The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
For clarity’s sake, Sam Wilson and John Walker will be referred to here by their aliases instead of Cap, Fake Cap, New Cap, Jerk Cap, etc. That would only get confusing. But, make no mistake, Sam Wilson IS the new Captain America.
That’s really been the main purpose of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, hasn’t it? To fill in the arc from the end of Avengers: Endgame to the next time Captain America is seen onscreen, played by Anthony Mackie. Just handing off the shield would have felt a little slight for such a legendary character (although the video clips of audiences cheering if the Cap reveal in this episode had happened in a movie theater would have been cool). And so the MCU has given the new Captain America an origin story in the form of a six-episode miniseries, while also pushing forward the redemption of the Winter Soldier, setting up a new villain in the Power Broker, and bringing U.S. Agent into the fold. (We clearly haven’t seen the last of him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Val, both welcome additions to future films and series.) Wilson never really had much of an origin story as the Falcon in the MCU, but now he’s become a dense study in themes of responsibility, power, and the dark history of the country he’s going to not only defend but repair as the new Captain America.
The season often felt rushed and lacked some depth in its analysis of race and power in this country, but it served its narrative purpose and provided some solid entertainment along the way. It’s hard to say yet how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will be remembered because, like so much MCU product, it’s hard to gauge its full impact until we see how it ripples through future projects. It was flawed but fun. Only time will tell if it was substantial.
The finale opens where the last episode ended — a lockdown at the GRC. Bucky is there already, Sam is on the way, and even Sharon has made it into the country, bringing along some nifty Ethan Hunt disguise tech that hasn’t been seen since Natasha used it in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (It’s called a Photostatic Veil, if you’re curious.) It turns out, Karli was waiting for Sam to get there to start the fireworks. Sam flies through a window (heroes don’t take doors), and says, “I’m Captain America.” Hell yeah, you are. Karli tries to talk Bucky out of fighting for the wrong side, but he’s deep in his feelings, talking about the nightmares of who he has killed in the past, trying to warn Karli that she will someday have the same.
There are a bunch of quick action beats in an extended sequence that takes up about half of the finale. Sharon uses a mercury vapor bomb on a Flag Smasher; Sam fights Batroc and proves he’s gotten pretty good with that shield; Bucky uses a motorcycle to launch himself at a Flag Smasher; Walker comes for Karli, who gets the great line, “I don’t want to hurt people that don’t matter.” Don’t tell American Hero John Walker that he doesn’t matter.
Sam saves some hostages from a helicopter by literally removing its evil pilot, but the first main non-action beat comes when Walker is given a chance to save burning hostages or keep seeking vengeance, and he takes the latter option. It’s a subtle beat that indicates where he’s at in terms of heroism, even if that mind-set doesn’t last long. Moments later, Karli escapes with the hostages and drives a truck of them over a railing. The truck teeters on the edge of demise, but Walker finally makes the heroic decision and tries to pull it back to safety before being attacked by Flag Smashers. Sam arrives to save the day. People applaud.
There’s about to be a true showdown when Batroc fires smoke bombs to help Karli escape. Sam has heat-vision goggles! He leads this new trio with Bucky and Walker to track them, but Carter has already found Karli, fully revealing, through some truly clunky dialogue, that she is the Power Broker. Batroc tries to blackmail more money out of Carter, who shoots him, and gets shot herself by Karli. Sam bursts in and fights with Karli — well, Karli fights and Sam defends. He won’t fight. How noble. Karli gets a gun on him but gets shot by Sharon. It’s a sad, blunt end to an interesting character, murdered by someone who once financed her. Sam brings her body to her fellow revolutionaries. Death is always the end for extremists in the MCU, but the people who really pull the strings rarely face justice.
In a scene that’s certain to divide fans and critics of this show, Sam gets to drop a few speeches on senators and council members. He notes how labels like “terrorist,” “refugee,” and “thug” only lead to problems of blame and responsibility. This isn’t about easy decisions, Senator. (And yet this scene feels a bit too easy in terms of writing.) Even Isaiah Bradley is watching at home, nodding in approval. Sam says he has no serum and no blond hair. His only power is belief that people can do better (and some Stark wing tech that can pull pilots from helicopters, but whatever). He speaks about representation and encourages people in power to ask the right questions, like why did Karli die trying to stop them?
To start the cleanup scenes to the season, the remaining Flag Smashers are dispatched by Zemo’s Alfred. Zemo smiles hearing the news on the radio, and Val does the same seeing it on her phone. She’s with Walker’s wife as the former Cap becomes the U.S. Agent. Bucky goes to offer a little closure to the father of a man he murdered, and maybe even a second date with the waitress from the premiere.
Finally, Bradley tells Sam that he’s special. A season that has often felt rushed earns that criticism most of all here, going from “there will never be a Black Captain America” last episode to an approving hug an episode later. They talk about it not being an easy fight, but there are definitely parts of this season and this episode in particular that felt way too easy. One wonders how much more fulfilling it could have felt with more time to really dig into the themes of the show.
It all ends with a party! As “On and On,” by Curtis Harding, plays, Bucky, Sam, Sarah, and the locals celebrate on the pier. That’s what the MCU does. It goes on and on. But now it has a new Captain America.
Post-credits scene! Sharon Carter gets an apology from the government and is allowed back into it, even given a new job. There’s a truly clunky fade to her outside the Capitol, calling someone to reveal her dark side. The Power Broker is now in the U.S. government, ready to sell its tech and secrets to the highest bidder, something that feels like it may have been her endgame all along, financing the Flag Smashers in a way that allowed her back into the fold. Look out.
Easter Eggs Assemble
• The first fight between Sam and Batroc is a clear echo of the first fight between Steve Rogers’s Captain America and Batroc in the opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While that was a sequel, it was the first time that fans saw Cap fighting in modern times, and it’s a nice reflection that Sam’s first fight as Cap is against the same enemy.
• The episode ends with a new title: Captain America and the Winter Soldier, making its narrative purpose in the MCU even more defined.
• Speaking of that, doesn’t this put to bed any rumors of Chris Evans returning to the MCU as Captain America? Those always seemed a little silly, but it would be almost narratively impossible now. At least for a few years.
• When will Sam and Bucky discover that Sharon is the Power Broker, the one who really financed all this chaos? The next movie? Another series? Never?
• Thanks to everyone for reading all season!