Meanwhile, would-be Captain America successor John Walker (Wyatt Russell) is on a new path after being stripped of his title for publicly killing a helpless Flag Smasher. Empowered by the Super Soldier Serum, he's got a mysterious new boss and has forged his own shield.
These events take place six months after Avengers: Endgame. Let's take to the skies and dive into SPOILERS for the series finale.
'Welcome home Agent Carter'
The post-credits scene sees former SHIELD agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) -- who'd been on the run since helping the fugitive Steve Rogers, Sam and Bucky in Captain America: Civil War -- getting a pardon from the US government. On the face of it, that definitely seems like the right call, but we know Sharon has gone to the dark side.
Earlier in the episode, it was confirmed that the ludicrously suspicious Sharon was Power Broker, the mysterious power behind criminal island Madripoor and the one responsible for giving the Flag Smashers their powers.
She killed Flag Smasher boss Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) before Karli could out her, so her cover remains intact, and now her reach is greater than ever.
"Start lining up our buyers. Super Soldiers might be off the menu, but we're about to have full access to government secrets, prototype weapons, you name it," she tells a contact over the phone after being pardoned. "There should be something for everyone."
You made that call right outside a building full of government workers, Sharon. What if someone heard you?
"Things are about to get weird. So when they do, we're not gonna need a Captain America, we're gonna need a...US Agent," says Val.
It's unclear exactly what "weird" means. In the comics, Val worked for SHIELD but was revealed to be a Russian sleeper agent. She also infiltrated Hydra for SHIELD and assumed the identity of Madame Hydra, but her true allegiance was with the Russians (probably).
We don't yet know who MCU Val is working for and what her plan is, but her comics history offers plenty of options. She could be helping to restore Hydra or working for some new clandestine group, and Walker might just be the first of her morally questionable recruits.
Captain America reborn
Two years after it was first teased, one element that wasn't disappointing was Sam's debut as Captain America -- the costume sticks close to the comic book version and is absolutely glorious. Between this and WandaVision, we're seeing a pattern of series finales designed to sell action figures. And I'm 100% here for it.
In his first outing as Cap, Sam does his best to achieve a bloodless victory, arranges a midair helicopter pilot swap over the East River and delivers a stirring speech to the world.
"These labels, terrorist, refugee, thug, they're often used to get around the question 'Why?'" Sam says to the GRC politicians as he implores them to use their power wisely.
Sam returns to Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), one of the country's first Black Super Soldiers and a man who's lived out of the public eye after being wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years. He was kept out of the history books, but Sam has a section about Isaiah added to the Captain America Exhibit in Washington's Smithsonian Air and Space Museum -- the first Black Captain America honoring a forgotten Black hero.
There's a statue of Isaiah looking spiffy in his Army uniform and a plaque detailing his story. The text is a little hard to read, but here are three of the four paragraphs so you don't have to squint at your TV screen:
Isaiah Bradley is an American hero whose name went unknown for too long.
Isaiah was one of a dozen African-American soldiers who were recruited against their will and without their consent for participation in human testing in pursuit of the Super Soldier Serum. Most did not survive. The few who lived through testing were sent on secret missions during the Korean War. During the conflict, against all odds, Isaiah Bradley rescued his fellow soldiers and 28 other POWs from behind enemy lines.
However, fearful of the ramifications of a Black Super Soldier, some individuals within the government tried to erase Isaiah's story from history. His family was issued a false death certificate, and for decades the truth of his unflinching bravery was buried.
Isaiah's grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) joins him and Sam at the exhibit. Eli's comics counterpart is empowered by an infusion of his grandfather's blood and becomes Patriot, a member of the Young Avengers along with Wiccan and Speed. MCU Eli could be inspired by his grandfather's story and follow a similar path.
Winter Soldier redeemed
Bucky starts truly making amends for his dark deeds as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and returns his completed to-do list to his therapist.
He seems a whole lot more chill when he goes to celebrate with Sam's family and friends, and the two seem to be buddies at last.
As the captive Flag Smashers are being transported to Raft, the underwater prison designed to hold superhumans, the truck they're in explodes. It's revealed that Helmut Zemo's butler Oeznik (Nicholas Pryor) is holding the detonator -- like some kinda evil Alfred Pennyworth -- and we see a satisfied Zemo (Daniel Brühl) in his cell.
He did say "Super Soldiers cannot be allowed to exist," so one must applaud his resourcefulness. He'll be dancing for hours.
Observations, WTF questions and Easter eggs
The end title is Captain America and the Winter Soldier -- if this show gets another season, we know what it'll be called. A Captain America movie starring Mackie is reportedly in the works, so it could end up being that adventure's title.
Why didn't Sam call Rhodey for help? He wasn't a fugitive like Sharon and they clearly have a good relationship. It's likely because he would've stolen some of the spotlight from Sam, but he seems like a logical choice for backup and seeing War Machine fly in would be epic. He'll get to do so in upcoming Disney Plus show Armor Wars.
Sharon melts one of the Flag Smashers with her fancy murder gadget, and it looks pretty horrible. What did the person who found that body think?
She also kills mercenary Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) after he tries to blackmail her. I'll miss all his flippin' and slippin' into French, but he shouldn't have gotten greedy with the evil mastermind.
I could watch Sam knock people about by jetting forward with his shield all day -- what a fun move.
"Mercy bears greater fruit than strict justice." President Abraham Lincoln apparently said this to Illinois Rep. Joseph Gillespie in the wake of the American Civil War.
It briefly seems like the captured Flag Smashers are going to be set free after a police officer utters their "One world, one people" catchphrase while closing the van doors. Then it explodes, escape foiled.
It's unclear if Zemo knows Walker is a Super Soldier, but US Agent better watch his back.
The bearded senator appeared in many of the series' most pivotal scenes and never got a name. I dunno why I care about this, but "Government Official" was played by Alphie Hyorth. He was utterly convincing as the gray face of bureaucracy; maybe he should get a Disney Plus show?
This show never clarifies Steve Rogers' fate -- the public seems to have latched onto the notion that he's on the Moon. Presumably Marvel Studios is leaving the door open for his return.
The Captain America lads' adventure is over for the moment, but Disney has plenty more Marvel coming in 2021. Loki kicks off on Disney Plus on June 11 -- we'll have recaps for that series too -- while long-delayed movie Black Widow hits theaters and Disney Plus Premiere Access on July 9.
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