Marvel fans know the story: the pandemic screwed the original Disney+ release schedule and shuffled around the launch of the MCU’s Phase 4. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to air before WandaVision, but that was switched after both productions shut down last year. Disney lost the gangbusters “Marvel’s back, baby!” action-filled, “blow ’em up some more” debut they were hoping for, but they gained more context for the blip-back world. It’s still lonely and confusing for the people who’ve returned, and frustrating for those left behind. We’re only one episode in, but so far it’s doing a great job of navigating this new reality. All I can say is: Yikes.
Warning: This article contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know the details of this episode, stop reading now.
A Post-Blip World
One of the things that’s fascinated me since I first saw Endgame was what a post-blip world would really look like. Marvel has shown as an escalating series of consequences. Spiderman: Far From Home kept it light, with basketball players reappearing mid-court and kids making jokes about their younger siblings being taller than them now. WandaVision gave us Monica Rambeau’s traumatic return to her long-deceased mother’s hospital bed. Now, Falcon and Winter Soldier shows some of the real damage on both sides of the blip. By the time you’ve got used to everyone being gone and moved on, they’re back. And it’s not just economics or personal relationships, it would affect everything. And, of course, this is airing at a time when we’re in our own form of the Blip—reacting to so many losses during the pandemic and struggling with the aftermath. We don’t really have to ask how we would react, because in many ways, we’re in “it” right now.
The premiere is very much the first act of, as it’s been touted, a six-hour Marvel movie. It has the standard Marvel movie beginning—an elaborate action sequence with Sam (Anthony Mackie) soaring through the sky and dodging missiles. He’s trying to take back a hijacked plane and rescue its hostage before it crosses into Libyan airspace. The Big Bad at the beginning is the L.A.F., whose operations are headed by the Frenchman Batroc, played by UFC Champion Georges St. Pierre. You’ll remember him as the mercenary from Steve Rogers’ first fight in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Synchronicity!
Sam has been working with the Air Force for the previous six months, and once he’s back on the ground, his attaché First Lt. Joaquin Torres, played by Danny Ramirez, alerts him to an even bigger threat: The Flag-Smashers. They’re a group, grown online, who believe that the world was better off after the original blip. “Trust me,” Torres says, “it wasn’t.” Sam tells the younger man to keep him updated on it, and heads to Washington D.C. He’s decided to turn the Captain America shield over to Steve’s permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian, instead of taking the mantle himself. “Symbols are nothing without the men and women who wield them,” Sam tells the gathered press, “we need new heroes for these new times.” It’s hard to tell if he believes this, or if he just doesn’t think he’s worthy, even when he confirms this to James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, in a welcome cameo). Either way, Sam still feels like the shield belongs to Steve, and the past.
Anyway, Sam’s got bigger fish to fry, or rather, catch. He’s living in Louisiana with his sister Sarah, played by Adepero Oduye, and her sons, where their family has owned a fishing boat and seafood company for generations. Sarah kept it going while Sam was gone, but she’s ready to sell the boat and shut down the business. Sam insists they can save it and keep the promise they made to their parents. Sarah doubts it, but agrees to try to switch their business model and go back to the bank for another loan.
Showrunner Malcom Spellman and director Kari Skogland give us a real look at “civilian life” while the Avengers have been flying around for the past 10-plus years. Sam was blipped for five years, on the lam with Captain American for two years before that, and in the military for two tours before that. He hasn’t been around, wasn’t going to be around, and agreed to leave the business details to Sarah. If anything, she’s more committed to it than he is, because it’s her livelihood. He’s arrogant to assume she hasn’t done the best she could under the circumstances, and that he can fix everything now that he’s back. And when they get to the bank the banker is happy to take selfies with Sam. THRILLED to pump him for information about the Avengers, because he’s always wanted to be one! But he refuses to give them any financing, because Sam doesn’t have any income to show for the past five years. Of course.
The Winter Soldier
And where is Bucky (Stan Sebastian) amid all this? Waking up from a nightmare on the floor of his sparsely furnished apartment in New York City. The nightmare is a flashback to a Winter Soldier hit, where he also murdered an innocent bystander who witnessed his killing spree. The next morning, he lies to his government-mandated therapist about the nightmare, but she’s not buying it, and she pulls out the big accountability guns by sternly calling him “James.” Heh.
Therapy is part of his pardon agreement, and Dr. Raynor, played by Amy Aquino, points out that she was a soldier once, so she knows killing all those people couldn’t have just slid off his consciousness. Second of all, he can’t be doing great because he’s isolating himself. She demands his phone and calls him on ignoring Sam’s texts (A HA!) and having only 10 people in his contacts (I need to see that list). The only person he’s called in the last week is her. And that’s just sad, so knock it off, she tells him. They also go over the list made of people he needs to make amends to, and if he’s following the rules they came up with: 1. Don’t do anything illegal. 2. Don’t hurt anyone, and 3. Introduce himself, say that he’s no longer the Winter Soldier, and that he’s making amends. Flashbacks show that he’s following them … mostly (he did punch a guy, which had to hurt). Raynor tells him that he has a chance for a new start now, and that he’s free. “To do what?” he asks. Poor Bucky.
Bucky has made one new friend, though, Yori Nakajima, played by Ken Takemoto. The two of them go out for sushi, and Yori tries to arrange a date between Bucky and their regular waitress Leah, played by Miki Ishikawa. Leah, who is not blind and doesn’t know who Bucky is, says she’s game. As they eat lunch, Yori talks about his son, who was mysteriously murdered while on a business trip a few years back. Yup, he’s the innocent bystander in Bucky’s nightmare. Yori is one of his amends, but as Leah unknowingly points out on their date later, losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to you. How do you make that up to someone?
A New Ally and New Adversaries
In the meantime, Torres is following up with the Flag Smashers. He goes to a rave-like event in Switzerland, in front of a bank. A masked man hands out more masks to everyone, and moments later, two large bags and more masked people break through the windows onto the street. Torres tries to apprehend one of them, but it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart in the crowd, and he gets knocked out. When he shows Sam the body cam footage, he notes how physically strong they were. Is it possible that … ? Sam quickly shuts down that line of questioning. I’m going to go ahead and assume that the answer is how he and Bucky finally end up in the same room.
A New Cap?
With the bank and this new wrinkle, Sam’s already had a monumentally long day, but he’s got one more hit to take. Sarah calls him over to the TV, where the government official who thanked him for turning over Steve’s shield is announcing that the country desperately needs new inspiration. And so, they are anointing a new (white) Captain America, who cheerfully trots onto the stage, shield held high. So that’s how it is, huh? Cold.
This was a really good premiere episode, and I’m excited to see what comes next. I’m especially looking forward to the show exploring this new world, and watching Sam and Bucky try and move forward in it.
And the rest …
- The banker recognizes Sam, but Leah doesn’t recognize Bucky. Sure. When he told her he was 106 years old, that would have been a hint. Plus, that’s not really a face you could forget (What? Tell me I’m lying.). And their stories would still be all over the news, too. A guy stopped Sam in the middle of Tunisia to thank him for bringing his wife back, for crying out loud.
- Sam is right, “Flag Smashers” is a bad name, but I guess all the other “One World” names were taken? “Take back the Blip” maybe? Did it depend on the domain name they could secure?
- Bucky’s scene with Dr. Raynor is comedy gold, first with his triggered reaction to her pulling out a clipboard and clicking a pen every time he lies to her, and again with the footage of him making his amends while confirming that he’s following her rules. You know, technically.
- I’m not sure how you choose who gets to be on the list, since Bucky’s been killing people for 90 years. Why Yuri’s son? Why that one Senator? Are we just at the end of the list, which would certainly count for Bucky’s depressed mood? I feel like this could be a series all on it’s own.
- I’m hoping that Raynor’s mention of her military background isn’t a one off, and we get to see her kicking butt within the next five episodes. Is that too much to ask? Also, Amy Aquino plays therapists a lot.
- I like that they’re addressing more “real world” concerns. How DO you make money as an ex-superhero? Answer so far: not easily.