Marvel’s six-week journey called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is over. The season one (?) finale, “One World, One People,” brought the series to its conclusion, but did so in a rather predictable, straightforward, almost disappointing way. All of the loose ends wrapped up almost exactly as you’d imagined they would, setting the table for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without the fanfare we’ve come to expect.
Episode six of the Disney+ superhero show picked up right where things left off, with Karli (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag-Smashers carrying out their plan to stop the Global Repatriation Council’s vote on global resettlement. The timeline of all this is… a little weird considering episode five ended with the lockdown of the GRC building, and by the time this episode picks up moments later, not only has Bucky (Sebastian Stan) made his way to New York, but Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) has returned to the states from Madripoor and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) has flown in from Louisiana. Not that any of that matters though when Captain America’s shield smashes through the window and Sam is wearing his new, Wakandan-built super suit, which blends the best part of his Falcon attire (wings, jetpack, Red Wing drones) with the red, white, and blue (it’s also fairly comics accurate).
Yes. Sam Wilson has officially picked up the mantle of Captain America, and though the decision should be momentous, it just sort of just happens. The action quickly kicks in, leaving the big reveal on the wayside. That action sequence then continues for about 20 straight minutes.
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While we love a good action set-piece, the show really dragged out this final battle with Karli and the Flag-Smashers to little effect. It split up Sam and Bucky to each do their own thing, brought John Walker (Wyatt Russell) back, complete with his puny new shield, and even worked Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) and Sharon into the mix. There were definitely some cool moments (Sam throwing the shield out of the window and then flying to catch it mid-air being one, the helicopter rescue another) but otherwise it was your usual Marvel action fare with no huge deviations.
But this story we started just a few weeks ago did need to provide some closure for its characters so a few key things happened. The first was Walker, still mad over the death of his friend, being forced to make a decision. After fighting the Flag-Smashers he has to decide between saving a truck full of hostages or quenching that thirst for revenge by beating down Karli. Surprisingly, considering all we’ve seen of him so far—he chooses wisely, and attempts to save the hostages. He’s not quite that graceful with it though and requires an assist in the form of Sam using all of his new tech to safely lift the truck. It’s a heroic, decisive act by a human with no superpowers and much of New York watching. “That’s the Black Falcon,” one man says. “No, that’s Captain America” is the response. Thank you for clarifying.
Thanks to Batroc, Karli escapes this mess, dragging what we know to be the endgame out even longer. Walker, Bucky, and Sam team up to look for her but Sharon finds her first. It’s then revealed that—shock of shocks—Sharon is the Power Broker. Again, this is something that should be a big moment, but happens with little fanfare or impact in the overall scheme of the things. The real impact comes in the form of bullets meeting Batroc when he tries to blackmail Sharon and her getting one in return from him. She survives, Batroc doesn’t. RIP, GSP. Sam soon finds the action and the new-new Captain America finally faces off with Karli. Except he won’t engage. He just plays defense over and over, which frustrates her until Sharon picks herself up from that gunshot and shoots Karli. While we don’t know quite how bad Sharon has broken in the years since she’s played Power Broker, this can definitely be seen as getting payback for Karli stealing the serums and keeping her secret identity intact, even if it was also to help Sam during the fight. That was not the outcome he wanted for Karli, of course, but he trusts Sharon so he lets it slide. Again, a major moment—the death of the show’s main villain—just kind of happens. No one is even shown grieving for this woman who meant so much to so many.
With Karli now dead and the other Flag-Smashers in custody (thanks to an oddly easy team-up between Walker and Bucky), it seems all is settled. Except Karli has failed; the GRC still plans on going through with their displacement vote. Sam isn’t having it though and goes off on a long, passionate discussion (which just happens to be caught on camera by several film crews) of why Karli did what she did, how she won’t be the last, and that the GRC has the same power that Thanos did: to kill, or save, half the people in the world. Sam’s desperate pleas are seen by countless people around the world, including Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) who looks particularly conflicted that he’s seeing what he didn’t want to see, a black Captain America.
Sam’s speech was his true arrival as the heir to Steve Rogers, however, and was easily the best part of the entire episode—even if it was done in the most awkward way possible. A hero explaining the themes of the show he’s on to a bunch of people in a crowd was a pretty odd choice but it did make it clear Sam is the right man for the job.
With that long set-piece over, it was time to wrap things up—character by character, scene by scene, as if the creators were going down a checklist. It started with the last few Flag-Smashers being transferred to the Raft, but, before they can get even one block away, all are killed when their transport blows up. Bye-bye super soldiers. The camera pulled back to reveal an old man many viewers might not, at that moment, remember, because you haven’t seen him in several episodes. But it’s Baron Zemo’s butler Oeznik (Nicholas Pryor)! And if you didn’t remember, the subsequent cut to Zemo imprisoned on the Raft, beaming with satisfaction at finally completing his mission to destroy the super soldiers, would lock it in. Again, awkward and certainly unnecessary.
Another person was happy about Zemo’s success though, and that’s Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). She’s hanging with the Walkers (in the hearing room, which seems an odd location choice) and has given the once-Captain America not just a new suit, but a new name: U.S. Agent. Which, for fear of repeating myself, was obviously going to happen. Of course, John Walker was going to be U.S. Agent. John Walker is known for being U.S. Agent in the comics. The lingering issues with him are: will the public still accept him as a hero and what are his true loyalties? He and his wife are excited about the prospect though, and despite his lack of military rank or benefits, Walker has purpose again.
Continuing the trend of cutting to characters to tie up their loose ends, things quickly shifted to Bucky… you know, the second half of the two-person series? He pays a visit to Mr. Nakashima (Ken Takemoto) who we met in the first episode and confesses that it was he, as the Winter Soldier, who killed his son years ago. This—you guessed it—happens rather quickly and with only a hint of the emotional weight it probably deserved, especially considering all the work Bucky has gone through with his therapist and chats with Sam. We barely see Mr. Nakashima react but a later shot of Bucky looking into the restaurant and seeing Leah (Miki Ishikawa) as well as a seeingly relieved Mr. Nakashima, was one of the episode’s other good moments.
Bucky’s confession, the restaurant moment, and him giving Cap’s book to Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino) are perfect examples of the biggest problem with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Those moments are payoffs from four and five episodes ago, moments that have been tangentially referenced, at best, in the time since then. The show has continued to go off on tangents that get away from the heart of the show, which hurt its pacing, and made scenes like these not land as powerfully as they probably should have. And that was… basically a wrap on Bucky’s entire arc for a show he was ostensibly meant to be half of.
Of course, the show had one last character to wrap up, and that’s the other half of the titular duo. Sam pays one more visit to Isaiah who admits he saw what the hero did with the GRC and thinks he’s “special.” Sam thanks him and knows this whole Captain America thing might not work out but feels he owes it not just to Isaiah but Black Americans in general. “So, Black Captain America huh?” Isaiah asks. “Damn right,” Sam replies.
Sam has one more surprise for Isaiah though. Somehow he had the Smithsonian add a wing to the often visited Captain America exhibit complete with Isaiah’s history and a full statue. Now, you may remember, this is literally the exact opposite of everything Isaiah told Sam he wanted (he wanted to remain dead and anonymous). However, the fact that his struggle and fight weren’t for nothing, and that he’ll now be remembered as the courageous hero he was, brings Isaiah to tears, and his story to a close.
And so too does The Falcon and the Winter Soldier come to a close, with a celebration down on the docks of Louisiana. The community takes photos with the new Cap, Bucky hangs out and is happy, and the two friends—co-workers—look off to the horizon, unsure of what the future holds. Which is when the show’s “new” title hits the screen: Captain America and the Winter Soldier. In the mid-credits scene, we see that Sam was a man of his word and worked to get Sharon her pardon. She even gets offered her job back working in the government. Pleased and excited, the Power Broker herself immediately makes a call that the secrets of the U.S. government are now for sale to the highest bidder.
As far as finales go, Captain America and the Winter Soldier… was one. The big storylines got wrapped up, the main mysteries answered, and Sam Wilson has finally fulfilled his destiny and taken the mantle of Captain America. But here’s my problem with that and the new title. Didn’t Bucky get rid of “the Winter Soldier” too? Wasn’t the show about the journey both of them had to take? Shouldn’t it have ended with the title Captain America and the White Wolf or something? The Winter Soldier moniker is emblematic of everything Bucky hates, doesn’t still calling him that undercut his growth?
I ask those questions because that slightly askew level of understanding is this show in a nutshell. It had good intentions and OK execution, but always felt a little bit off. The first and fifth episodes were the show at its best, and everything else was a means to this specific ending—an ending where very little of significance happened. Yes, the MCU has its new Captain America, but that was set up in Endgame. Yes, there’s a new mega villain in the Power Broker, but she’s just another mole in the government. Hydra 2.0. There’s also a mysterious new presence named Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and a new super soldier in U.S. Agent. Those two things are intriguing but, again, maybe not worth the time it took to get there.
The one thing that was worth the wait was the final, undeniable, full-fledged bromance between Sam and Bucky. That’s what those characters deserve, what Steve would have wanted, and is also exactly what you would’ve guessed would happen at the beginning of the show. Which is fine, but Marvel is usually better than that.
- What do you think Contessa meant when she said “Things are about to get weird.” That felt like a very specific omen to whatever Marvel has planned for Phase Four. But, we guess Eternals and multiverses and multiple Spider-Men probably qualify, if that’s what she’s referring to.
- John Walker’s character arc didn’t quite end up working. His anger and purpose after being stripped of Cap seemed to carry over into this episode, but were quickly pushed aside with a few good guy moments—and he’s given a new suit with no discernible future direction? Wyatt Russell was great in the role but I think what was arguably the series’ most interesting character got short-changed here. Thankfully, he’ll be back.
- The Isaiah Bradley exhibit was weird, right? Where did Sam, or the people from the museum, get all this information? How did they fact-check it? Isn’t everyone who could confirm it gone? Wasn’t this all buried under a rug and redacted to hell? It’s a nice, worthy gesture of respect but at the same time, it also kind of felt like a betrayal not just of Isaiah’s wishes, but the fact it had been lost to history for so long.
- I don’t think there should be a second season of Captain America and the Winter Soldier. Not because this season wasn’t good enough, it was, but while maybe “The Falcon” wasn’t bigger than streaming service Disney+, “Captain America” is. It’s nice that Marvel devoted six hours to establishing a new one, but if Sam-Cap gets another Disney+ show and not a big-screen movie, it would feel as if Marvel didn’t learn the lessons it taught with its own show. We’ll see.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the acronym for the Global Repatriation Council. io9 regrets the error.
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