The Flag Smashers have become unexpectedly sympathetic characters. While Sam, Bucky, Zemo, and John Walker are hunting this renegade group of anarchists Karli Morgenthau and her people have been working to help those that were displaced by the GRC after The Blip. But with one action Karli Morgenthau has moved from sympathetic outlaw, to villain and mass murderer. While her motives are understandable, Karli’s decision to blow up a building full of people has crossed a line that she may not be able to come back from.
The Flag Smashers are initially introduced to Sam by Joaquin Torres, as a group who are motivated by their belief that the world was better during The Blip and have a desire for a world without borders. Torres then tries to stop the Flag Smashers after a bank robbery where it is first shown that they have super strength. In the second episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Karli Morgethau (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag Smashers are shown in a much more sympathetic light.
Although they steal vaccines, it’s meant to be distributed to the people displaced by those who returned after The Blip. When the café owner houses the Flag Smashers, he tells Karli that she is being called Robin Hood, and it becomes clear that these outlaws are not only trying to stay ahead of the new Captain America, Sam, and Bucky, but the mysterious Power Broker as well.
The third episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier went into a bit more detail about the Flag Smashers stealing the super soldier serum from Power Broker and their reasons. They were displaced, ending up in the crime ridden lawless city of Madripoor where Karli knew there was something that could “protect” them. Karli and the Flag Smashers have the last of the super soldier serum, with her now feeling that she is in a position of power over the Power Broker. Karli even revealed that she had wanted to become a teacher before the leader of this group of outlaws and now she wants to use their strength to help the kids stuck in the refugee camps post-Blip.
In the comics Karl Morgenthau is the Flag-Smasher who has similar anti-nationalist views, but he immediately starts out as a terrorist. Although the motivations are similar to Karl Morgethau, he’s motivated by the personal tragedy of his father’s death, a diplomat trampled to death in Latveria. Karl feels that nationalism and countries make people feel superior to those of other nations.
What is notable is that in the comics Flag-Smasher is not a super soldier, whereas the group in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier are. These similarities are noteworthy, but Karl’s terrorist practices are much more extreme than The Falcon And The Winter Soldier version of the character. The Flag Smasher may be thieves, but until the end of episode 3 they didn’t seem like terrorists.
THE MCU FLAG SMASHERS’ GOAL
The target of most of the Flag Smasher’s thefts is the GRC organization, which stands for Global Reparation Council. Our first real introduction to the GRC was the commercial at the start of episode 3 which included some interesting wording.
“But we’re here to help you find your way. Helping you back into your homes and jobs. Helping you navigate changes to society, laws, and borders. Helping you get back to the way things were.”GRC commercial.
The implication here is that those returning will be given their homes, their jobs, essentially their lives back to what was “normal” before The Blip. However, this leaves the people who moved into those homes, earned those jobs, and built new lives in a bit of a lurch. The Flag Smashers are actually examples of some of those people.
“The GRC care more about the people who came back than the ones who never left.” Karli Morgethau
Although this is an impossible situation because what is the right answer? Should the people who return not only lose 5 years of their lives, but everything that would be familiar? Is it fair to completely displace the people who have spent the past 5 years trying to rebuild their lives after half the population, likely including loved ones, disappeared? A right answer seems like an impossibility, but it definitely seems like the GRC are not the right answer.
It’s worth noting that not everyone is being helped by the GRC upon return. This is evidenced by the scene where Sam attempted to get a bank loan and was denied in part due to his lack of credit history over the past 5 years when he was erased from existence. The Flag Smasher’s desire to help those that the GRC has apparently forgotten is understandable and even commendable, but that is not an excuse for Karli’s decision to set off a bomb at a GRC facility.
At the end of episode three of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Karli Morgethau stepped over the line from outlaw or even folk hero into villain. No longer can she be considered a misunderstood, but good intentioned character. Karli Morgethau actively made the decision to bring a car bomb to a GRC facility and murder people. It isn’t clear how large her body count is, but what is clear is the people killed were not a threat. The people guarding the supplies the Flag Smashers stole were tied up and anyone else in the building would have been oblivious.
Karli’s rationalization is that “This is the only language these people understand.” Maybe her anger and grief over the death of “Mama Donya” overtook her, but what was most interesting in that moment was how horrified her fellow Flag Smasher was. With Karli now firmly moving into the category of villain the question becomes will her fellow Flag Smashers follow her over that edge? How devoted are they to this cause and is it worth killing some people in an attempt to save others and what gives them the authority to choose who is worth saving?