Features and Columns · TV

Dr. Erskine is Still Right in ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Episode 4

Sam and Bucky can no longer ignore their Captain America problem.
The Falcon And The Winter Solider Episode 4 Explained
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on April 9th, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Explained is our ongoing series delving into Marvel’s grand new bromance between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. In this entry, we examine The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4 (“The Whole World is Watching”) and consider how it confirms what we already know about the Super-Soldier serum. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

What’s so special about Captain America? Nothing. It’s a costume, and we’ve already seen multiple people wear it within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What’s so special about Steve Rogers? There’s only one of him. He was a little fella with a good heart.

Around the midpoint of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4, which is entitled “The Whole World is Watching,” John Walker (Wyatt Russell) asks his buddy Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett) if he would take the Super-Soldier serum given the chance. Without skipping a beat, Hoskins answers, “Hells yeah.”

Walker is impressed with his quick response. He worries that the serum would alter his biology somehow, making him something he’s not. Hoskins has no concern. He says a line that purposefully echoes something Dr. Abraham Erskine told Steve Rogers before the young soldier went under the needle in Captain America: The First Avenger, “Power just makes a person more of themselves, right?”

When the United States government was considering the Super-Soldier program, they gathered the best of the best. In their minds, that meant the beefiest and toughest bodies amongst their ranks. Dr. Erskine, however, saw something unique in Steve when the scientist stumbled upon him during the first Stark Expo in 1943.

Steve wanted nothing more than to help those who couldn’t fight back. He was a scrawny asthmatic who weighed little more than a wet blanket, but he did not like bullies. And he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Rejection after rejection, Steve returned to the army recruitment office. In that determination, Dr. Erskine identified what was missing from his musclehead test subjects: heart.

On the eve of the Super-Soldier procedure, Dr. Erskine jabbed his finger into Steve’s chest. He would repeat the gesture as his final act before perishing from an assassin’s bullet. Steve would struggle with his scientific gift throughout the MCU, but he never forgot why the doctor chose him. He owed Erskine and the world his good nature.

The Super-Soldier serum doesn’t make you better than what you are, it makes what’s you more you. Power amplifies your capabilities. It’s a miracle in that way, but it’s not going to save you from yourself. There’s no escaping you.

John Walker desperately wants to be all that he can be, and when he’s in combat against the Flag-Smashers, all that he can be matters very little. He’s too human, and his body constantly fails him during combat with superior soldiers. Even as a tough brawler, he’s never in a fair fight, and he’s eager to even the playing field.

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) wrestles the remaining Super-Soldier vials from Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and goes stomp-crazy, smashing as many of them as he can before getting Cap’s shield bounced off his head. Walker sees his moment and snatches a vial for himself. After his conversation with Hoskins, injecting the serum into his blood seems like the logical option. He wants to do good, and the juice will help him do so.

Except doing good and being good are two different things. When we first properly met John Walker in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 2, we’re told by Hoskins that the new Captain America can no longer solve problems with his fists. It’s a solution that would reflect poorly on the flag he carries on his chest. Walker knows no other way, and every moment leading toward this week’s climax further solidifies this macho imperfection.

Walker, at his core, is an angry dude. We already know how such a hot emotion can play out with an enhanced creature with the Hulk. Bruce Banner put in the work, and he made his mission the ability to temper and manipulate his rage. Walker needs to do the same, but it might already be too late for him.

As we see at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4, the Super-Soldier serum in his veins does for Walker what it did for Dr. Erskine’s first test subject, Red Skull. All that pent-up aggression bubbling below the surface bursts forth.

Karli lets loose her full might upon Hoskins during the heat of battle, and it caves his frail, very human chest. With his pal a corpse, Walker explodes. He chases the Flag-Smashers into the streets and corners one in the public square. Seeing red, he pounds the terrorist into the concrete, lifting Captain America’s shield over his head and slamming it into his opponent’s body over and over and over again while the whole world watches. Whatever the crimes of the dead guy at his feet, the action brands Captain America a stone-cold killer.

Who’s to blame? Walker, certainly. But Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) are standing not too far away. One of them rejected Rogers’ offer of the shield. The other orchestrated Zemo’s escape, propelling all these deadly chess pieces into place. They can no longer ignore the Captain America problem.

Sam and Bucky have to deal with John Walker, now. Once they do, they have to deal with the shield. If they leave it on the ground, someone else will pick it up. To halt others from perverting Steve Rogers’ legacy, Sam or Bucky have to fill that suit. They either stand back and watch Captain America become a monster, or they show folks how it’s meant to be done.

Dr. Erskine believed in Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers believes in Sam and Bucky. The titular BFFs of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should rest their faith there and continue to doubt their abilities. Constant questioning of self is crucial, and it’s what made Steve Rogers a great Captain America. Bucky is already a master of internal reflection, and Sam is well on his way. He already knows he doesn’t need the Super-Soldier serum to do good in the world. That gives him a jump on John Walker.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 4 is now available to stream on Disney+.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)