The build-up from the first three episodes truly paid off this week. Episode 4 was ready to go full steam ahead on nearly every level that we have seen in the series thus far. It began to detangle many of the disconnected and half-baked plotlines in a seamless way. Even with the inclusion of virtually every major character introduced throughout the series, everything came together in harmony—the episode may well have even had a dose of the super-soldier serum itself.
Episode 4 featured by far the most action showcased in the series, and it likely surpasses that of the first three episodes combined. While the fight scenes may not have been fully Captain America: The Winter Soldier worthy (but really, what is?), it a quality that kept the cinematic feel of the series alive. The Dora Milaje’s presence, though relatively brief, definitely shined the brightest of all the battles—women taking on a room full of over-confident men with ease is certainly refreshing, and gives the Dora Milaje the reputation they deserve. We also saw more of Bucky in action, thematically emphasizing his super-soldier abilities, as well as multiple action sequences with members of the Flag-Smashers. We did not see much of Sam—the episode setting was very much grounded—but hopefully, he will be more involved in the future in his full capacity.
The episode also managed to organically squeeze in an impressive amount of character development across the board. We see some of Bucky’s Wakandan arc, including his breakdown into tears the first time his trigger words do not affect him. We see and hear a lot more from Karli than we have in the past. Much of her dialogue on her philosophy is fairly redundant, but it nonetheless gives a more tangible feel to a major villain that can serve as a hook for the audience even caring about what she is doing. It also should not be forgotten that Zemo’s charisma steals every scene he is in which creates a blurrier picture of the big bad villain from Captain America: Civil War. Undoubtedly, though, the most important development by the end of the episode is John Walker’s episode arc, which will be looked at more below.
The umbrella over the episode is the super-soldier serum. While the whole series has been at the very least teasing the significance of the serum to the overall plot, Episode 4 is the first to truly dive in on everyone’s interpretations of it. What does it do to people mentally? How are people using it to further their cause and why? Who wants to take it? Who doesn’t? We have a less than flattering overall consensus on the first question. Zemo makes it clear it corrupts anyone who takes it (save Steve Rogers, the enigma), and Lemar Hoskins that it makes someone more themselves—given that Steve is the only shining example of that going well, it is not actually a validly optimistic take. As to how people are using it, Zemo acts consistent in his desire to end super-soldiers by destroying nearly every remaining vial when he had the chance. Karli was trying to use the serum to create a small army of Flag-Smashers to strengthen her cause, but she notes her doubts as to whether it was the right thing. John Walker and Lemar discuss how they would take it, but Sam is the standout voice when he tells Zemo he would refuse to take it if it was offered.
Overall, there is constant chatter about the serum’s ability to corrupt the user and the danger that presents to the world. Zemo’s insistence on super-soldiers naturally developing a supremacy complex end up being an important dialogue between Sam and Karli when he questions the methods she uses to advance her cause. John’s decision to take the serum happens off-screen, but we have seen neon signs pointing to this moment. He lacked confidence as the new Captain America and frankly kept playing a junior varsity role in the entire Flag-Smashers operation. It clearly all angered him, given that he was supposed to be the beacon of heroism.
Fueled by this growing anger and frustration, John Walker’s descent into violent madness was a long time coming. The death of Lemar during a fight with the Flag-Smashers proved that the series was willing to have some significant stakes. But just when you think that this loss was the peak level darkness and violence of the episode, John goes into a manic rage and absolutely brutally murders the first member of the Flag-Smashers he sees with the shield. This is by far the most memorable and heart-stopping moment of the series, and I think the writers should get a lot of credit for being so ruthless in a cinematic universe that generally holds back.
The emphasis on the blood on the shield in the final seconds of the episode brings together not only the conversation on the serum but also on the shield’s importance as a symbol. The blood represents the irreversible stain on the legacy of Captain America—the shield (almost) literally has blood on its hands. Karli’s somewhat abrupt verbal hatred of the shield and Captain America during the episode proved to foreshadow that perhaps everyone who hated the shield and what it symbolizes had a very real point.
It is hard to ignore that the main arc of Sam giving up the shield is far from complete. The next two episodes will surely have a lot of work to do in determining the fate of the shield and the mantle—will the shield be solidified as a blood-soaked and destroyed image of an idealistic past, or will it be restored to the arm of a good man?
4.5 Turkish Delights out of 5
- Zemo luring children to him with candy is…something.
- Also Zemo—the slowest, weakest, least stealthy character of the season—is just making everyone else look absolutely incompetent.
- Seeing random people hold the shield at different times is always fun, but seeing a member of the Dora Milaje hold it is probably the best.