Marvel is pushing the limits of superhero entertainment, asking difficult questions about who gets power and a voice in the world, and they are making the argument excellently well, offering an intriguing range of views for us to consider at a time when listening to each other is in short supply.
The show is well-populated. There are, of course, uncaring politicians who want to wield power without hesitation arguing with more sensitive leaders.
We are shown a hero who was militarily trained to enforce initiatives (John Walker), another whose mind was enslaved by a government (Bucky Barnes) and must now work to make amends for a bloody past, and then there is one (The Falcon) who believes in reason over blood.
Meanwhile, other (Baron Zemo, Sharon Carter, the Dora Milaje, the Contessa) act on their own agendas that complicate the heroes’ efforts.
Perhaps the most challenging point-of-view comes from the Flag Smashers, led by Karli Morgenthau, and their slogan “One World, One People.”
It is inarguably a beautiful idea. All of us living in peace as human beings rather than rivals or races or enemies is what we have professed in our best moments.
But, sadly, we usually acting against that ideal.
The same is true of the Flag Smashers. They reassure themselves by professing “One World, One Peace” but it does not hold up in anything else they say or do.
While they talk a good unity game, it is ultimately a dreamy version of Us vs. Them that is negated by their progressively more divisive words and actions. They hate the rest of the world and want to tear it down. Not very “one world, one people.”
And yes, they are right that the powerful traditionally act to make sure they keep power for themselves. But by using hate rhetoric and marshaling power to destroy power, we don’t defeat the enemy, we become them.
The flag smashers can profess they want “one world, one peace”, but when they seek power for themselves that is just another version of “our world, our peace”. A replacement agenda is not a restoration or unification goal.
And I get it, they have been treated horrendously (in a fictional sense). Doesn’t justify mass murder. Doesn’t allow one to punch enemies to death. And their plans seem to be leading to a mass action that may prove to be chillingly similar to January 6.
They aren’t alone in crossing the line of the Social Contract, existing laws, or morality. John Walker was trained to be a killer for his country but when he killed out of rage in front of the world’s cameras, his government abandoned him. The complexities of that is worthy of its own essay.
And world leaders are arguing about how to treat the “displaced” in this tale just as they are in our reality. How the show’s leaders behave may be an uncomfortable reflection for who we elect to do the same for us.
All these seductive lies bring into focus one who has been so abused by his country he’d rather “stay dead” (Isiah Bradley), one who needs to be what his country made him because he thinks he has nothing else (John Walker), another who needs to be truly moral because he spent 90 years murdering against his will (Bucky Barnes), and one who believes in the possibility that we can be better no matter all our divisions, who stubbornly hangs on to the hope that we can rise above our horrendous past despite mistreatment at every turn (Sam Wilson/The Falcon/possibly the next Captain America).
Karli Morgenthau might say “One World, One Peace” but Sam Wilson has the clear-eyed vision and strength of character to walk the Via Dolorosa required to achieve real progress.
Episode Six, the season finale airing this Friday, has positioned Marvel to offer their take on complicated and sensitive issues facing us all today. It is brave and challenging storytelling and well worth your time.