There is so much to unpack in the second installment. I’m not going to be able to address it all here (I REALLY want to talk about Isaiah Bradly, but I have a feeling it might be best to wait for future episodes to do so), but I do want to talk about John Walker and another potential series theme. Lawfulness vs. Morality.
SPOILERS FOR “THE STAR-SPANGLED MAN”
But first, we need to address one big thing…
Walker, for all intents and purposes of this episode, is a decent man who wants to do good things. Without the show having to expressly say so, it’s obvious he was raised to believe he is entitled to all that is good. It doesn’t come off in way most of us would assume when we think of entitlement and the privileged class, his characterization is slightly more subtle than that. It shows in how he treats the legacy and the people behind the shield given to him.
Think back to Captain America: The First Avenger. When Steve Rogers is first put on the “Spangled Circuit”, he looks out of place and lost in the world of glad-handing and propaganda. And when the opportunity comes, he happily abandons the dog and pony show for the battlefield. To fight for his values. And continues to do so throughout his arc in the whole of the MCU.
When Sam Wilson was given the shield, he questions his ability to hold that title as a black man in America. He doesn’t know if Captain America is a persona he can be when his government continues to marginalize and treat people of color as citizens who should be policed (Sam and Bucky’s interactions with the Baltimore PD are rage-inducingly accurate). It is why he gives the shield to a museum instead of taking it up.
Now, look at how Walker deals with being given the shield. Camera perfect smile and pose ready. Gleefully signing autographs of toys bearing his likeness despite only being revealed as the new Cap a day before. And you can see why the government would pick a man like him. Walker is exactly the person Colonel Philips wanted for the serum in the first Captain America movie. The clean cut, All-American, high school quarterback. Easy with the smiles and charm. Blonde haired and blue-eyed perfection.
In Walkers mind, this is something he has earned (and he is not completely wrong in that sentiment when you look at his service record). But you don’t join the military to garner fame. You pick up the mantle of Captain America to get it.
In his interactions with Sam and Bucky we see more of this entitled nature. Walker immediately introduces himself as Captain America and looks to recruit them. When they turn him away, he lashes out with a “don’t get in my way.” Walker also talks to our heroes as if there is already an established relationship there.
Having been in the military, I can tell you, no one who has served will immediately start calling anyone else who has worn the uniform by their first name. We all refer to one another by our surnames out of habit. First names are reserved for those we have a close relationship with. I don’t think Walker calling Sam and Bucky by their first names is a mistake made by civilian writers who don’t know better. That was done purposefully to show Walker’s entitlement to the shield and the legacy that comes with it.
And if the use of names didn’t make that complex clear, the fact that he called Sam and Bucky Steve’s wingmen did.
Steve Rogers never thought of Sam, Bucky, the Howling Commandos, or Peggy Carter as his sidekicks/wingmen/supporting whatever. They were his partners. His equals.
But Walker’s privilege isn’t what will make him the antagonist to Sam and Bucky, it just goes to show the person that he is. The conflict which will face Walker up against the titular two will be his loyalty to the government and his belief in the military industrial complex.
Law vs. Chaos
Someone in the FATWS discord server perfectly described Walker as someone who is Lawful Good. (For those who are not familiar with the Alignment System, follow this link.) As of this episode, I think most of us can agree that the Flag Smashers qualify as Chaotic Good or Chaotic Neutral. Law and Chaos are natural enemies.
I think the Flag Smashers will be antagonists whose cause will have Sam and Bucky (and us as viewers) sympathizing with them. The group doesn’t want to see the world return to the pre-Blip days. Where corrupt governments (who have not been around for the last five years) have the power. Their mission is to help those who are being pushed aside. And because of this are branded as violent insurrectionists. In Walker’s mind that makes them bad guys who must be stopped at all costs.
Sam and Bucky only want to find how they garnered their strength and if there are people attempting to recreate the super soldier program. While we are not sure how Bucky feels about the Flag Smashers, Sam seems to be somewhat sympathetic to their cause as someone who understands what it is to be forgotten and marginalized.
Lawful doesn’t always translate into moral. When given the choice to do something lawful or moral, Walker will most likely choose lawful. I think his arc will see him looking to kill the Flag Smashers to stop them from helping a marginalized group at the expense of those with privilege or exposing a truth the government doesn’t want public. And he will not wrestle with that decision.
Walker will do what is necessary to complete the mission. Which leads me to think he will go to extreme measures to do it. Like go to the Powerbroker to get super strength.
What do you think of John Walker? Do you agree with my thoughts and theories? Do you have any others? Let me know in the comments section below!