“Everybody in the world expects me to be something.”

On Your Left

'Falcon and Winter Soldier' Episode 2 ending and Isaiah Bradley, explained

The Marvel Cinematic Universe's new Captain America steps into the spotlight, yielding a painful reckoning for Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes and the audience alike.

“Wait, that’s not Captain America.” Some version of that sentence exploded out of the collective mouths of Marvel fans everywhere, following the closing moments of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere.

Die-hard Steve Rogers fans were prepared to follow the man’s lead, watching Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson pick up and continue to wield the shield. Even Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes would do the trick; certainly, there’s comic book precedent for the erstwhile Winter Soldier honoring and embodying his fallen friend Steve’s star-spangled legacy.

But John Walker — this ridiculous, winking imposter at the end of Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 1 … no. No way. This guy isn’t Captain America. This guy is a joke, a man-child draped in an oversized Captain America costume, a wayward Westview trick-or-treater plucked out of the WandaVision Halloween special. This man, the successor to Steve Rogers’ legacy? Ha! Thanks for the laugh, Marvel.

At least, that was the temperature in the room after the Marvel Cinematic Universe show’s series premiere. Now, we have a second episode under our belts, and our first full-time look at Wyatt Russell as John Walker, known in the comics as the U.S. Agent.

What’s more, we know more about the MCU’s Super Soldier program than ever before — and it’s no laughing matter.

Major spoilers for Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2 are ahead.

Falcon and Winter Soldier: Who is John Walker?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe rolls out a red, white and blue carpet for a new Captain America.

Marvel Studios

In Episode 2, appropriately titled “The Star-Spangled Man,” viewers learn much more about John Walker. There’s plenty of Marvel Comics history behind the character, but what matters most is how he’s presented here in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and as far as that goes? The short answer to who is Walker is ... he’s a lot.

A hometown hero of sorts, Walker is the MCU’s new Captain America because he comes armed with a significant list of accomplishments: three Medals of Honor, extensive counter-terrorism and hostage rescue experience, a body that tested off the charts in every category at MIT ... but no Super Soldier strength. And that’s just fine, according to Walker — because he has another superpower altogether.

“I’m not Tony Stark, and I’m not Doctor Banner,” Walker says during a Good Morning America interview, conducted at his high school football field. “I don’t have flashy gadgets or super-strength. But I do have guts.”

Guts aside, Walker has his own new Captain America uniform, as well as the classic shield. He also has a partner in superheroism: actor Clé Bennett as Lemar Hoskins, also known as Battlestar, a character who debuted in Marvel Comics in 1986. He’s not the only hero from the comics to make a Marvel debut in this week’s Falcon and Winter Soldier, either.

Falcon and Winter Soldier: Who is Isaiah Bradley?

Alias actor Carl Lumbly debuts as Super Soldier Isaiah Bradley.

Marvel Studios

In Episode 2, Sam and Bucky finally reunite, chasing down Flag Smasher leads in Munich, all while reluctantly (and unexpectedly) fighting alongside “Captain America” and Battlestar. All four of them nearly lose their lives in the process. The reason: the Flag Smashers are clearly operating with Super Soldier serum coursing through their veins. How is that possible?

As it turns out, there are more Super Soldiers in the MCU than Sam ever knew. After the fight in Munich, Bucky takes Sam to Baltimore, where he reveals something from his HYDRA days as the Winter Soldier — a truth he kept hidden even from Steve Rogers.

After Steve, there were other Super Soldiers, including Isaiah Bradley, played here by Alias veteran Carl Lumbly. The focus character of Robert Morales and Kyle Baker’s Marvel Comics limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, Bradley is a forgotten Super Soldier in the MCU’s lore. We don’t know nearly enough about his past, but we at least know this: Bradley served as a soldier during the Korean War, crossing paths and fighting against the Winter Soldier. How did that battle go? It claimed half of Bucky’s artificial arm, if that says anything.

Eli Bradley, aka Patriot from Marvel Comics, also appears in this week’s Falcon and Winter Soldier.

Marvel Comics

Additionally, Isaiah’s introduction comes paired with another major MCU debut: Eli Bradley, the man best known to Marvel fans as Patriot. Played by Elijah Richardson, Eli is one of the key members of the Young Avengers in the comics. Between Tommy and Billy on WandaVision, Eli on Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie in the Ant-Man movies, and Hailee Steinfeld as the new Hawkeye in her own titular Disney+ series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Young Avengers squad is very much taking shape.

For now, neither Isaiah or Eli Bradley want anything to do with the two Avengers standing in their home. Specifically, Isaiah rails that the world turned its back on him, rewarding his heroism with decades in jail and a total absence from the pages of history.

For his part, Sam is devastated to learn about Isaiah, and how he has been shamefully ignored. Making matters worse, police show up and nearly arrest Sam, not realizing he’s an Avenger. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wilson; I didn’t recognize you without the goggles,” one cop says, in words that echo bitterly in the world outside the MCU’s window — our own.

Falcon and Winter Soldier: What happens next?

Sam Wilson has more on his plate than ever before.

Marvel Studios

Despite the fact that they still very much do not like one another, Falcon and the Winter Soldier are at least united on one front: their mission to stop the Flag Smashers.

Stop them from what, exactly? Whatever it is they’re planning, it’s not good for the rest of the world. The Flag Smashers’ whole “one world, one people” mantra is so pervasive within the group, that one member needlessly sacrifices his own life to get his people to safety; it’s a deadly mindset for any hero to contend with, let alone two who are in such opposition as Sam and Bucky.

(At least, the Flag Smashers don’t appear to be one of “The Big Three” quite yet: “androids, aliens or wizards,” as both Sam Wilson and John Walker classify the MCU’s threat-levels at different points in the episode.)

Alas, John Walker presents another obstacle in the path. Sam and Bucky are not exactly seeing eye to eye with the new Captain America, despite Walker’s stated intent of working together; it’s hard to blame Steve Rogers’ oldest friends for not trusting Steve Rogers’ unchosen replacement. When they make it clear that they are going to work on their own, Walker issues a final word of advice: “Stay the hell out of my way.” Considering John Walker’s propensity for violence in the comic books, it’s a deadly threat indeed.

So, what are Sam and Bucky going to do if they aren’t going to lean on John Walker for help? They have someone else in mind...

Daniel Brühl’s Captain America: Civil War villain is about to make a comeback.

Marvel Studios

...Baron Helmut Zemo.

The Captain America: Civil War antagonist was last seen placed under arrest by Black Panther. Featured ever-so-fleetingly at the end of Episode 2, Zemo appears to still be in some form of locked-down situation. Did he leave existence during the Blip, or has he been languishing in prison ever since Thanos’ infamous snap?

It appears we’ll find out very soon, as Sam and Bucky plan on utilizing Zemo’s intimate knowledge of HYDRA to find out more about how the Flag Smashers got their hands on Super Soldier serum. The ramifications of this new alliance — as well as the tenuous relationship with the new Captain America — are coming next on Falcon and Winter Soldier.

Falcon and Winter Soldier is streaming now on Disney+.

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