Okay, did I have some incredibly wild theories about who we would see in this episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier? Yes. I definitely did. But despite being inevitably disappointed by that, “Truth” has been my favorite episode of this series so far. It had some of the most moving and emotionally fulfilling scenes of the series. We got some tough love, we got the return of both Isaiah Bradley and Sarah Wilson, and we got the big cameo that hints at some crazy things for the future of the MCU.
Fair warning, there are going to be a lot of quotes coming up. Yes, I love quoting the shows I watch. And the main two scenes of the episode, Sam’s scenes with Isaiah and Sam’s scenes with Bucky, are basically going to be transcribed for you because that’s how hard “Truth” hit me.
This Isn’t You, John
So, the episode opens where we left off. John Walker is on the run from what happened in the plaza in last week’s episode. He ends up in a warehouse that is strongly reminiscent of the same warehouse that Bucky was in when Sam and Steve caught up with him in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I have a lot of thoughts about how I think that John Walker is basically a perverse embodiment of both Captain America and even Tony Stark, but we’ll get to that at the end of this.
Sam tries to talk Walker down from his frenzy, but when he asks for the shield, Walker turns on them. The three of them fight and somehow both Bucky and Sam aren’t a match with Walker on his own. Is this just a case of bad MCU power rankings, or are we saying that John Walker’s serum is super-powered better than the serum used for the Winter Soldier? Honestly, the power levels of Super Soldiers fluctuate so often, I’m inclined to say this was all a case of botched power rankings.
At some point, Walker even knocks Bucky out and nearly chops Sam’s head off with the shield right after he tears his Falcon wings off of his back while yelling, “I am Captain America!” in a serum-roid rage. This really is the craziest version of John Walker, but I actually applaud Wyatt Russell for still managing to walk the line in this episode with some of his scenes. I have no love for John Walker, but Russell is doing good work.
After Sam and Bucky wrench the shield out of Walker’s hand, breaking his arm in the process, Bucky walks out, leaving Sam to pick up the shield and slowly wipe the blood off. The shield imagery has never been stronger than it has in “Truth”. Every pivotal scene involves the shield, the other stories, even the main conflict of the season plays second fiddle to the story behind the shield.
I Would Have Killed The Bastard Too
With the GRC cracking down on the resettlement camps and Karli in the wind, Torres arrives in Latvia to meet up with Sam. Bucky leaves to find Zemo as Torres tells Sam that the higher-ups are taking jurisdiction of the Flag-Smashers situation. Sam and Bucky are benched. With the Falcon exosuit destroyed, Sam leaves his wings with Torres and takes the shield with him to Baltimore. Torres as Falcon! (Our predictions are really unfolding nicely.) Torres tells Sam to lay low while he tries to track down Karli, telling him, “Sometimes, there’s nothing to do until there’s something to do.”
In a way, that’s kind of the theme of the episode. Big emotional beats, but effectively it’s building to the big action of the finale. And I am totally fine with that, I get action-scene fatigue very easily.
John F. Walker (I’ll leave you to decide what the F stands for, I have something in mind) arrives at his not-court-martial hearing where he is told that he will be stripped of his title of Captain America, along with whatever other titles he has, he has been Other Than Honorable discharged retroactive from the beginning of the month, effectively putting his actions in Latvia as rogue behavior instead of US Government sanctioned.
After multiple attempts to present testimony for himself, Walker finally has an outburst. “I lived my life by your mandates! I dedicated my life to your mandates! I only ever did what you asked of me, what you told me to be and trained me to do, and I did it. And I did it well,” he adds, “You built me. Senator, I am Captain America.” And, yeah, he’s not wrong. Steve Rogers’ Captain America is a man of fiction in the modern-day. Someone like John Walker, forged in the horrific wars between the US and the Middle East is a far cry from Steve Rogers. The government and America created him, he didn’t just become a trigger-happy Captain America one day.
“They just do not know what it takes to be Captain America, they just don’t,” Walker tells his wife after the hearing.
And when Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows up as the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, she reemphasizes the hypocrisy of it all. “Look,” she says, sitting down next to Walker, “I would have killed the bastard too. Nobody in there is mad at you about that. I mean, you would have been doing them a favor if you’d taken out the whole lot. But these guys in ties, you know, they got a whole thing to protect.” She gestures money with her hand. And, again, she’s right. As much as I would love to paint Walker as the main villain, the villain isn’t just John Walker. He’s a product of a system that is villainous.
Of course, we have to talk about Julia Louis-Dreyfus showing up. The Contessa, or Val as she’s known by her friends who definitely can’t use that nickname, has many titles. In the comics, she was an Agent of SHIELD and even a lover of Nick Fury’s. After her time with SHIELD, she moved on to Hydra where she gained the title of Madame Hydra. Given the fact that the empty credit card that was believed to be the spot saved for the actor who plays the Power Broker is now filled with Louis-Dreyfus’ name, it might be a safe bet to say that she is the Power Broker. And if she’s not, she’s definitely still bad news.
But given the fact that she knows about the serum, telling John he just became a very valuable asset to some people, and the fact that her SHIELD ties may tie her to both Sharon and their nefarious dealings, I think it’s safe to say that Val has been a shadow in this show for a while. She leaves Walker with a blank card, one side white, and one side black, with the promise that they’ll talk again. Well, damn.
Also, the shield doesn’t really belong to the government, even if they’re demanding it back. “It’s kind of a legal grey area,” Val says. We know, it probably should go to the Wakandans, but that will never happen.
In Sokovia, Zemo and Bucky say their final goodbye. Zemo tells Bucky that he’s decided not to kill him, which I guess is some character growth for an extremist. But he doubles down on taking out Karli. “The girl has been radicalized beyond salvation. I warned Sam, but he didn’t listen to me. He’s as stubborn as Steve Rogers before him. But you. They literally programmed you to kill. James, do what needs to be done.” Except Bucky surprises Zemo again.
When Bucky points a gun at Zemo, the Baron seems sure that these are his last moments. But, when Bucky pulls the trigger, nothing happens. Bucky lets the bullets in his hand drop to the ground. He is not just a man programmed to kill. Even if he can never fully separate from the Winter Soldier, he is more than just that programming.
Instead, the Wakandans show up and the Dora Milaje are ready to take Zemo with them to The Raft (not the most secure choice, but okay). Before he goes with them, Zemo tells Bucky, “I took the liberty of crossing off my name in your book. I hold no grudges for what you thought you had to do. Goodbye, James.” It’s a strong ending for these two characters, and a good precursor to Bucky’s chat with Sam later on in the episode.
Before Ayo leaves, she warns Bucky to put some distance between himself and Wakanda. Even though he’s handed Zemo off to them, that doesn’t mean that he’s forgiven for breaking him out of jail. Bucky agrees, but he also asks Ayo for a favor…
Red, White, and Black
In Baltimore, Sam comes to see Isaiah with the shield in hand. We get another glimpse of Eli Bradley before Sam goes to face Isaiah, himself. First of all, Carl Lumbly absolutely killed it as Isaiah. They could not have cast another actor with so much passion and gravitas in his performance. This was easily my favorite scene of the episode. And although we didn’t get a flashback to Isaiah fighting, we did finally get more about his story.
But first, Sam brings back the shield, and Isaiah rejects it. When Sam says he doesn’t understand, Isaiah lays it out plain for him.
Isaiah: “You understand. Every Black man does. Whether you want to deny it or not.”
Sam: “Don’t do that bitter, old man thing with me.”
Isaiah: “If you ain’t bitter, you’re blind.”
Sam: “I don’t get it, okay. What went wrong?”
Isaiah: “I used to be like you, until I opened my eyes, until I saw men in the Red Tails, the famous 332 fight for this country, only to come home to find crosses burned on their lawn.”
Sam: “I’m from the South, I get that. But you were a Super Soldier like Steve. You could’ve been the next…”
Isaiah: “The next? What? Huh? Blonde hair, blue eyes, stars and stripes? The entire world’s been chasing that great white hope since he first got dosed with that serum.”
And yes, Steve Rogers didn’t put Isaiah in prison. But the American dream of replicating the Super Soldier serum for a second Captain America, and that prejudiced fear that that hero would be a Black man was what put Isaiah in prison. Isaiah explains to Sam that he and the other Black Super Soldiers were tested on without their consent and without their knowledge. “They tell us it’s tetanus. They sent us on missions, even though the others weren’t stable.”
Once again, the series pulls directly from history and also from the comic Truth: Red, White & Black, the comic arc that focused on Isaiah Bradley and the 300 Black soldiers who were experimented on. Isaiah reveals that the government lied to his wife, telling him that he died, and withheld her letters to him. She died without him even knowing.
And then, when his fellow Black soldiers were captured on a mission, the commanders wanted to destroy the POW camps in order to destroy the evidence. They were ready to view the men captured as evidence and not as humans. When Isaiah found out, he broke in and saved them. Despite all his efforts, the soldiers, infected with unstable serum, eventually died (presumably). Leaving only Isaiah left.
What did he get for being brave and saving his friends from a POW camp? Well, first, let’s flashback to Captain America: The First Avenger. Remember when Steve Rogers had Howard Stark fly him behind enemy lines to fight off through a Hydra camp and save Bucky and the other prisoners? Remember when he was hailed as a hero and that footage of Bucky’s return was put into a museum?
Think now about how they treated John Walker, after literally beheading someone in public. A wrist slap, no court-martial for murdering an innocent man, no investigation. He gets to go home with his wife, he gets to enjoy his life. Yeah, sure, he doesn’t have his title anymore, but he’s got 30 more years than Isaiah Bradley. Well… that didn’t happen for Isaiah.
“And what did I get for saving their lives?” Isaiah asks before lifting his shirt to show gruesome scars. “For the next 30 years, they experimented on me, trying to figure out why the serum worked.”
It was only by the pity of a nurse who faked his death that he managed to escape and get the letters from his wife.
Hearing this, Sam is eager to spread the word to the world about Isaiah’s heroism and his struggles. He believes that the world would want to hear it and that his pull as The Falcon will bring more weight, but Isaiah thinks differently. “Man, that’s why you’re here? You think things are different? You think times are different? You think I wouldn’t be dead in a day if you brought me out? You wanna believe jail was my fault because you got that white man’s shield. They were worried my story might get out. So, they erased me. My history. But they’ve been doing that for 500 years. Pledge allegiance to that, my brother. They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.”
Is Isaiah right? It’s hard not to hear him speak and lose all faith in Sam ever taking on the mantle. Everything we’ve seen so far has only given support to the idea that Sam Wilson is the perfect man to take the shield. But what does it represent? Its complicated history leaves it so blood-stained, it’s hard to imagine Sam redeeming and reclaiming it. Because it only takes one look at the country today to know that things aren’t really that different, Isaiah is right. But maybe Sam stepping forward to take the mantle instead of discarding it is a big step in the right direction.
Back home in Louisiana, Sam has called in some favors from friends of his family to come and help them fix up the family boat in hopes of being able to sell it. Bucky arrives with a delivery from Wakanda but decides to stick around to help fix up the boat. Cue the fluffiest portion of this episode. We got shots of Sam and Bucky working on the boat with “Hey Pocky A-Way” by The Meters playing jauntily in the back. We’ve got Bucky meeting Sarah and immediately shooting her a charming smile that has Sam glaring at Buck.
This whole sequence is not only wholesome but look at how far we’ve come. From the snarky and prickliness of the first episode to Bucky and Sam fixing up the Wilson family boat together in “Truth”. Bucky even gets a spot on the couch (provided he doesn’t flirt with Sarah) and wakes up to Sarah’s kids playing with the shield. It’s adorable and my heart is full of hope. These slower moments probably won’t work for everyone, and given the way that they were hyping this episode, it was probably anti-climactic for some, but these moments were golden for me. This is where we get the payoff from all those action episodes before this.
Bucky may see the shield as the only family he has left, but that’s not true. He has Sam, they have one another. We love to see growth, love to see it.
And as Bucky and Sam bounce the shield back and forth against padded trees in Louisiana, they talk about the fate of the shield and Bucky finally apologizes. Also, he had a whole conversation with Steve that we never got to see???? God damn it Anthony and Joe Russo, I can’t forgive you for that. “When Steve told me what he was planning, I don’t think either of us understood what it felt like for a Black man to be handed the shield. How could we? I owe you an apology. I’m sorry.”
So, here’s where I just start transcribing the show, but it’s important!
Bucky: “It’s just, that shield’s the closest thing I’ve got left to a family, so when you retired it, it made me feel like I had nothing left. Made me question everything. You. Steve. Me. You know, I’ve got his book and I just figured if it worked for him, then it’d work for me.”
Sam: “I understand, man. But Steve is gone. And this might be a surprise, but it doesn’t matter what Steve thought. You gotta stop looking to other people to tell you who you are. Let me ask you, you still having those nightmares?”
Bucky: “All the time. It means I remember, it means a part of me is still there, which means a part of the Winter Soldier’s still in me.”
Sam: “You up for a little tough love? You wanna climb out of that hell you’re in? Do the work. Do it.”
Bucky: “I’ve been making amends.”
Sam: “Nah. You weren’t amending, you were avenging. You were stopping all the wrongdoers you enabled as the Winter Soldier because you thought it would bring you closure. You go to these people and say ‘sorry’ because you think it’ll make you feel better, right? But you gotta make them feel better. You gotta go to them and be of service. I’m sure there’s at least one person in that book who needs closure about something and you’re the only person who can give it to them.”
Bucky: “Probably a dozen.”
Sam: “That’s cool, start with one.”
And that’s why Sam is a great Captain America. He understands people. He knows when someone needs tough love and he knows when someone needs to be told the truth. Honestly, so much praise should be given to Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in this scene. It’s truly a strong bookend on this chapter of their friendship. They’ve gone from two guys who had a mutual best friend to friends and confidants. They’re partners. Co-Workers.
In a final conversation with Sarah, the two decide not to sell the boat. But Sarah also tells him not to let Isaiah get into his head and make decisions for him. In many ways, she’s echoing the same words Sam said to Bucky. He has to stop looking to other people to tell him who he is. Sam is a man who still has hope and belief that something is possible. Who can blame Isaiah for being jaded when he has 30 years of proof that the country will reject them?
But Sam also has a point. “What would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?” Cue a workout montage!! Yes, that’s right. We get some amazing scenes of Mackie bouncing the shield around, training, doing literal flips in the air, running laps around the house. We love a training montage.
Forcing the GRC’s Hand
Elsewhere, Karli returns to their resettlement camp and it’s been raided and shut down. Heartbroken and furious, Karli is at the end of her rope. “How many times do we have to pay with our lives just to be citizens of this goddamn planet!” She leans totally into the extreme side of the Flag-Smashers and decides that it’s time to force the GRC’s hand.
In another scene, we see Sharon calling Batroc on the phone. We find out she’s the one who let him out of the Algerian prison and promises to pay him double for something. Okay, so more evidence in the ‘Sharon is probably evil and either is the Power Broker or working for them’ basket.
When Batroc shows up in New York to meet Karli and her Flag-Smashers, he comes bearing weapons. Despite Dovich’s protestations, Karli is convinced that they have no other choice. She wants to stop the GRC vote for the Patch Act, an act that will forcibly move 20 million people back to their country of origin. Batroc also wants revenge on Sam for sabotaging him at the beginning of the season. Honestly, Batroc is really not who I expected to be the villain of the final episode of this show, but I guess it kind of works in a way.
In Louisiana, Sam picks up a call from Torres who links one of the Flag-Smasher signals to New York and Sam puts the pieces together, going to the Wakandan suitcase and opens it. We don’t get to see what’s inside, but it could be a pair of new wings? I desperately want it to be a new shield crafted by the Wakandans, but time will tell if my desperate hopes are correct.
As the credits roll, we see the empty credit cards fill with names, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the card we thought would be for the Power Broker. But! There’s still one empty credit card at the end. Who could that be for?
A New Shield
But, before you go, there’s a bit more! Remember how I was talking about Tony Stark connections with John Walker? Well, this is where we discuss them. In another quieter scene, we see Walker visiting Lemar’s family. He lies to them and tells them he killed the person responsible, but generally, it’s quite a subtle scene. While Walker is definitely crazy from the serum, his bond with Lemar is still there. He is still grounded in some way to his connection with Lemar.
We see him in the post-credits building his own shield, hammering away in imagery that is strongly reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr. in a cave in Iron Man. In many ways, Walker is the dark side to the two proverbial patriarchs of the Avengers. If Steve Rogers and Tony Stark were the best cast scenario, is Walker the worst? The majority of Tony’s life before he became Iron Man was dedicated to war profiteering. It’s very likely that John Walker operated weapons created by Iron Man himself in the wars he fought with Lemar. He is defined by those experiences.
Remember when he said those medals were memories of the worst day of his life? Well, now they’re welded onto his shield. I know, I know, Tony Stark saved half of the god damn universe. I’m not arguing with that. But it’s never sat well with me that he was basically able to escape criticism for the probable war crimes he committed before getting captured by the Ten Rings. Good acts don’t always erase the evils of the past. Just like Sam wielding the shield won’t erase the trauma and torture Isaiah faced, Tony taking on the mantle of Iron Man and changing Stark Industries around doesn’t erase literal decades of horror his family’s weapons had wrought on the world. But, Tony did save half the universe, and Sam Wilson has ever potential to change the world.
Is this a hot take? Let me know. I’m done with the theorizing and I’m excited to see where we will be by the end of the finale. I don’t think we’ll see Julia Louis-Dreyfus again, but if we do, perhaps it will be next to Sharon? I have no idea how they’ll wrap up Karli’s storyline cleanly by the end of another hour, but I’m sure we’re in for some wild action scenes next episode if you have been missing those.