The Falcon and The Winter Soldier Season One Review

Rating:

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are soaring high

Main Cast: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman
Created By: Malcolm Spellman

Sam: “What’s going on in that cyborg brain of yours?”
Bucky: “You don’t wanna know.”
Sam: “Oh yeah, I can see it working. Gears turning. Oh, they’re malfunctioning! They’re on fire!”
Bucky: “God, I hate you.”

“The Star-Spangled Man” (Season 1, Episode 2)

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a return to form for Marvel. After taking 2020 off to deal with Covid and the experimental mystery sitcom WandaVision, it’s time to get back to heroes fighting villains and terrorists. So can The Falcon and The Winter Soldier stick the landing or should they part ways? Let’s find out.

The Good

Who Will Wield The Shield?

Walker:I’m not trying to be Steve. I’m not trying to replace Steve. I’m just trying to be the best Captain America I can be. That’s it. It’d be a whole lot easier if I had Cap’s wingman on my side.
Sam: [scoffs] “It’s always that last line.

“The Star-Spangled Man” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Steve Rogers stepped down from being Captain America at the end of Avengers: Endgame, but he casts a long shadow. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier focuses on his allies and those who want to follow in his footsteps.

Sam Wilson was given the famous shield in Endgame, but is unwilling to become Captain America. He doesn’t think he can live up to both the Captain America legacy and the struggle of being a black man representing America. He gives the shield to the Smithsonian Institution and washes his hands of the matter.

Sam returns to his home in Louisiana to help his sister’s failing fishing business. Despite his fame as an Avenger, he finds that there is little he can do to help, creating more self-doubt. Sam is soon called back into action to investigate a terrorist group called The Flag Smashers.

Bucky has been in therapy while he copes with his actions as The Winter Soldier. Despite getting better, he is still alone and struggles to open up to others. Even worse, he learns that he murdered the son of one of the only friends he has made and can’t admit it to him.

Bucky feels betrayed by Sam giving up the shield and confronts him about it. This leads Bucky to force his way into the case, partly to get an answer and partly because he knows Falcon can’t do it alone.

With Falcon unwilling and Bucky unable to be Captain America, the government gives the title and shield to Captain John Walker. The new Cap struggles to live up to Steve’s reputation, lacking the same moral code and super powers. Luckily, he has his sidekick Battlestar (Cle Bennet) to back him up.

In time, Walker’s dark side starts to seep through. He hates being disrespected and feels inadequate compared to the super soldiers and highly trained warriors he fights. In his battles against the Flag Smashers, he grows more ruthless.

The Flag Smashers

Karli: “The struggle is what brings us all together. People who have nothing in common. For we are, after all, simply one world and one people.”

The Whole World is Watching” (Season 1, Episode 4)

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier could have gone the easy route and featured HYDRA being led by one of Captain America’s enemies. Instead, they turned one of his foes into a new threat.

The world was a different place after Thanos’ snap. With half of humanity gone, the survivors banded together to pick up the pieces. No one cared about borders or national differences. For once, people mostly got along. But then half of humanity returned and everyone rushed to return to the status quo.

An organization called the GRC was formed to help with relocation and provide for refugees. Instead, it forced the refugees into ghettos and planned to deport migrants back to their original countries. These actions cause a group of refugees to form the Flag Smashers, an organization that steals from the GRC to aid the refugees and who want to return the world to how it was during the Snap.

The Flag Smashers are led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), a charismatic Robin Hood-esque figure. She steals several vials of the Super Soldier Serum from an arms dealer, allowing Karli and her allies to keep up with the Falcon and the Winter Soldier in a fight.

Karli and the Flag Smashers is a good name for a band, but they also are a sympathetic group of villains. Their story arc shows just how easy it is for a well-intentioned group to slide into terrorism.

Truth: Red, White, and Black

Sam:This isn’t about easy decisions, Senator.
Senator: You don’t understand-
Sam:I’m a black man carrying the Stars and Stripes! What don’t I understand? Every time I pick this up, I know there are millions of people out there that are going to hate me for it. Even now, here, I feel it: the stares, the judgment…and there’s nothing I can do to change it. Yet I’m still here. No Super Serum, no blonde hair or blue eyes. The only power I have is that I believe… We. Can Do. Better.

“One World, One People” (Season 1, Episode 6)

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is one of the only MCU series to have an African-American lead. This allows the show to examine issues that are subplots at best in other superhero shows.

Despite helping save the world with the Avengers, Sam has to deal with prejudice. He is nearly arrested for having an argument with Bucky. The cops are hostile until they’re reminded that he’s an Avenger. A banker claims that Sam has poor credit to deny him a loan, doubting that he made money as an Avenger and refusing to excuse the years he was Snapped. Bucky’s therapist even forces Sam to participate in a session, despite lacking any authority to do so.

The biggest slap in the face is Walker becoming the new Captain America. Steve gave Sam the shield, which he relinquished because he thought the identity should die with Steve. A general praised Sam for giving it up, then gave it to a blond haired, blue eyed soldier without so much as a heads-up before Walker’s debut.

Sam isn’t the only one to suffer racial injustice. Bucky introduces him to a retired black super soldier named Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly). Bradley was one of several African American soldiers experimented on to create a new Super Soldier Serum. He was the only survivor and was falsely imprisoned because the government didn’t want the public to know there was a black super soldier. Bradley serves as a cynical foil and mentor to Sam.

The Bad

Keep Up The Pace

Sam:What are you doing here?
Sharon:I stole Steve’s shield, remember? [points to Sam, Bucky, and Zemo in turn] I also took the wings for your ass so that you could save his ass from his ass.”

Power Broker” (Season 1, Episode 3

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is packed with a lot of characters and plot threads. Unfortunately, the show has trouble managing them all.

Falcon’s part of the story is divided into helping with his sister’s business, debates about race with Bradley, and fighting Flag Smashers. Bucky has therapy, trying to move on from being the Winter Soldier, and arguing with Sam. Then you toss in Karli’s slide into villainy and Walker’s attempts to be a good Captain America for a busy viewing experience.

There are already enough major characters, but more keep getting thrown in and cluttering the series. Baron Zemo is brought in to help the heroes find the Flag Smashers. Agent Carter returns as a contact in the lawless country of Madripoor. Newcomer Joaquin Torres helps with the investigation and is set up to be the next Falcon. The show even throws in the Dora Milaje from Black Panther for a fight and a handful of dramatic scenes.

The worst example appears in the penultimate episode. While Walker is considering his next moves, Madame Hydra appears to advise him. He has clearly never met her and doesn’t know anything about her, but he suddenly starts taking her words as gospel, even over his wife’s advice. She only appears one more time in the show. Viewers were apparently supposed to have met her in Black Widow already, but a dozen delays screwed up that plan.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier either needed to trim a few characters and stories or have an extra episode to resolve everything. It provides plenty of fodder for season 2 and Captain America 4, but does no favors for this season.

The Verdict

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is a return to form. It features compelling main characters, sympathetic and competent villains, and more social commentary than you can throw Cap’s shield at. The pacing needs work and the show is a tad bloated, but these flaws don’t drag it down. Now we’ll have to see if they can keep it up in Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

Photo by Julie Vrabelova and courtesy Marvel Studios. (c) Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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