That said, there’s such a thing as moving so quickly that everything becomes a blur. While entertaining — and visually impressive, with their elaborate demimonde sets and backdrops — the Madripoor set pieces are sometimes lacking in the kind of careful setup necessary for dramatic tension. We find out a little about where the characters are and what they’re trying to do, but the plans aren’t laid out in enough detail to make it as nerve-racking as it should be when things go awry. Very quickly in Madripoor, the objective becomes more about surviving, as covers get blown and the gangs of anonymous toughs start attacking. It’s all very exciting, but not at the same level as the action in the previous weeks, where the stakes and the opponents were clearer.
In the place of conversations about objectives and methods, the characters spend a lot of time this week talking about a few of the show’s major themes: namely, whether patriotism and heroism still matter, in a world where borders are blurry and it’s not easy to tell who’s “right” and who’s “wrong.”
Sharon, who has been on the run and embracing the mercenary lifestyle since the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” is especially cynical about the importance of ideals and virtues, grumbling, “You know the whole hero thing is a joke, right?” Meanwhile, in Lithuania, one of Morgenthau’s close colleagues gets troubled when she blows up an occupied building at the end of one of their missions. Even Sam and Bucky have to wonder what they’re doing when they see that they’re fighting alongside Baron freakin’ Zemo — who is sporting his ominous purple mask, no less.
Zemo baits Bucky throughout this episode, trying to see if some of the old Winter Soldier is still buried deep in his head — while also suggesting that Bucky was always somewhat “himself,” even when he was a brainwashed assassin. Like the Flag Smashers, Zemo sneers at heroic and nationalistic iconography, arguing that when people focus on symbols like Captain America’s shield, they forget that the men and women who wield them have flaws. Anyone could become the Winter Soldier — or a Flag Smasher — under the right pressure.
Whatever this episode’s failings when it comes to the construction of thrilling and emotionally compelling fights and chases, at least Kolstad and Skogland take the time to include some of those thoughtful conversations and pertinent asides — like the part where Bucky and Sharon explain to Sam that most of the great paintings and statues in museums are replicas. Even as the story races ahead, it’s always worth taking a few moments to think about what makes an image meaningful … and whether fakes and replacements can move and inspire people, the same as the originals.