Falcon and Winter Soldier: Why Hulk's Thunderbolt Ross Could Be the Power Broker

Thunderbolt Ross with Karli Morgenthau with Bucky and Zemo in Madripoor

While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has proven to be significantly less mysterious than WandaVision , it's still leaving fans plenty to theorize and discuss. Since the beginning, the Disney+ series has explored real-world issues of race, police brutality, and corruption.

But one of the biggest things fans have been discussing since the Madripoor-set third installment is the elusive identity of the country's mysterious crime boss . The Power Broker has lurked in the background of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as the source of most of Sam and Bucky's problems in the series. The crime boss of Madripoor initially funded the revival of Dr. William Nagel's super-soldier project that has allowed John Walker and the Flag Smashers to gain super-human abilities .

Fan speculation as to who the man in the shadows is continues to go wild, as the big reveal is anticipated to arrive in the coming weeks. The series hasn't given viewers much to go off of when constructing their theories, but Zemo did refer to the Power Broker as “he,” meaning that unless this is a red herring, the crime boss is a male.

COULD THUNDERBOLT ROSS BE THE POWER BROKER?

Thunderbolt Ross Falcon and Winter Soldier
Marvel

One name that continues to crop up across social media is Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, the hard-nosed general-turned-Secretary of State. However, his disappearance during The Blip likely cost him that title. Ross was last seen in the background of Tony Stark's Avengers: Endgame funeral, with little known about what he's currently up to.

Ross has shown an interest in the Super Soldier Serum for some time now, with his partnership with Bruce Banner on the project leading to the initial creation of the Hulk, and later the Abomination.

Dr. Nagel's Super Soldier serum initially began production following the fall of HYDRA when he was recruited by the CIA to recreate Dr. Abraham Erskine's formula. However, after The Blip, Nagel returned to find his project canceled until the Power Broker funded the project's revival.

Given The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes place only six months after the return of half the world's population, the mysterious benefactor would've required prior knowledge of the CIA project. Ross' deep routes in the U.S. government and military would've allowed him an expansive knowledge of even the most classified operations. Additionally, his long career in high-power positions would indicate he would also have the funds necessary to start an operation on the scale of the Power Broker's.

During the second installment of the Disney+ blockbuster, Karli Morgenthau receives a threatening text saying “You took what was mine. I'm going to find you and kill you.” Towards the end of the episode, the Flag Smashers are attacked by the Power Broker's men in a German hangar while loading a plane for take-off. However, when these soldiers arrive, they appear to be American and coordinated military-like figures.

Given the crime boss' main influence is in Madripoor, it's odd to see American personnel showing up on international soil. Ross is exactly the kind of person with the connections to authorize a small-scale secret mission like this to exact revenge on Karli for stealing vials of his serum.

What's harder to predict is what the former military man's motives could be. Ross was absent for five years during The Blip, so it can be assumed that he returned to realize he had been replaced in his position. However, someone with connections like his wouldn't struggle to find a job, so he is likely back working in the U.S. government in another capacity.

After the Avengers failed to save the world from Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War , it seems the government is more inclined to create their own ways to protect the post-Blip world. SWORD director Tyler Hayward secretly resurrected Vision during WandaVision , and the United States appointed their own Captain America only six months after half the world returned.

In the past, the world has put its faith in the Avengers for protection, but now the super-powered team has let them down. Phase 4 will feature the return of many of the MCU's classic villains, from Batroc in the premiere of Sam and Bucky's Disney+ outing to Abomination in the upcoming She-Hulk series. This has led many to speculate that Marvel Studios is setting the stage to debut the Thunderbolts.

THE BEGINNING OF THE THUNDERBOLTS

Thunderbolts
Marvel

The Avengers franchise is currently taking a brief hiatus following the Infinity Saga's record-breaking climactic installment Avengers: Endgame . Marvel seems to be taking full advantage of this time to introduce new teams and crossover potential within their interconnected universe.

Throughout Phase 4, fans will gradually see the introduction of the Young Avengers throughout the various properties . WandaVision began the trend by setting up Wanda's sons Billy and Tommy to eventually become Wiccan and Speed.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has already stealthily introduced another member of the team in Isaiah Bradley's grandson Eli, who may one day become the team's leader Patriot. Meanwhile, Hailee Steinfeld's Kate Bishop, Kathryn Newton's Cassie Lang/Stature, and Iman Vellani's Ms. Marvel will all be introduced in the coming years.

However, that isn't the only superhuman team the global hit franchise is currently setting up, as the Thunderbolts are seemingly beginning to assemble. The villainous team bears a strong resemblance to DC's Suicide Squad as some of Marvel's biggest villains team up under the control of the U.S. government to fight evil.

Themes of the government trying to acquire heroes under their control have already been present in the current Disney+ series. With John Walker's appointment as the new Captain America, the stage has been set for the government to acquired more powerful assets under their control.

This week's episode saw John Walker publicly revealed as an unstable killer, bludgeoning a Flag Smasher to death with the literal symbol of American freedom. With Sam and Bucky set to reacquire the shield soon based on remaining footage from various trailers, it seems the government may soon be in need of a new asset to do their bidding.

Several major members of the Thunderbolts are already present in the MCU including Ant-Man and the Wasp 's Ghost, Tim Roth's Abomination, and Black Widow 's upcoming villain Taskmaster. Additionally, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is home to several characters who've tagged along with the team in the past such as Baron Zemo, Batroc the Leaper, and the Winter Soldier himself.

Now that Bucky's Winter Soldier days are seemingly behind him, it's unlikely he'd be part of the team. However, a genius figure like Zemo would be the perfect fit to lead the team. In the past, Thunderbolt Ross has transformed into the Red Hulk to join the team himself, but with no sign of him hulking out at the moment, he would probably just be running things from a comfortable office.

It's hard to predict exactly what form the Thunderbolts could take in the MCU, but the villains taking the lead of their own movie or Disney+ series seems likely to happen sooner or later. Given the large scale of the team's lineup, a blockbuster theatrical release seems like the best fit for the group, taking the team-up spot on the MCU slate with no fifth Avengers film in sight for now.

A BLACK WIDOW CONNECTION

Black Widow logo Scarlett Johansson
Marvel

Ross will return in the upcoming Black Widow movie, which is set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War , meaning he will be the Secretary of State at the time. Given Taskmaster's presence in Scarlett Johansson's solo outing, it's possible he could be there to recruit the skilled fighter into his team.

Assuming Ross is currently in the process of assembling the villainous team and has been since Civil War , how could this connect to his potential role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier . Looking at Marvel's theatrical and streaming properties, it's clear that many of them come in pairs with Ms. Marvel connecting to Captain Marvel 2 and WandaVision to the Doctor Strange sequel .

While Kevin Feige has promised their blockbuster series will tie directly into their grand-scale movies, it's so far hard to see how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier connects to the bigger picture. The Disney+ series is home to a multitude of villains who could be suitable members for his team, so his presence would be fitting even if he didn't turn out to be the Power Broker.

In devising his own Super Soldier Serum, Ross would be able to develop soldiers for the United States stronger than those of the rest of the world. A plan like this seems fitting for a character like Ross, but it's hard to imagine what interest he could have in the criminal underworld of Madripoor.

Overall, whether Ross is the Power Broker or not, it would make a lot of sense for him to appear in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to tie directly to the Black Widow movie. With the upcoming spy-thriller being a prequel it will need some kind of connective tissue to keep fans intrigued in the stakes since Natasha Romaonff's fate is already out in the open.

A reference to Thaddeus Ross exists in the series' credit as a piece of text reads “According to Thaddeus Ross... All information regarding the Enhanced Humans Act has been... reported to be classified by Major Donavan of Special Unit...” While this isn't direct confirmation of an appearance, it definitely sets the stage for a potential cameo in an upcoming episode.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will premiere its long-awaited tear-jerking fifth episode next Friday, and it's likely that it will provide more answers on the mysterious Power Broker.

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