A couple things real quick. First, given how much this episode’s opening resolve of the cliffhanger feels like the actual dramatic beat—and is a brutal (in a good way) fight scene—it really seems like the best version of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is a two and a half hour movie and not a six hour limited series. Especially given how badly the Erin Kellyman arc goes this episode. There was no reason to spend so much time on it just for her to do a Batman & Robin villain team-up arc. Though I suppose there’s a potential twist with one of her allies (for next time, because after the opening action, there’s no more action this episode).
Second, Wyatt Russell is a rather bad actor. Admittedly, if he were any better the show might all of a sudden be making a lot of statements about what it means to be a United States soldier out in the world, but, wow, he’s bad here. He seems to have learned tough guy acting from watching his dad in Tango & Cash.
On to the actual episode, which has Anthony Mackie going to Carl Lumbly’s house to have a heart-to-heart about what it means to be a Black Captain America. It’s an all right scene, mostly because Lumbly’s great and Mackie works well with him, but there’s no actual character development to the sequence. It’s just to give Mackie a reason to go back to the U.S. (also because the MCU has “Star Trek” teleporter technology to get the cast around the globe—most of the present action, if they weren’t cheating, would be people on airplanes).
After Mackie sees Lumbly, he goes back to sister Adepero Oduye’s to resolve that story arc from the first episode. It’s very much “fix the house to fix the relationship” stuff, albeit very amusing once Sebastian Stan shows up to help. Oduye gets to do a bit of emotional labor for Mackie and she’s good, but she never gets to have much fun in the series. Outside grinning at Stan, who turns on the charm to flirt with his new best friend’s sister.
There’s a way too fast resolution to Daniel Brühl’s arc, but he’s just going back into the guest star drawer until the MCU needs him again and he didn’t really have any character development so it’s not too much of a loss. He does manage more subtext in a single take than pretty much anyone else this episode but still… outside Russell, it’s because no one else gets quite the material.
Though Mackie and Stan do get to have a heart-to-heart, which isn’t anywhere near as well-written as it ought to be—credited writer Dalan Musson seems to know what scenes he needs, just not how to write them—before Stan goes off so Mackie can have a Rocky training montage (sadly, even though the episode’s got Henry Jackman’s best music in the series to date, the episode whiffs on a perfect Gonna Fly Now sequence).
Even with the lackadaisical pacing and repetitive exposition dumps, it’s maybe the best episode. Best or second best. Presumably they’ll be able to wrap everything up next time with a big fight in New York City.
Of course, if Michael K. Williams comes back as his Incredible Hulk character it’ll be the best show ever. Kidding. But one can hope.
There is a big fun cameo from Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a shadow villain, presumably setting up future appearances. Though Louis-Dreyfus then does take part in the show’s continued shitting on Gabrielle Byndloss (as Russell’s wife), who’s only there to remind us even though Russell certainly seems to be a white supremacist, he does have a Black best friend and a multicultural wife so he couldn’t possibly be… could he?
Anyway. It’s not impossible next episode will be good, though it’s very unlikely it’ll be good enough to make the first half of the series worth it. Mackie, Stan, and Kellyman deserve better from the franchise, while the audience deserves an apology for the Russell casting.