Warning - This article contains major spoilers for "Episode 2" of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier .

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier returned this week with its second episode, "The Star-Spangled Man." After a slower-paced start last week , this episode hit the ground running with story development, and The Direct is here to break it all down.

PLOT/STORY

John Walker
Marvel Studios

The episode started off with viewers being properly introduced to newly-appointed Captain America, John Walker, and his friend, Lamar Hoskins (later given the title of Battlestar). Fans were suspicious of Walker from the jump after the big reveal at the end of last week's episode, and the showrunners seemed to anticipate this as this episode as a whole really puts in the effort to humanize him and show that he's just trying to do his new job the best way he knows how...even though it's clear he's going to be an obstacle for the two leads to deal with.

Speaking of Walker, his announcement as the new Cap turns out to be the catalyst for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes to finally meet up. The episode wastes no time in getting to this reunion and throwing the two into action as Bucky insists on accompanying Sam to Germany to fight the Flag-Smashers. Bucky immediately makes it clear that he has no interest in working with the new Captain America (which is reasonable but seems like a mistake to let the guy with the resources and power know that right off the bat).

Both the Wilson/Barnes and Walker/Hoskins duos fail to stop the group, but viewers get to see a little more of what they're all about. The Flag-Smashers are working to abolish all the world's borders and seem to have support from civilians who secretly come to their aid. Most of the focus is on leader Karli Morgenthau, the group's leader and one of eight supersoldiers fighting for this cause.

After their defeat and refusal to work with the new Captain America, Bucky takes Sam to see Isaiah Bradley, a Black supersoldier he fought during the Korean War in 1951. Isaiah is distrustful of the pair and reveals he spent 30 years being experimented on against his will after the war.

Bucky and Sam don't have time to unpack this, though, because the former is arrested and the latter ends up dragged into the mandatory therapy session he missed alongside him. After Dr. Raynor has them do a few "couples' exercises," which brought in some jokes, Bucky manages to open up to Sam just how angry he is about him giving up the Captain America shield. He sees it as throwing away Steve Rogers' legacy and worries that if Steve was wrong about Sam, then he may have been wrong about him, too.

The episode ends with the two once again turning down an offer to work with Walker and Bucky deciding they should go confront old enemy Helmut Zemo in hopes of learning HYDRA's secrets. This is another act of his that seems like a very risky idea, but his name was in the book of names for Bucky to makes amends with seen last week, so it's possible there's another motive at play here.

ACTING/PERFORMANCE

Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson
Marvel Studios

All of that set-up from last week allows the lead actors to naturally take their characters to different levels in this episode, and they do. Anthony Mackie gets to show off a more comedic and lighthearted side to Sam Wilson but also has a couple of more dramatic moments, most notably when confronting Bucky about keeping the Isaiah Bradley situation a secret.

The stress and bitterness that was lurking underneath Sebastian Stan's performance as Bucky last week peek out a bit more this time around. His pain when John Walker says Steve Rogers felt "like a brother" to him was evident, and he was able to vocalize some of those feelings during the therapy session toward the end of the episode. Bucky and Sam still have a long way to go before they fully trust each other, but there was certainly a progression from their banter at the beginning of the episode to the more serious moments later on.

As for the supporting cast, the biggest stand-out this week was Carl Lumbly as Isaiah Bradley. He was only in one scene, but the pain of the memories and trepidation toward his visitors carried a lot of nuance and rich-yet-hidden emotion, and hopefully, the series will see his return at some point before it's over.

Wyatt Russell's turn as John Walker also deserves a shout-out; the character has to be a certain level of likable and relatable while still being some level of an antagonist to the main characters, and Russell delivered on that. The show's writers deserve some props for this too as they managed to convince viewers why the government would choose Walker for the position of Captain America.

Walker even has some parallels to Steve Rogers, namely not caring for all the pomp and circumstance that comes with being Cap and just wanting to get to the part of the job that involves protecting people and defending the country.

PRODUCTION — CINEMATOGRAPHY, MUSIC, EDITING, ETC.

John Walker with marching band
Marvel Studios

Like the first episode, "The Star-Spangled Man" did a good job balancing action with quieter moments. The highlight of the former category was definitely the scene with Falcon, Winter Soldier, Captain America, and Battlestar fighting the Flag-Smashers on moving vehicles. There was a lot going on, but the direction made it so that it was fairly easy to follow.

The dialogue scenes this week didn't feature any fascinating shots, especially compared to the therapy session in the first episode. However, the scene of Walker trying to get Sam and Bucky to join him in the car after their failed mission was done in a great wide-shot that added some nice comedy to it.

This episode's music featured several callbacks to previous MCU projects, the most obvious being the high-school marching band playing a rendition of "Star-Spangled Man With a Plan" from Captain America: The First Avenger . The end-credits music for Captain America: Civil War - "Cap's Promise" - was also in the episode; it played over the fight scene on the truck with the Flag-Smashers.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes
Marvel Studios

After some concern over whether the prologue-styled premiere would lead to the series being too rushed in the future, this episode mostly clears those worries up. Apart from some pacing issues and a couple of odd moments that weren't explained very well (How did Bucky know where Sam would be at the beginning of the episode?), the series is proving its ability to cover a lot of ground in the same amount of time it covered a lot of set-ups last week.

Sharon Carter and Zemo are still yet-to-be-seen (besides a sho of the latter to set up next week), but the show managed to work in a bit of catch-up material for both so that when they do show up , they'll fit in more naturally with the story.

"The Star-Spangled Man" did a great job introducing and fleshing out multiple storylines, and hopefully, the remaining four episodes of the series will continue its trajectory.

The first two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are now available to stream on Disney+.

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