The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: The World Is Watching (Ep. 4) sees a show that continues to execute big moments while failing all the details.
Once, there was a show that aired on HBO. It was incredibly popular. The last two seasons saw the show craft an array of awesome epic moments, but any more than a surface exploration of the motivations of the characters utterly desiccated the narrative. I cannot help myself but to think of Game of Thrones‘ last two seasons as I watch the various machinations of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
“The World Is Watching” delivered perhaps the two best images of the entire series: nu-Captain America standing over his murdered opponent as his shield drips blood… and Ayo, understated dora milaje, holding the shield ever so briefly. Both are amazing moments as still frames – “straight out of the comics” in the best way. And, yet contextualized by the rest of the show, they’re rendered nearly irrelevant.
I don’t want to be negative about a show that, broadly, I think is great fun. Nevertheless, the essence of engaging with a show like this on a weekly basis requires an analysis deeper than “wow, Falcon’s wing suit is cool!” And the problems here are plenary. Baron Zemo has gone from a machine of vengeance driven by a family murdered by the fruits of Stark’s ego to a quippy set-up for an inevitable Thunderbolts Disney+ series. A man of principle who saw “super soldiers” as existential threats now exists to give children candy and make snarky comments about Steve Rogers’ legacy. Daniel Brühl sells the transformation as well as anyone possibly could… but it sure is a transition that crumbles with any real prodding.
Wyatt Russell, too, is doing yeoman’s work. Tasked with a nearly unworkable character, the man is selling real conflict. The air of falsity in his quips is so perfect – that’s not the guy John Walker is. I buy that this man would break bad and take the Super Soldier Serum, based entirely on Russell’s performance. But I also feel bad for Russell. He’s stuck with a plot that – ugh, yet again – sees his black sidekick fridged as a plot device. He has to sell this character in an action sequence that sees a literal terrorist magically feel sad because she accidentally murders the sidekick of a man she has sworn to murder, a character who murdered three innocents (and potentially many more) just last week. He has to sell a brutal Game of Thrones-style slaughter with TV-PG style violence. Russell is doing work here, but he can’t save it.
As last week, poor Emily VanCamp is wasted in an utterly nonsensical sideplot. The only outcome that really makes sense for her is that she’s the winkingly unseen Power Broker, and our two heroes are morons for being so blind to the threat before their eyes. Florence Kasumba has, especially with the shaved head of a dora milaje, a uniquely stark screen look. She’s well deployed, here, as Bucky’s once savior, and now quasi-antagonist. In precious little screen time, the actress imbues a ton of emotion into a part that’s quite small on the page. Put simply, Ayo rocks. I can only hope that her moment with the shield presages a longer conflict and larger role in the broader MCU.
I’m not sure I have the energy to even engage with the Flag Smashers’ plot this week. Sam seems forced to be genuinely open to a friendship with a literal terrorist over some esoteric anti-border thing. Karli Morgenthau worldview seems akin to an idealistic twelve year old’s view of the world: “if we do away with borders, conflict will magically disappear!” It’s so removed from reality – a reality this show has constantly flirted with through its allusions to racial tensions – that I truly don’t know how to process her scenes. When Sam says he feels a kinship with her, Mackie plays the emotion as genuine. And, honestly, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with my show’s hero thinking an actual terrorist who just murdered a bunch of people last episode has meritorious views. And the less said about that forced exchange between Karli and Sam’s sister, the better. It feels like an idea that worked well in a first screenplay draft, and nobody ever thought through with any real broad worldview.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has two episodes left to stick the landing. I’ll choose to be cautiously optimistic that the various threads come together in something cohesively interesting, though I’ll prepare myself to accept that all I have to look forward to are a few killer action scenes with performers I like and a series of teases for future shows I hope I’ll like more. Oh, and the most important thing, more Sebastian Stan. One performer has most stood above the material here all season, and that’s our Bucky. The only real emotion the show has mustered comes from Stan. His meltdown at hearing the control words in Wakanda in this episode’s open is genuinely powerful, and that’s despite an edit that feels compelled to show us countless flashbacks of “Evil Bucky” moments instead of just letting the actor emote. The single moment in this series I most think about – beyond Zemo’s dance moves – remains Bucky’s façade cracking as he admits his trauma over Steve’s reckoning. I hope future MCU projects put Stan’s talent to better use.
WATCH THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER: THE WORLD IS WATCHING
Don’t miss our monthly updates with film news, movie-inspired recipes and exclusive content! You’ll only hear from us once a month. #nospam