In the second episode of the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Lemar Hoskins chats with John Walker. They discuss the weight of taking on the mantle of Captain America. It is the first time we get a feeling of the pressure on Walker’s shoulders. It is a brief look into his humanity before he wears the legacy left behind by Steve Rogers. The most poignant line spoken was when Lemar pointed out his war buddy:
You can’t just punch your way out of problems anymore, you know?
How different that line hits now. As the whole world is watching, John forgets Lemar’s lesson in a blind rage. He’s caught on camera brutally killing a member of the Flag-Smashers. John Walker was trying so hard to be like Steve Rogers that he ended up becoming something else entirely.
When we think about who Steve Rogers is and why he got idolized so much, we’re always presented with his unwavering penchant to do the right thing. He’s willing to give up his life to save Bucky from Hydra. It’s the willingness to make sure not only Hydra but S.H.I.E.L.D. all goes down. It never mattered about how he was perceived or the narrative. As Dr. Erskine points out in Captain America: The First Avenger, there was an important reason why he got the serum, to begin with:
Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion.
Walker is a classic strong man who has known power all his life. MIT even studied his body. So, of course, the government saw him as the perfect replacement for Steve Rogers. It is that perception that John not only feeds into but allows to consume him. It’s the way his insecurities come into play when Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes don’t want to work with him. You feel the need to prove something to himself and the world that Steve never exhibited.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely is the saying, and John Walker taking the serum is the culmination of letting perception be his guide. The embarrassment of being soundly defeated by the Dora Milaje was the point that his inner demons took over. It echoed the words spoken by Zemo in a conversation with Sam, as they discussed if he would ever take the serum if he had the choice.
The desire to become a superhuman cannot be separated from supremacist ideals. Anyone with that serum is inherently on that path.
In a way, one could downplay the events. John was taking vengeance for the death of his best friend. Yet, he was headed down this road long before. It was just an accelerant. His thirst for power, which is unchecked, was always leading him down this path. The idea that Walker decided to escalate a situation that Sam was trying to deescalate. It is something that Steve Rogers would never do. Captain America: Civil War echoes the importance of these events. In a fight for his life, Steve could’ve killed Tony Stark, who was in a rage after finding out Bucky was behind his parent’s death. Steve had gotten the better of the fight and finished Tony by slamming the shield into his arc reactor. However, he never went through with it. John was not in the same scenario, but there was a choice. His anger overtook him as he killed Nico.
The episode ends with John holding a bloody shield after he showed the world his true colors. Lemar prophetically says when John asks about taking the serum. John asks the questions that Steve always had the answer to. Captain America was never about the shield but the person behind it. John Walker wanted to be Steve Rogers so desperately that he becomes something darker and uncompromising. His actions have left their mark on the symbol that once had the weight of the world on it.