Just like Wanda and Vision, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier have been very much supporting characters to the other Avengers in the MCU. The Falcon (Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson) was Captain America’s friend during his Avenger years and the Winter Soldier (Sebastien Stan as Bucky Barnes) was his childhood friend in the 30s and 40s and both first appeared together in the MCU in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In the films since then both have had run-ins with each other: they fought each other in Winter Soldier, they were semi-allies in Civil War and fought against Thanos with the others in Infinity War and again in Endgame after they were brought back. However, their direct on-screen time together was limited. Now, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a new six-part series that unexpectedly brings the two former friends of the late Steve Rogers together to fight against a new world threat.
Episode 1 – “New World Order”
If you remember from Endgame, Rogers gave Wilson his legendary shield, basically bequeathing him the title Captain America. While the first episode at least doesn’t elude to him having taken on the coveted role of the new Cap, you can imagine this may be where his journey through the series will lead him to. For now, the shield is at the Smithsonian which he donates so the Captain’s legacy can be remembered rather than resurrected; he feels it doesn’t belong to him but still belongs to Steve. Maybe it’ll be a case of him having self-esteem issues and not wanting the pressure that comes with it, much like Peter Parker in Spider-Man Far From Home. What’s great even in the first episode, is how Anthony Mackie as Sam is finally given his time to shine as a lead actor and main character. We get to learn a little bit more about him, his background and his family which is likely to flesh out the series a bit more.
Meanwhile, Bucky is still trying to recover mentally from his time as the brainwashed Winter Soldier. Sebastian Stan grows into his role as the fraught villain-turned-antihero who tries to come to terms with the fact he’s lost years of his life while under control and killed so many people. Part of this was explored in some of the films but not extensively enough, so it’s nice to see that he’s able to be a more central character this time, and hopefully down the line he’ll be able to forgive himself and make amends by continuing to be a hero and do the right thing.
In the first episode, you can tell Marvel Studios put the $150 million they’ve spent on the series to good use. The special effects, just like WandaVision, are just as good as in the films and at times the scenes – particularly the opening action scene – are just as exhilarating, especially considering it’s now being shown on the small screen instead of big cinema screens. We don’t really see the two main characters with or interact with each other bar text messaging as it sets the premise of the series. Will just these two Avengers be able to handle what’s to come without their former teammates?
In summary, the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is already much more exciting and easier to follow that WandaVision, and you’d expect it to keep up the thrilling action mixed with more emotion and drama as it delves into the characters backstories more than they would have done in films. I can also expect though, that while it’s bound to give hardcore Marvel fans like myself great satisfaction, it’s unlikely to be as engaging with shocking twists to keep it new, unique and fresh. But who knows, we’ll see.
Over the next five weeks, just like I am also doing with Love, Victor, I’ll be reviewing the other episodes and do a full write-up after the sixth episode so keep checking back if you’re interested to share your views of the show as you watch it if you are!
Episode 2 – “The Star-Spangled Man”
So the twist from episode one saw a brand new Captain America in the form of former military man John Walker after Sam Wilson turned down the opportunity originally offered to him. It had MCU fans all over gobsmacked at this and memes galore of the new Cap’s appearance flooded the internet. However, actually, underneath the helmet, John Walker isn’t actually much like the old man with the extremely square jaw from Disney Pixar’s Up film and isn’t actually bad looking either. Definitely no Steve Rogers though. In this episode we learn a bit more about him – he was seemingly chosen after a series of tests despite not possessing the same superhuman abilities as Rogers.
Sam and Bucky meet up and go on the hunt for the new world threat “the Flag-Smashers” – sounds more like a teenage schoolyard gang name than a global terrorist organisation, but whatever – they are apparently on the warpath because they believe life was better during the Blip… Again, strange but ok. The two characters’ dynamics work surprisingly well together as they bicker about how to do things and their differing views on what’s happened to the shield, though they both share a dislike of John Walker. There’s also the insertion of a socially-conscious scene in which the police stop Sam and Bucky on the street that is a subtle but pointed reference to racial profiling that is a hot topic and prevalent.
Sam and Bucky decide to go rogue to hunt down and fight the Flag-Smashers, while Captain America does too but does it in his noble “by the book” way that will see the three of them continue to clash over the course of the next four episodes. And in a surprising revelation, the Flag-Smashers – many of whom appear to be super soldiers – are led by young, feisty but also seemingly unsure of what she’s doing English girl Karli Morgenthau. I’m sure we’ll find out more about her motivations to lead this organisation as the show progresses…
Episode 3 – “Power Broker”
As we get to episode three of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s a little bittersweet as we realise we are already halfway through this unfortunately short series. In this episode we – as I suspected – find out a bit more about Karli’s backstory. Her emotions are all over the place over the effects of the Blip and she’s angry over the feeling that those (including her) who didn’t disappear are less cared about than those who did, and wants to help desperate kids in need of support. By stealing materials and other supplies – including the super soldier serum – she and the Flag-Smashers hope they can give the kids and others the same superhuman strength they’ve injected into themselves.
Meanwhile, Bucky helps Helmut Zemo break out from jail in order to help them find Karli and the Flag-Smashers. This in itself is a danger knowing Zemo’s previous crimes and history with him and Sam, the latter whom is understandably hesitant to go along with the plan, but with Zemo already out he hasn’t got much choice. It turns out Zemo is very much against super soldiers despite his heinous past, which is strange; in helping them he seems ton feel as if he’s actually doing something good. A visit to Madripoor in Southeast Asia in the disguise of local criminals (how they get away with it for so long, especially Sam who is recognised by many wherever he goes, is beyond me) to speak to the “Power Broker” – a mysterious person who we don’t know much about but might know where the group is – ends in their cover being blown and another bad English girl Selby being killed. Numerous bounty hunters tail them but they suddenly get a surprise backup in the form of a much tougher Sharon Carter who’s been on the run for a number of years and is a wanted fugitive back in the States.
This episode is a good turning point in the series as we are re-introduced to Carter (and we’ll no doubt find out more about her recent life in the next half) as well as Ayo from Black Panther who is on the hunt for Zemo, Karli’s villain status is affirmed when she blows up innocent hostages despite her grief and motivation for her actions earlier in the episode, and we find out all 20 vials of the super soldier serum that were made were supposedly stolen by the Flag-Smashers. Can the yet unknown “Power Broker” (in the comics he’s a dealer who sells superpowers to people) help them or hinder them? What will the seemingly sneakier by the episode John Walker do next as he appears to be racing against Sam and Bucky to solve the case first? And just how will they solve it and defeat the Flag-Smashers? An episode full of questions that answers are sure to come…
Episode 4 – “The Whole World is Watching”
We’ve now past the halfway point of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and things really do start to get even more interesting. We’re transported back six years ago to see how the Wakandans helped Bucky snap out of the mind control he was subjected to. Sam tries reasoning with Karli and they realise they both share common desires; the motivation behind the Flag Smashers appears to be noble and Sam admits he agrees with their fight but not how they’re going about it.
John Walker becomes increasingly aggravated as he’s forced to follow Sam, Bucky and Zemo in order to get to Karli and is then humiliatingly overpowered by the Dora MIlaje who he protests are not even super soldiers, yet managed to have the upper hand over him. He then steals the last vial of the serum Karli knocks off a table (I mean, why were they just on a table anyway?) after Zemo smashes all but one and later injects it into himself.
The final scenes are particularly harrowing as we see – and the world does too – Walker’s newly found superhuman powers, immense sense of pride, boiling anger and sudden grief consume him. Suddenly, the tables are turned as Karli and the Flag Smashers seems to be given more justification to continue their fight back against what she calls “the real supremacists”, with Walker being a part of that. Will Walker end up being the real villain of it all? Also, we still don’t know anything about the Power Broker but Sharon may be the key to finding out who he really is and what his deal is.
Episode 5 – “Truth”
In the penultimate episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that’s got Marvel fans hooked, it does – as most episodes before the finale is released – get us asking more questions and craving the answers before answering any previous ones we’ve been pondering over. The episode begins with pretty much the only action scene in what is admittedly quite a slow burner of an episode: Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes confront John Walker about his murderous outburst in the previous episode which results in a gritty threeway fight reminiscent of Steve Rogers vs Iron Man vs Bucky Barnes in Captain America: Civil War. Poor John Walker, while able to subdue both, still seems to struggle even with his new superhuman strength and is eventually left the loser of this battle and without the shield. Which poses the question – was the super soldier serum he took and injected faulty?
He’s later obviously stripped of his Captain America title but encounters a new character to the show (but familiar to the comic book fans) – Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. In her one scene she lets on that she basically supports what he did and confesses the secret that the shield doesn’t belong to the government. What her true role in the series will poses yet another question – she’s been introduced very late in the show and was barely in this episode for five minutes so just how pivotal is her character to its finale?
Meanwhile, Zemo is taken away by the Dora MIlaje and Sharon Carter gets her one interesting scene in which we see her conversing with Batroc (as we later realise). So what exactly is Sharon’s deal and her role in all of this? We still have no idea who the Power Broker is – a shocking twist I’m sure we’ll find out in the finale (well, you’d hope so!). The Flag Smashers also don’t appear to have much going on in this episode but we soon know they’re plotting something big and terrible with the help of Batroc… And in two further subplots, Sam reels in help to finish his sister’s boat which gives us a bit of a break from the action and drama but this takes up a good quarter to a third of the episode’s hour running time. He also converses more with Isaiah Bradley about his past and there’s some chilling revelations about the shield’s legacy and it’s connection to America’s alleged anti-Blackness. Disney are very woke with this show, it appears!
Episode 6 – “One World, One People”
It feels like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (or White Wolf, as the Wakandans call him) only started yesterday. We’ve now come to the end of the road for this series, but something tells me this is not the last we’ll see or hear of the characters in the show. Following on from the previous episode, The Flag Smashers have infiltrated the GRC conference which threatens to dictate their future. But in a heart-stopping, thrilling moment, the shield and followed by Sam Wilson crashes through the window to the rescue, declaring himself “Captain America”. It’s a moment we knew would happen and were just waiting for it to but it’s still a satisfying moment nonetheless. A fight with Batroc ensues and it appears his mission is defeat The Falcon once and for all. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes goes after The Flag Smashers with the help of Sharon, who reappears properly after her elusiveness recently, but she’s still acting a little strange.
We soon realise – and there’s been fan theories floating around – that she is the Power Broker. And Karli and The Flag Smashers basically used to work for her until they broke away from her. It is still unclear exactly what the Power Broker’s deal is. She seems against The Flag Smashers after they betrayed her, stealing super soldier serum from her, but she is also working against the ideals of Captain America, et al. We can understand her new path down to darkness and shadiness after being exiled from America but at the same time, there seems to be more to her whole story in this new life than can be elaborated on in the series.
After all the exhilarating action of out of control helicopters, locked vans being set alight and being thrown off structures, and fight sequences between Bucky and The Flag Smashers, which is interrupted by John Walker aiming to get more revenge on Karli and her gang, one scene sticks out the most. It is of course Sam Wilson as Captain America claiming the title despite it not being officially bestowed upon him, declaring his Blackness knowing some people will hate him for it and knowing some Black people (Isaiah Bradley) are still apprehensive about it. It’s an empowering speech that also puts members of the GRC in their place and shuts their mouths after they say he doesn’t understand. But he tells them it is them who don’t understand what they’re doing. He clarifies that he empathises with WHY The Flag Smashers did what they did.
It’s a poignant ending to the saga, which touches on real-world issues such as race relations, politics, American history, and warfare. The pointed nods to the issues of race are ones I truly hope are brought up again in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s also one of the first shows or films, especially in the MCU, that really humanises the main antagonist. Karli, as strange as a character as I thought she was originally, genuinely has a valid motive and reason behind her crazy ideas and schemes as much as her actions are not to be condoned or excused. Her death in Sam Wilson’s arms after their battle actually makes you empathise with her just as Sam empathises with her and struggles.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is an excellent extension of the Captain America story as it changes and makes history about the character. However, while it certainly opens up spin-offs to tell the stories of Sharon Carter and John Walker, we are left a little high and dry – especially if you’re not so familiar with the comics. John Walker of course becomes “U.S. Agent” as in the comics but what that truly means has yet to be determined and Val, from her one strange appearance in the previous episode, appears again for one scene which seemingly adds nothing to story. I had thought she was a pivotal character to its end but it doesn’t look like she was, and I personally couldn’t find her purpose in the show as a whole. If you know, do enlighten me please! While Sharon, apparently genuinely happy to be getting a full pardon and her job at the CIA back, still seems to be working for or controlling the enemy, as we see in the mid-credits scene. Her aunt Peggy Carter must be spinning in her grave!