As any story develops, it has to find the balance between character development and story development, with one inevitably overshadowing the other at certain points. Not only does the third episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier make a hard pivot into plot development, but it almost switches the tone of the show entirely from a methodical character study to a globe trotting MCU adventure. The result is an essential set up for the final stretch of the show, but a bit sloppier than the incredibly high standard set in the first two episodes.
Episode three of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follows Sam and Bucky’s adventures overseas as they investigate the mysterious return of the super soldier serum. Along the way they meet old friends Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and Sharon Carter AKA Agent 13 (Emily Van Camp) and discover the secrets of the criminal haven city of Madripoor, a famous location from Marvel’s X-Men comics.
As mentioned before, this episode pivots from the deep character exploration tone of the first two episodes in exchange for swiftly setting up the plot for the rest of the show. It sets up the metaphorical chess board rather quickly, which all happens faster than is optimal. If it weren’t for the top notch writing, directing, and character moments sprinkled throughout, this episode would have just been a sloppy set up for a promising future.
Brühl’s return as Zemo was very well done, but incredibly rushed. His prison breakout and interesting mythology expansion were obviously abbreviated to preserve screen time, but even though it was done as well as it could have for the allotted time, it was a disservice to the character and to the show overall to rush through those essential character moments. Even though this was the longest episode Marvel Studios has ever released on Disney+ to date, it still could have used an extra 10-15 minutes of screen time to develop Zemo’s setup a bit more instead of throwing him straight into the action. It seems that Marvel underestimated the intense interest in Zemo as a character, which for casual fans may be a well founded assumption, but for hardcore fans like myself, it would have been nice to spend more time exploring the intimate details of Zemo’s life and motivations.
The episode overall could have used an extra 10 minutes of screen time to flesh out and let certain scenes breathe, which would have allowed the numerous plot details to settle in a bit more comfortably. Still, even though it was a bit rushed, the plot elements and suprises introduced in this episode point to an incredible future for the show and its massive scope in the MCU.
Beyond its rushed pace, episode three writer Derek Kolstad did a fantastic job fitting a lot of different elements into a relatively small time frame. His experience on the John Wick franchise shines bright here with clear inspirations and homages to the now iconic action franchise. The strong notes of John Wick are layered throughout the episode in its visuals, action, and tone, and it is a perfect choice for a globe trotting adventure in the criminal underground of the MCU. Kolstad also writes next week’s episode, so expect this style to continue for at least one more episode.
Finally, the big reveal at the end of the episode is perhaps the most exciting direction the show could have gone in. The inclusion of Ayo, Florence Kasumba’s now iconic member of Wakanda’s Dora Milage, is a surprising and exciting inclusion for the final stretch of the show. Wakanda’s inclusion fits perfectly into the theme of abandonment that the show previously set up, and it officially puts Wakanda on the map as a major player on the world stage.
This episode is a mixed bag of quality with a rushed but potent plot that sets up the final stretch of the show. Hopefully, the sacrifices made for this episode will be worth it for the incredible payoffs that it rushed to set up.
Filmnetic Grade: A-