Falcon & Winter Soldier Episode 4 Asks 5 Big Questions About MCU Super Soldiers
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 continues to explore the MCU's super-soldier dilemma, posing some big questions along the way.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4, “The Whole World Is Watching,” continues to explore the ramifications of super-soldiers in the MCU. Episode 3 ended with Sam, Bucky and Baron Zemo hot on the trail of Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers, while also revealing that Ayo and Wakanda’s Dora Milaje are hunting Zemo to avenge King T’Chaka’s death. Episode 4 dives even deeper into the ethics of super-soldiers, asking some big questions along the way.
In episode 4, Sam and Bucky clash again with John Walker’s new Captain America on how to deal with Karli. Sam attempts to reason with her, but the brief peace he offers is shattered by Walker’s short temper. Zemo destroys all but one dose of the super-soldier serum, then escapes after the Dora Milaje try to take him by force. Karli then sets up a new meeting with Bucky and Sam, which is once again crashed by Captain America and Battlestar. Walker takes the final serum dose himself when Lamar is captured, and in the ensuing battle, Karli appears to accidentally kill Battlestar when she throws him into a stone column. This results in a brutal fit of rage from the new Captain America, wherein he beats one of the Flag-Smashers to death with his shield while a crowd of onlookers film the whole thing.
Should people have superpowers? And what are the risks when they do? These are the core questions running through The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4. “The Whole World Is Watching” also poses some more specific questions about the number of super-soldiers in the MCU, their nature, and their future role in the story.
In Falcon & the Winter Soldier episode 3, Dr. Nagel says he made twenty doses of his super-soldier serum, all of which were stolen by Karli, and eight of which were then administered to the Flag-Smashers. Zemo then destroyed all the remaining doses except for one, which was later taken by John Walker. So far, two of the Flag-Smashers who took the serum have died on screen. That leaves a maximum of six super-soldiers in Karli’s group, plus Bucky, Walker, and Isaiah Bradley, totaling nine known super-soldiers still active by the end of episode 4, assuming Steve Rogers isn’t coming back.
But is that really all? In the comics, Isaiah is the only survivor of the brutal experiments conducted by the U.S. government after Captain America was born. However, that could be changed in the MCU. It’s possible that other old super-soldiers of his generation exist elsewhere in the world, and it’s also possible that the Winter Soldier program wasn’t actually fully dismantled. Zemo has made it his mission to remove all super-soldiers from the planet, and the only way he’ll stop is by force. It should be interesting to see if his search leads him to any new characters along the way.
In the original Captain America film, Abraham Erskine says that his serum magnifies everything within the subject, both physically and characteristically. This is the reason why a selfless, caring person like Steve Rogers becomes a courageous hero after taking the serum, but a cruel person like Johann Schmidt becomes even more evil. However, that explanation might no longer be so accurate in the modern MCU.
Bucky Barnes, for instance, didn’t seem to have any notable personality shift after being made into the Winter Soldier by HYDRA. His physical attributes were significantly enhanced, but his persona stayed basically the same, without moving in any extreme direction. His heightened aggression was due to the mind control, not the serum itself. That begs the question, does Dr. Nagel’s serum amplify personality the way Erskine’s did? It’s all based on the same research, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same serum.
After John Walker takes the last dose, he exhibits some particularly aggressive and violent behavior, but it’s unclear if that’s due to his physiological changes, the apparent death of Lamar, or both. The new Cap certainly shows an aggressively short temper before gaining super-strength, but it’s uncertain if that quality was amplified. The Flag-Smashers all appear to be relatively normal, however, which suggests this latest version of the serum doesn’t actually have any effect on the user’s personality.
Walker’s dose of Nagel’s serum is supposedly the last super-soldier vial on Earth. That doesn’t mean more couldn’t be made, however. Nagel says that his serum was created using the blood of Isaiah Bradley, which suggests blood from another super-soldier, like Bucky or Walker, could also be used to synthesize a new serum. Zemo kills Nagel, but his research remains, and a lot of that research was conducted directly for the U.S. government. That means that though there aren’t any more doses currently, more could certainly be made.
Baron Zemo is a simple man. All he wants is to destroy every superpowered human in the world. Inevitably, that mission would eventually lead him to try to kill Bucky as well, something Sam alluded to directly in episode 4 when he asked Zemo "What about Bucky?" when Zemo reiterated that all super-soldiers needed to go. Since Zemo escapes in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4, he could cause all kind of trouble going forward. Karli, the Flag-Smashers, and John Walker are all probably at the top of his list, but he’ll presumably work his way down to Bucky if given enough time. Is it possible that spending more time around Bucky has convinced Zemo of the Winter Soldier’s good intentions? Yes, but it still seems unlikely.
Since the original Steve Rogers experiment, the MCU doesn’t have a great track record with super-soldiers. Bucky was used as a weapon of evil, John Walker commits a war crime just moments after popping his vial, and while Karli Morgenthau’s heart is in the right place, a lot of harm has been done over the Power Broker’s serum. So why do the MCU’s super-soldiers go wrong so often when other kinds of superheroes like Spider-Man and Iron-Man don’t?
Part of the answer might be in how the serum grants abilities. Most other kinds of heroes in the MCU either worked incredibly hard to acquire their abilities, like Iron-Man, received them through emotionally traumatic circumstances, like Hulk, or got them unintentionally through accidents, like Spider-Man. There are obviously exceptions to that rule, but its true that in most cases, a Marvel character acquiring superpowers is more complicated than simply taking a pill. Zemo believes that the ease with which super-soldiers acquire immense power is part of what makes them so dangerous, more, it's that so many of them want that power in the first place. The longer The Falcon and the Winter Soldier goes, the more it looks like he’s right.
Next: Who Is The Power Broker? Falcon & Winter Soldier’s Secret Villain