Episode 2: Not quite as good as episode 1. Less elegant structurally and narratively. More plotty, less character focused. Clear effort to move story pieces around, with the writer’s hand evident. Still a good show, with lots of potential going forward.
I’m very surprised by how engaged I am with John Walker, both as a character and as a narrative wild card. The best part of this episode, for me, is how cleanly they threaded the needle of showing (a) why military and government leadership would think this guy is the perfect candidate to take Cap’s shield, and (b) why they’re wrong and he’s actually a terrible fit. It’s sort of a revisiting of the first Cap movie, exploring what would have happened if Colonel Phillips had been allowed to nominate a more typical soldier for the program.
Walker is not a bad guy, and he’s not an idiot. Within the very limited confines of his old role, he did well. He’s a dedicated soldier with good intentions, valuing service and trying to put others before himself. But placing him into this much bigger job exposes clearly how his perspective and his loyalties are narrow and constrained, and how he’s way, way over his head as a more independent operator.
He thinks of himself as a nice guy, and to some extent he sort of is. If he likes you and trusts you, he’s happy to be your friend. But it’s obvious that he’s basically a smiling macho dork with a gigantic ego (“I’ve earned this”), and under the right circumstances he has the capacity to become a raging thermonuclear asshole.
For anyone who doesn’t know the source comics, this is an excellent reflection of how his character is usually handled. He’s not a villain — but he’s frequently an antagonist. He makes dumb choices, gets in the way, and screws things up, because his priorities are wonky. In the end, he is usually, eventually, brought around to the main hero’s point of view, but there’s a lot of thrashing before we get there.
The moment toward the end, where he manages to royally piss off both Barnes and Wilson in the space of about thirty seconds, is a perfect illustration. He’s trying to be friendly, so he uses the nickname Bucky. And he wants to appeal to the familiar, so he calls Falcon “Cap’s wingman.” Both of these are precisely the wrong things to say, because he doesn’t get where they’re coming from. He’s not stupid, in terms of practical intelligence, but his point of view is so blinkered that he becomes a functional moron about relating to people and understanding the job of carrying the shield.
I’m really, really interested to see where they take him from here.
All that said, the episode itself is adequately serviceable, kind of necessarily utilitarian as it clumsily shoves pawns around the chessboard. The story’s a bit choppy, skipping key beats in the need to rush through its outline. (Why do Sam and Bucky need to attack the convoy right at that moment, instead of following the trucks to learn their destination? How and why does Walker show up right in the middle of the scene? Why do Sam and Bucky abandon the chase after they fall into the field of flowers? Stuff like that. It’s easy to headcanon rationalizations for all this stuff, but it becomes irritating when the episode skips over so much of it.)
In general, though, the characters are continuing to carry the show, and I’m feeling pretty positive about this apparent new direction for Marvel storytelling.