Disney+ decided to drop only one episode of its new prestige MCU miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier today, leaving almost as many questions unanswered as there were yesterday. The truth is the premiere of the megabudget series (reportedly as high as $25 million an episode) doesn’t do much beyond reintroducing the action aesthetics of these previously supporting characters, but that’s really all fans should expect from what is basically a prologue to a much bigger story. Falcon can fly and blow up things! Winter Soldier used to be a ruthless killing machine! Who is Captain America now?!?! To be fair, it also sets up some potentially big themes, including anarchy and responsibilities both personal and patriotic. As Bucky Barnes continues to wrestle with his personal responsibility for death and destruction, Sam Wilson wrestles with his place in a world without Captain America as well as the pressure to become him. And both men will be challenged by the rise of a terrorist organization known as the Flag Smashers, who just want to see the world burn.
Turning supporting characters into leads can be more challenging than it looks. Viewers have always seen Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier contrasted against Chris Evans’s Captain America, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Where Sam is in his character arc allows the writers to lean into the fact that this is a supporting player who has been thrust into the spotlight by receiving the burden of Captain America’s shield and all it means to the world. Remember, at the end of Avengers: Endgame, an older Cap, having lived a very different life than he did previously, hands off his shield to Sam as Bucky looks on approvingly. In the comics, Sam might have just put on the mask and become Captain America, but there’s a reason this show isn’t called Captain America and the Winter Soldier — Sam’s not ready for that title yet, and it seems as though he may never be. The shield belonged to Steve Rogers, so it will sit in the Smithsonian, no matter what Rhodey, a.k.a. War Machine (Don Cheadle), says to try to convince Sam otherwise. His first line, about the shield, is “It’s someone else’s.” Will The Falcon and the Winter Soldier be the story of Sam realizing the shield is his, too?
It’s interesting that this important plot point about Sam essentially remaining Falcon instead of becoming Cap follows an extensive action sequence, running nearly ten minutes long, in which Falcon shows off very different skills from Mr. America. Set near the Libyan border, it features a mission to rescue a U.S. soldier from the claws of Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) and takes place high above the ground with Falcon speeding through valleys and dodging missiles. It’s designed to remind viewers of Falcon’s skill set, which hinges on lightning-fast reflexes and quick thinking, and to introduce them to Lieutenant Torres (Danny Ramirez), Falcon’s “boots on the ground” who tracks the hijacking and will later warn Falcon of the threat posed by the Flag Smashers.
Opening with a ten-minute aerial-combat sequence sets expectations for high-flying action in this series. Will every episode have a major set piece like this one? It’s certainly well done and wastes no time getting Marvel fans who miss their blockbusters into well-directed action. And Mackie looks very comfortable in the role of lead ass kicker, setting aside any concerns that he couldn’t carry the action on a show like this.
After the action subsides, Torres tells Sam about a group called the Flag Smashers, who believe the world was better before the Blip brought back the half of the population that had been eradicated by Thanos’s Snap. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts by playing with the idea of groups of domestic terrorists who thrive on chaos and believe conspiracy theories about Captain America being alive on the moon. Clearly, this is fertile ground to explore in the 2020s, but it’s too soon to tell how much the writers will dig into it. Do the Flag Smashers reflect what Sam calls “the times we’re in”? Or are they merely a new group of anarchic baddies?
We then meet back up with Rhodey at a ceremony in which Cap’s shield is being given to the Smithsonian, and Sam gives a speech about how the shield “belongs” to him. Rhodey tries to talk Sam into carrying the shield and being the Captain America the world needs right now, but Sam isn’t really feeling it.
Cut to a flashback to a brutal incident with the Winter Soldier on a Hydra assassination mission, during which he kills an innocent bystander. The flashback is soon revealed to have been a dream, a recurring nightmare that Bucky’s shrink asks him about the next day. She’s hilariously exhausted with Bucky and calls him a liar almost immediately. Being the shrink to a guy who was turned into a killing machine for decades can’t be easy, but this is a condition of his pardon. He also has to go through efforts to make amends. When she aggressively confronts him about how alone he is in the world, he counters by noting that he “just went from one fight to another for 90 years.” That would mess a guy up.
It turns out Bucky has at least one friend, a kindly old man who turns out to be a killer wingman and who asks out a waitress on Bucky’s behalf. It’s revealed that Bucky is close to him for a reason: He’s the father of the bystander seen in the flashback dream earlier in the episode. His shrink may not believe it, but Bucky is directly confronting his past sins and trying to make amends in his own way by being there for an old man whose life he ruined.
Cut to Delacroix, Louisiana, and the introduction of Sam’s sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye), who wants to sell the boat that has been their family’s business for years. It turns out that despite their loan agent recognizing Falcon enough to take a selfie, even the sisters of international heroes are given no special treatment in a post-Blip recession (and Avengers don’t get paid to be heroes). Let’s hope Sarah isn’t merely being set up as a device to push Sam into action. It’s way too soon to tell how this story line will play out; maybe the show plans to dig deeper into their economic struggle, but there’s reason for skepticism here.
After Bucky’s awkward date, Torres is trying to get closer to the Flag Smashers, which ends in his kind of getting his ass kicked. He sends a clip of the leader of the Flag Smashers to Sam, revealing that he’s concerned about a disarmingly strong new supervillain. Then Sarah rushes in to turn on the TV as a press conference unfolds … introducing a new, unfamiliar Captain America.
Easter Eggs Assemble
• If Georges Batroc, the bad guy in the first action sequence, looks familiar, that’s because he’s the same guy who fights Captain America on the freighter at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Is there something to introducing a potential new Captain America by having him fight one of the first enemies who was seen battling the old Cap in modern times? Maybe.
• Of course, every Marvel property reworks characters from the comic books in a way that could hint at where the show is going. That means we need to talk about Lieutenant Joaquin Torres. Danny Ramirez’s character shares a name with a character from Marvel Comics who, guess what, becomes the second Falcon. In the source, he’s a teenager who is kidnapped by the Sons of the Serpent and saved by Falcon, who then becomes Captain America, allowing Torres, who is now a falcon-human hybrid, to become the new Falcon. Could the show follow that path, making Sam the new Captain America and Torres the new Falcon?!
• The name Flag Smashers isn’t new to Marvel fans either: It has been associated with two supervillains from the books, most notably Karl Morgenthau, who first appeared in Captain America in 1985 as a symbol of anti-patriotism. Think about it: What’s more antithetical to Captain America than a Flag Smasher? The character was birthed in violence, like most Marvel superheroes and supervillains, convinced that the world needed anarchy after the death of his father at a Latverian embassy. Fanaticism, anarchy, terrorism — these will clearly be themes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
• During the therapy flashback, when they’re discussing making amends, there’s a shot of a notebook with names that Bucky is crossing out. Interestingly, one can easily spot H. Zemo, or Baron Helmut Zemo, a classic Captain America villain reimagined in Captain America: Civil War, where he was played by Daniel Brühl. It has been announced that the actor will reprise the role on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Other Marvel names on the list include Wilhelm Hauser (a Sgt. Fury character from the ’60s), Andre Rostov (a.k.a. the Red Barbarian), and possibly Kuznetsov (there was a Soviet doctor in the books named Kuznetsov).
More From This Series
- Chris Evans Is Not the Captain Now
- Disney+ Has Fixed That Goofy Falcon and the Winter Soldier Mistake