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With today’s episode marking the season, or potentially series, finale of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we are taking a look back at the entire six-episode run as a whole. Looking at the series as both an independent work as well as a chapter in Phase Four of the MCU, we will see what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has done successfully and where future Marvel Studios’ offerings on Disney+ could improve. Our initial review was based on the first episode of the series. Here, we will consider the entire show as a whole.
Of course, keep in mind this serves as a SPOILER WARNING for today’s episode “One World, One People”.
What did The Falcon and the Winter Soldier do well?
After the weird uniqueness of WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier brought a more traditional look at the MCU with a series that mimicked the scope of a big-screen entry in the cinematic universe. But, with six hours available to tell a story, this series managed to give us a deeper look at the lives of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes as they dealt with the fallout of The Blip as well as the struggle to be who they are destined to be. As the series came to an end, it was easily apparent that this entire journey was set up for Sam to transition from Falcon to the new Captain America. Showrunner Malcolm Spellman and his writing team used this series to examine what it means for a Black man to become the superhero symbol of a country that has not respected his race and it worked very well.
The series also managed to give Bucky Barnes time to make the amends he needed to finally shed his Winter Soldier persona and become the hero he was striving to be. Sebastian Stan got several solid scenes dealing with his former life while never losing the fun and light persona that comes out when he shares the screen with Anthony Mackie. The pair make a great duo and work well as partners on-screen after several films of rivalry.
We also get some worthy screen time for Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who somehow trade places in the MCU. Zemo, who remains on The Raft for his crimes, ends up being a duplicitous character but less villainous than originally envisioned. His fate is left ambiguous at the end but we will surely see more of him. Sharon Carter, however, is revealed to be the Power Broker although none of the main characters know this yet. The post-credits scene shows that Sharon is given a full pardon, but a final phone call reveals that she is poised to steal secrets from the government and sell them to the highest bidder. Sharon’s fall from grace is a nice way to keep the character intriguing while also driving a wedge into her relationship with Sam and Bucky.
The introduction of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Val and her partnership with the new US Agent, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) teases a lot more to come from both characters in future installments of the MCU, but it remains to be seen just what that will entail. Walker’s arc from soldier to hero to what he will become next was a nice bonus on this season that already had a lot on it’s plate.
What didn’t work?
For all the grand scale that the first episode and finale brought, the middle five episodes featured a lot of talking. Yes, there were some solid moments in each episode, especially in the Derek Kolstad-scripted chapters, but the pacing of this series was a bit inconsistent. The entirety of the fifth episode was reserved for narrative exposition and some montage moments leading to a solid action-heavy finale. While I will never say no to some good MCU action, it felt rushed in places.
The villain also did not work, especially with multiple in play. John Walker, teased as the anti-Captain America, ended up redeeming himself by teaming with the heroes before ending up still on the path to being a bad guy. While a full redemption would have been a cliche, including it at all must serve a purpose for what comes next. Viewed as a part of this series alone, it felt a bit underwhelming. Sharon Carter’s reveal as the Power Broker also didn’t carry as much weight as it was pretty much telegraphed with her single scene in the fifth episode. Again, her role in the bigger picture has yet to be revealed.
The main nemesis here, The Flag Smashers led by Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) were the most disappointing aspect of the entire series. There is a line uttered by Sam in the final episode comparing Thanos to a teenager that speaks volumes. Yes, Karli may have been a supersoldier but she was just a kid, and having a teen gunned down and die in the arms of Captain America felt a bit muted compared to the massive bad guy visions of prior MCU entries. Kellyman did not have a lot to work with here as her character was pretty two-dimensional despite a significant backstory, but her role was really just to get us, and Sam, to our final reveal of the new Cap.
What comes next for the MCU thanks to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
I knew halfway through this series that we were not going to have enough time to resolve all of the open storylines, but that was to be expected. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios are using Disney+ not only as a storytelling platform but also as an incubator for future series and films. Zemo is now a different kind of threat than he was before and likely could factor into the teases Wakanda series that this show also introduced. US Agent and the Contessa both have a role to play in future stories as does Sharon Carter as The Power Broker.
We also now know why Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Kevin Feige have played coy and said there would be no second season of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. That is likely because there is no more Falcon. A big-screen outing may be in their cards, but if these two characters ever share a series again, it will be called Captain America and The Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was a fun ride if a less than unique one. While WandaVision started out unique, it ended up a fairly standard MCU production. That does not mean it was bad by any means, just not completely unexpected. This series addressed some significant topics about the stakes for a Black man to become Captain America and I am glad. Having Sam just don the Stars and Stripes and be accepted as the next Cap would have been a disservice to the legacy of Steve Rogers. By contrasting John Walker’s fall with Sam Wilson’s rise, this series avoids being a token nod to acceptance for diversity and tells a worthwhile story.
Captain America and The Winter Soldier proves that the titular hero doesn’t have to be a supersoldier to be the great American hero, but by enduring and never giving up he becomes the man every person wants to be like. That makes the end result of this story worth the uneven journey. After watching this entire series, I now am confident that handing the shield to Anthony Mackie was the right decision. I hope we get to see more of him and Bucky in the years to come.