The condescendingly titled “Truth” (which, since no big answers to anything are revealed, can only mean “We’re about to lay some truth on you”) is the episode where The Falcon and the Winter Soldier goes all-in on identity politics and makes Captain America all about race. People who want to keep this kind of thing out of superhero movies and other forms of entertainment will be able to point to this as their reason why, because “Truth” is a joyless lecture on race and why we’re evil no matter what we do, with the odd break for boring scenes that add nothing to the story or characters and one good fight.
Sam and Bucky want John Walker to answer for his actions. The government takes a more active role in the Flag Smashers operation. Bucky looks for Zemo. Sam goes home to his boat. Karli plans more terrorism. These short, blunt sentences are more exciting than anything that happens after about the five-minute mark.
“Truth” opens with a familiar scene: a three-way fight (you’re disappointed I said “fight,” aren’t you?) with Sam and Bucky on one side and John Walker on the other. It feels very much like the climactic battle from Civil War, and I imagine that was the intention. Of course, despite featuring one of the participants of that brawl, it’s got nowhere near the emotional punch of seeing Captain America and the Winter Soldier fight Iron Man. But it is a good fight; it’s choreographed and filmed just right, and it’s hard to tell who’s going to win. It’s also interesting to note that Bucky is on the other side of this conflict. In Civil War, he was an out-of-control super soldier fighting the guy who wanted him to face justice; this time, he’s trying to bring in someone who was in his position. There are also mitigating circumstances in both instances; Bucky didn’t have free will when he assassinated any of the Winter Soldier’s victims, but while Walker did, the guy he killed was a terrorist, not someone like the Starks. It would have been nice if the show demonstrated the slightest interest in examining these complexities, but it’s pretty much written off Walker as a psycho at this point, so we’re not supposed to question who to root for or anything as potentially compelling as that. (Frankly, I was rooting for Walker over the guys who helped a terrorist escape so she could kill more people.)
No, “Truth” makes it clear that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is interested in race more than anything else. Once the fight is over and all three players are pulled from active duty, Sam visits Isaiah Bradley, the super soldier to whom Bucky introduced him in “The Star-Spangled Man.” Isaiah is bitter and angry – with good reason, considering what happened to him – and has no love or allegiance for his country or for Captain America. But the point this scene is trying to make is contradicted by Isaiah’s story. The government imprisoned him and experimented on him because he was the only guy other than Steve Rogers (who was thought dead at that point) to avoid the psychological damage the super soldier serum inflicted on everyone else who took it. But what he took from that, and what we’re supposed to take, is that this was done to him because America is a racist country that would never let a black man be Captain America. What the government did to Isaiah was evil, but it had nothing to do with his race; if Steve were around, they’d have experimented on him too. The race angle feels like it was shoved in just to be there, and it makes the show feel like even more of a reprimand disguised (barely) as entertainment.
And it doesn’t end there. Sam and Bucky revisit their discussion about taking up the Captain America mantle, and the conclusion is that Steve was wrong for asking Sam because he never considered whether a black man would want to be Captain America. Bucky then apologized on both his and Steve’s (and, I guess, white people’s in general) behalf for asking Sam to do it. So, to sum up, “Truth” is telling us that it’s racist to want a black man to be Captain America and racist not to want a black man to be Captain America, and Steve Rogers was just an ignorant white privilege-bearer who should’ve thought twice before declining to reduce one of his best friends to his skin color. Are we having fun yet? I can’t tell you how much I hate that this is what the MCU is becoming. It’s no longer going to be about what makes a hero, or the difficulty in doing the right thing, or how far is too far for a good man to go to protect others, or anything as universal and human as that. It’s now the equivalent of a Twitter response stream where people rage against someone no matter what they do just to preen in public. The only way to even begin to make this worthwhile is if this multiverse path they insist on traveling leads to an alternate universe where Steve picks Bucky as his successor so we can shake our heads and call him a racist again. If they’re going to force this nonsense on us, at least let us laugh at how ridiculous it is.
The rest of “Truth” features some nice moments and ideas that don’t amount to much. Sam returns home and pulls an It’s a Wonderful Life twist where he gets all his parents’ friends to help him fix their boat. It’s a sweet sentiment, and I like the idea of people helping each other when the government and other institutions won’t, but it has nothing to do with anything and gets dull fast. Bucky tracks down Zemo and gives him up to the Dora Milaje, who, after making a big stink about how Wakandan justice supersedes all other considerations, decide to hand him over to the Raft. What is going on with this show? I know it doesn’t much care for character consistency with the movies, but can they at least be consistent with what they said a week ago? And I guess now that he’s in custody, Zemo’s wealth and resources will disappear and never be mentioned again, least of all by him. Walker is court-martialed and stripped of his title, which would have been a good way to show how vacuous the government is in these matters – connecting it to The First Avenger – but they had Walker lose it at his hearing and framed it as the suits doing the right thing by throwing him under the bus. Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows up to overact in one of those embarrassing “Look how cool I am” roles, undoubtedly laying some groundwork for the future; I hope she turns up again in something with better writers. Sharon Carter is still out there and appears to have set up the Flag Smashers with Batroc the Leaper; imagine if these were the main villains instead of Karli and her protesters. And both Sam and Walker look intent on claiming the Captain America mantle for themselves. All that is to say, only one more week of this before we can maybe have some fun again.
“Truth” is a tedious, preachy, inconsistent episode that takes the show – and, possibly, the MCU as a whole – into identity politics territory. A legendary hero is tarnished, literally the entire audience is reprimanded for whatever position they take on a new Captain America, and a final battle that looks about as exciting as the rumbles in West Side Story is triggered. But there’s a good fight scene in the beginning, so I suppose it’s not a total loss.