Well, to my former self who was afraid Baron Zemo might be a boring addition, I admit that I was very, very wrong. Episode 3 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sees Sam and Bucky doing exactly what they decided to do last episode, go talk to (and eventually break out) Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl). “Power Broker” sees the boy band trio head to Madripoor, meet back up with their mutual friend Sharon Carter (Emily Vancamp), go clubbing, meet some criminals, before they jump on Zemo’s private jet and head for Latvia.
“Power Broker” is just another step up for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It doesn’t have the same social commentary that it had last episode, but there was significantly less John Walker (a boon), and we finally got the introduction to the other two members of the starring cast. This episode mostly serves as a way to reintroduce us to Zemo and Sharon, as well as take us to a new corner of the world, Madripoor. Which, I have some thoughts about, but more on that later.
Reset, Restore, Rebuild
The episode opens with an obnoxious Global Repatriation Council commercial. Although there’s nothing definitively wrong with the commercial, with a tagline like “Reset, Restore, Rebuild,” we know there’s something foul in the state of the MCU. Right after the commercial we have John Walker busting into the hideout we last saw the Flag Smashers at in Munich. Knowing it’s full of civilians, Walker orders the soldiers not to give the civilians a second to “delete, shred, or breathe.”
And, aptly, as they start terrorizing and detaining German civilians (not sure what jurisdiction they’re working under), Walker questions the leader. “You Americans have become brutes,” the man says before spitting in Walker’s face. Unsurprisingly, Walker freaks out and with a cracked voice shoves the man up against a wall. “Do you know who I am?!”
Yeah, Walker, we know a bully when we see one.
Too little too late, Walker realizes that they should go to Zemo. By the time they arrive at the prison near the end of the episode, Zemo is long gone. He realizes that it must have been Sam and Bucky who broke him out and decides not to call it in. Lemar questions Walker about it, to which Walker arrogantly replies, “Lemar, if we get the job done, do you really think they’re going to sweat us on the how?”
It’s the meatware
In Berlin, at the prison where Zemo is being kept, Bucky strolls in to talk to him. I’m wondering what exactly they said to allow the guards to let them in. Was it just the fact that they’re superheroes? Anyway, the minute Zemo spots Bucky, he starts reciting the trigger words he learned during Captain America: Civil War. Of course, it doesn’t work because they fixed Bucky, but Zeno notes that there’s still something there in Bucky when he hears those words. Zemo, I think it might just be trauma, but okay.
Zemo apologizes to Bucky and spouts the line that all Hydra agents like to spout, “It was never personal.” Zemo, you killed King T’Chaka and broke apart the Avengers because they killed your family, it’s all personal. But he has already deduced that Sam and Bucky must be desperate and Bucky is ready to break Zemo out of jail.
Sam obviously doesn’t agree, but Bucky retorts, “He is crazy, but he still has a code.” Cut to a mini-heist in the episode. I love a good heist but can we talk about the incredible weakness of this German prison? Zemo is presumably one of their highest security prisoners, but Bucky is able to slip a security card into his Machiavelli book and stage a prison riot for Zemo to casually stroll out. This scene also earns us this quote, “The weakest point in any system isn’t the software, the hardware, it’s the meatware. The human element.” Bucky, you’re not wrong, but who taught you to say meatware?
Despite ending on a frosty note in last episode, “Power Broker” quickly sees Sam and Bucky back to their buddy cop ways. I actually think this is a weakness of the episode. It’s very clear these two have some problems, but here Bucky is again asking Sam to stick his neck out for him. Are we to believe that Sam forgot their argument from 24 hours ago? I guess Sam is just the bigger man.
Zemo takes Sam and Bucky to his garage full of luxury cars. The whole episode is here to remind us that Zemo used to be a very rich man. He grabs his mask and some clothes and drives the group to his private jet, complete with a waiting butler named Oeznik (Nicholas Pryor). “I’m a Baron, Sam,” Zemo says to Sam as they roll up to the PJ, with Zemo decked out in a ridiculous fur lined cloak. “My family was royalty until your friends destroyed my country.” And that hatred is not really forgotten. Yes, he’s working with Sam and Bucky, but his spite for the Avengers and Super-Soldiers is still evident.
Their first destination is toward a fence named Selby, who works out of Madripoor.
Everybody loves Marvin Gaye
On the jet, Zemo pulls out the notebook that he managed to steal from Bucky at some point. He points out the name Nakajima right before Bucky chokes him and threatens him. But, there’s no need for explanation, Zemo recognizes the names and knows they are the people that Bucky wronged as the Winter Soldier.
At this point, we also find out that not only is Bucky in the same habit of writing in notebooks as Steve, but that is literally just Steve’s notebook! He inherited from Steve, assumedly when he came out of the ice. Sam calls back to his suggestion for Steve to listen to Trouble Man by Marvine Gaye back in Captain America: Winter Soldier, to which Bucky replies that he prefers 40s music instead.
It’s a light scene, wherein both Sam and Zemo come to Marvin Gaye’s defense.
“It’s a masterpiece, James. Complete. Comprehensive. It captures the African-American experience.”
“He’s out of line, but he’s right. It’s great. Everybody loves Marvin Gaye.”
This leads to Sam emphasizing that Steve loved it. It’s not just that everyone loves Marvine Gaye. Steve loved it. Zemo picks up on this and notes that they both put Steve up on a pedestal. “The danger with people like him, America’s Super Soldiers,” Zemo says, “is that we put them on pedestals. They become symbols. Icons. And then we start to forget about their flaws. From there, cities fly, innocent people die. Movements are formed, wars are fought. You remember that, right? As a young soldier sent to Germany to stop a mad icon. Do we want to live in a world full of people like the Red Skull?”
I mean, I know Zemo is a villain, but he makes a very fair point. And it’s one that Sam actually reflects on by the end of “Power Broker.”
Just a note on Madripoor
Madripoor, we learn, is an island nation in the Indonesian archipelago. It was a pirate sanctuary back in the day and still a lawless place. Okay, so, side note. For a place that is essentially based off of Singapore, pulls directly from modern Asian imagery, with music with Asian sounding instrumentals, this is a city that is curiously devoid of actual Asian characters. There are no Asian extras, none that the camera linger on. Did Marvel decide just not to hire Asian actors for a place that is literally based in South East Asia?
I had the same problem when Black Panther decided to go to South Korea for no real reason other than to change scenery and put the characters in a foreign country with a pretty on-camera aesthetic. And, given that there are essentially no Asian characters in the MCU aside from Wong from Doctor Strange, none of it sits well. I really loved the Madripoor section of this episode and “Power Broker” is my favorite episode so far because of the dynamics between characters, but I hated that an Asian country — even a fictional one — was basically full of Westerners. Also the scene with Sam taking that shot with some weird snake body part thrown in? Not a good look given the Asian stereotype about Asians eating “weird” foods. This was a disappointment.
The Smiling Tiger
Okay, back to the “Power Broker.” Arriving at Madripoor, Zemo tells Sam and Bucky that they have to go undercover. Zemo might be okay there, but a couple of Avengers strolling into Lowtown is only going to get them in trouble. Zemo gives Sam a garish new wardrobe and a new identity. He’s now Conrad Mack aka The Smiling Tiger. In the comics, Conrad is a rather minor character, but he’s notable for being a member of the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed villains, a group that was originally created by Zemo himself. Will be get Thunderbolts by the end of the season? Time will tell.
Rolling into Lowtown, it’s a veritable den of thieves. Graffiti on the wall spells out the obvious “Power Broker is watching.” Inside the club, Zemo announces that he’s there with the Winter Soldier, garnering whispers from the crowd. We get a fleeting shot of Sharon Carter ducking out of the bar, though our trio doesn’t notice. Zemo declares that he’s here to see Selby, but is told in no uncertain terms that he isn’t welcome here. The Power Broker, known as the judge, jury, and executioner of Madripoor, doesn’t like Zemo.
What follows is a scene that is sure to have some damaging repercussions in regards to Bucky’s pardon. Zemo “activates” Bucky, and he’s forced to beat up a bunch of the thugs who are threatening Zemo. Of course, the rest of the bar goers are catching this all on camera as the Winter Soldier theme music, screams and all, is ramping up.
This somehow gains them an audience with Selby (Imelda Corcoran). Zemo easily negotiates with Selby, offering up Bucky in exchange for the location of the serum. She points them to Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi), but won’t let him know where he is hiding out. At this point, Sam seems to forget that when you go undercover you have to put your phone on Do Not Disturb, and he gets a call from Sarah (Adepero Oduye). Sam, a great hero but a terrible actor and criminal, gives away their cover.
Before Selby can order the trio shot, she’s taken out by a sniper, and soon the whole criminal underworld is turning on our boys. They make it out alive, but now there’s massive bounty on their heads. Their savior turns out to be Sharon. But this is not the Sharon of Captain America: Civil War. She’s spent the last few years in self-exile in Madripoor because she stole back Cap’s shield and Sam’s wings and is wanted by the government. “You cost me everything,” she says, in their reunion. She hasn’t been in contact with her family, she didn’t have the Avengers or Cap to back her up. But, in the end, she still helps them out.
The life of a real hustler
In Hightown, at Sharon’s swanky place full of high-end stolen art, Sharon agrees to help them find out where Nagel is in exchange for getting her name cleared. She’s spent this interim time dealing in art theft. She says, “Well, at some point, I thought if I had to hustle, might as well enjoy the life of a real hustle,” as the group marvels at her glossy apartment. Madripoor doesn’t allow extradition, so for now, this place is her home.
It seems that time in Madripoor separated from her family has left Sharon jaded. “Look, you know the whole hero thing is a joke, right?” she says to Sam as the group changes before they head out to the club. “I mean, the way you gave up that shield, deep down, you must know it’s all hypocrisy.”
“He knows,” Zemo says. “And not so deep down.”
She tosses around a couple more insults, this time aimed at Bucky. Calling him Zemo’s pet psychopath and Mr. America, mockingly. But she has a point. Bucky was lucky enough to get his pardon, but the good guys sure did forget about Sharon pretty quickly didn’t they? It’s hard not to see her point-of-view when she got forgotten. And how much power does Sam have? Enough to get Sharon pardoned? She’s not so sure.
She takes the group to a party. And while Sharon is doing the real work, we get treated to a shot of the trio making their way through the Madripoor club, complete with Zemo dancing like a middle-aged dad (which, I guess, is what he is).
Subtle, optimized, perfect
Sharon is successful and they head to the docks and find their way to a shipping container. The boys head in while Sharon keeps an eye out. Hidden within the containers is Dr. Nagel’s lab. Even being interrogated by Sam, Bucky, and Zemo, Nagel is wildly arrogant. He reveals that he was originally brought in to work on Hydra’s serum after the Siberia Super-Soldiers failed, but then when Hydra fell, he was recruited by the CIA. The CIA, unsurprisingly, had Isaiah’s blood, a dose of the super-soldier serum that was actually stable. And using that sample, Nagel was finally able to figure out the Super-Soldier Serum.
Or at least, he was on the brink before he was snapped out of existence. Five years later, after the blip, he comes back to a discontinued project. So, he turned to the Power Broker. Nagel is a lot, calling himself a god, saying that his version of the serum is “subtle, optimized, perfect”. It is clear that this unnerves everyone in the room. He reveals that he created 20 vials for the Power Broker, which were eventually stolen by Karli Morgenthau. He also reveals that he was recently contacted by Karli to help someone named Donya Madani, a woman who was dying of tuberculosis.
Notably, this is not the first time the name Madani has popped up in a Marvel property on-screen. Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) was a main character in the Netflix adaptation of The Punisher. While it’s doubtful that they’re bringing back Jon Bernthal‘s Punisher into the MCU, it’s still nice to get a shout out. Despite the problematic nature of the Punisher and his iconography, I was still a big fan of the Netflix adaptation and of Dinah Madani.
While the boys are questioning Nagel, the bounty hunters have closed in on the shipping containers. Sharon takes them out with practiced ease before rushing into the lab and telling them they need to leave. Taking this moment of chaos, Zemo shoots and ills Nagel, assumedly so that the formula for the serum dies with him. At that same moment, one of the bounty hunters shoots an RPG at them and it turns into an all out fire fight.
Zemo scurries away, leaving Sam, Bucky, and Sharon pinned, slowly getting surrounded by bounty hunters. But Zemo isn’t ready to run off just yet. Donning his mask (not really sure why he does it since the hunters know who they are after), he fights the bounty hunters off and the group escapes.
Zemo steals a car and acts as the getaway driver for Sam and Bucky, and we get another callback to Civil War as Sam hops into the backseat of the convertible. No, Sam, Bucky’s not planning on moving the seat up. Sharon decides not to go with them to follow this new lead, and instead we see her meeting up with a mysterious woman (Meaghan Gillenwater) and informing her that they have a problem. Hmm… what’s up, Sharon?
Veins on fire
In the GRC resettlement camp in Riga, Latvia, we come upon the Flag Smashers and Karli Morgenthau. She’s visiting Donya Madani in her final moments before death. She apologizes and kisses the woman on the forehead as she passes. Saddened by her loss and mourning, Karli and Dovich (a very attractive Desmond Chiam) rally the Flag Smashers to hit another GRC supply depot, this time in Lithuania.
It’s sad listening to Dovich and Karli talk as we find out that Karli was not someone who chose this path. Although Dovich worked as mob security in Madripoor, Karli wanted to be a teacher. “Never thought I’d end up there,” she considers. “But then when everybody returned, and we got put out on the street, I knew that it was the only place that had something that I could use to protect us.”
Forced into the situation, she took the serum. At this point, she knows that Nagel has been killed and they have the last of the serum. She says that the Power Broker will have to come begging for what’s left of the serum, but it also doesn’t seem like the Power Broker is someone who begs. Plus, given Zemo’s zealous nature and his hatred for Super-Soldiers, I don’t see this playing out well for Karli or her Flag Smashers.
Later that night, the group hits the supply depot. But this time, they don’t just take the supplies and leave. Having hit her turning point with Madani’s death, Karli rigs the building to blow after they empty it out, killing the guards inside. Dovich is shocked, but Karli only replies, “This is the only language these people understand.” Well… yikes.
I’m gonna take it from him myself
Back on the jet, Sam calls Torres to lean about Donya Madani and finds out that she’s dead. He wonders how many people have been steamrolled for the shield, which is a fair question. Another one would be, is this what Steve would have wanted? All of this conflict and bloodshed for his shield?
Buck argues that the shield saved a bunch of lives, but did it? Or was it the man holding the shield?
It seems like we’re moving toward a destruction of the shield by the end of the season? Especially with Sam saying that he made a mistake and should have destroyed it. For Bucky, the shield means a lot more. It represents a lot to him and to the rest of the world. He’s not wrong about that. But Sam isn’t wrong either. Regardless, Bucky says, “The world is upside down, and we need a new Cap, and it ain’t gonna be Walker. So before you destroy it, I’m gonna take it from him myself.”
Torres points the group toward Latvia and unsurprisingly Zemo has property there.
It’s interesting how unsubtle Zemo is. He kills Nagel, he says he’s looking forward to meeting Karli, he remarks that the people don’t need any more Super-Soldiers. And as they arrive in Riga, he updates us on what has happened to his unfortunate home country of Sokovia. “I heard what became of Sokovia. Cannibalized by its neighbors before the land was cleared of rubble, erased from the map. I don’t suppose any of you bothered visiting the memorial? Of course not. Why would you?” On one hand, neither Bucky nor Sam were involved in the business at Sokovia, on the other hand, Zemo’s bitterness is understandable. He went from royalty to renegade, all because of the Avengers.
But, not everyone is content to work with Zemo. Arriving at Zemo’s place in Riga, Bucky suddenly decides to go on a walk and leave Sam and Zemo behind. We watch as he follows a trail of Wakandan spheres, and eventually he comes face to face with Ayo (Florence Kasumba) of the Dora Milaje. She’s here for Zemo.
Wow, honestly I wasn’t expecting them to bring in the Wakanda element of this all. After the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman last year and with Letitia Wright‘s recent anti-vax controversies, I thought it was unlikely that we’d see anyone from Wakanda brought into this. But this is the MCU and never say never. Will we see Okoye or Nakia in the upcoming episode? Will Zemo kill more Flag Smashers? Will we meet the Power Broker face to face? Will Zemo learn how to dance in a not embarrassing way? Only time will tell!
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