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Photo: ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’/Disney+

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ aired its season finale this Friday. The show, much like its MCU original series predecessor, ‘WandaVision,’ has further implications for both what the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe has previously set up, and where it is planning to go in the future on both the big and silver screens. The show’s six-episode run gave its fans almost five hours of content revolving around the journeys of Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (The Winter Soldier) in a post ‘Avengers: Endgame’ MCU. Along with the new stories of John Walker, Lamar Hoskins, Karli Morgenthau, Joaquin Torres, Isaiah Bradley.

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‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ – Finale

The show takes place after the retirement of Steve Rogers’ Captain America, where Bucky is now left as the only 100-year-old super-soldier with no one but himself to look after him. Meanwhile, Sam, after just receiving the vibranium stars & stripes shield, struggles with taking on the mantle of Captain America, both not feeling like it should belong to him, and not feeling like the world is ready for a Black “Cap”.

Trying to help their own respective causes unsuccessfully in their own ways, the two inevitably team up to fight against a group called the Flags Smashers: an army of super-soldiers fighting against the governmental organization, the Global Repatriation Council (GRC), who are trying to pass an act that would send everyone who was “blipped” and then returned five years after Thanos’s snap, back to their respective countries. These super soldiers, labeled as both refugees and terrorists, stop at nothing, not even killing, to get their message across. 

Trying to reason with and ultimately fight with this group in hopes to find peace and middle ground, Sam and Bucky recruit the help of some old friends along the way. They break Baron Zemo, last seen in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ out of prison to help track down the leader of the Flag Smashers, Karli Morgenthau, and then travel to the fictional city of Madripoor, where they come across Sharon Carter, last seen in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ to further assist them in their mission.

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With all of this going on, the two have to deal with the repercussions of Sam giving up the shield as a totemic gift to the US government in Steve’s honor. Although, the government turned around and chose a new blonde-haired and blue-eyed veteran to take over as the new Captain America, John Walker. As the series progresses, the differences between Walker and Rogers become stark (no pun intended), as Walker falls into a slippery slope and loses his head, killing one of the Flag Smashers after ingesting a new strain of the super-soldier serum. Bucky and Sam team up using all the help they can get to deal with their many foes, while also struggling with their own inner demons.

Addressing Racism and Mental Health

The standout storylines of this series revolved around Bucky’s struggle with his mental health, specifically his post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as the brain-washed Winter Soldier, and Sam coming face-to-face with systemic racism, both historically and presently; not only in the superhero community, but in his day-to-day life. 

Bucky’s mental health seems surrounded upon his notebook, the same one Steve used to track his pop-culture pursuits as he learned everything he missed during his 70 years on ice. Although for Bucky, it’s used as a type of blacklist, with pages and pages of names of people that he wronged as the Winter Soldier, with whom he is trying to make amends. One, in particular, is Mr. Nakasima, the father of an innocent bystander that Bucky killed while on a mission many years ago, who he tried to befriend in hopes to alleviate his guilt.

Throughout the series, he realized that to really make amends, he had to give Mr. Nakasima closure by telling him how he really lost his son, accepting full blame, and letting him heal on his own. Through Bucky’s intimate and unsettling meetings with his government-mandated psychologist after the pardon given to him, freeing him of the Winter Soldiers body count, and the pain and loneliness he felt after the “retirement” of Steve Rogers, his process of coming to terms with his mental health is redemptive to years and years of character development we’ve seen throughout each phase of the MCU.

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When trying to learn more about the whereabouts of the super-soldier Flag Smashers, Bucky takes Sam to an old soldier he knows, Isaiah Bradley. Isaiah was a product of the racism and cruelty of his day, a soldier who was experimented on and poked and prodded for the sake of the US Government. This mirrors the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where Black men were used for inhumane science and killed off as experiments from 1932 and 1972. Isaiah Bradley and his fellow Black soldiers during WWII were given different strains of super-soldier serum, trying to replicate a Captain America, but many strains failed and were lethal, and those who survived were killed off.

Isaiah, having lived through all of this, showed Sam the harsh and painful perspective of why there could never be a Black Captain America. This gave Sam an even harder decision to make, whether to take what he learned and play it safe or to challenge the rooted history of racism and attack it head-on. This was a story that started and ended with this show, but was something always embedded in him as one of the few Avengers of color, and thankfully, this story was finally brought to light. 

A Review of the Season Finale

The season finale had a big job to do. Many plot lines began and continued throughout this season and it was perceptively difficult to complete them all in one 40 minute episode. The big highlights of the episode went as follows. Sam showed off his new vibranium red, white and blue suit made by the Wakandans and took on the moniker of Captain America. Sharon Carter came back to help fight alongside Sam and Bucky and was revealed to be the Power Broker all along, just before she shot and killed Karli Morgenthau. John Walker shook out of his rage-filled mindstate and honored the legacy of Captain America by attempting to save a truck of hostages instead of attacking the Flag Smashers.

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After the fight and showing the world the new Black Captain America, Sam honored the untold legacy of Isaiah Bradley by having a memorial put up of him at the same exhibit that featured Captain America’s story, aligning them as heroes. Baron Zemo blew up the remaining group of Flag Smashers while imprisoned at the raft. It was revealed that Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Val) is putting together a team of, so far, Zemo and John Walker, who, at the end of the episode officially became US Agent. In the post-credit scene, Sharon Carter was pardoned and invited back into her role in the government, but showed how she will exploit the government through her new rank as Power Broker to gain more power and profit for her life back in Madripoor. As the credits rolled, the title of the show fittingly changed from ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ to ‘Captain America and the Winter Soldier.’ 

As I mentioned, there was a lot to pack up and even more to set up, all while attempting to create a satisfying ending to an already rushed story. Throughout the six episodes, Sam and Bucky went from hating each other to being buddies after one montage of them fixing a boat. John Walker went from trying to kill Sam and Bucky and having an even stronger bloodlust for Karli Morgenthau to teaming up with Sam and Bucky and foregoing a fight with Karli to save hostages in less than one episode; not to mention having no reaction when he found out Karli died. There are many more examples, but to put it bluntly, it felt rushed and incomplete.

The choice to give often forgotten and ostracised characters like Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in the MCU, a chance to shine on the silver screen by giving them supposedly more than a movie, it being five hours of the storyline as compared to a film’s usual two, seemed exciting. Although, in my opinion, the story beats they chose to take their time on felt drawn out, while the other plot points that had no time to progress naturally, felt rushed as they needed to give some sort of closure. It is no doubt a fun experience watching any MCU-type content. The characters are usually fleshed out and the world is usually both beautiful and striking, but, while ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ had the opportunity to soar, in my opinion, it flew a little low to the ground.

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The expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe world has been built across over 20 forms of content: movies, television, shorts, etc., but it looks a lot different here, in a disappointing way. The boring and bland production design of almost every real place this world utilizes takes away from what should be a fun and visceral visual experience. The only time we get some aspect of the beauty or thought and care put into a location is in the fictional city of Madripoor. In a universe that has literally created new worlds and filled them with the beauty of all different styles and feelings, why do the production and set design of our world stay so ordinary? There are ways of making places like New York, DC, Latvia, and other real locations that this show was set in, look alive and attractive, even out-of-the-ordinary.

I expect more from the studios that brought us ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘Iron Man,’ stunning filmic feats that opened our eyes as much as our minds. Conversely, the white walls and governmentally sterile look of all of the office buildings and factories at which so many scenes took place in this show, was unfortunate to say the least. Optimistically, this may have been a visual choice in order to accentuate the stars and stripes and various colors of each character’s costumes. Or, it could have been a comment on the subplot of the governmental organizations and them being out of touch with the people on the ground, showing us a difference between the colorful costume design of the characters we root for, and even the ones we don’t, and the displeasing backgrounds they stand before that represent the unseen hand of the GRC. Either way, I hoped for more care and craft in the production design and world-building of this series, yet, unfortunately, my eyes were let down.

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Setting up the future of Phase 4

In routine Marvel form, the finale of ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ dropped many clues for comic book aficionados and avid MCU fans to predict what will happen next for these characters we’ve invested ourselves in and how that will impact their world and their futures. First off, the Thunderbirds! The Thunderbirds were an organization in the comics like the Avengers, without the governmental oversight, law following, or even morals for which the Avengers were known. Headed by Baron Zemo at one point, and featuring US Agent, the Thunderbirds were run by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a character we have seen trying to remake the super-soldier serum in ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ present the Avengers with the Sokovia Accords in ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ and who we know will make an appearance in the upcoming ‘Black Widow’ movie.

Many fans have predicted that he is who Val, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is working for. If so, we can expect to see a team-up soon, perhaps featuring other forgotten Marvel villains/ anti-heroes such as Ghost from ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ or even Agatha Harkness from ‘WandaVision.’ Furthermore, at the end of episode five, when Sam told his friend, Joaquin Torres, to “keep” his broken Falcon wings, that could have been a nod to how, in the comics, Torres became a version of the Falcon with the help of the Power broker, meaning he could very well take on the mantle of the Falcon one day in the future of the MCU.

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In a fun addition that is being set up mostly within the new Marvel television series, with the introduction of Isaiah Bradley’s grandson, Eli Bradley, many are predicting the MCU to be setting up a Young Avengers storyline. If this were to take place, it would include Eli Bradley as Patriot, Cassie Lang (‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’) as Stinger, Billy and Tommy (‘WandaVision’) as Speed and Wiccan, and Kate Bishop as the young Hawkeye in the upcoming ‘Hawkeye’ show on Disney Plus. 

If you are a fan of Marvel’s work and enjoy the universe-building, ever-expanding galaxy that they have spent over 10 years creating, this show is worth watching. Sam and Bucky’s storylines and struggles are well thought out and evocative of a non-superhero world like ours. In fact, this show accomplishes the difficult task of making super humans relatable. Although, if you are someone who watches the MCU from time to time to appreciate the beauty of it and follow the well-paced and concise plotlines that they are known for, this may not be the most enjoyable use of your time.

As a fan of the MCU, I am always going to watch whatever they put out. What makes the MCU so incredible is not that they have built an interconnected universe with characters that cross over or are mentioned in any given story. What makes the MCU so amazing is its creation of characters that are intersectional and grounded while fundamentally being literally incredible and out-of-this-world. ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ strengthens the stories of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, it even gives us the troubled soldier turned anti-hero of John Walker. This show in no way failed to introduce and reintroduce thrilling and immersive and complex characters, its’ just that everything around those characters did not seem to hold up.

You can see Sebastian Stan in his new romantic/drama movie ‘Monday,’ Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell in the upcoming thriller, ‘The Woman in the Window,’ and Daniel Bruhl in the upcoming prequel to ‘Kingsman,’ ‘The King’s Man.

By Samuel James Parven

Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.

An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”

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