The final episode of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aired on Disney+ this past Friday. It tells the story of, well: the Falcon, Sam Wilson – and the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes – in the wake up the events of Avengers: Endgame. Both former friends of Steve Rogers, the Captain America we all came to love over the last decade, Sam and Bucky find themselves picking up the pieces from the Avengers and from the legacy of Captain America as the world attempts to put things back to normal in the wake of Thanos. Over the course of six episodes, the show deals with America’s complicated history through the lens of race, trauma, terrorism, and redemption.[This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity]
Lars Emerson (Editor): Here with me to discuss is Postrider contributor Louis Ryan, welcome Louis.
Louis Ryan (Contributor): Hello, fellow shield slingers. Louis here.
Lars: And The Postrider’s Editor-in-Chief and Movies & Television Editor Michael Lovito.
Michael Lovito (Editor-in-Chief, Movies & TV Editor): [in the process of doing laundry].
Lars: And I’m Postrider editor and passionate Marvelista Lars Emerson – here running this chatroom on behalf of Captain America fans all around.
To kick us off, since we last got together to discuss the end of WandaVision, Marvel’s last television entry on Disney+, and since it’ll help set the tone as to where we all stand in regards to this chat at the onset: do you each think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (F&WS) is better or worse than WandaVision?
Louis: What a smart looking question, Lars. I would say this show was overall more disappointing than WandaVision. As we all know, I’m a big Captain America fan. Heck, I even wrote an article for the site in anticipation of the show. In the comparatively short amount of time that F&WS existed, it managed to drop the ball a lot quicker and a lot more consistently than WandaVision ever did. Not to mention that WandaVision gets extra kudos for being more interesting on a formalist level, with the production design and whatnot.
Michael: Yeah, I was definitely less interested to watch it week to week than I was WandaVision. That’s probably in part because there was a mystery element to WandaVision that I wanted to see get unfolded, and because I got to see a new sitcom parody every week, but I also feel like Falcon and the Winter Solider just made some pretty (in my mind) baffling decisions towards the end of the series
Lars: Interesting, well — I’m lucky to play the contrarian on this one then! I actually liked this show significantly more than WandaVision.
Do you both like WandaVision more because you feel it’s better made, has a better plot, looked better? All of the above? Does Falcon and the Winter Soldier fall flat on everything for you two?
Louis: I don’t know why we’re trying to resuscitate corpses (WandaVision) when there’s a fresh body to perform an autopsy on….
Lars: Fair, just trying to suss out what failed for you about F&WS at the onset.
Louis: It didn’t fail at the onset! It failed when it got to it’s second act and then decided to keep adding story element after story element until it became incoherent.
For what it’s worth, I actually really like the show for the first two episodes.
Lars: I thought the show lost ground in the second act, but episodes two and the finale were the high-marks for me.
Michael: Exactly. There were elements I liked about F&WS — I thought the action sequences were on the whole pretty interesting, and I’d watch Daniel Bruhl read the phone book as Zemo. But I felt like it never really followed through on its biggest ideas. The Isaiah Walker thing felt like it was introduced and never really built on, outside of as a way to give Falcon motivation to take up the shield (Justin Charity compared a lot of the heavy handed race issue overtones in this series to Crash). The John Walker murder thing was an opportunity to dive into some really complex stuff — in most Marvel movies, the bad guys are either aliens or monsters, so we don’t care as much if they die! But I feel like they kind of papered over that a bit when Walker redeems himself towards the end. My guess is he’ll be used as a pawn by the Contessa in a later show/movie, but that whole thing felt like it wrapped itself up a little too neatly.
And don’t get me started on the Sharon Carter stuff….
Lars: They definitely stuff a lot into only six episodes, I felt the show was limited for time in trying to do so much, so I agree with you there, Mike.
But this is a good opportunity to transition into talking about the villains. Of which there are quite a few: Karli Morgenthau, Helmut Zemo, the Power Broker, John Walker at various points…
Zemo felt like the best “villain” (he’s basically a protagonist throughout the show though, or at least aligned with the protagonists). Morgenthau felt like the weakest.
Louis: actually, Lars, it only SEEMS like there’s a lot of villains. There’s only actually one: Karli and the Flag Smashers. Everything else is just a red herring.
Lars: Oh absolutely! The show depicts varying interests aligning all over the place, which I think is inciteful into the actual reality of geopolitics and the real world.
Good vs. evil is boring and unrealistic — Captain America has done best (The Winter Soldier film, Civil War) when it’s a grayer area that contrasts with an absolute.
Louis: Um, OK, I didn’t realize this show was The Ten Commandments.
Moses should have done more kickflips.
Louis: I mean, like I don’t know how to respond to that. This ISN’T Show Me a Hero. This is a show about a guy being upset he doesn’t get to wear certain tights for five episodes and then he does.
Michael: What I think you get at though Louis is that there’s really only one “antagonist” is this series, and it’s the Flag Smashers. Zemo, Sharon, the Contessa, and (to a lesser extent) John Walker are just kind of thrown in there.
Louis: Yes, Mike, it’s the illusion of drama.
Michael: And I agree — it felt like so much of this show was drive around conflict over who gets to hold a piece of round vibranium which, I guess it’s supposed to be symbolic, but it felt a little too literal at times.
Lars: And I contest that it’s a realistic illusion of drama!
Let’s start with Karli — we all agree she was kind of a lame villain?
Louis: Well, I HATED her, by the end. Not the way the writers intended, though.
Lars: Yeah, I was usually pretty irked when she was on screen by the end too. She didn’t scream “terrifying” or evil in the way she could have… probably because she’s supposed to be like 19.
Michael: Yeah, I think my big thing with Karli is that I didn’t really understand anything that had to do with the Global Repatriation Council (GRC). It felt like all the trade politics in the Star Wars prequels. Did they want to go back to their home countries? Not go back to their home countries? I honestly have no idea what was going on.
Lars: She was against all borders, you see.
Therefore, she’s pro-border crisis, you see.
Michael: BUT WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH THE GRC.
Lars: No I know haha, I felt that could have been a little more evolved.
Louis: Yeah, it was all just dumb. So poorly POORLY handled.
Lars: The motivations are just implied radical leftism that doesn’t have enough time to get context.
Louis: She should have just been the villain for the opening gambit of the series. I thought someone else would take over. I suspected it would be John Walker, but to my surprise, the producers wanted to keep the character around and not turn him into a full blooded villain.
Lars: Okay, so let’s move onto Walker. Our first NEW Captain America
Louis: As a reader of the comics, let me just say this right out of the gate, John Walker is so much more likable here at first glance then he is in the comics.
Michael: Hahaha it’s true. He’s like a full on jingo in the comics.
Louis: He does not deserve the full-on hatred the Internet gives him for the first few episodes. The show Walker, I mean.
Lars: I kind of liked how they show did it though. We as an audience all instinctively hated him (for no good reason) just because he’s some guy who became Captain America! It puts us in the shoes of Bucky and Sam, who actually knew Rogers, but we have no justified reason to be against him, so it exposes us for our bias as well.
In reality, the average person has no idea who Steve Rogers is or what he’s like, he’s just a heroic icon they’d heard of. So the audience feels Bucky and Sam’s agonizing over it but also feels a little shitty when it turns out he’s an American hero.
Louis: But, like, it makes look Bucky and Sam look kind of lousy when they shit all over a decorated veteran.
Lars: It does!
Louis: I’m actually disappointed there isn’t more John Walker. The way Episode 1 ends on his reveal, you would expect a lot more from him, but he just kind of fizzles in and out.
As Palpatine would say, this show pays a price for it’s lack of vision.
Michael: Yeah, I think once again the problem is that their motivations at the outside are a little weak. It’s literally about who gets to carry the shield — it makes sense that they’d be upset on a somewhat petty level. But it feels like there needs to be an extra level of justified opposition to make the show work. They get there after he kills the one Flag Smasher, but then they kind of abandon it.
Lars: There were two other things I thought were particularly well done with Walker. The first is depicting how the US and especially its miliary and foreign policy has progressed since its World War II days in which Steve Rogers was made the first Captain America. The modern Walker is much more of a realpolitik, American neoconservatism representation rather than the US’ more isolationist, (perhaps idealistic) foreign policy of Rogers and the mid-20th century era.
Also… John Walker’s Captain America outfit has practically no white on it. In contrast to Steve’s — and especially Sam’s outfit at the end of the series. On the American flag, white stands for purity and innocence.
Louis: Well, blame Steve Rogers for that, because he designed his “The Captain” costume which is what John Walker’s Captain America is patterned on here.
Lars: Correct me if I’m wrong but Rogers’ “The Captain” costume does have white. It takes off the blue though, which on the American flag stands for justice.
Louis: I mean, Walker’s costume IS based on this. It becomes the black US Agent costume at the end.
Lars: Yeah, it does look like it — just thought it was interesting!
Ok — let’s move to Sharon Carter, who is revealed to be the Power Broker.
Louis: I called it!
Lars: Anyone else feel totally “ugh” about it?
Louis: Yeah, it’s incredibly lame.
Lars: Yeah. I know some are theorizing she’s actually a skrull — but, that’s almost worse to me.
Michael: Her character does nothing for me. And making her a villain really feels like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole
Louis: The Carter family continues to be an awful American family. Sharon is a traitor, and Peggy is British.
Michael: And don’t even get me started on their cousin Jimmy’s presidency…
Louis: The Power Broker is an incredibly uninteresting mystery in the comics and anyone who was expecting more should have their head examined.
Michael: All I would say is that if I’m plotting this, it’d make a hell of a lot more sense to make Zemo the power broker. You introduce him in episode 2, he kills Karli and the Flag Smashers to cover his tracks, he ends up as the primary villain for the last three episodes.
Lars: I knew nothing about the Power Broker going into this, but even I was let down by the “reveal.”
Zemo, on the other hand, was great! Your idea to make Zemo the main villain later on would have probably worked better and been more interesting, Mike. And it’d allow us to still be blessed with dancing Zemo.
Louis: Put me in the minority, but despite the fact that Zemo actually acted MORE like his comics counterpart, I actually liked him much less because he’s like a completely different person from the Baron-less Zemo from Civil War.
I did like the dancing though.
Michael: Lol that whole cut to the Madripoor club sequence… it feels like it was there literally just there to give us that clip.
Lars: I think (not that this isn’t obvious) they’re playing a long-game with Zemo — we’ll see him again, and again. Which is nice to see for the often one-off Marvel villain. It seems Marvel’s learned their lesson in not just killing off their fresh villains one movie at a time.
Louis: The Madripoor episode is the nadir of the series.It’s just a check in on a character. That’s it. They could have had Walton Goggins show up too.
Lars: Okay, let’s get to the actual titular characters.
There’s a running theme of confronting history and trauma, as Sam and Bucky are haunted by both. Bucky is haunted by trauma and reconciling with his past (that he is not entirely responsible with). And the Falcon and the Winter Soldier focuses a lot on race and the difficulties for a Black man to feel proud of or supported by his country. Do you think this was handled well?
Louis: I’ll disagree and say it was handled overall well in the big picture.
But it’s pretty disconnected from a lot of the rest of the show.
Lars: Straight to the point on that one, Mike, what didn’t you like?
I think overall the arc worked, but I’ll have more after Mike explains himself!
Michael: The Isaiah Bradley character is incredibly interesting, and a great way to talk about a lot of the terrible things the US government did to African Americans in the name of science. I guess it felt like there needed to be an extra ingredient to make Sam’s hestitancy about taking up the Captain America (and why, say, the US government didn’t approach him first to be Captain America) for it to really click for me. Bucky’s arc was fine — but I don’t feel like it connected with anything else that was going on with the show.
Lars: I thought Sam’s arc was more interesting than Bucky’s, even if Bucky’s was more relatable to myself as I am not a Black man in America, so it’s hard to know what Sam is going through.
Louis: Lars, you aren’t a soviet cyborg assassin?
Lars: Not anymore, I was pardoned.
But in Sam’s case, I thought they did a good job. Sam gives up the shield at the onset of the show, then his conversations with Isaiah Bradley on what America has done to his people in the middle of the series, eventually culminating with Sam of course picking up the shield. He gives this great monologue at the end. He talks about how difficult it is to be a Black man in the stars and stripes and that he believes America can do better, that he’ll keep it accountable.
Louis: Great monologue… that… just… won’t… end.
Lars: But I think it’s important! It is basically a core tenet of what the show is about!
Louis: But it’s TOO long.
Michael: I think what it comes down to for me is that there are just too few episodes for this show to do everything it wants to do. It’s about Captain Ameirca’s legacy AND the Flag Smashers AND the Power Broke AND the ongoing Hydra conspiracy (see Contessa, The). It’s hard to do all of those well in such a short span.
And yeah that monologue was way, way too long.
Louis: It’s also about SHRIMP BOATS.
Michel: And SBA loans.
Louis: I’ve read many Captain Americas, so I like a good inspirational monologue, but that was far too long. It got to the point where I couldn’t believe that Senator No-Name was that ashamed that he had no response. It just screams strawman Politics to me.
Lars: I thought it was important for him to talk about it to the world and to the audience. It’s a big deal, and Sam’s justification is important for both himself and for the world.
Michael: Yeah… I also think that moment works better if instead of after the heat of battle, it’s when the govenrment introduces Sam as the next Captain America or something like that.
Lars: Yeah, I could see that being even better, Mike.
Louis: I’m just incredibly disappointed in this show.
Michael: I’d also add that on a pure acting level, Anthony Mackie can do charisma… I’m not so sure he can do pathos
Lars: Well I guess I’ll cap off this chat with one last — perhaps more optimistic question.
Sam Wilson, as we’ve alluded, picks up the mantle of Captain America in the final episode. Are you happy with this decision by Sam to embrace an icon of optimism and patriotism despite America’s complicated and often horrific history with African Americans? Is he a fitting Captain America for our time compared to Steve Rogers in his time?
Louis: I think he was fitting before the start of Episode 1? #nontroversy
Lars: Absolutely, we all kind of knew Sam would become Captain America as far back as Captain America: Civil War, but I think Sam’s journey is important.
Michael: Yeah, me too. He’s Steve’s choice to carry the shield, so he should carry it. I think the journey is more about him feeling worthy/comfortable holding it.
Louis: The more important question is why did Bruce Banner bring back all the racists in Endgame?
Louis: It’s easy for a blonde-haired blue (with a bit of green)-eyed Steve Rogers to feel represented by America, not so much for Sam Wilson.
Michael: Which makes sense! And it would make even more sense if we had more run time to deal with that.
Lars: There’s been some criticism of the “Cap chose him and therefore it should be him” angle though, Mike, in that it’s kind of problematic that Sam is only obvious because the white Captain America chose him.
NPR’s Eric Deggans noted that “the films had a way of always reminding us he was Captain America’s second fiddle – in ways the character himself, a proud Black man, inexplicably encouraged. ‘I do what he does, just slower,’ Wilson said, nodding toward beefcake white hero Steve Rogers.”
So the Falcon feeling second-best or like he’s not worthy, which is the point of the show — may be realistic in some sense, but isn’t necessarily a good message.
Louis: I just want to know why, if this message is SO important, is it buried in 6 hours of virtual nonsense?
This might be a weird question, but was anyone else distracted by the fact that Sam can throw the shield into a tree with no super-soldier abilities?
Michael: Again, this is what I’m talking about there needs to be an extra dose of conflict for Sam’s story to work for me. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if he wants to be Cap, but the government doesn’t want him to be? And then doubt starts to set in from there?
And yeah the limits of super soldier/non-super solider abilities were not clear to me throughout this entire series (and really throught out the MCU, tbh).
Louis: Yeah, that would be great, Mike. Add something that actually ADDS to the conflict. Zemo did not, Sharon did not, Val did not.
Lars: Is it fair to say we wish there would have been more episodes overall? To really get into it?
Or should they have just cut out half of the superfluous stuff?
Louis: I was actually going to ask the group the opposite: Did this NEED to be 6 episodes?
My answer is no. This could have easily been a two hour movie.
Lars: Because I think there are important, relevant, and relatable issues this show addresses and needed to address, that are (it seems we all at least agree on this) lost to time or distraction.
Michael: Yep. If they didn’t feel the need to stuff in as much as they did, could have easily been a movie.
But it also strikes me as the rare marvel show that could justify a twelve episode run if they really felt like it.
Lars: As one who always like MORE Captain America, I’d say let’s do it all but in like eight episodes… or ten. And then maybe do another season later…
Flag Smashers, Sam and Bucky coming to terms with who they want to be, and US Agent can be season one. Zemo, Power Broker, etc. can be season 2.
Louis: While I wouldn’t recommend The Falcon & The Winter Soldier as is, I do agree with its underlying ideas about race in America. There are little kernels of good scenes sprinkled throughout the six episodes, but not nearly enough to recommend as a whole. I’d recommend any of the other Captain America movies for something more entertaining or a six episode series like Show Me a Hero for something more enlightening about the flaw and foibles of race and American politics.
Lars: My attempts to end this chat on an optimistic note have failed, thanks to Louis and his cynicism!
So… are you guys excited for Loki (Marvel’s next show, coming June 11 to Disney+)? 😂
Louis: Based off this show and what I know about Loki, Marvel seems to be heading towards a period of shoving as many things into one property as they can, as can be seen in prospective rumors about Doctor Strange 2 and the Spider-Man sequel. Seems like a venture into “quantity over quality” territory to me. I expect Loki to be in this mold. A lot of moving pieces that don’t quite hang together.
Michael: Am I excited for Loki? I mean I’m gonna watch it anyway, I’m a Marvel mark (outside of their ABC shows, at least).
Lars: Hey, me too!