Baron Helmut Zemo does the Weekend Whip. He also killed King T’Chaka. Such is the tension at the heart of Falcon and the Winter Soldier right now: the internet’s new favorite character is also a murderer.
In Episode 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) go on a veritable road trip with Zemo, the Captain America: Civil War villain played to bone-chilling perfection by Daniel Brühl. Except here, there’s nothing bone-chilling about Zemo, other than the way in which he chills.
In Falcon and Winter Soldier, Zemo is a man of good taste, one who knows the value of friendship. He’s the kind of guy who offers former foes Sam and Bucky fine dining on a private jet, with sparkling beverages to wash it all down. He wears his comic book alter-ego’s iconic purple mask, but he wields it to help his new besties out of a jam. He shoots a scientist in the head, sure, but the scientist was a bad dude who had it coming.
Most importantly: Zemo. Can. Dance!
From the moment Zemo started cutting a rug in the middle of a Madripoor nightclub, “Dancing Zemo” was destined to become the stuff of internet legends. Several parody videos have emerged. So has a Twitter account solely devoted to Zemo dancing to different songs. There’s even a hashtag #ReleaseTheZemoCut based on the news that there’s even more unseen dancing Zemo footage. Will Disney+ go the HBO Max route and give the fans what they want? Maybe, maybe not, but they definitely have the option.
“It was a long dance,” Brühl tells EW. “There’s more to it, but they cut this little moment [for the show].”
Without question, cutting the scene down was for the best. For one thing, Episode 3 is already stuffed. For another, showing just a couple seconds of Zemo dancing makes it such a “moment,” the exact right amount of time to spend on the Baron’s EDM energy. And given the collective cultural reaction, one shudders to think what might have happened if we had a full-blown Emo Zemo dance number, Spider-Man 3 style.
Here’s the bigger problem: Zemo is going to wind up on the wrong side of Sam and Bucky before long. It may happen as soon as Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4, what with Wakanda’s very own Ayo returning to the mix, presumably to seek justice for the nation’s fallen king. But how can we take Zemo as a threat seriously when we’re so busy watching him get his groove on? What’s more, are we going to struggle rooting against Zemo, despite all that he’s done, because we like him just a little too much — certainly, much more than we should?
As happened with Sharon Carter, Falcon and Winter Soldier has Ragnaroked Zemo. (Translation: Zemo’s previous appearance in the MCU has been sidelined in favor of his new persona as a lovable antihero.) It’s a tough act to buy when this is also the guy who split the Avengers in half, thereby leaving all of Earth unprepared for Thanos’ arrival. In a very real way, Zemo owns significant responsibility for “The Snap.”
But hey, look! Zemo’s doing the YMCA! It all evens out, right?
Dancing Zemo becoming a cultural phenomenon was, like Thanos, inevitable. Just look at how the internet has meme-ified so many Marvel characters over the years, a trend that’s only amped up thanks to the MCU’s foray into the streaming realm giving us easy and instant access to high-level GIFing. What’s at the root of the obsession with turning folks like Jimmy Woo or Darcy Lewis or — in this show’s case — Baron Zemo into internet darlings? Is it as simple as “the world outside our window,” as Marvel often puts it, being so chaotic that we need to create our own chaos out of the MCU? In that sense, then, sure, Dancing Zemo’s great for internet culture. He’s providing a laugh that we definitely need, and for his part, Marvel’s Kevin Feige is clever enough to know what he’s serving up.
It works for laughs, sure, and that’s no small thing. But in the context of the Falcon and Winter Soldier story and the MCU at large, though? It’s hard to accept the idea of Zemo just yukking it up with the classic Captain America’s two best friends, rather than reaping the consequences of his vengeful actions. It lessens the tension and breaks the reality of the MCU. He may not be the Power Broker, but there is no question that Zemo is a villain — but it’s hard to think of him as one when Marvel just wants to let him dance.
There’s no doubt about it: Zemo will return to villainous status by the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier. But for now, he’s Meme Lord Zemo, “long may he reign.” Zemo has become an internet darling so powerful that it may be too late to stop him. At least he hasn’t done the Macarena yet. Once that happens? There’s no turning back.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney+.