We all knew it was coming, but it didn’t make watching it any easier. John Walker has officially become Captain America and now, as of episode 4 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, is a Super Soldier just as his predecessor before him. But if we’ve learned anything, it takes more than a shield and some serum to make someone Captain America. It takes character.
Back in 1941, we met a small, sickly man named Steve Rogers. Desperate to join the Army and do his part in helping stop the Nazis, he was turned away time after time, name after fake name. That is, until Dr. Abraham Erskine overheard his pleas, and knew that Steve was the man for a very particular job.
The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. -Dr. Abraham Erskine
The events of “The World Is Watching” brought up an interesting parallel to not only the obvious moment in Captain America: Civil War with the shield being used as a weapon, but Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s easy to forget those pre-serum moments but at the training facility when Colonel Phillips, Peggy Carter, and Dr. Erskine were evaluating the recruits for who would be the best fit to become a Super Soldier. In those moments, Colonel Phillips was very tuned in to one recruit in particular, and it wasn’t Steve.
Then throw me a bone. Hodge passed every test we gave him. He’s big, he’s fast, he obeys orders – he’s a soldier. -Colonel Phillips
We remember what came next very well. Steve Rogers leapt onto a grenade, hoping to save his fellow recruits from an untimely death, and proving himself worthy of the serum.
Had Colonel Phillips gotten what he’d wanted it’s not a hard bet to make to that Hodge would have turned out to be exactly like John Walker. Colonel Phillips is obviously a U.S. Government man as an officer in the Army, and the government then went and chose Walker to replace Steve Rogers in the end. Maybe they’re just not so great at choosing Captain America …
“Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” -Dr. Erskine
The show thus far has done an impeccable job at painting Walker as the polar opposite of Steve Rogers from the way they’re presenting John and his backstory as well as his less than honorable antics carrying the shield. They’ve emphasized this perfect soldier, his medals of honor, his incredible physique that was studied at MIT. Steve Rogers was a 5’4″, 95 pound asthmatic who got pummeled in alleyways for his smart ass mouth. But what John Walker has not been portrayed, seen, or even reminisced as is a good man. In the eternal words of Dr. Erskine, from what we’ve seen, “He’s a bully.”
Obviously, the end of episode 4 was brutal and jarring, but it carried so much weight in truly and definitively separating Walker from Rogers. We’ve seen Walker do some questionable things already, but nothing that really screamed “You don’t deserve that shield” quite like those closing moments.
“You can’t justify murder by masking it with a cause.” -Steve Rogers
After Bucky’s death in Captain America: The First Avenger, Arnim Zola is taken into custody and Steve is seen attempting to drink himself to numbness in the ruins of war’s destruction. Peggy comes to check on him and he promises to go after Schmidt and not stop until all of Hydra is dead or captured, which was already the mission. They’re literal Nazis.
Would he have had that same feeling had Walker and him, and Lemar and Bucky, been reversed? Unlikely. But Steve Rogers would have never behaved as Walker had in this situation in the first place. He’d have had faith in Sam Wilson and not gone barrelling in to the memorial service guns blazing. He’d have sympathized with Karli and her cause. He’d want to help her, just as he’d helped Wanda Maximoff before.
In Captain America: Civil War, when Bucky’s life is on the line again, Steve allows himself to be arrested for what he’s done in trying to help Bucky escape. The fight at the airport is not to harm his fellow Avengers, his friends, in fact, he never went there to fight. He went to that airport to escape. But when it comes down to a fight, his intent is still the same — fight enough to Bucky out safely.
After Lemar’s death, however, John Walker snaps like a crab leg and takes off to avenge his friend’s death without a second thought. He grabs the first of the Flag Smashers he can reach, Nico, and murders him in cold blood in front of a crowd of civilians. Nico was innocent. Sure, they were in some hand to hand combat, but Karli Morganthau killed Lemar Hoskins, not Nico.
For the first time in its MCU history, the shield was used as a weapon to kill in the hands of John Walker.
That moment brought all of us back to Captain America: Civil War again, where we saw Steve Rogers raise the shield in that exact manner, Tony Stark its impending victim. But just as he’d always done before, the shield was used as a vessel of protection. He destroyed Tony’s Arc Reactor so he and Bucky could escape, harm was never his intent. Not in that moment, and not ever before.
“That’s why it’s yours.” -Steve Rogers
Sam Wilson has proven himself worthy of the shield 10 times over already, but that was really heightened in episode 4.
Just as Steve before him, Sam Wilson is not a man whose first instinct is violence. Sam might actually exceed Steve in this mentality. When it comes to Karli and the Flag Smashers, Sam understands her cause, understands her pain and her struggle, really in a way only Sam can. But in a manner of parallels this is very akin to Steve protecting Wanda in Civil War after the events in Lagos and the events that follow with the Sokovian Accords. His instinct is to protect, not to fight or ruin lives, just as Steve’s was.
Three times in episode 4 the same question is asked, one is an internal battle, “Would you take the serum?” John asks Lemar, John asks himself, and Zemo asks Sam, and the answers are telling into who each of these men are.
When John asks Lemar, he says yes, but we all know that John is truly asking himself. He needs that reassurance from Lemar’s answer to this hypothetical for his own decision. But we’d seen John already internally struggling when Bucky had stopped him from going in after Karli earlier in the episode and when the Dora Milaje served him the ass whooping we’ve been wanting to see. He wants the serum to be able to fight, to not be weak, to be powerful and strong. And that’s what makes him unfit to be Cap, unfit to carry that shield, and unfit to be a Super Soldier (too late now though.)
Sam, on the other hand, responds with a quick and resounding no, impressing even Zemo. Sam knows what that serum does, he knows what it comes with, he knows the risks, and he knows himself well enough to know he’s at his best self as he is. He doesn’t need it. There’s a strong power in this alone, one worthy of carrying the legacy of Steve Rogers and everything that comes with it.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has two episodes remaining. Episode 5 premieres Friday, April 16.