If WandaVision represented Marvel at its boldest stylistically, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the cinematic universe at its safest. And it really says something about the state of these shows that starting out as a traditional sitcom is riskier than opening on a man with giant robotic bird wings.
When last we left our titular heroes, they were wishing farewell to a retiring Captain America who bequeathed his iconic shield to The Falcon, Sam Wilson. The implication at the time was that Wilson would be taking over the mantle of Captain America, but this show is going to make us wait.
Early on in the first episode, we learn that Wilson feels like he can’t live up to the legacy of Captain America. This self doubt leads to Wilson turning the shield over to a museum.
Sidenote: There is an Australian company called Type40 that makes actual Captain America shields that will run you $815.85 plus shipping and handling. They look incredible, but you are really making a decision about who you want to be as a person when you spend a grand on replica comic book weapons. And that person is “the new divorcee.”
For a show that presented itself as a sort of buddy cop action comedy, we don’t see the Falcon and Winter Soldier together in this first episode. Instead, we find both characters separately processing their respective trauma.
Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is trying to manage his PTSD and make amends for all the years he spent as a brainwashed terrorist super assassin. In a delightful scene with his therapist, Barnes lists his rules his therapist made him agree to for making things right. They include not doing anything illegal and not hurting anyone (which is also covered in the “anything illegal” rule, but best to spell these things out.
Sebastian Stan does a good job of never going too far and making Bucky a dour eboy. “Sad” is a character trait of his, but not his total personality.
Another good touch is that Bucky’s sole friend is an elderly curmudgeon named Yori. At first it makes sense that Bucky has an easier time relating to an old man. Bucky is 106 years old. It’s not until later that we learn their friendship stems from Bucky’s ongoing quest to rectify his past mistakes.
I have a question though. Why does no one recognize Bucky? He was Captain America’s best friend and also the most wanted fugitive in the world at one time. The show does include people asking for selfies with Falcon, but I need some of the Marvel properties to flesh out the level of notoriety we’re dealing with when it comes to these characters. Especially since they are probably going to be operating as super spies at some point.
I will point out one more thing: This episode steals an entire scene of dialogue from an episode of Six Feet Under. Bucky goes on an ill-fated date. His date begins discussing the death of Yuri’s son. She mentions that if you lose a spouse, you’re a widow or widower. If you lose your parents, you’re an orphan. But there is no word for someone who loses a child.
Yeah, Brenda said all that in Six Feet Under’s ninth episode, “Life’s Too Short.” I’m not offended by this bit of, let’s call it borrowing, but I do think it’s important to recognize.
One thing that I didn’t realize I would be so interested in with this new phase of Marvel shows is how all the characters will deal with half of the population being blinked out of existence for a few years. That’s an original sort of dilemma with real-world implications we can all understand.
For instance, Falcon returned after five years to find his family’s fishing business in disarray. He applies for a loan, but having a multi-year blank spot in your financial records isn’t a good way to win over the bank. Beyond all the aerial combat and espionage, money problems are a bit more tangible for those watching at home.
The episode also gives us a look at the villainous Flag Smashers, who want to bring back the anarchy present during the period when half of society vanished. They appear to arrange violent flashmobs, but instead of highly choreographed dance routines, it’s terrorism.
Wow, remember flashmobs? Remember escape rooms? Before quarantine hit, people used to pay money to be locked in a room and answer riddles. It boggles the mind. Anyway, what was I saying about the show? Oh yeah!
Anthony Mackie has been an interesting foil since his introduction to the MCU (Marvel cinematic universe). I’m excited to see what he does in this leading role as the Falcon. I know he can do comedy. I know he can do action. But what I really want to see — and what is hinted at during the conclusion of this episode — is Anthony Mackie as a pissed-off superhero who beats the stars and stripes out of the new Captain America imposter.
Yes, this episode ends with the U.S. Department of Defense introducing their new Captain America. Sam has been betrayed, and now I hope we are working toward a righteously indignant Falcon who goes and takes what he deserves.