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Falcon and the Winter Soldier finds a clever connection to Black Panther

Marvel leaves no potential connection unreferenced

Chuck Zlotnick

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3, “The Power Broker,” finds our heroes underwater as they explore the mystery of a new wave of super serums. What Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes continue to discover is that there’s a dark history to the Marvel universe — and this alternate version of the United States — and it’s all tied up with their personal hardships. By recruiting Baron Zemo to aid in the investigation, Falcon is forced to confront his role in the Avengers’ vigilante tactics; Bucky can’t escape his life in the Winter Soldier program, haunted by the victims of his brainwashed activity. But the end of episode 3 offered a tease for a more direct connection to Marvel movies past.

[Ed. note: This story contains major spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier through “The Power Broker.”]

The final scene of “The Power Broker” drew a line from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to Black Panther’s sprawling (and mostly untapped, as we wait for Black Panther 2) mythology. The familiar face from Wakanda popping up on the Disney Plus series once again forces fans to look to the past and the future.

Who was that Black Panther character at the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

After learning of the death of Donya Madani, a woman of interest connected to the Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo divert course to Riga to investigate. It’s there that Bucky peels off to chase his own lead — which turns out to be none other than T’Challa’s former Dora Milaje bodyguard Ayo (played again by actress Florence Kasumba).

“I was wondering when you were going to show up,” Bucky tells her.

She offers a no-bullshit reply: “I’m here for Zemo.”

Ayo in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3 saying “I’m here for Zemo.” Image: Marvel Studios

Ayo first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, protecting T’Challa’s father T’Chaka during the ratification of the Sokovia Accords in Vienna. But it was there that Zemo kicked off his master plan to frame Bucky and incite in-fighting between the Avengers; with a well-placed bomb, the criminal mastermind assassinated T’Chaka and provoked T’Challa into action for the first time (in the visible MCU). At the end of the film, Zemo nearly ends his own life, having a sense of revenge against Tony Stark, Steve Roger, and the rest of the crew who laid waste to Sokovia. But before he can escape the mortal coil, T’Challa steps in to serve justice. With Zemo now out of jail and in anti-hero mode, it’s reasonable that he’d be on Wakanda’s radar, and that the Dora Milaje would want to bring him in again.

Bucky’s past with Ayo and Wakanda

In a pivotal after-credits scene in Civil War, Bucky finds solace as the “white wolf” of Wakanda. Though previously hunted by T’Challa, the kingdom opens its arms to the Winter Soldier so that he may heal into something resembling a normal human.

Bucky owes Wakanda everything, and if there’s a sense of debt in this fleeting episode cap, that’s why. Movie-watchers only got half the story: In true synergistic fashion, Bucky’s recovery from his Winter Soldier days was chronicled in the 2018 Avengers: Infinity War tie-in comic, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War Prelude. Shuri played a key role. It was a whole thing that happened offscreen. Presumably Ayo was around.

The clever part of connecting with Black Panther

On top of all the literal lore that makes looping Ayo into the events of The Falcon and the Winter Solider so satisfying, there’s thematic resonance in colliding the show with Wakanda. This is a Marvel series that’s directly confronting race in America and class warfare around the world, as creator Malcom Spellman spoke to in our recent interview:

For Sam, it was pretty obvious to us that his character needed to begin with dealing with the stars and stripes on the shield, in two ways. Number one, the loss of a dear friend, and those huge shoes that anyone who picked up that mantle would need to fill. And then the other thing being as a Black man, is it even appropriate to have that symbol? That symbol means something very different in Sam’s hands than it does in Steve’s.

The pang of tragedy echoes again in “The Power Broker,” with the discovery of Dr. Wilfred Nagel’s CIA-enabled super soldier experiments, and the further explanation of what happened to Isaiah Bradley, the elderly Black man seen in episode 2. These are infractions directly tied to identity, and it extends even to the work that the Flag-Smashers are doing to prevent injustice in their own communities. Wakanda is a fascinating foil to the experience, a previously walled-off African nation still dealing with what happens when it looks away from the outside. In a way, the piercing commentary of Black Panther, and the logical misgivings of its villain Erik Killmonger, prepared the MCU to take an even harder look inward in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Ayo showing up is a great “oh hey!” fan service moment for the Disney Plus series, but with great potential to be something more — a link to the past and a clash with the present.

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