The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: One World, One People (Ep. 6) concludes our heroes’ journey with a muddled but amusing finale.
With all respect to the more thematically ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, the MCU works best when it operates on a more basic level. When The Falcon and The Winter Soldier operates on this level, it works quite well. “Racism is bad, now let’s go catch Batroc the Leaper!”
Where the show falls apart is when it tries to tell a more nuanced, gray scale story. Now that we’ve finished our journey with Sam and Bucky, I can say with certainty that I’m lost on what the geopolitical message of the show is. It appears we’re left in a place where Sam Wilson vaguely supports a terrorist who, just minutes earlier, attempted to burn a global relief counsel to death. I guess “heroic” is the nonsensical removal of borders in a way that makes no real practical economic or political sense. There are basic underlying messages that work – yes, we should be careful about who gets to define “refuges” or “terrorists” and how those definitions are utilized, and yes, we should make real efforts to support those displaced by war, famine, or alien invasion – but any deeper reading here falls apart.
It’s a disappointment because the more basic character beats here are humming. Coming off the back of the series’ best scene last week, Carl Lumbly’s monologue about Isaiah Bradley’s brutal history, the show again comes alive when it hones in on big, broad, obvious themes. When Sam says, “Every time I pick this thing [the shield] up, I know there are millions out there that are gonna hate me for it”, he’s conveying a sad reality of life in America. It’s succinct to the point, and, honestly, it’s pretty rousing. It should be hokey when one bystander quips that it’s “Black Falcon” and another corrects “Nah… that’s Captain America”, but I couldn’t help but feel a little burst of adrenaline.
This is Mackie’s best episode of the show. He has a big crowd-pleasing sort of confidence, and manages to absolutely sell the hell out of a monologue that shouldn’t work as well as it does. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier worked better each time it remembered that it’s telling stories aimed every bit as much at 6 -year-olds as 36-year-olds. It’s the nature of a series that will forever include crowd pleasing quips in the midst of life or death struggle – you have to stick to big emotion. When Sam takes Isaiah to the Captain America museum and reveals that he his own new display, it’s a broad obvious moment but it works. I felt something and that wasn’t the case for far too much of the series.
I should also say that the show’s biggest weakness, now that we’ve seen her complete arc, was Karli Morgenthau. I could conceive of a world where this character works better than it did here. Every week I’ve complained about The Flag Smashers hopelessly vague ambitions, and the shows vaguely pro-terrorist slant. Look, the parallel is obvious. The Flag Smashers aid the poor, they feed the hungry, they educated displaced children – the show is going for a Black Panthers analogy, here, and Morgenthau as a sort of a Fred Hampton figure. The problem is that the need for the more extreme methods of a figure like Hampton are rooted in the deep, brutal history of racism in America. That “things were better” during The Blip – especially when our understanding of that time comes almost entirely from (1) a bringing the band back together sequence in Avengers: Endgame, (2) a comedy in montage in Spider-Man: Far From Home, and (3) a brief flashback episode of WandaVision, which had been planned to run after The Falcon and The Winter Soldier before COVID anyway – is something the show needed to demonstrate, and a few lines of dialogue don’t do the job.
And the other problem, and much of it falls on the writing, is that Erin Kellyman simply isn’t up to the task. I never believed that for a single moment that she could rally a force of revolutionaries who would lay down their life for her and commit brutal acts of murder. I never bought any real hardness in her performance, and, hell, she undercuts it with moments of doubt too many times. Perhaps a better performer could have sold all this a bit better, but really there’s a core structural problem with this character’s motivations that needed to have been resolved in the writers’ room.
This isn’t an episode that lends itself to deep critical thought. It’s an extremely action heavy episode. It feels a bit like the budget did not quite stretch to 6 episode’s worth of action sequences as the CGI in the flight scenes feels a bit wonky and we’re, of course, relegated to more action scenes set in anonymous construction sites and underground tunnels (despite an ostensible Manhattan setting).
I imagined that I’d have a ton to say about where things are going in the future, but, well, it seems like the show did most of that lifting last week. The big news leaked in the hours after the episode’s debut – The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s showrunner will be heading up the development of Captain America 4. Predictably, Sharon Carter was revealed as The Power Broker and set up as a heel for future properties. John Walker completed his relative face turn into the U.S. Agent, his regular comic book identity. While, apparently, everyone has simply forgotten that he brutally murdered someone last week, he should be better served heading off wherever the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus takes him in future shows. Bucky finally amends, instead of avenges, for a small slice of the harm he has caused.
I’m forced to rank The Falcon and The Winter Soldier as one of the weakest entries in the MCU canon. I’m not sure it’s the worst sitting here today, but it’s certainly left in the conversation for the MCU’s basement with Thor: The Dark World, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man 2. I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point. Nevertheless, the Marvel marketing machine is so potent that I’m already “over it”, and onto the next thing. We got a goofy, fun Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer this week. It feels certain that Marvel will capitalize on Chloe Zhao’s imminent Oscar success with an Eternals preview. Loki and What If… stand tantalizing on the Disney+ horizon. And future Disney+ show Secret Invasion filled out its cast adding Olivia Colman and Emilia Clarke to Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Kingsley Ben-Adir. Hell, I’m even excited to see what Captain America and The Winter Soldier might look like. Part of the genius of what Marvel is up to is how effectively they’ve weaponized the future, and it’s to the immense credit of their overall story telling quality that I’ll be at Black Widow opening night despite my disappointment here.
WATCH THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER: ONE WORLD, ONE PEOPLE
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