Sam Wilson ponders what the symbol of the Captain America shield means for him as a Black man in the United States.

Spoilers Below

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode Five, ” The Truth,” directed by Kari Skogland, features Sam morphing into Captain America and counseling Bucky on how to leave the Winter Soldier behind him. Bucky and Sam fight new Captain America John Walker taking the shield back and allowing the U.S. military to arrest him.  Sam helps out his little sister Sarah Wilson with their fishing boat back in Louisiana. It’s heartwarming seeing the Falcon being a hero to his family.

Sam needs to face some truths before committing to becoming the new Captain America. After the fight, Bucky hands Sam the Captain America shield. Sam leaves behind his broken wings shedding his mantle of the Falcon. He flies to Maryland, Baltimore, to visit Isaiah Bradley. He wants to understand why the super-soldier hates anything red, white, and blue. He was not the only soldier injected with the recreated super-soldier serum. The veteran explained how a group of black soldiers was experimented on without their knowledge. Scientists told the men they were being injected with a tetanus vaccine. These experiments on Black soldiers who the government saw as expendable reminds me of the Tuskegee Study.

Doctors told Black patients they were being given free healthcare for their Syphilis, but actually gave them placebos and observed the natural effects of the disease when it’s untreated. Isaiah was the only soldier who was not negatively affected by the serum, but all the men were sent out on missions during the Korean War. The Black men were just test subjects to the government, not human beings. The U.S. military eventually killed all the other men. The government told everybody, including Isaiah’s wife, that he was dead. The military kept Isaiah in prison for thirty years while experimenting on him to figure out why the serum worked on him. A nurse took pity on the veteran and forged his death certificate. Isaiah escaped back to Maryland. He doesn’t think the U.S. would ever let a Black man become Captain America nor that Sam should take up the mantle since this country doesn’t care about people of color. Systemic racism means that from the jump, every Black citizen is considered a threat or expendable. Sam needs to decide if Captain America as a symbol needs to be retired or transformed.

Sarah Wilson’s heartfelt conversation with Sam helps him realize that he needs to pick up the shield. With the assistance of their whole community and Bucky, Sam and Sarah fix up their parents’ fishing boat. She can’t bring herself to sell the boat even though it’s losing money because it represents the Wilson’s family history. The two siblings chat about some serious topics. Sam joined the U.S. Airforce because he wanted to prove to the people who saw Black men as lesser beings wrong. Sam tried to fix the whole world, but he had learned that he can’t win every fight. But Sam can “win” the battle for his family’s safety and happiness. Sarah tells her brother that he needs to fight for his insular community and the whole world. She won’t let Isaiah burn out Sam’s spirit.

The United States can still become the country it promises to be. One where everybody is treated equally and can prosper. Sam essentially tells Sarah that he won’t stop being a superhero because then all of his battles would have been for nothing. He starts practicing with the Captain America shield and working out. The Wakanda costume that Bucky delivered to him is waiting. It’s perfect symbolism that the first Black Captain America has his Superhero uniform created by the technologically advanced wealthy African nation of Wakanda. Wakanda is empowering Black citizens from all over the world. When Sam learns that the Flag-Smashers have traveled to New York City, he opens the trunk. I cannot wait to see the new Captain America’s uniform. The chosen Captain America will represent the possibility of the kind of nation that the U.S. can be.

Unlike Sam, John feels entitled to be Captain America, totally refusing to deal with the fact he murdered out of pure revenge. In Washington D.C., John faces a joint congressional and military hearing where a senator publicly strips him of his rank and superhero title. He will not be collecting any veterans benefits and will go to a military prison if he rebels in any way. John tries to make excuses for killing Nico, but the committee shuts him down. Instead, John yells about how he is what they made him be; the captain refuses to take any responsibility. He always followed his orders and did what he was trained to do. John doesn’t understand what made Steve Rogers Captain America. Steve was a superhero because he didn’t blindly follow orders. He never even went to war before the super-soldier serum. Steve stood up for the little guy, and his first instinct was to protect, not harm. In a way, John is correct, but the United States designed him, not the military. As a White straight, middle-class athletic man, all the doors were always open to him. Nobody ever punished John because he did everything he was supposed to be, from becoming a high school football star to a military hero. Since John checked every box, he was never refused a thing. He has never faced defeat until now. In contrast, a senator applauded Sam, a working-class Black man, for not taking the shield in the first few episodes.

“Truth” is the most emotionally powerful episode of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. All the characters wrestle with the reality of their situations. Sam and Bucky embrace their truths while John digs his head into the sand with his new patron Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.