I’m back on my intermittent review of the Disney+payallandeanfoster superhero series. Just like my coverage of it, this series is very inconsistent. Having said that, I liked this episode even though (no, maybe strike that and say ‘because’) it just went with some basic superhero beats and slowed down.
I’ve been very negative about the series, mainly because it keeps thinking about being something better and fumbling around. I’ve said many times about books, films, and other creative efforts, that I’m really forgiving of heroic failures — stories that try to do something and end up being not that good because they attempted to do something difficult. A lot of the time TF&TWS, sort of does the opposite. For example, we’ve had multiple superhero shows looking at historical US racism but this show keeps touching on it and shying away. This episode made much more of an effort, returning to Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten and horribly mistreated super-soldier who was treated as an experimental subject by the US government.
Yeah but…Bradley’s point about how no Black person should be willing to fight under the Stars & Stripes is stated but not examined. Sam is on the path to be the wielder of Cap’s mighty shield regardless and I get that (and yes, I want him to be the new Captain America) but the whole thing with Isaiah feels unresolved.
The superhero training montage is a cliche but fun and cute and exciting and what the heck, cliches can be fun and I liked it. Sam is very likeable and one thing this episode and the previous one has done well is to make it very believable that Sam is somebody who helps and counsels people (specifically military people coping with their experiences).
This episode sort of forgets the whole Karli-is-threatening-Sam’s-family thing but I’ll forgive that minor inconsistency. Putting Sam in the context of somebody with both a family and a community support network was great. Again, story wise the show is still wandering about a lot but fleshing out Sam as a character was done well here.
So is the show actually trying to do anything ambitious and failing? Maybe sort of and the odd closure aspect of this episode (were the previous four episodes come to a sort of end in this fifth one) points at what maybe the show’s intended ambiguity.
Who is the bad guy?
Not ‘who is a bad person’ but who is antagonist to Sam (and Bucky) as he heroes?
We have a few to choose from:
- Baron Zemo: who got taken off the board by the Wakandans this episode. He’s Baron Zemo though and the show has spent a lot of effort turning the movie version into somebody closer to the comic book version.
- The Power Broker: who is just a name currently but has that big behind-everything vibe.
- Sharon Carter: maybe…at least we don’t know what she’s up to. I’m fairly sure this is a red-herring though. By default, she’s The Power Broker because this is the penultimate episode and we’ve run out of characters?
- Karli Morgenthau: whose characterisation has been all over the place. This looks more intentional in this episode as the plot aligns her with a definite baddy and then shows us that the GRC is planning a ‘send them home’ plan for immigrants that is straight-up far-right/neo-nazi in character. It’s a “she’s gone too far!” v “oh, she’s got a point” moment.
- The GRC: “let’s deport the foreigners” hmmm [not an actual quote]. I don’t trust this show enough for me to be 100% sure that they get that this makes the GRC absolutely the baddies, so I’m prepared to be disappointed.
- Elaine from Seinfeld: I’m being very unfair to Julia Louis-Dreyfus who was disturbingly good as the mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. It was a brilliant cameo, to the extent that she was sort of unrecognisable not because she looked different but because the character was so different from her more famous roles in Seinfeld and VEEP.
- John Walker: the poor guy is well into the spiral of villainy now, with his own after-credits scene as he makes his own shield.
The second two Captain America films pitched the character against unclear foes. In The Winter Soldier, it was both Bucky and the secret Hydra-element of SHIELD and in Civil War it was Tony Stark, Thaddeus Ross and Zemo. The films try to put Cap through an arc of him facing an ambiguous fight that moves towards revelations of moral clarity. It’s axiomatic that Cap has an almost infallible moral compass but messy reality and malice clouds the situation.
This series is attempting to do the same. That makes sense if we think of Captain America’s superpower being integrity. To that end, it is sort of getting there. We are learning about Sam Wilson as a person who has a lot of wisdom and moral insight. For drama, you place a superhero against villains and forces that place their superpowers at a disadvantage, either by matching the heroes power or by subverting it (or both, in the case of Superman versus Doomsday). Placing Cap in situations where he is being lied to about what the true circumstances are and where duty conflicts with morality makes for drama.
The problem is that for this to work, the writers also need an infallible moral compass. So we end up with messy nonsense e.g. the Sokovia Accords being fairly sensible or the GRC’s plans being so obviously bad that there really shouldn’t be much of a moral dilemma for Sam. Unlike laser vision or super-strength, moral integrity isn’t a super-power that can be simulated with CGI.
Anyway…I haven’t been bored by this series. It has had entertaining bits. When they let the Sam/Bucky partnership role along, it is entertaining. That was another nice bit of this slower episode.