Now that Episode 6 of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has dropped on Disney+, let’s take a comprehensive look at the show and see if we can make heads and tails of what we witnessed. Nerd Nexus sort of missed the boat with WandaVision due to this website’s rollout window, but that doesn’t mean we can’t jump in with FAWS to get our MCU Phase 4 coverage rolling.
– – HEAVY SPOILERS BELOW – –
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, or FAWS hereafter, was originally slated to drop on Disney+ as the very first MCU Phase 4 project. As we know, however, this plan was scrapped when the COVID-19 Pandemic fucked everyone’s lives up, and for whatever reason, Marvel and Disney decided to release WandaVision first, in January 2021. Many will suspect that this switch-up is due to the fact that WandaVision‘s characters and actors are more recognizable, and the plot and premise was more mysterious – the whole package was much more marketable as an entry into Phase 4 (and to snag those subscribers to Disney+). I won’t debate this, but I think there’s another reason too: WandaVision was a better show, and FAWS, unfortunately, is kind of a mess. Had it been decided to release FAWS first, I suspect that MCU Phase 4 wouldn’t have come out of the gates very hot. Indeed the reception to FAWS has been lukewarm thus far.
That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable – it is, mostly! – but it’s on the weaker side of the MCU spectrum. Here’s why.
One of the biggest lingering questions after the incredible finale of Avengers: Endgame is what happened to Captain America – is he dead? Is he alive but just retired? Perhaps more importantly, is Steve Rogers Captain America, or is “Captain America” a title that can be transferred around? This is the primary thematic question that drives the plot of FAWS, and through a unique and diverse cast of characters, we fully explore this question.
Set shortly after the events of Avengers: Endgame, the titular Falcon and Winter Soldier, or Sam and Bucky, have been doing their own thing for a while. Sam is still working for the government as a bit of a pseudo-hero, while Bucky is living a civilian life and trying to make amends with both himself and the long list of people he’s wronged as the Winter Soldier. The two are united by two related catalysts: a mysterious group of extremists and the naming of a new Captain America. Calamity ensues, naturally, and we see our primary characters globetrot from the United States to Europe to the neon-lit hive of scum and villainy that is Madripoor chasing the origins of the new super soldier serum that flows through the veins of both the extremists and the new Captain America.
I’ve got to ask: at what point do we stop with the replicating of the Super Soldier Serum? I acknowledge that this is an oft-used plot device in the comics, but come on, we’ve been doing this a long time now. Cap, Bucky, Red Skull, Hulk, and others are all products, in some way, of this program, but we’ve got to let it go because, after FAWS, this Macguffin is officially cooked. In FAWS, the plot is ostensibly moved forward by Sam and Bucky chasing the serum’s origins, but even after it’s found, it’s waved away with a timely explosion (conveniently, there was only enough serum for the bad guys to take it, plus one extra 😉)- ultimately, the only reason the serum even seems to be featured in the show is so that the “bad guys” are a threat.
Speaking of the “bad guys,” the most interesting part about FAWS is the subtle deception around who is and isn’t a protagonist or antagonist. John F. Walker’s heel turn was predictable, but his turn back into good-ish guy was interesting, and I’m left wondering what his role will be going forward. Alluding to the red, white, and black of his uniform as U.S. Agent, it seems like he may act as an off-the-books authority figure going forward, operating somewhere in the gray area between legality and illegality. A government-sanctioned Batman, if you will. The “terrorists” meanwhile, are…mostly bad. Like, as in, not interesting. I don’t really know what they wanted! Something-something reunited planet – I don’t know. Why did it matter if they had the super serum? How did that help their cause, other than being able to go toe-to-toe with Sam and Bucky and Walker? I don’t mean to be Revisionist Guy, but Karli Morgenthau and her squad of generic, camo-pants-wearing idealists may have been more interesting if they hadn’t taken the super soldier serum. Anyway, despite trying to write Morgenthau as a sympathetic villain, I think the FlagSmashers were ultimately just a backdrop and an afterthought in the grand scheme of the show – they’re simply cannon fodder for our heroes to practice karate on.
The more interesting plot threads can be found with the Isaiah Bradley, Sharon Carter, and of course, Julie Louis-Dreyfus’ Val. It’s entirely appropriate, if somewhat cliché, to position the government as the “Secret Bad Guy” in the series; in the context of this particular show, it feels right. To juxtapose the symbol that is Captain America’s shield against the motivations of people that would endeavor to even create a “Super Soldier” makes a ton of sense. Of course, the United States stuck the landing when Steve Rogers was selected as the original Captain America, but the super soldier serum is a sword with no handle: it cuts the enemy and the wielder alike. The best example of this was what happened to Isaiah Bradley, who was thrown into prison for 30 years because, as I understand it, he was too dangerous to the machine that created him.
To see the government reaping what it sows is a nice change of pace, if a bit convoluted in FAWS. I gather that Sharon Carter was the PowerBroker all along and that she was using the super soldier serum for her own nefarious means, but I’m not sure I picked that up until the final episode made it abundantly clear. Was she behind the entire plot of the show? Regardless, there now seems to be a fox in the chicken coop, so to speak, but haven’t we already seen the government infiltrated by Hydra? Does that make Val, and by extension, John F. Walker, an opposing force to the PowerBroker? Is this the setup for Season 2 of FAWS? Sure seems that way.
The plot of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier was, in the end, was all over the place. The through-line was hard to pick up, and I found myself trying to understand the motivations of some of the characters. There was so much jam-packed into the show that it became a slog to keep track – I haven’t even mentioned Sam’s family situation down in his hometown! Or the Wakandans showing up! Again, not to be Revisionist Guy, but FAWS may have been better off with one or two more episodes, and maybe one or two fewer plot threads.
Despite the relatively large cast for such a short series, the acting and character building actually shines in FAWS. Surprisingly, the standout of the show is Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau. Kellyman, despite her young age, is already an industry veteran with quite a resume, and it shows. She’s something of an “It Girl” right now having appeared in Solo: A Star Wars Story a few years ago and having snagged roles in The Green Knight and the upcoming Willow series (again from Disney+). Apart from her striking appearance, she’s wildly talented and does the most she can with what is ultimately a bland character – she imparts enough personality and empathy into Karli Morgenthau that I almost cared about her motivations.
Much has been made about the dynamic between Sam and Bucky in the media – their relationship was billed in the trailers as something like a funny-but-serious buddy cop dynamic – and it mostly works. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are both pretty cool here – Anthony Mackie just has it, somehow; he a guy that I’d like to go have a beer with, and it seems like the actor, not the character of Sam Wilson, could actually be Captain America. Sebastian Stan gets credit for making Bucky finally feel like a human again, rather than the rigid robot that was the Winter Soldier. Bucky feels much more, I don’t know, relatable? than he did even at the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger.
I would be remiss to not mention Wyatt Russell as John F. Walker here – he has perhaps the toughest job in the series; As the new Captain America, he’s tasked at first with getting us to like him, and then to kind of hate him, and then make us sorta think he’s ok again. This is Wyatt Russell’s super power, I think – the guy has appeared in tons of stuff as The Everyman, which is ultimately what Captain America is supposed to be, but I must admit, the dude has range. He was really cool as the reticent-but-dutiful soldier at the beginning of the show, and his transformation into the layered character he comes was very compelling – there were lots of little facial tics and vulnerabilities that nudged the viewer’s opinion about the character around, and it was great watching him work.
Other minor characters that deserve shoutouts are Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo, Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, and (the strikingly handsome?) Carl Lumbly as Isaiah Bradley. Lumbly’s performance as the spurned soldier-turned-sage was actually one of the highlights of the show as well, and it would be BADASS to maybe see a Marvel’s What-If? episode focused on Isaiah Bradley as Captain America.
How Does This Affect The MCU Going Forward?
By the end of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, we are left with a few things we can take away from the events of the series. First and foremost is that the Falcon is no more, and that Sam Wilson is now Captain America. Super cool! His new costume, while a bit hokey, was pretty sharp looking. Expect to see a lot of that costume this coming Halloween. The wings + shield combination was pretty cool too and made for some fun fight choreography.
Elsewhere, it seems that Bucky has finally put the Winter Soldier in his past. The past, however, may not be finished with Winter Soldier though. Hydra, we believe is dead, but a new organization has infiltrated the United States government and they are surely going to be interested in manipulating super soldiers for their bidding. If there is a season 2 of FAWS (I think it’s a lock, considering the open-ended nature of the finale), it seems as though it will be in the vein of a political thriller like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Is this a good idea, to remix an MCU movie as a TV show? Time will tell.
FAWS, like Spider-Man: Far From Home and WandaVision before it, attempts to give us a glimpse of the world post-Blip – there is a surprising amount of mundanity in some of the things that our protagonists are concerned with. Bucky is trying to date for the first time in 70 years, and Sam is trying to get a bank loan, but in the post-snap world, these things seem to be pretty tough. One of the MCU’s strengths is that all events have consequences, and that everything happens in the context of all the other things, so it’s great to see FAWS sticking with that theme and continuing to explore how Thanos’ snap affected things we didn’t even consider.
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is fine. It’s not great, but I enjoyed it while I watched it, ya know? I was relatively hyped up for episode 1, but after I saw it, I actually waited like two weeks to watch episodes 2 and 3 together, and that should tell you all you need to know. It wasn’t MUST WATCH for me, whereas WandaVision was, and as I’ve stated, I think Marvel/Disney knew that and that’s why they ultimately opted to roll WandaVision out first. The MCU is at its best when they’re doing things that have never been done before (like having a 22-film shared universe), and while the commentary on racism in the United States and what it means to be an American and that whole thing are interesting, I think The Falcon And Winter Soldier just doesn’t move the needle enough to garner more than middling praise.