The title characters finally come together and their banter and constant bickering is well worth the price of admission alone -- but we'll take another incredible fight sequence and more super-soldiers than you can throw a shield at.
These MCU television series are allowing writers to dig deep into the Marvel Comics archives, bringing out incredible stories and characters, like the introduction of Isaiah Bradley, the first (and unknown) Black Captain America.
While we didn't get much of his backstory in the latest episode of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," we got enough to suggest it's just as tragic and horrific as it was when he was first introduced in 2003.
Based on that story, Isaiah was one of 300 Black soldiers experimented on in an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier formula that originally created Steve Rogers. This was during the time that Steve was on ice.
But with James in and out of cold storage himself through the decades, he and Isaiah actually ran into one another during the Korean War in 1951. Isaiah later revealed that as the only survivor of that experiment, he was later imprisoned for 30 years where more tests were ran on him.
It's a story of incredible racial injustice, so his anger is completely earned. By the same token, so is Sam's when he lashed out at James for not telling him or anyone about the existence of what would have been the first Black superhero. James felt Isaiah had suffered enough.
In a poignant and powerful moment, their fight on the streets of Baltimore just outside of Isaiah's house was punctuated by a racist encounter with law enforcement. Not only did they pull over to confront the two men, but they asked for Sam's ID and even asked James if Sam was bothering him before finding out they were Avengers and backing down. Only to then realize there was a warrant out for James due to a parole violation.
The scene opened up with another jab at racial stereotypes when one of the neighborhood kids called Sam "Black Falcon." When Sam corrected him that his name was just The Falcon, the kid insisted his dad told him he was Black Falcon.
Sam then pushed back, asking him if that's because he was Black and his name was the Falcon. The kid had to admit it was. "So are you, like, Black Kid?" Sam asked the kid. It's a play on a common trope among Black comic book superheroes (Black Lightning, Black Panther, Black Goliath, Black Vulcan, etc.) to have that word in their name.
The use of racism in these different forms in three subsequent, connected scenes created a very powerful portrait of just how pervasive it was and still is in ways both subtle and overt.
As if they don't have enough problems right now, by the end of the episode it became pretty clear that Sam and James are going to make it their mission to free John Walker from the Captain America shield.
While Walker showed up to help them in this week's big fight sequence -- an incredibly shot and filmed skirmish atop two moving tractor-trailers -- it did little to endear him to either Sam or James. They both have their reasons that his very existence leads to outrage.
At the same time, should they ever stop bickering with one another, they could actually credit Walker with bringing them together as our new favorite odd couple superhero pairing. They were always connected through Steve Rogers, but now that connection keeps them together despite kind of sort of despising one another.
We suspect it's actually more them projecting their own feelings of inadequacy in Steve's shadow, lashing out at one another rather than facing them down in a more emotionally mature and healthy way.
But their unhealthiness is creating some of the best zingers of any Marvel project. And with more time to slow down and really dig into this relationship, it's become richer and more believable than any since ... well, Wanda and the Vision (thanks "WandaVision!").
Obviously, this whole show is about who's worthy to carry the shield and the legacy of Captain America. Steve Rogers is not coming back (Chris Evans and the head honchos at Marvel are trying to make this as clear as possible), but Captain America must carry on.
Walker is right in seeing Captain America as a symbol, but it's not one that he's carrying all that comfortably. The writers did an effective job of opening up this week by humanizing him a bit, as a heroic soldier who's a bit hesitant about the PR side of carrying that shield.
But Steve was always more than an incredible soldier, he was a diplomat and a living symbol of all that can be good and great about America. That means the interviews, the inspirational speeches, the leadership ... that's all part of it.
During that battle, we saw that Walker is definitely an impressive fighter (without any Super Soldier serum running in his veins), but he also uses a gun. Would he kill? And as far as being a diplomat, he made an effort at outreach with Sam and James, but when he was stonewalled, he resorted to, "Stay the hell out of my way."
That doesn't sound like the kind of man Steve was. And comic fans know there are far more ways in which Walker falls short of Steve's ideal. That's why James is so frustrated at Sam about Walker carrying the shield, because Sam gave it up after Steve entrusted it to him.
But it was a meaningful moment in therapy when James said to Sam that if Steve was wrong about Sam then maybe he was wrong about James, too. As he's dealing with the guilt of his decades as the Winter Soldier, Steve's belief that he is still the good man he knew all those years ago was part of what made James think he could maybe some day forgive himself.
Maybe Steve wasn't the judge of character James believed him to be, or even perhaps needed him to be. It's a strong statement on just how damaged James still is, wracked with guilt and a sense that not only does he not belong in this world, but he maybe doesn't deserve it.
By having all of the Flag Smasher characters we met and battled this week turn out to also be Super Soldiers -- or at least that's how it looks right now -- "TFATWS" does a great job of tying its narrative threads together under this banner.
So far, everything that's been happening is serving the story of the shield and Steve Rogers' legacy. Isaiah is a piece of that, as are Sam and James, the upcoming Zemo and Agent 13 and now, the Flag Smashers.
Everyone from their diminutive leader Karli Morgenthau to the hulking brute who slammed Torres into the ground last week seems to be a match for James and Isaiah strength for strength. So how did they replicate the Super Soldier formula, or is their strength coming from another source?
Outside of the shield connection, though, is another powerful parallel to some of the issues we face in our world right now. Even beyond Black Lives Matter, America is facing a push to Stop Asian Hate and a continuing aggression toward immigrants, illegal or otherwise.
Creating parallels to the real world is a staple that's been built into Marvel Comics almost since the beginning, with the most famous example being the hatred directed at mutantkind being a thinly veiled allusion to the same racism we're talking about.
With the Flag Smashers we get an even deeper understanding of this Marvel Universe we find ourselves in, one wholly unique even when compared to its comic book counterpart. Here is a world that for five years was missing half of its population.
It's now been suggested that things were much more unified during that time, with nations and disparate people perhaps coming together over their shared global loss. Since the return, though, things are returning to the way they were before as old leadership reestablishes control.
It's a testament to this unity that the members we see of the Flag Smashers seem to represent a wide array of races and nationalities. And yet, their apparent mission is as radical and horrific as any that seeks to destroy one group for the benefit of another.
It's as if they are the radical antithesis of all the divisions that tear communities and people apart. While we don't yet know exactly how they plan to achieve their vision of "one world, one people" without killing a few billion souls, it's still about dismissing the rights of at least some segment of people to just live to fulfill their own vision of a "pure" world.
Perhaps they've found a way to target returnees, so they've still managed to find an "other" group to oppress and look down upon. The world was better when you weren't a part of it, so therefore you're not worthy to exist in it now.
There are certainly dark implications, with a suggestion that there's no turning back after "tomorrow." We're not sure how big of stakes the MCU is willing to make on a Disney+ series, but that certainly seems like a pretty sinister statement.
One thing that's coming out of this is we kind of really want to see a series or a movie set during that period when half the people on the planet were gone, so we can really get an understanding of what life was like then, to maybe better understand the twisted motives of a group like the Flag Smashers
The therapy session with Sam and James sitting, legs intertwined, and staring at one another may have been spoiled with all the teasers we got, but it was still just a beautifully silly moment.
Sam went a little heavy on the exposition (also a nod to older comic books), which was both awkward and necessary as MCU continuity is more complex than ever -- it goes a long way to make this show more accessible to potential newcomers.
We want more of Isaiah's story. And don't think we didn't notice his grandson Eli, who goes on to become Patriot and a Young Avenger in the comics. Maybe there are plans. If not, maybe there should be!
It's all about the Big Three (not "This Is Us"): Androids, Aliens and Wizards. Did you know that sorcerers, like Dr. Strange, are just wizards without hats?
Bucky might be celebrating, but we'd like to take a moment to mourn the loss of Redwing, smashed to bits by Karli Morgenthau. He will be missed ... until a new one is made. At least Walker can't track them through it now.
New episodes of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" are available to stream every Friday on Disney+.