We did it! A damn fine six-part series done and dusted, and the story of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier done. At least, for now. Spoilers ahead, so consider yourselves warned!
Look, the real kicker here is this: Sam Wilson is Captain America now. As our episode opens, the GRC summit in New York is about to be under siege. Bucky is on the ground, and there he is; our new Captain America. There’s something so, so edifying about seeing Sam cruise through a window and carry out a rescue in his new costume – the red, white and blue look absolutely fantastic on him, and it’s clear that this Cap’s look is meant to instantly feel lighter, cleaner, brighter, to help set him apart from Captain Douche’s grimdark spin on Cap’s fatigues.
The opening salvo of this episode is, in essence, what happens when Karli Morgenthau and her aggrieved Flag Smashers take a swing at stopping a GRC vote – namely, one that will forcibly evict millions upon millions of people who made new lives after The Snap. So whilst we’re enjoying some truly brutal action set pieces, including parallel fights featuring Cap wowing civilians (many of whom are black), and Bucky feeling genuine elation at saving lives and being thanked for it, we’re also drawing closer to something else, too.
The Falcon and The Winter
John Walker shows up with a homemade shield and attempts to throw down with the Flag-Smashers. He’s got the same foaming-at-the-mouth quality we’ve come to… well, if not know and love, at least quietly accept by now. But the real kicker is that when confronted with a van full of hostages being pushed off a precipice to their deaths or going after Karli and thereby slaking his blood-lust, John has a bit of a PTSD-induced brain fart… before saving the hostages.
I don’t know if the showrunners quite get just how deeply unlikeable and not-OK Walker is, war veteran or not, meaning Bucky’s chumminess towards him feels a little eepy-cray. Having said that, Bucky was programmed to fight and to kill, and he was forgiven. Maybe he sees a little – just a little – hope in Walker after witnessing his gesture.
It would be foolish, however, to not devote most of our love in this episode towards Sam Wilson. He executes a couple of truly canny rescues mid-air, he ends up saving the van of hostages John failed to hold up, but most importantly, he delivers a rousing, pissed-off monologue to the GRC delegates as news cameras record the whole thing. This is the moment he becomes Captain America.
Not when he’s fighting, or flying.
It’s when he’s giving people in power a sobering, inspiring civics lesson where Sam’s Cap truly picks up the mantle. He talks about being a black man brave enough to pick up the stars and stripes, about how he can feel the eyes of people who hate anyone like him, how he can feel the judgement. He talks about not having any powers but standing up anyway. And in a true moment of full-circle redemption, Isaiah Bradley sees the whole thing go down on the TV.
Isaiah and Sam’s relationship has really been an unexpected, vital undercurrent throughout this series. Having Sam warm up this wounded old super-soldier is one thing; having him drag Isaiah and his grandson to Steve’s Captain America exhibit and show off a memorial to Isaiah and all he did is utterly beautiful. Watching a grateful Isaiah sob as he hugs Sam might be the most emotionally rewarding moment in the series to date.
There are lots of other threads to unpack – John Walker being given his US Agent uniform, then cheering like a delighted frat boy. Or Agent Carter revealing she’s actually The Information Broker, a bad guy, and positioning herself to betray the US and sell off all their tech. Incidentally, if Carter isn’t a shapeshifter being set up for Secret Invasion, I’ll eat my hat. Hell, I’ll eat all of them. And I have a lot of hats.
This episode wasn’t perfect. I think the Karli stuff felt underfed, perhaps because we were stuck with six episodes. I also think there was room for more explanation of where Steve Rogers went after Endgame – is he really on the moon?
But honestly, the finale was a really fun, super satisfying finish to a show which was far better than it had any right to be. Here’s hoping Loki manages to keep up this streak because right now, Marvel’s TV run is two for two.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is steaming on Disney+.