The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale recap: A new Captain America, for real this time
EW recaps and considers the season finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Well, here we are at the end. I've been saving my thoughts these last few weeks, focusing mainly on plot details in our most recent recaps, because I wanted to wait until we had the full story to wrap our heads around. Now that we do...I must say I'm disappointed.
First, let's go through it. True to its creators' constant motto that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more of a six-hour movie than a TV show, this finale picks up right where last week's installment left off: The Flag-Smashers about to attack a meeting of the Global Repatriation Council, and Sam opening a briefcase given to him by Bucky courtesy of Wakanda. You'll never guess what was inside! Just kidding, yes you will, it's his new Captain America suit!
The thing we've been awaiting for five episodes has finally happened: Sam is the new Captain America. I guess this should've been a foregone conclusion, but the show successfully scrambled my prediction matrix by having Bucky as co-lead. Both Bucky and Sam have taken up the mantle of Captain America in the pages of Marvel comics, so it could've gone in either direction for all I knew. But in the end they replicated Sam's comic-book Cap outfit pretty exactly, and it is fun to watch him soaring around wielding both his wings and the shield, with some help from Redwing the drone.
Unless I'm mistaken, this is Redwing's first appearance in the show since the premiere. That's far from the only bookend moment in this finale. After a Flag-Smasher commandeers a helicopter to take several GRC members captive, Sam replicates his move from the show's opening battle scene by flying straight through the helicopter and tackling the pilot out of it. Luckily one of the hostages knows how to fly a helicopter and takes control of the vessel afterward.
Here's where things get confusing. John Walker shows up, which is no surprise since last week's episode had a mid-credits scene showing him forging his own Captain America shield. What is a surprise is how he acts. Combined with his other scenes in that episode (his defiant defense of homicide before a government oversight board and his friendly meeting with Julia Louis-Dreyfus' obviously evil Valentina Allegra de Fontaine) I was led to believe he would show up as a villain in this finale...but instead he's still kind of a hero? He calls out Karli Morgenthau, she kicks his butt, but then he abandons the fight in order to do an actual superhero thing of trying to save a truck full of GRC captives from falling to their doom. I always say that the number-one most important thing about a superhero is that they actually save people rather than just beating up bad guys. John, uh, passes that test, and gets rewarded with some Bucky banter even though they were trying to violently murder each other not long ago. To me, this just proves that this show didn't really know what to do with any of its characters.
Speaking of which, are you ready to learn who the Power Broker was? Guess what, it's Sharon! There were really only two candidates — her and Zemo — and the fact that Zemo really did walk the walk about hating superheroes and superpowers and the super-soldier serum basically ruled him out, so it had to be Sharon. She kills a couple Flag-Smashers, and then Sam arrives to help, having conveniently missed out on hearing Sharon's villainous dialogue. Sam has a bit of an exchange with Karli, asking her where murder for political reasons ends, it's a slippery slope, etc. They don't have a long conversation though, because Sharon soon shoots Karli to death and Sam doesn't think this is suspicious or malicious in any way whatsoever.
Then comes the most insufferable part of this episode. Having saved the members of the GRC from violent revolutionaries, Sam proceeds to give them a wannabe Aaron Sorkin lecture. So, so much of this show has been violating the storytelling axiom "show, don't tell." One reason the Flag-Smashers didn't connect with most viewers is because we didn't really see them doing much outside their fight scenes; everything about them and their motivation was delivered in monotonous exposition and dialogue that just stated facts rather than showing us story. This Sam monologue is the apex of the show's tendency in this regard. He's lecturing a bunch of politicians even though if global policy could be changed by yelling at politicians, there wouldn't be a need for violent revolutionaries at all. The show doesn't feel this way, but as a viewer it seems apparent to me that the GRC's subsequent flip-flop announced on the news probably has more to do with them not wanting to get attacked by violent extremists again then it does with the new Captain America giving them a mediocre West Wing impression.
There's also a weird racial element to this speech that doesn't match what the show has shown us so far. To explain why he has the authority to tell politicians what to do, Sam cites his experience as a Black American man. Specifically, he says that he knows by putting on the Captain America outfit "millions of people" will hate him for it. But is that true? This is the first time he's taken up the shield, and everyone seems pretty psyched about it! Earlier we cut to a crowd scene of people of different races cheering him on. Isaiah Bradley's experience isn't relevant to this either, because no one even knew he was Captain America! Bradley was not victimized by a public who never knew of his existence, he was victimized by the very state apparatus which Sam is now vigorously defending against revolutionaries who proclaim that everyone, regardless of race or nationality or anything else, belongs to one human race with shared interests. Who's the bad guy here again?
In fact, I would say my main problem with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is that it doesn't know who its villain should be, and treats its characters weirdly as a result. John Walker is such a hateable figure, they should've leaned into that and made him a heel. Especially since we now see for sure that this show was all about Sam becoming Captain America, it would've been perfect to set up a privileged spoiled white guy as his counterpart, the guy who got everything handed to him while Sam worked hard his whole life and still wasn't being granted the superhero mantle he deserved. That's definitely where I thought we were going when John first appeared in the final moments of the series premiere (why else cast Wyatt Russell, himself the privileged scion of golden Hollywood gods?), but instead the show only ever treated him as a misunderstood hero trying to do his best. We never even learned what horrible dark things he did in the military that he's still haunted by; we're just supposed to assume that whatever he did, it was worth it for the greater good or whatever. I know the U.S. military was pretty involved with this show, so it's not like I was expecting an anti-imperialist narrative or anything; just a story that made sense.
I'm sure the show was purposely trying to go for a "shades of grey" thing where you could see things from everyone's point of view, but they didn't quite pull it off. The end result was that I didn't really care about anyone and wasn't nearly as engaged with the show as I was with, say, WandaVision, which had no problem making its antagonist a cackling Disney villain with her own theme song. Guess what? We all loved it! "Agatha All Along" was the song of the winter! This is a superhero story, folks, and superheroes are only as good as their supervillains.
I will also say that the treatment of female characters in this show is frankly kind of weird. John Walker is an antihero, Zemo is an antihero, but Sharon is an evil supervillain pulling everyone's strings (which you'll only see if you stick around for the mid-credits). John beat a guy to death on Insta Live basically and within one episode he's bantering with Bucky and saving lives, but Karli has to die because her extremism was too far? Then there's Val, who is quite enjoyable in her two scenes because she's played by the funniest actress alive, but is also just saying nonsense.
I don't know, I'm just left feeling kind of hollow. My takeaway is that these MCU shows shouldn't try to be a "six-hour movie" like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, because they'll similarly try to do too much and too little at once. Instead, future shows should try to actually build their story as a TV show like WandaVision did, even if they're not quite as meta at playing with the format. It will be interesting to see which path Loki and Hawkeye take. Grade: C
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier