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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: One World, One People

"L'habit ne fait pas le moine."

So what was all this about, really?

No, really. I realized something as I sat down to watch the finale of this show. I wasn't really entirely sure what the story was even about. I mean, I'd watched the previous five episodes, mostly even while sober. But as the episode started to roll, I realized that that I was more or less at a loss as to what the plot was. Karli, as far as I understood, was the leader of a group called the Flagsmashers, who thought it was really cool when we went to a sort of global government for the five years that half the people were missing and want to go back to that. To that end they were, I think, attacking the Global Repatriation Council on the eve of some vote that I think has something to do with sending people back to their countries of origin in camps of some kind, or something. I couldn't tell you what their concrete goal was, outside of 'vote bad.'

So, was that what the show was about? Was it a riveting tale of Sam and Bucky tracking down the Flagsmashers and defeating them? Well, no. Not really. Half the time they weren't doing anything remotely connected to that plotline. They frankly put more energy into not hanging out with John Walker than they did finding Karli and Co.

Oh, right. That's what the show was about. The government selects a new soldier to be Captain America, and he goes seriously off the rails, killing people on camera and forcing Bucky and Sam to track him down and stop his reign of jingoistic terror. Possibly saying something thematically about America's global image and who's to blame for it. (Hint: It's America.)

Well... I guess, kinda. That stuff is certainly in there. Of course, the journey from John Walker going off the rails to Sam and Bucky stopping him is about 10-15 minutes of screentime at a generous estimate. Were the other 285 minutes of the series just padding? Like, somebody saw the outline and said, 'Throw in some stuff about a forgotten black supersoldier from back in the day. That'll kill time.'

Ah, I got it. It's about Isaiah Bradley. They're telling the story of the 'forgotten Captain America,' wrongfully buried by a country's history of deeply ingrained racial injustice.

OK. Yes. That's also in the mix. And getting Isaiah proper recognition in the Captain America museum was a really great moment, although the cynic in me wonders if that's going to make someone in the federal government say, 'Hey, isn't that guy supposed to be dead, which is why he isn't in federal prison anymore? Wait a minute, where did all those letters from his wife go? They were right on my desk just the other day.'

I could facetiously go on like this all day, but you get my point. It's profoundly telling that at one point during this episode I wondered when they were going to get back to Madripoor and wrap things up there only to remember a few minutes later that there's literally nothing there left for them to wrap up. This wasn't a show where the plot, in terms of 'A happens then B happens which leads to C happening' is really particularly important. This is a big, sprawl-y character piece which is about one thing above all else. Which is why it's equally at home showing global intrigue and community boat repair.

This was about making Sam definitively, unequivocally, Captain America.

Because Sam becoming Cap was never going to be as simple as Steve just handing him the shield. There's just too much baggage involved for a simple handoff of the title. Baggage in America's history of systemic racism and how Sam has experienced that. Baggage in the real external sense that Marvel was perfectly aware of the sadly not small enough percentage of US viewers who will just immediately entrench in 'I'm totally not racist. I just don't think Captain America should be black' for whatever stupid reasons such people use to try to back up that statement, which I'm not even going to bother speculating about here. This series was designed, on a deliberate and fundamental level, to sit those people down and say, 'OK. Let's talk about what it would mean for a black man raised in the US to take on the mantle of Captain America. Let's take a really, really deep dive into what that would mean.' And then that's what they did.

If I can sidebar for just a minute, there's an old saw that says that the fundamental problem with the film Raiders of the Lost Ark is that nothing Indiana Jones does in the film has the slightest effect on the plot. Everything essentially plays out exactly like it would have if he'd never gotten involved in the first place. If I might steal a good turn of phrase, that's as true as it is irrelevant. Because the plot of that movie isn't about how he changes the events, it's about how the events change him. Anybody that doesn't get that has completely missed the entire point of the movie.

And this is the same situation. It's 'about' how this series of events walks Sam through all of the roadblocks between him and accepting the role of Captain America and helping him overcome them. Which means that they basically finished the show at the end of last episode and this was just going to be one long action piece/coming out party for Sam Wilson – Captain America. And it pretty much was.

Plot-wise, they did a nice job setting up a couple of 'character arc echoes' to really underscore Sam's journey, both of which reached their resolution here. Karli finished her slow descent into definite villainy when she declared that she got to decide who 'mattered' and therefore whose lives were expendable, although interestingly enough it was only the people who 'mattered' who were fair game for killing, which is the opposite of how that math usually runs.

And then we have John Walker, fresh with his homemade replacement shield and a bone the size of Wyoming to pick with Karli. I love a lot of the choices that they made with John. Like the way that he's never really taken to account in any way for lying to Lemar's parents. Or the way he's still absolutely certain he deserves to be Captain America. Mostly I like how they handled his being presented with a clear choice between saving lives or going after Karli for revenge. I honestly was surprised that he didn't choose revenge. They seemed to be walking him down the path of failed hero, and then stopped him from taking the final step. How are we supposed to feel about John Walker at this point? Are we supposed to have forgotten him beating up Sam while shouting 'Why are you making me hit you?', because I have not forgotten that.

I haven't said much about Bucky in this one, because this was really Sam's show, but Sebastian Stan did great work both in this episode and in the series as a whole. The final montage of he and Sam hanging out at the boat party being unquestionably friends was probably a little self indulgent, but I grinned like an idiot all the way through it.

What's a cute combo couple name for Falcon and Bucky? Oh... never mind...

Bits and Pieces:

-- Sharon being revealed as the Powerbroker rivaled 'Agatha All Along' for 'big reveal that played out pretty much exactly how we'd all assumed it would from the beginning.' Still, 'newly evil Sharon Carter' is the first ever instance of 'interesting Sharon Carter,' so I'll call that a positive.

-- I'm not the world's biggest Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan, but Val is a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing where that's all going.

-- A brief moment of silence for Georges St-Pierre's Batroc. His death here means I'll never get to fulfill my life's ambition of seeing him fully embrace his comics identity and burst into a scene shouting, 'It is I... Batroc... THE LEAPER.' Another dream on the bonfire.

-- Sam is just never going to be able to keep that white headpiece of his new costume clean. That's going to show everything.

-- I get what they were going for, and it was a hell of a good speech, but it's a little unlikely that a US Senator would stand there and let themselves be lectured on live television. He'd have been out of there like a bull elephant before Sam got out the first sentence.

-- I loved that John's shield was a little bit crap, and was getting the shit beaten out of it in the fight.

-- Is having the shield and the wings simultaneously too much? I want to have a serious conversation about this. It just seems like packing a lot of concept into one outfit. Still, all the shield throwing stuff while flying looked really cool. As did him bracing himself with the wings while pushing on the shield.

-- John Walker says 'OK, it's exactly the same, just black now.' Yes John, that's the whole point of the series. Still, this was a subtler line to underscore the point than if Sam had said it.

-- I'm super conflicted about Bucky's amends to the old man about killing his son. I understand that bringing up that you were mind controlled by Soviets at the time and literally had no choice in the matter sounds like you're making excuses for yourself and dulls the effect of the amends. And yet... it's a pretty valid excuse, isn't it?

-- "L'habit ne fait pas le moine." translates to 'The robes don't make the priest.' It's important that Batroc says it to Bucky here, because Bucky has finally come to terms with the true essence of becoming Captain America, so he's not just wearing somebody else's outfit. Everything sounds classier in French.

Seriously guys, is it too much? You'd tell me if it was too much, right?

Quotes:

Sharon: "I hear pardons aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anyway."
Bucky: "Depends on the therapist."

Sharon: "Seriously Bucky, you had one job."

Karli: "I don’t want to hurt people who don’t matter."
John: "You don’t think Lemar’s life mattered."

Guy 1: "That's the Black Falcon! I tell ya!"
Guy 2: "Nah. That’s Captain America."

John: "Mercy bears greater fruit than strict justice."

Sam: "I’m a black man carrying the stars and stripes. What don’t I understand?"

Sam: "The only power I have is that I believe we can do better."


This series has been a lot of fun in a completely different flavor from WandaVision, and I've enjoyed it a lot. This finale was a little more action sequence heavy than I personally care for, but that's really just a matter of personal taste on my part. Also, it had about as many epilogue endings as Return of the King, but they felt mostly earned so I can't judge too harshly.

Four out of five homemade shields.

Thanks to all the other Agents of Doux who reviewed the first five episodes. I just re-read them all before writing this one, and you guys rock. I hope I haven't whiffed the landing for you.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

22 comments:

An Honest Fangirl said...

Is the costume too much? Probably. But I had the biggest grin on my face when I saw it. It was a comic book come to life and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Plus I'm a sucker for angel imagery. Always love angel imagery.

Billie Doux said...

I also loved seeing Sam in the costume. He genuinely deserved to be Cap, and he wouldn't be the right man for it if he hadn't questioned whether or not he should have been.

But oddly, for me, this series finally made me a fan of Bucky's. It even got me to rewatch the Captain America movies.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Omg, you are so right and that is such a wonderful way to put it.

He absolutely would not have been the right man if he hadn't questioned whether he was the right man.

Yeah, Bucky came out of this looking cool AF. I just saw a thing describing him as the cool bi uncle who brings cake, and it's my current favorite thing ever

Richard said...

So, I didn't see if the other reviews addressed this but this show had some editing issues they had to make due to the pandemic. There was supposed to be a pandemic plotline which was why Karli was stealing medicine and why her mentor died. They wrote and shot all that, and then the real life pandemic made such a plot line feel like it wouldn't go down well. They had to re-write, re-shoot, and ADR a lot of the episodes. SO some of it came off strange due to that.

Also, Val was supposed to be introduced last year in Black Widow, and this show was supposed to have aired before Wandavision but this show was harder to finish due to the previous issues and a lot of location shoots that had to be delayed.

I'm glad it came off as coherent as it did and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to the new Cap movies.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I'd heard about Val being in Black Widow, but I didn't know about the pandemic plotline. That really explains a lot. I'd totally forgotten about Karli's surrogate Mom dying for lack of medicine. It was just kind of one more thing that happened. I can kind of see how that was supposed to go now.

Very cool, thanks!

Crystal said...

You ask..."Is having the shield and the wings simultaneously too much?" No, it isn't. Since Sam does not have any super-powers or serum so he needs all the protection he can get from his getup.

The white is definitely gonna be hard to keep clean though :)

Thanks for the review!

Kimberley L. M. said...

They completely butchered Sharon's character. Hated the twist. There was plenty of material in the comics they could have used to flesh her out instead of making her a villain.

Richard said...

Hopefully this isn't too on the nose but some more stray observations....

Yes, the white is very much going to be hard to keep clean. Not sure if that's a fashion choice meant to mimic the reality about how white folks are hard to keep clean given what we've done over the years. Likely not intended that way, but there's a certain symmetry there in some ways.

On the note of is the shield and the wings too much... Maybe? But much like how the plot revolves around a black man with no special powers having to work harder to be just as good as someone that (while strong of character) was basically given everything from the get go. Again, not to denigrate Steve. he worked hard too, but like how the non white experience in America, they have to work harder to get the same recognition.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Honestly, a lot of my concern about Sam's gear stems from firefighting days. The more tools you bring the heavier the load you're carrying, the quicker you get tired out.

I think I'm just viscerally reacting to that.

I confess to not being up on the comics lore, but I think Sam's Cap outfit is comics accurate, can anyone confirm? Of course, in the comics it's easy to keep your outfit clean, you just don't draw the dirt :)

Kimberly - what happens to Sharon in the comics? I'm genuinely interested - I know almost nothing about her.

Richard said...

I think that vibranium is supposed to be light weight, And Howard says it's 1/3 the weight of steel while being stronger than steel. Many Wakandans make clothing out of it too, so that leads me to believe that whatever he's wearing now, even with the shield, is probably lighter than what he was wearing before.

Also, I know you didn't ask me but, in the comics Sharon factors heavily into the death of Cap storyline, and then it goes bonkers (as comics do). The wiki has a good summary here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_of_Captain_America

Mikey Heinrich said...

Thanks!

Kimberley L. M. said...

Mike - Sharon has such a rich and vast history in the comics that honestly it would take me too long to detail here! Instead, I'll just go with a quick allegory using Superman and Lois Lane.

Basically, Sharon is to Steve as what Lois is to Clark Kent. What happened in the MCU is as if Clark dumped Lois to go back to Lana Lang (his childhood sweetheart) and Lois became the new Lex Luthor.

They basically did to Sharon what they did to Dany in Game of Thrones. Except, with Dany, you could at least argue that at some point, she was supposed to turn bad - it was just done poorly on the show. Sharon? It's a total distortion of who the character is supposed to be.

The MCU has of course made many changes to characters from the comics, but have managed at the same time to remain loyal to who these characters are at their core. What they've done to Sharon, as a comic fan, is downright unforgivable, and terrible, terrible writing.

Brent said...

Agree with what you are saying about Sharon, the way she is in the show definitely doesn't line up with any comics that I've read. I haven't read a lot of newer comics so I even went searching to see if she went bad in the comics, like Val, but didn't find anything. I have a hard time believing that Steve would have lost track of her to the point that she would fall so far. The empire that she has created for herself in Madripoor makes me question if she was snapped in the first place. I have a hard time believing that even with her skills she could put all of that together in the time since the blip. An outside chance is that maybe she is a skrull since they are doing a Secret Invasion show soon.

Nate said...

The biggest question I have from this review is "How is ANYONE not a Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan?"

Mikey Heinrich said...

I CANNOT believe it took this long for anyone to call me out on that :)

I think it's mostly that I really, really hated Seinfeld. She seems nice enough. I hear Veep is really great. I'm happy for her to be out there and successful, she's just not my thing.

That said, Val seems like a lot of fun, so maybe she'll win me over.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

I liked the episode and I thought it was relatively satisfying.

I do think that US Agent didn't really feel the consequences of his actions enough, but we have no idea who Val is or what agency she is actually working for. Speaking of Val, while I have nothing against Julia Louis-Dreyfus I on't particularly like her, and I wouldn't call myself a fan either. Mostly because I detest Seinfeld and Veep left me cold when I tried it (so you're not alone Mikey).

I thought Cap (Sam) looked great in his new costume, and it is very comic-accurate. Glad to hear they are already at work on Captain America 4 with him as the star. I loved the fact that Sam and Bucky are now friends, and are moving forward as hero partners. It works on every level for me.

Not so much with the Sharon twist, I really like the actress, and while she does play a great villain, I hoped she would stay a hero, maybe even pick up the reigns from her Aunt.

The resolution for the Isaiah plotline was very well done, but at the same time it was bittersweet because he still suffered for years because of ingrained racism. It was a nice testament to him, and would stand as a monument for generations to come to see that heroes come in every shape and size.

Thank you for the review, this was overall a pretty great series that genuinely made me like Bucky and Sam like 100% more.

Anonymous said...

The Mcu has made plenty of changes that are actually major, whether gender swapping, race changing, adding characters that dont exist or completely changing source material arcs in other ways. Why is this Sharon twist so controversial. It actually happened in several comic stories, her 'dark' turn.

I wasnt a fan how it was presented on the show but understand covid messed up some of the production. Most people are complaining about this 'twist' because the are still too emotionally attached to Peggy and Steve. Im yet to hear narratively why its so bad. Did we not all see Endgame where Clint went from Hawkeye to Ronin. Why is it so far fetched for Sharons change.

Personally im looking forward to it, while she is engaging in evil acts she still has close ties with Bucky and Sam. The future movies and shows will have better conflict when its someone you know and close to on both sides.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Anonymous

For me the Sharon twist wasn't a case of bad storytelling or an improper use of a character. It was more of a... darn Peggy's niece broke bad. I wanted her to be a hero. She is clearly not 'evil' because she wouldn't have actively helped Sam and Bucky quite like that. There are some interesting narrative possibilities making her the Power Broker, and you're right Sharon Carter turning dark isn't without precedent. It really depends on what is done with the character.

Kimberley L. M. said...

Sharon turning 'dark' in the comics never turned her into a full villain, though. Although her being abandoned by SHIELD and Nick Fury turned her into a much darker, cynical character (specifically referring to the Mark Waid run in the 90s here), she never lost sight of her morals or sought to exploit others for power or money. There's a massive difference between the character she became in FATWS and her development in the comic books (the latter of which was far better written).

I think what really leaves a bad taste in my mouth regarding this character 'twist' is that they're turning Sharon into a villain to justify what Steve did to her post-Civil War. As in, he was right to be abandon her because hey, she's evil now anyway.

Anonymous said...

@ Samantha

Agreed. Im also still conflicted. But Marvel has a way of making stuff better in retrospect.

@Kimberly

I get it I really do. Especially as a comic reader who has waited years to see my fav characters/stories hit the big screen. Marvel has changed or altered alot of things that I didn't like so I understand your frustrations as you seem to be a big Sharon fan. Im not attached to Sharon like that so I can only give you my outsiders perspective.
I myself am a little conflicted but turning her into a 'villain' creates far more interesting and emotional stories down the line.
I didn't like the execution on the show because I immediately put together she was the broker so we are just left the question why she got like this with no explanation. At this point we have seen more of her as the broker than we did as a 'good' agent. With no narrative inbetween except what we can extrapolate from the small tidbits they have given us.

However I really disagree that the twist is solely because of Steve or being used as any sort of justification. They weren't lovers and to me they were more connected to each other through their love of Peggy.
Even their kiss too me was one of mutual attraction but more so a goodbye and lets get it out of the way thing rather than I see a future life with us thing.
Peggy gave her life to Shield and died, soon after Shield was revealed to be part Hydra and fell so Sharon like Black Widow in Winter Soldier must have been really disillusioned by that point. She joins the CIA and then is left out in the cold again for doing the 'right' thing. After which we never hear about her again. She was in Endgame as one of those that got blipped so the Avengers didn't know or care to find out, to her Steve abandoned her as did everybody else. Infact between Sharon and how Wanda and Vision were just left to fend for themselves the Avengers are not looking like great people right now.

RandallJosephSmith said...

I agree. Despite the hints in the show that she was the power broker, it didn’t make really make sense for her to be. The only way they redeem this choice for me is if they reveal she got brainwashed like Bucky.

RandallJosephSmith said...

That is a good point. She could be a skrull. I think it should be that or something similar rather than her just choosing to go villain.