashers, Madripoor and the Power Broker, and a dancing Baron Zemo. Assuming that Bradley’s MCU backstory broadly aligns with his comic book origins, he was Captain America long before Walker, yet the world never knew because the government not only rejected him in the role due to the color of his skin, but then locked him away for years. It’s time for Captain America’s entire history, including the ugly parts of it, to be told in full. With the show already using flashbacks as an occasional narrative device to unpack Bucky’s trauma, maybe we’ll also get to see a young Bradley in action, ripping off half of the Winter Soldier’s metal arm in battle, as the story goes.
Beyond applauding the quality of the episode, Spellman curiously teased that it would also feature a major cameo—a rather rare move for the often tight-lipped Marvel. (Well, a rare move unless you’re Paul Bettany, and the cameo is yourself.) While many fans were quick to speculate that the cameo could mean the return of Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers—probably still sitting on a bench somewhere—or the introduction of a character like Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova to tie into the impending Black Widow prequel film, Slashfilm reported that the surprise character won’t be one who has either appeared in an MCU film or is expected to in the future. Spellman said that it would be a “very grounded” character with a strong personality whom he’d love to see “partnered with one of the big world-shakers like Thor.” With the only other details from Slashfilm’s report revealing that it’s an existing Marvel comics character played by a “well-known performer,” though, there are any number of possibilities for the mystery role, with dozens of characters to pull from the vaults. This could be an opportunity to introduce a character from Zemo’s Thunderbolts group, Eli Bradley’s Young Avengers, or someone from Steve Rogers’s ancient past that isn’t named Wolverine. Perhaps we’ll finally learn who the Power Broker is. Or, if a Bradley flashback is actually on the way, Falcon could introduce another character from Kyle Baker’s and Robert Morales’s Truth: Red, White & Black, which Spellman has urged viewers to read while watching his series.
With so many loose ends to tie up, there’s little time left for Falcon to stick its landing with only two episodes remaining. Sam still needs to get the shield back and decide what he wants to do with it after processing its complex history. Zemo is on the run, with the Dora Milaje close behind him. Sharon Carter remains a mystery, as does the Power Broker, while a handful of Flag-Smashers still need to be dealt with. And Bucky has to cross off [checks notes] pretty much everyone left on his long list of amends (including a certain sushi bar server who’s probably still waiting to finish up that game of Battleship). But the fourth episode was one of the strongest of the season to date, and it sounds like the fifth installment might not only be better, but also be designed to bring everything together and deliver on the hype just in time for the finale.