The Falcon and the Winter Solder – Season 1 Episode 3
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has the characters look up an old enemy as they search for answers to the mystery of the recent appearance of Super Soldiers.
One theme this show covers that I didn’t catch in an earlier review is consequences. The entire show is built around the idea that past events have consequences that people have to deal with. On a meta level the films are blunt instruments that create issues without having to properly examine the fallout of them where these TV shows are all about dealing with everything that follows major cinematic events. It works really well because the detail is there for anyone who wants it without compromising the focus that the films have.
In the case of this show the consequences are both global and personal. People returning from the Blip creates a number of problems, Steve giving the shield to Sam followed by his decision to give it up creates other problems and the various characters are all picking up the pieces from things that have happened both around them and to them. This is more explicitly explored through Bucky who is working really hard to find inner peace after decades of being forced to commit brutal murders as the Winter Soldier. He’s trying to find a place in the world and be a positive influence in it but the current situation forces him to slide back into old habits as the Winter Soldier. His motivations are righteous but unfortunately for him the only way to find the answers they need is to lean into the skills and knowledge gained during that extended dark time in his life.
The idea of having to embrace the Winter Soldier persona to make progress is introduced very early on when Zemo taunts him with the trigger words that no longer activate him but still hold power over him by reminding him of what was. Zemo takes great delight in reminding Bucky of this and throughout the episode he pushes him back into those old habits. He tells Bucky that he will need to become what he claims no longer exists on their trip to Madripoor and never lets him forget what he was. His comment “it didn’t take much for him to fall back into form” was said with a measure of delight in his voice as Sam looks on in horror. He has been on the receiving end of Bucky’s brutality in the past and has an idea of how much Bucky detests that part of his life so likely sees this as a major regression on his part. Sam shows real concern and asks him if he’s good following the violent outburst. It’s a small beat but a really impressive showing of their growing friendship.
Sam and Bucky’s connection is what carries this show and it is heavily present in this episode though tends to fall in the background a lot of the time as this episode is heavily plot driven. The previous episode showcased the complexity of their connection with the bickering running alongside their camaraderie to create a dynamic that feels lived in and functional in the context of the story being told. They wind each other up but they also work well together and have a great deal of trust in one another. Their goals are aligned and they are both clear on what they need to do to achieve them. There is a strong bond of trust between them that allows Bucky to open up to him but there’s also resentment from Bucky’s side in regards to Sam giving up the shield.
Bucky’s view is that the world needs a Captain America as symbols of hope are more important than ever in the world as it exists now. Sam admits it was a mistake to donate the shield and suggests that he maybe should have destroyed it but Bucky counters that with a reminder that the shield means a lot to many people including him and resolves to reclaim the shield and use it himself if that’s what he needs to do to restore that symbol. It’s an interesting statement for Bucky to make as it has been established that he has a heavily diminished view of his own self worth so he will certainly feel unworthy of shouldering the responsibility of embodying the symbol he himself holds in such high regard. He is willing to push those personal feelings aside because he definitely feels that John is unworthy of the mantle so if Sam refuses to become the new Captain America then he sees no other option but to try doing it himself. Sebastian Stan’s performance perfectly encapsulates the self doubt running alongside the determination to honour his friend’s legacy.
Once again this episode was limited in coverage of Sam beyond his participation in the plot. Little details such as his reluctance to become the next Captain America and a reminder of the financial concerns between him and his sister raised in the first episode but there was limited coverage of each of those things. Anthony Mackie is still great in the role and Sam’s extensive skill set comes across clearly at any given point but actual coverage of the character on a deeper level is frustratingly limited. It makes sense given what Bucky is being forced to confront but at the same time there’s an imbalance in what the show has chosen to focus on.
Consequences are also covered through the appearance of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). She is hiding out in Madripoor following the events of Captain America: Civil War because she won’t be able to return to the US without being arrested. Her function in the plot is to point Sam, Bucky and Zemo in the direction of answers but the real purposes is as a reminder of how decisions that were made in the past have consequences that ruin people’s lives. She has become resentful because she’s completely alone and feels abandoned by anyone who could have helped her. Sam tries to remind her that he knows what being on the run is like but the important difference is that he no longer is because he’s an Avenger where she has been cast aside and forgotten. She mentions not speaking to her family any more which reinforces her loneliness and her general demeanour highlights the need for a symbol of hope. Her conversation with Sam about giving up the shield highlights that she doesn’t actually believe in heroes and certainly doesn’t believe in the American ideals that Captain America is supposed to represent.
In her two cinematic appearances Sharon had very little in the way of characterisation but based on what has been previously established it’s easy to accept that she regards the world with considerable cynicism. Being abandoned and hunted by the system she worked to protect is reasonable as a source of bitterness though her willingness to help Sam and Bucky shows that she hasn’t fully abandoned altruism even if she presents the appearance of reluctance. She also doesn’t want to see an army of Super Soldiers terrorising the world so it’s in her best interests to help them plus Sam promises to clear her name and let her return home so Sharon’s contribution comes with a lot of complicated motivations complimenting each other. It’s also a nice touch to have Sam offer her hope when she feels that she has none which strongly hints that he does actually have what it takes to embody the spirit of Captain America whether he believes it or not. He naturally lives those values and presents them when he interacts with others.
Zemo’s inclusion could have easily been a bog standard “heroes team up with villain until betrayed” plot and that’s likely what it is ultimately but there’s a lot more to it than that. His plan in Captain America: Civil War involved both tearing the Avengers apart and ridding the world of the other Winter Soldiers. The former was because he blamed the Avengers for the loss of his family and the latter was because he believed that it was too dangerous to have Super Soldiers in the world. The latter makes it believable that he’s motivated to work with Sam and Bucky while they’re in pursuit of that and the episode does an excellent job teasing the betrayal that everyone watching believes is coming. As I mentioned before he particularly enjoys taunting Bucky about his past but he also seems very sympathetic once he gains a greater understanding of the psychological impact of what Bucky is living with.
As with every character featured so far in this Disney+ era of the MCU time is taken to flesh out who Zemo is and provide some insight into his past. Finding out that he’s rich, comes from a wealthy family and holds the title of Baron was a really nice touch with the last being a fun nod to the comics. This allows Sam and Bucky to have access to near infinite resources that allow them to go where they need to go. Zemo’s shady past gives them access to a lot of knowledge and his connections allow them access to places and people they otherwise wouldn’t. The dynamic built between Sam, Bucky and Zemo carries the episode wonderfully. Daniel Bruhl adds a lot of layers to the character with his excellent comic timing along with an ability to makes many things he says carry a potential double meaning. He remains on their side for the entire episode but this almost certainly won’t last forever.
John and Lemar are featured in a limited capacity but their scenes serve as a reminder that they’re a hindrance rather than a help. Both groups are looking to find answers to the appearance of more Super Soldiers but are going about it in radically different ways. John is starting to buy into the title of Captain America and has gained an unhealthy sense of entitlement, going so far as to yell “Do you know who I am?” when someone refuses to give him information. Such a slide was inevitable and it was done very well here. The contrast between his sedate nature and the streak of arrogance that comes through in many of his interactions is used well. Taking it further to have him become angry when people don’t respect him because he happens to be wielding the shield and the identity of Captain America was a great moment and highlights that he certainly isn’t worthy of that mantle as he believes it commands respect or even fear by itself rather than earning it through making it mean something in the way he conducts himself.
The Flag Smashers still remain a poorly defined threat though there is some attempt to add texture to Karli by having her examine the circumstances that led her to where she is now. It’s delivered in a clunky exposition heavy way but it reinforces feeling abandoned in the wake of the Blip and that she wanted something else out of life that she feels was taken for her. It makes sense that this would radicalise people of a certain disposition and there’s the suggestion of some regret on Karli’s part though it’s not something the episode covers in any great detail. Her destructive actions later in the episode being met with horror sets up that there is differing stances on what is considered necessary and Karli is being positioned as someone who is taking it too far.
As I’ve mentioned, this episode was certainly plot heavy and in this case it isn’t a bad thing. We are now beyond the halfway point of the season and some important questions have been answered such as how the Super Soldier Serum exists and how many doses there are. It is now known that there are twenty Super Soldiers to deal with which raises the stakes considerably especially after seeing how much damage they can do. The Power Broker is repeatedly mentioned as a mysterious major player who may end up being the major villain for the series once they’re revealed. Intensity is ramped up by the appearance of Florence Kasumba’s Ayo; a member of the Dora Milaje. Bringing Wakanda into the story lends so much importance to the events as it is well established the Wakandans limit their involvement in events outside their borders though it’s possibly that Ayo has gone rogue. Either way it’s a strong cliffhanger ending and it’s fascinating to utilise Bucky’s connection to Wakanda going into the second half of the season.
A strong episode that answers some important questions, challenges Bucky significantly by forcing him to revisit uncomfortable habits and perfectly folds Zemo into the dynamic. Bucky having to embrace the Winter Soldier persona to find answers is covered really well over the course of the episode. His difficulty in revisiting those habits he has worked really hard to put behind him. Zemo’s delight taunting him with the trigger words that no longer perform their intended function but still hold power over him was a really strong moment and Sam’s concern after he embraces being the Winter Soldier shows the bond of friendship that exists beyond their immature bickering. Bucky resolving to reclaiming the shield and becoming Captain America if Sam insists on not taking on the mantle ties into his fractured self worth conflicting with his desire to honour his friend as well as what he represented is really complex and furthers Bucky’s difficulties. By contrast there is limited development for Sam though he acquits himself well in moving events forward.
Sharon’s appearance gives them access to things they need while also furthering the theme of consequences as her life was ruined by the events of Captain America: Civil War with nobody coming to help her in the way that Sam and Bucky were helped. She has become resentful though there was always the suggestion of cynicism to her character that has been amplified by being abandoned by the system she worked to protect. She has a complicated collection of motivations including not wanting to see an army of Super Soldiers threatening people and having her name cleared. Sam naturally embodies the Captain America values by giving her hope when she believed that she had none. Zemo’s inclusion offers a lot of insight into his past and background while establishing believable motivations for him working to stop the rise of an army of Super Soldiers. There is always the threat of betrayal that never comes with Daniel Bruhl’s performance compliments this wonderfully and he blends seamlessly into the character dynamics. John and Lemar are featured in a limited capacity but it is clear they are more of a hindrance. John is shown to be developing a strong sense of entitlement causing him to believe that he commands respect because he happens to be the nominated Captain America rather than earning it through displaying the values naturally. Karli and the Flag Smashers remain a poorly developed threat but there is some attempt to cover Karli’s back story to boost her motivations. It’s a clunky exposition heavy moment but it reinforces her feeling abandoned following the Blip and what she feels that cost her. It’s easy to see how that would radicalise certain people and her destructive actions being met with horror suggests there are differing views on what needs to be done within the organisation. The cliffhanger ending with Ayo showing up ramps up the intensity in a big way going into the second half of the season.
- Bucky being forced to embrace the Winter Soldier persona
- his complex feelings around the Captain America symbol, his own self worth and his desire to honour what his friend represented
- the constantly fascinating Sam and Bucky dynamic
- Zemo’s delight in taunting Bucky with the trigger words
- Sharon’s resentment following being abandoned by the system she worked to protect
- her complex motivations that fuel her cooperating with Sam and Bucky
- Sam naturally displaying the Captain America values when he gives Sharon hope
- Zemo seamlessly blending into the character dynamics
- fleshing out his background
- the constant suggestion of upcoming betrayal
- ramping up the intensity with Ayo’s appearance
- Sam once again receiving comparatively little development
- The Flag Smashers and Karli still being poorly developed threats
- clunky exposition to fill in Karli’s backstory and motivation
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