Episode 5, named ‘Truth’ of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier brought a striking contrast between Captain America and his black counterpart. This happened when Isaiah Bradley recounted how he was jailed for the very reason that made Steve Rogers a hero. Bradley first appeared in Episode 2 of the Disney+ show. Here he revealed that he was given a Super-Soldier Serum variant in an unethical medical experiment. After his service in the Korean War, Bradley was imprisoned and experimented with for decades by the U.S. government.
The fifth episode of the series dug deeper into Bradley’s backstory. It revealed a plot point that is almost the same as Rogers’ story, but it had a different outcome. There was a scene between Sam and Isaiah where Isaiah revealed one of the first things he did after receiving the Super-Soldier Serum. He broke out of a medical facility to mount an unauthorized rescue mission. Bradley received the serum along with other Black soldiers, he told Sam.
When the government attempted to get rid of the evidence by killing his fellow soldiers in the POW camp, Bradley freed them, along with several other prisoners. Just like Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, Bradley went against orders and rescued his brothers-in-arms. Rogers was commended for his actions. But here Bradley was punished. U.S. Military used the actions of Bradley as an excuse for unjustly jailing him for 30 years. This was probably done in order to maintain access to their experimental subject.
The story of Bradley unveils a big discrepancy in the way the military treated Black soldiers in comparison to white soldiers. Roger’s unsanctioned rescue mission in Captain America was a defining moment in his legacy. The successful one-man assault on a HYDRA base showed the world that even one man could make a difference. The mission represented Steve’s determination to do the right thing by ignoring the consequences. He became a national Icon.
Bradley showed a similar moral fortitude in his mission. But rules were relaxed for Rogers and unfairly tightened for Bradley. It is reminiscent of the disproportionately harsh sentences given to Black people convicted of crimes. The story of Bradley brings up a question about the consequences that Steve might have faced. When Steve Rogers returned from his renegade mission in Captain America, he was greeted by a crowd of cheering soldiers, Peggy Carter and Colonel Philips.
Rogers offered to surrender himself for disciplinary actions but Colonel Philips instantly let him off the hook. He said, “That won’t be necessary”. The glance of Philips around the camp before his line suggests that he is going easy on Rogers since he rescued a lot of men from HYDRA. But earlier in that scene, Philips also calls Rogers “America’s golden boy”. He suggested that even if Rogers failed, he wouldn’t be held accountable. Also, Philips is looking for a fall guy since he ‘can’t touch Stark’, a rich, white man who is also the Army’s primary weapons contractor.
The fate of Steve Rogers and Isaiah Bradley is dependent on internal politics. In terms of Bradley, the system is rigged against him. Bradley was also determined to do the right thing. But like Rogers, Bradley was not fighting a discrete and identifiable evil like HYDRA, but his own government. Partly, Bradley faced a harsh retaliation since he was standing up against an injustice unrecognized by his superiors.
If you think about it, Bradley’s actions were more heroic in comparison to Rogers. This is because he was not in a position of power when he decided to subvert authority. Bradley stood to lose more in comparison to Rogers by disobeying military authority. He did it anyway for giving his fellow soldiers some dignity in death. And that’s why the ending of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hits us even harder.
Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Episode 6 follow.
Towards the very end, Sam Wilson showed the same kind of fighting spirit that Bradley showed. He took the world head-on as Captain America. He made Bradley proud. And he even asked the Smithsonian museum to reinstate Bradley’s wiped out history, and honor him as a valiant soldier who fought in the Korean War. The final moments between Sam and Bradley were magical!