Episode 3 felt as though it was generally abandoning the structure, pacing, emphasis on character development, and all-around impression of the first two episodes. While the first two episodes could have been fairly criticized as moving too slow, the plot in this one moves at breakneck speed. At times, it felt like a feature-length film was trying to disguise itself in this less than an hour episode. Truly, it felt as though the creators were trying to push the plot as much forward as possible here, whether to make up for the slow movement of the Flag-Smashers storyline or to create a solid foundation for the next half of the series. Hopefully, this will lead the series to slow back down, or at least deliver the story in a more structured and digestible way.
The plot undoubtedly is more clear after this episode: the super-soldier serum was being created in Madripoor, the Flash-Smashers stole all of the vials of it, Baron Zemo appears to want to help Sam and Bucky bring an end to the serum after Bucky breaks him out of prison, Sharon Carter has been living in Madripoor to avoid extradition, Zemo dons his purple mask to foreshadow a different and more villainous role for Zemo which was almost certainly the outcome in any situation, the Flag-Smashers begin to look like sympathetic characters before they commit mass murder, Bucky’s mental issues regarding the Winter Soldier are still present under the surface, John Walker is essentially useless but increasingly more enraged, and Wakanda (or at least Ayo of the Dora Milaje) are after Zemo.
The over-stuffed story work causes certain elements to fall short. Most notably, it is almost inexplicable that Bucky breaks Baron Zemo out of prison immediately after meeting with him, and later Sam and Bucky essentially follow his every word with little to no questioning. Sure, Zemo had information that got them to the super-soldier serum, but the fact that Zemo is in control of the titular characters throughout the episode is uncomfortable. It is out of character for both heroes, particularly Bucky who has to pretend to be the genuine Winter Soldier. It is one thing for Sam and Bucky to take the back seat at some point, but to do so to a major villain with very little explanation as to why they could trust him enough to put themselves in that situation is somewhat absurd. There could have likely been more development on this had there been more time, but we ended up with a dead scientist before we could really determine what was going on.
The re-introduction of Sharon Carter was exciting, and it gave us by far the most look at who she is, given she was afforded very little personality in the previous history of the MCU. Her jaded, pessimistic, and generally angry demeanor was at first a bit jarring, but given that there was little to compare it to pre-Blip and her status as a war criminal, it made sense. She, too, however, happened to be the perfect piece to complete the puzzle of the Madripoor serum. With brief off-screen work (and a very short and probably unnecessary party scene at her art gallery), she knew exactly where to find the scientist who made the serum.
The aspect of the episode that was most reminiscent of the previous two was the matter of Bucky’s mental state lurking underneath the somewhat chaotic surface of the episode. Zemo early on states ominous that “there’s still something in there,” with respect to Bucky’s previous brainwashing. While undercover in Madripoor as the Winter Soldier, the brute violence we had seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War seemed a little too easy to replicate. We have not seen Bucky fight much yet in the series, but this seems noticeable and very purposely darker and more violent than the semi-truck fight scene last episode. Sam asks him if he is OK several times. Bucky’s potential breakdown or relapse in coming episodes is undoubtedly foreshadowed, but hopefully, the series will allow some time and space in future episodes to let it play out with the quality the character deserves.
Of course, it must be mentioned that Ayo of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje arrived at the end of the episode, wanting Zemo. The introduction of the element is certainly exciting and unexpected. Not only will it apparently cause conflict with regards to how Zemo is being “used” by Sam and Bucky, but it also might add more texture to Bucky’s relationship to Wakanda which we know little about.
2.5 Snake Shots out of 5
While Episode 3 remains an enjoyable MCU experience and a likely welcoming fast-paced plot-moving enterprise, it moves our titular heroes a bit to the background without having any satisfactory components to fill that space. The episode brought a lot to the table, so many of the potential gems got lost or diluted in the end. It also teased several very interesting plotlines, but the question as to whether these will get full opportunities to play out or further complicate an unrelenting full speed ahead approach to the second half of the series is yet to be seen.
- Baron Zemo dons his purple masks to take out some bad guys, but returns to Sam and Bucky as if nothing happened. Surely this is foreshadowing his future plans, but this brief moment seems more to tease than be integral to the episode.
- Sharon Carter had the most extensive and prominent action scene in this episode and, other than Sam’s opening flight in Episode 1, it might be the best we’ve seen.
- Come on—Sam left his cell phone on while on an undercover mission?