Through three episodes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has presented its secret big bad as a dangerous foe to both Avengers and Flag-Smashers alike. The Power Broker developed a super soldier serum stolen by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman). This shadowy figure sent a group of US soldiers after the anti-government group. How could the leader of Madripoor do that? And how did this unnamed villain know about the CIA’s abandoned super soldier program in the first place? Those questions point to one of the MCU’s earliest characters, a person who has long been obsessed with creating superheroes and then controlling them. Someone dedicated to protecting America on his terms, William Hurt’s General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.
Ross’ History with the Super Soldier Serum
Before he became Secretary of State, Ross was a Lieutenant General of the Army. In that role he tried to resuscitate the work of Abraham Erskine, the man who created the super soldier serum responsible for Steve Rogers’ powers. Erskine’s secret formula seemingly died with him. But decades later, Ross recruited Dr. Bruce Banner (who was unaware of the program’s true goals) for the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project. Its real purpose was to create super soldiers, but accidentally led to Banner’s angry green alter ego.
The Incredible Hulk showed Ross hunting Banner for years. Ross didn’t care about the danger Hulk posed, nor did he wish to help Banner. Ross wanted the power that was inside the doctor. “As far as I’m concerned, that man’s whole body is property of the US Army,” Ross said. When Banner tried to have his powers removed, the General told him, “If you took it from me, I’m gonna put you in a hole for the rest of your life.”
Ross’ program did successfully create one vial of serum. The inferior version went to Captain Emil Blonsky, who went rogue and became the monster Abomination. He destroyed half of Harlem in a fight with Hulk. The failure was so massive and so public it ended Ross’ project for good. (And led to the great end credits scene with Tony Stark.) But it didn’t end his career. Thunderbolt went on to become even more powerful as Secretary of State.
In that role, he pushed the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords. That divided Earth’s mightiest heroes, leaving Earth vulnerable when Thanos attacked. Yet, even when an alien ship arrived in New York City and Tony Stark went missing, Ross told Colonel Rhodes to arrest Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Wanda Maximoff, and Natasha Romanoff when they came out of hiding to help. Ross believes in superheroes, but only when they do what he wants.
The Continued Work of Dr. Wilfred Nagel
Following the collapse of HYDRA, the CIA recruited Dr. Nagel to try and recreate Erskine’s super soldier serum. Nagel worked with blood taken from Isaiah Bradley, the secret Captain America who had received the super soldier serum decades prior. Erskine’s work had clearly continued on for longer than almost anyone realized.
Nagel’s project was interrupted when the Snap turned him to dust. When he returned after the Blip, the CIA abandoned his program altogether. But in the Power Broker, Nagel found a benefactor willing to fund his expensive work. It didn’t take him long to successfully make 20 vials from scratch. The Falcon and the Winter only takes place six months after the Blip; the Power Broker might very well have known just how close Nagel was to cracking the code. And if he knew that, he knew one of the biggest secrets of the US government.
The Return of the Powerful Thunderbolt
The Snap also dusted Thaddeus Ross. While this has yet to be confirmed onscreen, it’s impossible the United States didn’t find a new Secretary of State during the five years he was gone. But just because Ross might have lost his official role, it’s hard to imagine he lost all of his power. His roots in the military are deep and long; this is a man who got a promotion after creating two city-destroying monsters after all. It’s scary to think what a person with that kind of access and influence could be capable of when not bound by the laws of an official position. (And we’ve already seen what US officials are willing to do in a post-Snap world to keep America safe. S.W.O.R.D. Director Hayward was secretly, and illegally, trying to bring back Vision.)
Ross is exactly the type of person who could send US soldiers on a secret mission to kill Karli Morgenthau, as the secret Power Broker promised to do. “You took what was mine,” the text message read. “I’m going to find you and kill you.” It’s a more sinister version of the promise Ross made to Bruce Banner when he thought Banner “took” those Hulk powers years earlier.
Ross is also the exact type of person the Flag-Smashers don’t want to see return to power after five years. “We cant let the same a**holes who were put back in power after the Blip win,” Morgenthau said. And when those soldiers arrived at the airport to stop them, a Flag-Smasher said something connects US forces to the shadowy leader of Madripoor. “It’s the power brokers, man.”
Power Broker and John Walker
The comics’ Power Broker is Curtiss Jackson, a powerful character who gives would-be heroes and villains alike their powers. He has also never been referenced in the MCU. As countless WandaVision Mephisto theories showed, that doesn’t bode well for those hoping to see Jackson revealed as the MCU’s Power Broker. Marvel seems far more likely to make the hyped-up character someone the audience already knows. That could be done via a switcheroo with someone who has been around the whole time, like with Agatha Harkness. Or by bringing back an old character viewers are already familiar with, i.e. Ross.
But the show has hinted at one major connection to the Power Broker of the comics. Curtiss Jackson gave John Walker, the MCU’s newest Captain America, his powers on the page. While we don’t yet know if the screen version of Walker has taken a version of the super soldier serum, it seems increasingly likely that he has.
Walker is the most decorated US soldier alive. He also “tested off the charts in every measurable category: speed, endurance, intelligence.” Most importantly, he fights like he’s superhuman. He jumped a long distance, from a total standstill on a helicopter, onto a moving truck. And he stuck the landing. Meanwhile, his sidekick Battlestar needed to slowly lower himself onto the truck with a rope. Walker also made a seemingly impossible shot during that highway sequence. He might have been chosen as the new Captain America because he received a super soldier serum like Steve Rogers.
There’s one more clue that Walker is benefitting from a serum; it seems to be wearing off. He had a weird dizzy spell following the raid in Germany during the third episode. If Walker got any serum, it was made pre-Snap. It would have been Nagel’s incomplete serum, which had not been perfected yet. If he needs more, it could explain his angry pursuit of the Flag-Smashers, a group he’s now willing to go rogue to find.
If the new Captain America took any of Nagel’s unfinished super soldier serum, Ross, as Secretary of State, would have known about it. He might have even authorized it, as the former head of the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project and backer of the Sokovia Accords. (Who better to grant powers to than a loyal soldier you already know so well?) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s end credits certainly want you to remember Ross’ shady past.
A fragment of a report flashes onscreen. It reads, “According to Thaddeus Ross: All information regarding the enhanced human act has been reported to be classified by Major Donovan of special unit…” On top of this, William Hurt is also returning to the MCU in Black Widow.
The end credits also show blue vials, like the super soldier serum given to Steve Rogers and the one Ross gave to Blonsky. They appear in front of a partially obscured sign that says, “Power Broker is watching.”
Make sure to check out Nerdist News’ full breakdown of episode one, which includes a look at all of the Easter eggs in the end credits.
Snap Fears and Blip Chaos
The post-Blip world is chaotic. Sharon Carter has carved out a profitable existence in the chaos of Madripoor. It’s the type of place a man with Ross’ connections and influence could use for his own purposes. He could work outside the laws of the United States to protect it. It’s not like anyone, not even Zemo, knows what the Power Broker actually looks like. It might be a position like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, an imposing title assumed by whomever has control of the city. Ross would have had both the means to take Madripoor (with, at minimum, the US’s tacit consent), and the motivation.
Sharon Carter is another candidate to be the Power Broker. But if it really is Ross, it makes sense he would let a fugitive super spy who violated the Sokovia Accords thrive in his city. Especially since he might need her one day and can dangle the promise of a pardon in front of her.
Whomever the Power Broke is, they knew about Nagel’s work before the Snap and still care about it after the Blip. They want to create more super soldiers. Yet they sent US soldiers to kill the Flag-Smashers. General Ross, who might have already given John Walker powers, is maybe the one person MCU fans already know who fits all of the criteria. Especially because he wouldn’t want any superpowered people running around on their own.
If there’s one thing we know about “Thunderbolt,” it’s that he loves superheroes. But only when he can control them.
Featured Image: Marvel
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.