Each Friday, Darren from @darrenmoviereviews will be recapping the most recent episode(s) of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the show’s overall connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The next Marvel series has begun! After the shortest break ever between entries in the MCU, we begin our next adventure with Sam and Bucky in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
I was very impressed with the premiere episode. We get a taste of the stellar action sequences that we can expect from the rest of the series at the opening of the episode. However, it’s the episode’s writing and performances that stand out. Instead of focusing on action, we get a character piece that explores the personal struggles of both Sam and Bucky after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan are great, digging into an emotional side of these beloved characters that we have never seen before. The writers clearly understand these characters and the personal struggles they are facing with not only everything they have experienced so far in life, but with the current political and social climate of the world. The entire episode reminded me of the opening act of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and as one of my favourite Marvel films to date, if the series continues with that same style of story, we are in for one hell of a miniseries!
For those of you who struggled with watching WandaVision and following it each week, it’s safe to say based on the premiere episode alone that this Marvel miniseries will be more your speed. The episode has a mix of action sequences, laughs and character moments, all while laying the groundwork for a larger story to unfold over the remaining five episodes. Tonally, it’s most similar to one of the Captain America films, which makes sense as it’s the continuation of the stories of the characters from those films. It’s too early to compare this series to WandaVision, but based on this episode alone, I think it’s safe to say that this series, while being different, will be just as exciting as an entry into the MCU.
And into spoiler territory we go. If you have not seen this week’s episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, stop reading now. If you have, keep on reading to find out what we learnt in the premiere episode…
The series picks up six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and opens up on Sam Wilson in his apartment. Through voice over, we hear Sam’s last conversation with Steve Rogers from Avengers: Endgame, in which Steve passes the mantle of Captain America. Sam, clearly still conflicted in his feelings towards Steve’s choice of him to become the next Captain America, quietly packs away Captain America’s shield into a carrying case.
We then find ourselves in the sky above Tunisia with Sam. He is on board a military airplane, tasked with a new mission: to rescue a military asset kidnapped by a terrorist group run by Georges Batroc, the mercenary portrayed by mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre we last saw in the opening sequence Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The wrinkle, they are currently on an airplane heading towards Libya and Sam has to rescue the asset before the plane crosses the border. But that won’t stop Sam. In his Falcon suit, Sam jumps out of the military plane and flies off to rescue the target. What follows is a spectacular action sequence involving planes, helicopters and gliding suits, showing that this series has the same production value as a Marvel film. By the end of the sequence, Sam rescues the target and Batroc escapes.
After the mission, Sam meets up with Joaquin Torres, a friend of Sam’s and member of the U.S. Air Force. Joaquin begins discussing a new militia group that he has been following. We see a logo for them on Joaquin’s phone, and we can only assume that this group is the Flag-Smashers, the villains for the series. Sam asks Joaquin to keep a tab on them and update him on any new developments. Joaquin then begins asking Sam about what happened to Steve. Joaquin discusses the many conspiracy theories about Steve, including one where Sam took Steve to the moon for a secret mission. Sam assures Joaquin that these theories are wrong, but does not provide Joaquin with the truth about Steve’s whereabouts. Sam gets up to leave as he is required in Washington, to which Joaquin asks what for. Sam responds by saying it is for “moon stuff”, but you can hear the sorrow in his voice.
Back in Washington, we learn why Sam has returned back: a ceremony at the Smithsonian celebrating Captain America’s legacy. It’s the most moving moment of the entire episode, in which Sam gives a speech about returning from the Blip and the world needing new heroes. He says that “symbols are nothing without the men and women that give it meaning,” and picks up Captain America’s shield. Sam continues saying, while referring to Captain America’s shield, that “there has never been a greater symbol but it’s about the man who propped it up and he’s gone.” Sam concludes his speech by thanking Captain America, but stating that the shield still belongs to him. Sam then places the shield into a display case, while the government representative running the event thanks Sam for coming forward with the shield.
After the speech, Sam talks to James Rhodes who was present during the ceremony. The two of them walk through the Smithsonian exhibit on Captain America, constantly reminding both the viewers and Sam that Steve is gone. Rhodey comments that it will be crazy that no one will carry the shield, and while Sam notes that America survived for 70 years without the shield while it was frozen with Steve in the ice after the events of Captain America: The First Avengers, Rhodey says that these are different times.
We then cut to a hotel with tons of security guards, who are revealed to be protecting a Hydra asset. We see a metallic arm break through a wall and grab one of the guards. We have our first appearance of Bucky. But, as fans will note, he looks very similar to Bucky in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with his long hair, metal arm and black outfit, suggesting that this scene takes place in the past. Bucky takes out all of the guards and the Hydra asset. However, there is a young Asian man who has mistakenly witnessed Bucky’s execution of the Hydra agent. Bucky, not wishing to leave any witnesses, raises his gun at the young man and pulls the trigger. We then cut to Bucky sleeping on the floor of his apartment, waking up in a panicked sweat. The scene we just saw was a traumatic nightmare of Bucky’s past.
The next day, Bucky finds himself in mandatory counselling as part of his pardon to regain his freedom, Bucky lies to his counsellor about having a nightmare, but the counsellor knows better. The conversation then turns to Bucky crossing another name off his list. His list includes the names of Hydra assets he helped advance in the world as the Winter Soldier, and Bucky is trying to make amends for the past. When the counsellor asked if Bucky took this name off his list using his rules from the government (doing nothing illegal, nobody gets hurt and doing it as Bucky Barnes not the Winter Soldier). So did Bucky follow these rules? Well…kinda. As they discuss the rules, the scene cuts to Bucky’s latest efforts to cross a name off his list. Bucky uses a tablet to hijack control of the car which had his Hydra target in it, and knocks out the person in the car with his target. Clearly, he did not comply with the first two rules. But Bucky does introduce himself to the Hydra asset as Bucky Barnes, states he no longer is the Winter Soldier and that this is part of him making amends for his past actions to the target before the police swarm to arrest her. It’s an entertaining moment as you see Bucky lying to his counsellor about what actually conspired, but we do see that Bucky is trying to be a better person and make up for his dark past.
The conversation then turns to how Bucky is coping with his new life. After checking BUcky’s phone, the counsellor sees that Bucky has no contacts and is ignoring texts from Sam. When she questions Bucky about this, Bucky expresses the fatigue he has from going from one fight to another constantly for the past 90 years. He tells her he just wants peace, but the counsellor calls Bucky out saying that what he just said is utter bullshit. She says this because being alone is the quietest, most personal hell that one can experience and it’s hard to escape. But she does say that Bucky is on the right path and that he is free.
After counselling, Bucky meets up with an elderly Asian man named Yori for lunch. Yori sets Bucky up with the young waitress on a date before the conversation turns to Yori’s late son who passed away a few years ago while travelling abroad. Yori tells Bucky that while he has been told a story by the authorities, he doesn’t believe that it is what truly happened and that something feels strange about the whole situation.
The next night, Bucky returns to the restaurant for his date. After some fun jokes about the craziness of online dating, including one where his date does not believe Bucky when he says he is 106 years old, the conversation turns to Yori. The waitress says that it’s sweet that Bucky is spending time with him after what happened to his son, and discusses how there is no name to call a parent who loses a child. However, something in this conversation triggers something inside Bucky and causes him to abruptly leave. Bucky then goes to Yori’s apartment, and makes up an excuse that he forgot to pay him for lunch and hands him some money But we learn why Bucky is spending time with Yori and what triggered Bucky in the conversation with his date. In Yori’s apartment, we see a shrine for his son that includes a photo. It is the same innocent bystander that Bucky killed earlier in the episode. It is Bucky’s guilt that is driving him.
Sam has returned home to Louisiana to spend time with his sister, Sarah, and his nephews. We learn that Sarah has been running the family business the past five years without the help of Sam as he disappeared during the Blip, and that the family business is struggling financially. This has led Sarah to the decision to sell the family boat and take loans out against the family house. Sam is clearly not okay with letting go to the family boat and wants to help Sarah and the family business. Sam promises to set up meetings with the local banks to help get the financial support the business needs.
We then jump to Switzerland. Joaquin has followed the Flag-Smahers online activity and followed a message they put out calling to their followers. As requested in the message, Joaquin puts on a mask as a bag suddenly comes flying out of a building. The Flag-Smashers are performing a heist. Chaos erupts in the street as the authorities swarm and people run wild, all of them wearing masks. This gives the Flag-Smashers the cover they need to escape, but Joaquin catches sight of the individual who threw the bag out the window. Joaquin confronts the individual, pulls his gun on them, but he is flipped on his back and kicked in the face knocking him out. Luckily, Joanquin caught everything on tape.
Back in Louisiana at the first bank meeting, the bank manager immediately recognizes Sam as Falcon and has a fan moment in which he takes a selfie with Sam. However, the meeting quickly changes tone as the manager says that he cannot provide them the loan. He notes that Sam has had no income for the past five years, and says that even though that is explained by the Blip, that there are new rules in place with the bank. Sarah is clearly not buying the explanation they are getting, and tells the bank manager that the rules are always rigged around “them”.
Outside on the street, Sarah does not want to continue with the bank meetings Sam has arranged. She is convinced that all the meetings will end the same and that this is a struggle she and her parents have been facing their entire life, but not one Sam dealt with. She claims that Sam went off and joined the army to avoid the problem, and he cannot just come back and right his wrongs because he could not deal with the situation his family was facing when he left. She tells Sam that she was alone for five years, raising her two sons and kept the boat and family business alive. Sam is clearly hurt by this comment from his sister and tells her point blank that the boat and house are half his and he refuses to sell his family’s legacy.
Sam receives a text message from Joaquin, now recovering from his attack. Joanquin sends Sam the video footage he captured of the events in Switzerland. They discuss the footage, and Sam asks Joaquin to keep this between the two of them for the time being. But before anything more can be said, Sarah interrupts Sam saying that he needs to come see what is on television. We see a government announcement, noting that there is unrest in the world and that they love the heroes who have defended the Earth. However, there is no hero for America and that they need someone to inspire them again. Someone with strong American values that can become a symbol for the country. And then the government official introduces the new Captain America. We see a man in a suit very similar to Steve’s come out, holding Captain America’s shield. He winks at the camera. Sam is clearly distraught by this, looking down at his hands, almost looking ashamed that he did not accept the honour of becoming the next Captain America that Steve bestowed on him. But the episode ends before we get any further into Sam’s reaction.
There is a lot to unpack in this episode. The majority of them are wonderful character moments for Sam and Bucky that have setup their personal arcs for the season, but we also get some Marvel easter eggs.
Starting off with Bucky’s list. We get a glimpse at the list, and while most of the names are references to creators of the comics or individuals who have appeared in the comics, but not ones that are likely to appear in this series, there is one name to take note of: H. Zemo. The name is not crossed off. If that name sounds familiar, it should be. It’s Helmut Zemo, Daniel Brühl’s character from Captain America: Civil War that turned the Avengers against each other by using Bucky, and who we know will be making an appearance in this series. It makes sense that Zemo is on Bucky’s list, and it gives us hope that Bucky will be able to confront him and finally put to rest any guilt he has remaining from the events of Civil War when he hopefully crosses Zemo off his list.
Most surprisingly is the introduction of Joaquin Torres to the series. I had not seen his name appear in any announcements before the episode, but immediately recognized it from the comics. In the comics, Torres eventually takes on the mantle of Falcon after Sam takes on the mantle of Captain America. This follows Torres being kidnapped by a terrorist group and undergoing experimentation that turns him into a human/bird hybrid. While I think the human/bird hybrid experimentation is a little out of reach for the grounded realm of the MCU that Sam and this series is part of, I do think this is a hint that we will see Torres become the next Falcon after Sam becomes Captain America. Personally, I think this will be a great storyline as we will see two individuals working through the legacy their predecessor has left behind, providing some rich thematic material to work with over the course of the series and later on in the MCU.
While the episode provides us with the first encounter with the Flag-Smashers, there is not a lot to unpack because we are not even given their name in the episode. However, the episode does end with the chilling reveal of John Walker as the next Captain America. While the moment may seem grand for America and personally devastating for Sam, Walker’s final wink is a tease of what may be coming next with that character. Anyone familiar with the comics will immediately know what I’m referring to, but for now I will just say that Walker is a very different Captain America than Steve ever was…
As far as a premiere episode goes, this was a solid start to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We got some excellent character development throughout the episode while details were planted to set up the overall plot of the series, without being told the full trajectory of the series yet. Make sure to check back in next Friday afternoon for the breakdown of what happens next on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.