The series picks up four months after “the Blip,” which returned billions of people back to a world that had five years to move on without them.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is off to a Soaring Start
The first episode starts out like a Tom Clancy-inspired action film, as Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) assists the US military in rescuing a military liaison who has been taken hostage by a new criminal organization known as LAF. It’s a lot of gunfire, explosions, and aerial combat for the first ten minutes of the series, but it’s worth it to see the Falcon back in action.
Wilson is assisted by Lt. Torres (Danny Ramirez) on the ground, who later discusses Captain American conspiracy theories and the new organization called the Flag Smashers. This whole conversation is clearly meant to set the scene for the remainder of the series, as well as building the world, but I was left wondering if Lt. Torres is Joaquín Torres. The series is, of course, setting up for Sam to take on the Captain America mantle, so it would make sense for them to introduce Joaquín Torres who eventually becomes Falcon.
And on that note, the series turns to Washington, D.C. where Sam is donating Captain America’s shield to the Smithsonian Institute as part of their Captain America exhibit at the Air & Space Museum. Rhodey (Don Cheadle) tries to sway Sam into becoming the new Captain America, but he seems more focused on coping with the aftermath of the Blip and spending time with his nephews and his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye). If Sam was quick to take up the mantle of Captain America, there would be no story after all.
From there, the second half of the series title is introduced through a jarring and violent flashback to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) during his time as the Winter Soldier. It was heartbreaking to see Bucky sleeping on the floor of his apartment, clearly denying himself the most basic creature comforts as he grapples with and makes amends with his past. Fortunately, he’s in therapy even if it seems like it is less of a choice on his part and more of a mandatory component of his pardon.
The therapist makes it clear that Bucky has been isolating himself: he’s ignoring Sam’s texts and he’s only called his therapist, but we see that he has some connections in his day-to-day life. Specifically, his neighbor Yori Nakajima who he has regular lunches with at a local restaurant. It was nice to see Bucky interacting with other people — even going on a date with the waitress Leah which provided some brief levity and wry sarcasm. But these moments are undercut by the audience’s slow realization that Mr. Nakajima is the father of the man Bucky murdered in his nightmare.
Back in Lousiana, Sam and his sister visit a local bank to take out a loan to help keep their family’s business afloat and are met with the realities of being Black in America. Despite the fact that the bank lender wants selfies with the Falcon, despite their family being longstanding members of the community, their loan is denied. This is a widely reported reality that has recently been emphasized by COVID-19 — Black-owned businesses have a harder time getting loans, despite qualifying for them. Paired with the reveal of America’s pick for the new Captain America, the moment forces the audiences to consider the uncomfortable realities that exist even within the comforts of superhero shows.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is the closest that the MCU has come to touching the level of grit and humanity that I preferred from Netflix’s Marvel series. The upside to Netflix’s Marvel content was that you could binge what felt like a thirteen-hour feature film at your leisure. The issue with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s forty-two-minute premiere is that it felt like it ended abruptly in the middle of a narrative rise. The pacing and structure felt more akin to a feature film, rather than an episodic series. It will be interesting to see if the pacing evens out over the next five episodes.