*** WARNING: spoilers ahead for all current episodes of Marvel’s Falcon and The Winter Soldier ***
Unlike WandaVision, which played its cards close to its chest, Falcon and Winter soldier had a lot of world building to do in its first episode. Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) had given up Captain America’s, while Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) struggled to cope with the nightmares of his past. The cliff-hanger saw the unveiling of a new Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
This episode opens with Walker being unveiled and interviewed at a football stadium. We find out he is a decorated Special Ops soldier, and seemingly a good guy, or at least sincere about wanting to make a difference. This doesn’t matter one bit to Bucky, who hunts down Falcon to blame him for giving up the shield, setting the pair up for a mission to track down some new villains calling themselves The Flag-Smashers.
Where the premiere episode felt like just another Marvel film, this one establishes a pulpy Buddy Cop formula that soon settles into a satisfying rhythm. Falcon is the stoic, considered one, while Bucky is the wild card – The Riggs to his Murtaugh, if you will. It helps that the two are brilliant together, turning bickering into an art form: Falcon jokingly refers to Bucky as ‘White Panther’ after his time in Wakanda, while Bucky dismisses Falcon’s theory of villains being part of ‘The Big Three’ (“Androids, Aliens, and Wizards”).
The pair find The Flag-Smashers smuggling some stolen vaccines in a truck. A fight ensues, with John Walker and his partner Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett) – aka Battlestar – joining the fray. The good guys lose, and it becomes clear that these young anarchist baddies are super soldiers like Bucky and Steve. Walker wants to work with the pair, but his middle management smarminess and condescending tone leads to a refusal from both.
We then see the first of some interesting nuance in the series. The Flag-Smashers are welcomed to a safe house by a supporter who reveals they are viewed as Robin Hood-esque heroes. We learn from the leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) that the group’s mission is to fight for how things were during The Blip – the catastrophic event explored during the End Game saga which saw half of all life across the universe extinguished – claiming those who didn’t vanish have been sidelined since everyone returned. The Captain America films saw success picking apart these kinds of moral conundrums, in which it’s not always clear who are the good and bad guys.
Falcon is incredulous as to how there could be so many super soldiers, and Bucky takes him to Baltimore to reveal a secret. He meets an old foe, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), an American soldier who fought Bucky in the Korean War when he was a brainwashed mercenary for the fascist terrorist organisation known as Hydra. Bradley is a also super soldier, but unlike Steve he experimented on rtather than celebrated. It’s implied that the difference in treatment was because Bradley is black.
With grim irony, police then turn up and immediately assume Falcon is the instigator because of his race, with their demeanour only changing when they realise he’s an Avenger. Addressing social issues is not something Marvel does very often, and it’s a welcome moment delivered brilliantly by Mackie.
As it turns out, it’s Bucky with the arrest warrant, for missing a court-mandated therapy session. Walker shows up again, pulling some strings to get Bucky released and freed from his therapy obligations. After one last attempt to persuade Falcoln and Bucky to work with him, Walker ominously warns: “Word of advice… Don’t get in my way”. Evidently, Walker is to be the rival in this Buddy Cop scenario, and could be an interesting antagonist as things move forward.
With the trail still cold on the Flag-Smashers, Bucky realises there’s only one link to pursue – his old pals Hydra. In the final scenes we see who he’s talking about: Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), Civil War’s villain, sitting in a high security prison cell.
The world of Falcon and Winter Soldier is beginning to take shape, with friends who feel like enemies and enemies who may not be entirely evil. We also learn that Captain America’s strength may not be so unique, and that there may be someone or something behind this rash of super soldiers. In the comics, it’s a character known as The Power Broker, a being who gives powers to people in exchange for their earnings (previously, it has also been an organisation, Power Broker Inc). The mystery may go beyond Power-Smashers, and become more about who is arming them. This series is beginning to pick up the pace.
New Episodes of Falcon and The Winter Soldier are available every Friday on Disney+