Good storytelling involves using tropes, and one trope I always appreciate in action movies is you can always tell when a plan is going to work. Plans fail when you see characters discuss them beforehand, but they come through when you’re just thrown into the scene.
The best part of “Power Broker,” the third episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, is when that trope is deliciously skewered. Bucky describes to Sam a “hypothetical” about how they could break Zemo out of his maximum security prison, right before Zemo walks out the door. It’s too bad the prison breakout plot is one of the most boring I’ve seen—Avatar: The Last Airbender’s “Boulder” episode was more interesting. But then, I guess that’s not what this episode’s about.
What is this episode about, exactly? On its face, “Power Broker” seems to be about gathering intel on the super-soldier serum and the Flag-Smashers, and even expanding Sam and Bucky’s universe of associates. But it seems most interested in playing into action movie tropes more than anything else, and you know what? It fails. The whole episode, I was just thinking of the times I’ve seen better versions of each of these scenes.
The scene in the club makes me think of the far better casino scene in Black Panther. Heck, even those scenes in Tenet where the main character’s pretending to be someone else have a better handle on the particular balance of irony and suspense. Perhaps it’s the strange direction, where it’s hard to tell where people are in a scene at any time. Or maybe it’s the editing—the way the snake cocktail scene was cut together made me feel like they were trying to get a laugh out of the audience, but the joke fell flat for me. Maybe because I like snakes, or perhaps because a snake gut cocktail doesn’t even seem cool, just gross? Now, if they were using venom, that would be hard-core in a funny way. What might actually undermine the whole enterprise is the fact that we get very little context or humor for the character Sam is supposed to play, or even how exactly Zemo is so well connected to Madripoor. After he breaks out of prison, he’s conveniently very rich because he was royalty in Sokovia.
Zemo always seemed like he was presented as a cipher, a boon in Captain America: Civil War, but beyond that, his characterization felt somewhat rote and boring to me. (Zemo? More like ZERO, am I right?) It’s not necessarily the fault of Daniel Brühl, but I have to say that my image of him in the MCU has always been clouded by Inglorious Basterds. He played that Nazi hero creep a little too well, which I think speaks to his acting skills. But I guess I also have to give credit to Quentin Tarantino for how he directed Brühl in those scenes, because I get the sense that he was given a lot less for his character in this episode.
Zemo’s most interesting scenes are also in the beginning, because of how he alternately aligns with Sam and Bucky. As someone who was obsessed with breaking up the Avengers using their own flaws against them, you see small parts of that emotional intelligence pop out in this episode. Bucky watches him fearfully yet seems drawn to Zemo’s power over him. (Wow, he really is the MCU character that needs the most therapy.) Meanwhile, when Bucky and Sam bicker over how Bucky’s been holding on to Steve’s notebook, Zemo wins over Sam when he says the “Trouble Man” soundtrack says much about the African American experience. Sam, shocked, says, “He’s out of line, but he’s right.” Once again, I am aligned with Sam and his thought process. How dare Bucky say he “just likes ’40s music.” Open yourself up, man! I guess he is pretty different from Steve—he can go on dates (and dating apps apparently set to “both men and women”) but he can’t enjoy the music of the modern era? Come on, man. Also, as I’m sure we can all agree (and please do chime in in the comments), when share some of your favorite media with someone, you need to offer a lot more than “I liked it.” Sam suffers with us, my friends.
But okay, does Zemo have Black friends? He also dismisses Sam’s frustration with his disguise, saying, “Only an American would think a well-dressed Black man looks like a pimp.” I…WHAT? Does Zemo listen to Solange? Unfortunately, that aspect of his personality falls to the wayside as [sigh] they try to make a deal with Selby, a British woman who has the intel they need. I’m sorry, this scene just read as “James Bond references without the verve and humor” to me. After Selby is murdered, Sharon’s reintroduction to our characters even feels like a failure of writing. In fact, this whole episode has some strange characterization.
I feel like that’s the biggest problem with “Power Broker.” Even little moments, like Walker yelling to the café owner in Germany “Do you know who I am?” while Karli kills several people with a car bomb with a real blasé attitude, feel extremely out of sync with last week’s episode.
Finally, the worst aspect of the episode is how it leaves the best part of the show in the lurch. Sam and Bucky barely speak to each other or check in with their plans. Sam does ask Bucky several times if he’s okay, but Bucky does not seem to even know how to reply. And when Bucky asks him, Sam tells him he is overwhelmed by the people that have been caught in the crossfire—Sharon and Isaiah, especially. And while he does take back his decision to give up the shield, he feels more that he should’ve destroyed it.
- I’m pretty sure, thanks to Sam’s call with Sarah, that this and the past two episodes all pass the Blackdel test, the Black version of the Bechdel test. (They also just pass the “DuVernay test.”)
- Even the club scene is disappointing. They leave the next day acting like they partied hard, but Sam and Bucky just stood around awkwardly! Zemo does a little dance, but I just do not see why they couldn’t go all out and gift us with the MCU equivalent of this scene from Parks And Recreation.
- The scene with Nagel reminded me of this scene from The Man from UNCLE, except, of course, the latter was better. Nagel seemed to be channeling Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor from Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
- I did love Sharon’s fight scenes—her use of knife throwing in gunfights mirrors Steve at his best. Bucky was also in fine form when returning as the Winter Soldier.
- I half-expected Zemo to leave them in the lurch. I really expected him to be putting Sam on with that snake cocktail, or even have poisoned the food he so kindly serves Sam and Bucky. WHO is this guy?
- When they hang out with Sharon in her amazing apartment (I believe?), Bucky says, “She’s kind of awful now,” lying to himself because he knows he won’t ever be this cool in his life, not even if he’s alive for another 100 years.
- Sam’s awkward phone call also just falls flat as a device for humor? Suspense? I was more trying to puzzle out why he brought his phone at all, much less why he couldn’t put it on Airplane Mode.
- I wonder if Sharon killed Selby. I figure she’s not working for the Power Broker, but I’m curious where her loyalties lie now.