- Episode 6 (of 6), 'One World, One People'
- Written by Malcolm Spellman and Josef Sawyer
- Directed by Kari Skogland
Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follow.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s title may have been misleading.
Despite all the efforts made to ensure Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes were equal players – even going as far as swapping around who gets first billing in the closing credits every week – this series finale leaves you in little doubt where the show’s focus lies.
With Bucky’s journey to redemption largely sidelined – and somewhat over-simplified – it becomes clear the show was an origin story for the new Captain America all along. In fact, the series’ biggest legacy is elevating a popular supporting Avenger into one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most important heroes.
From day one, the key themes of the series have been the importance of symbols, and what people do when presented with a platform to make a difference. It’s appropriate, then, that Marvel Studios – creator of the most lucrative movie franchise in history – should use their own position of strength to deal with some serious real-world issues.
From the moment Sam Wilson swoops into action in his new-look Captain America uniform – it was worth waiting to find out what was in that Wakandan case, after all – it’s an episode packed with punch-the-air moments. And even though its messages sometimes lack dramatic subtlety – such as Sam carrying Karli’s body, his wings spread like an angel – there’s no denying that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t just a superhero action show. Marvel’s latest offering has become important TV.
Sam Wilson may not be Earth’s mightiest – no Super-Soldier Serum is running through his veins – but he makes the most of everything he has in his arsenal. A weaponized shield mixed with a state-of-the-art flying suit – not to mention a friendly drone sidekick – make for a powerful combination. As he swoops through New York with new-found purpose, it’s easy to see why the assembled crowds are giving him such a rousing ovation.
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Yet Sam’s real trump cards are a sense of decency and the courage to say the right thing. Even the noble Steve Rogers would struggle to make a speech with enough power to sway a bunch of politicians eager to return the world to the pre-Blip status quo. In a franchise where superheroes are frequently blamed for breaking things – see Captain America: Civil War, WandaVision – it’s refreshing to see a hero raising some uncomfortable truths, while also trying to bring people together with words, not action. In fact, Anthony Mackie’s performance is so convincing that it’s a shame he’s saddled with the occasional clunker of dialogue, such as a tired cliché about French terrorist Batroc eating baguettes and French fries.
If there’s a downside to the increased focus on Sam Wilson it’s that the other characters are generally underserved. John Walker’s appearance as the self-appointed alternative Cap fails to deliver on the threat suggested by last week’s mid-credits tease, and his (partial?) redemption never feels earned. Sharon Carter, meanwhile, has an uncanny knack of popping up exactly where she’s needed. And in a franchise where we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, the confirmation that she’s the Power Broker is way too obvious to be anything but disappointing.
Even the Winter Soldier is relegated to the shadows. While the character is probably happy to keep things that way, it feels unsatisfactory in a show that bears his name. Bucky Barnes is one of the most tragic characters in the MCU, a good man forced to do terrible things against his will. On many occasions the show’s alluded to the fact his HYDRA past has left deep emotional scars, but his journey to redemption feels like an afterthought. Is sending his notebook to his psychiatrist with all the names crossed out enough to stop the nightmares? It all seems a little too neat.
But the prize for the least satisfying story arc goes to Karli Morgenthau. Having started out as a genuinely complex antagonist, she completes her descent into one-dimensional zealot territory in ‘One World, One People’. Where Karli’s egalitarian motives once made her sympathetic, her ‘at all costs’ mentality – setting fire to vans of hostages, not caring who lives or dies – ensures she’s just another clichéd MCU villain. Her one-way journey to the dark side also pushes the credulity of Sam’s refusal to fight back against her. Surely even an idealist like him must reach a point where the benefit of the doubt is no longer a given?
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s failure to give all its characters satisfactory arcs has arguably been its biggest failing. Its extra storytelling time should be a point of difference with the MCU’s movies, but where WandaVision fully embraced its TV format to make something that would never have worked on the big screen, the latest show feels more like a six-part movie with intermissions – indeed, from a narrative point of view, the two final episodes would have worked much better watched in one go.
That said, this episode’s action sequence – particularly Sam’s aerobatics – prove once again that the most spectacular set-pieces are no longer confined to the big screen. When TV is delivering superhero spectacle like this, theater owners must have legitimate concerns about whether audiences will come back as Covid-19 restrictions relax.
The positive for cinemas is that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier leaves the MCU in such a good place, with the Power Broker and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine pulling strings behind the scenes, and the sense that the world might be moving on from the ‘Blip’. Who would have believed when John Walker stood over a dead Flag Smasher that the show could have such an unashamedly happy ending? Now we know for sure that the shield – or, more importantly, the person who wields it – is important after all.
Look back on the mission files of Sam and Bucky's previous adventures with our recaps on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 3, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 5.
While it’s disappointing to see Bucky Barnes relegated to the status of supporting player, Sam Wilson’s epic debut as Captain America makes sure you barely notice. As superhero origin stories go, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been among the most complex and nuanced – and all the more satisfying for it.
Still, you can’t avoid the feeling that the show could have been tighter, several of its narrative threads better handled. Ultimately it’s fitting that a show that’s flirted with inconsistency throughout should just miss the mark with its finale.
- When Sharon shows up in New York, her digital face mask looks more Mission: Impossible than Marvel. It’s actually a Photostatic Veil, an implausibly convenient device that allows its wearer to take on the identity of anyone else. Black Widow used one to disguise herself as the World Security Council’s Hawley (played by Jenny Agutter) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Sharon Carter uses mercury vapor – “amongst other things” – to take out a Flag Smasher. In real life, mercury vapor is extremely poisonous, damaging nervous systems, lungs, kidneys and more – as well as being corrosive on skin. We suspect its effects aren’t quite as instant and visceral as they are in the show – we’ll blame the “other things” for that.
- John Walker’s new shield isn’t quite as resilient as the classic Steve Rogers model. We blame shoddy workmanship – and the fact it isn’t made of indestructible vibranium.
- It’s a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo for Helmut Zemo but it’s an influential one. He’s clearly instructed his butler, Oeznik, to blow up the remaining Flag Smashers before they can join Zemo at the Raft prison. Zemo really did mean it when he said the world would be better off without Super-Soldiers.
- The US Senator who repeatedly tells Sam he doesn’t understand the complexities of the Global Repatriation Council’s situation first appeared in episode 1. He attended the unveiling of Captain America’s shield at the Smithsonian.
- The mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (call her Val, don’t call her Val) is back for another brief but important cameo. And it’s no surprise when she gives John Walker the title of US Agent – the character also took on that mantle in the comic books. Even his new-look uniform is a faithful lift from Marvel pages.
- Sam proved as good as his word when he arranged for Sharon Carter to get a full pardon – she even gets her old job back. Now we know she’s the Power Broker, all that access to government secrets is sure to raise the interest of her clients – and make her a pivotal player as the MCU evolves.
- Unlike WandaVision, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale only treated us to a single bonus scene in its closing credits. While WandaVision seemingly set up two movies (Captain Marvel 2 and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), Sharon Carter’s courtroom scene feels less integral to the wider MCU. There may be a real-world reason for this, however – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was originally set to debut after Black Widow (now due in July). The release date shift may have altered Marvel’s plans.
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier executive producer Nate Moore says, “We’ve definitely kicked around ideas [for a second season] because we always like to keep thinking about where things can go.” While a follow-up season is yet to be confirmed, there are numerous places it could go now that a new Captain America has been installed – there’s no reason he can’t headline his own movie.
Every episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now available on Disney Plus.
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.