Episode 5 once again makes it clear that the series is a steady ebb and flow between being a 6-hour long classic action flick and a fairly newfound elaborate Marvel Cinematic Universe character development operation. The episode takes the time and effort for characters to confront the past in its many forms. By far most notably, the episode tackles the legacy of the shield and Captain America mantle in all of its previously unspoken murky history and dishonorable historical context. The clear takeaway, and also the highlights of the episode, were the cutting and honest conversations surrounding race and its relationship to the shield and its legacy.
The entirety of the action takes place at the very beginning, immediately after we watched John Walker murder a member of the Flag-Smashers after Lemar’s death at Karli’s hands. The shield is retrieved after the battle, but the mood between Sam and Bucky is tense, and it is nowhere close to a happy ending mood.
Walker seems to be sidelined for the time being after the government strips him of his title and veteran benefits although the mid-credits scene is certainly setting up his future, perhaps as U.S. Agent. However, the surprise cameo—Julia Louis-Dreyfus—is a shady character named Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, otherwise known as Madame Hydra, who solicits Walker for future work. So, it may be that Walker will continue on the villain path in the foreseeable future.
By far the most gripping part of the episode, and maybe the series, is Sam’s conversation with Isaiah Bradley, who Sam re-visits to try and clear up some answers about Bradley’s past. Isaiah recounts his brutal treatment at the hands of the U.S. government, a stark contrast to say the least to Steve Rogers who held a similar position the previous decade. The conversation does not shy away from the bitter reality of the shield—and Steve—representing a country and a superhero heritage that is plenty content with a blonde-haired blue-eyed man but deliberately excluded Black heroes and erased from history their stories. Isaiah closes with a piercing line that no self-respecting Black man would ever want to take up the shield.
This doubt enshrouding Sam, who carries the shield around in a bag, is insinuated to be part of the reason he gave up the shield in the first place. Now, the same doubt is ultimately the final hurdle in Sam fully taking up the mantle. By the end of the episode, Sam makes it clear that while he acknowledges the cruel history of the shield, he is nonetheless going to continue the fight that people of color have been fighting all this time. Now, he believes he’s ready and willing to take on the symbol that has previously represented racism and oppression and make it evolve.
Back in Louisiana, Sam and Sarah decide to fix up the family boat we saw in Episode 1. Bucky arrives to help, and we get a montage of the two together with Bucky’s strength and usefulness a source of some laughs. To add on, Sam and Bucky have a tough-love conversation while essentially playing catch with the shield. While Sam gives Bucky some much-needed advice on how to heal and grow out of his conception that he is defined by other people, Bucky acknowledges head-on that he and Steve did not think about the significance and emotional consequences of giving the shield to a Black man—how could they? It’s a simple but incredibly important moment that not only sees a white character acknowledging the significance of the moment, but it also acknowledges that Steve was maybe far from being the perfect Captain America that he’s been constantly referred to as throughout the series. For the first time, “It doesn’t matter what Steve thought.”
In the end, Episode 5 made it clear that the series did not take Sam’s historic and precarious position as shield grantee lightly, and neither should viewers. It took care to solidify Sam and Bucky’s friendship and “just a couple of dudes” partnership in Louisiana. It also spent the time to tie some loose ends, including Zemo’s arrest by the Dora Milaje and John Walker’s defeat, to prepare for the season finale. At the tail end of the episode, the Flag-Smashers are in position to strike the GRC in New York, bringing the original villains to perhaps their own and unshared adversary spotlight for the series’ final hour.
4 “I’m Right-Handed”s out of 5
While the series has pressed into character development and plot based on more than fight scenes before, this episode takes the cake in terms of the effectiveness and meaningfulness of the conversations both within the fictional universe and to those engaged with it. Marvel Studios is one of countless entertainment entities that often falls short in terms of diversity and confronting related social issues, but the writing was straightforward and unapologetic. Outside of this aspect of the episode, it also brought us significant and at times intimate looks at Bucky’s headspace and cleared the way for a hopefully smooth-running series finale.
- She’s been shady, but Sharon seemed to make it clear that she is not on our heroes’ side by working with Batroc to aid the Flag-Smashers in their assault on the GRC.
- Cue the “What’s in the box?!” questions, though my guess is some Wakandan-improved wings and some updated version of a Captain America suit.
- Someone is finally relatable—I think Sam’s shield training montage is the only time any character has not already fully mastered the shield.