WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Episode 1: New World Order
I’m glad to see that they’re FINALLY giving Bucky’s character the bare minimum of humanity, something that’s been almost entirely looked over even after the FIVE (yes, FIVE) Marvel movies he’s starred in. He’s got a checklist quest now to redeem those he had forcibly done wrong during his days as a soldier for Hydra by transpiring some pity friendships, trying to see if it’ll land his PTSD to the side for a change. As a weak spot though, the episode bounces mediocrely when it comes to commentating on the aftermath of Endgame: a five year disappearance that resulted in a graceful reappearance of half the population which then unfortunately counteracted an economical plumage, as one could imagine, is insinuated with Sam’s sister Sarah’s corny bank loan MacGuffin, but it is what it is. The episode ends off interestingly, however, with our introduction into the government capitalizing off of a hero’s legacy.
Episode 2: The Star-Spangled Man
I appreciate how, like WandaVision, the show sort of is working in the meta by having Sam and Bucky represent the point of view of the Marvel fans, opposing the new that has invaded their lives with this replacement of Captain America. This episode may be the funniest the MCU has ever been too next to Gunn and Waititis’s work, with that hilarious shot of the two walking and John Walker feeding to give them a lift, or the forced couples therapy Sam and Bucky encounter. The two’s hateful chemistry sort of craps itself based on loose strings a couple times, but it nonetheless is reverent enough to be contagiously funny, as well as reflective of each others current pothole life conditions, taking one another’s failures out on each other. The action in this episode also surpasses the previous; I really dug its re-inclusion of the super soldiers in a more down to earth way, relating itself back to the experience of Bucky that the show has chosen to follow.
Episode 3: Power Broker
Good idea bringing back one of the MCU’s top villains, Zemo, who’s philosophy has always made more sense to me than his actions, fitting in appropriately with the show’s continuing theme of celebritization of Cap’s image/shield that ultimately overlooked other heroes through this twisted, singular idolization. I find it funny how Madripoor is just like the underground hitman environment from the John Wick movies; Sharon Carter’s return even featured her going full badass John-Wick-mode herself; she’s now hiding in a criminal underworld due to the Hydra reveal that left the company she once worked for under investigation. Anyways, the action sequences are beginning to remind me a lot of Winter Soldier now! I’m starting to feel a little something for the antagonists now too despite me wishing that they had a more in-depth background outside of just being terrorist Robin Hoods; their struggle of being swindled deeper and deeper into their poverty after the five year disappearance ended in Endgame is, however, actually something fairly hooking compared to what that treacherous “Sam’s sister can’t get a loan” side-plot tells us in those regards. GRC… damn you.
Episode 4: The Whole World is Watching
“Isn’t that how gods talk?”
John Walker has officially hit a peak of desperation to live up to a god-like image such as Captain America — ahhh, hence a flaw with power glorification that the show is smartly sticking to. I admired how interested this particular episode was with the hypocrisy of fighting supremacy with supremacy; it has me now digging the tv show style for the MCU; it gives us more breathing room for thoughtful discussion, and also MORE quality action spectacle and decent side-plot quarrels that actually advance the characters empathetically or messages further way more than a movie’s length could. Oh yeah, and that final scene signifies a big departure from Steve Rogers: instead of killing in battle, Walker kills a defenseless man needlessly; the government is going to hopefully be out of their asses for once now that their ill-minded Captain America revival scheme has hit a dead end. Again, power glorification = flawed; Walker was already a hero to the nation before becoming Captain America, but the expectations that came with it ruined him. It’s so nice to see a superhero franchise (of all the franchises, one about powerful beings) become a little more self-aware with this kind of stuff! Some people have already said this, but the show is also beginning to fling off some Daredevil vibes with these themes. Anyways, this episode in particular though: easily one of the best pieces of media the MCU has ever put together.
Episode 5: Truth
A little too preachy at times for me, but this episode gives fans some safe moments of closure for our lead characters. Walker is thrown under the bus as we would expect from a government wanting to save their own asses, Zemo politely accepts submission to Wakanda, Sam and Bucky have some bro-time together by helping build Sarah’s ship, and we get further background on Isaiah’s time as a supersoldier hero and prisoner, leading to Sam’s revelation to take or to not take on the Captain America name? And, of course, the episode sets up for a big showdown to come in the finale — no surprises there. This is probably my least favorite episode thus far besides episode one, but it’s fine enough. That fight sequence at the beginning though was quite the hustle.
Episode 6: One World, One People
I really hate when a medium that’s been consistently somewhat poignant has to drop the ball by concluding itself with a classic “uhhh, the government is gonna change because ya fellas know now that it was actually YOU who created the bad guys all along” 50-minute preach ceremony. This final episode isn’t entirely hopeless though; I will admit, there’s admirable intention in how the show desires using a black Captain American to console the revival and recognition for past black heroes, but it’s all done so f***ing conveniently to wrap bows around every issue this show set up initially like it’d be that simple to accomplish to begin with. I’m fine with everybody having their happy ending conclusions here (Bucky’s is the best) but my golly is John’s and Sharon’s rushed to hell. It’s a chore trying to find ways to conclude like five different side-plots with happy endings in the blink of an episode after nearly five entire hours of proceeding struggles, and coincidentally enough, a couple of them just s**t themselves out of pretty thin air! You know, Marvel, that things can be left open-ended because you are a FRANCHISE, right? You can have time to think before doing something completely stupid, right???
Speaking of rushed, I can’t say the first half’s big-battle climax was any good, giving us a really cliché and unprepared heroes-work-together accumulation (like WandaVision) that leads to a villain’s death which the show insists we feel sympathy for, but at the same time it’s hard to given how vaguely they’ve monotoned these antagonists throughout beyond the GRC lore. To add more wood to the fire though, you KNOW how damn vague this show’s reach for a message was when Sam had to give his semi-inspirational speech to the government to stop being asshats with little to no specifics; it literally boiled down to a classic “y’all should like change, ya know? I don’t know specifically how you people will figure it out, but just listen to and enact my liberal demands from your conservative perspectives, okay?” speech. Who knew all you had to do to stop a corrupt country from making borders and creating injustices for heroes is to just ask them if they can on live television after almost dying at the HANDS of the people they were against in the first place? I know they now know that they caused the terrorists to terrorize in the first place but YEAH RIGHT these government officials would just flip all their coins immediately because of that! Marvel should only be able to seam into this far-fetched fantasy logic as long as it doesn’t try to integrate it with our real world, which it has embarrassingly done in this final episode unfortunately.
I despised the acting direction for the final battle in this episode, as well; just really shoddy delivery which tonally conflicts with the great acting of the previous five episodes. The editing, choreography, and composition was a bit janky in the climax too; maybe stick to those tightly constructed combat fights in earlier episodes instead of having to blow your load with as much visual galore as your budget can handle, Marvel! Just a thought!
Overall Show Verdict: C+
2021 Ranked, The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked
“Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is now streaming on Disney+.