After two whole weeks without new episodes of a Marvel series on Disney+, our long international nightmare is finally over — it’s time for a new MCU story set in the chaotic times following Avengers: Endgame.
The fact that the first episode establishes quickly and firmly that the show’s placement in the timeline is fundamental to its narrative is one of its biggest strengths. However, the premiere’s biggest weakness is this: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier proved to be The Falcon OR the Winter Soldier, which is more than a bit disappointing given how much of the initial anticipation for this show, not just based on the trailers we’ve seen but the title characters’ established history. Bucky and Sam only had a few minutes to connect as characters in Captain America: Civil War but their charmingly bitchy repartee was a big reason to get excited about this show, and while we know that their storylines will connect in the episodes to come, it was just one reason why “New World Order” felt like the first chapter of a novel, as opposed to a truly great pilot episode.
The opening scenes are all about Sam, with a very quiet and somber prelude featuring him at home, ironing a nice shirt in preparation for a press conference, and contemplating the shield old man Steve Rogers gave him. While Steve clearly meant for Sam to keep it, Sam clearly disagrees, which is why he hands it over to be displayed in a museum, something which Special Guest Star Don Cheadle questions. The world post-Blip, after all, is a pretty chaotic mess, and maybe it could use a Cap-esque hero to unite it. But Sam’s not interested.
Not that Sam’s allergic to the idea of high-flying heroics. In between the shirt-ironing and speech-making, there’s an intense seven-minute high-flying action sequence executed at the level of any big-screen MCU entry, in which Sam assists the U.S. Air Force with a mission to stop a French-speaking group of terrorists led by a dude named Batroc. (Batroc’s name is never said in the episode, but this is why I freeze-frame the credits for you, gentle reader. If you were like “man, that guy looks familiar,” it’s because first appeared as a baddie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)
After said skirmish, Sam works on repairing his Redwing drone while sharing some tea with his Air Force liaison Torres, who tells Sam that the terrorists they just fought were no big deal — the real threat is this new terrorist group called the Flag-smashers who believes that “the world was better during The Blip.” Torres says he’s keeping an eye on them, and believe it or not, that’s going to be important later!
Also important, at least to Sam, is what’s going on with his family — specifically his sister Sarah, who’s struggling to keep the family business afloat. (I say afloat because they have a fishing boat. Get it? You get it.) In perhaps the most memorable scene of the entire episode, Sam does his best to use his Avengers star power to convince the local bank to give them a small business loan. While the bank official is thrilled to get a selfie with The Falcon, Sam’s lack of an income for the last five years of his non-existence means the answer is a no. So while Sarah wants to sell the boat, Sam wants to hold onto it because “we’re not selling our family’s legacy.” But it’s a fight Sam may not be able to win with the weapons currently at his disposal.
So that’s basically what’s going on with Sam — let’s shift over to reconnecting with our pal Bucky, who is haunted by nightmares about his past as a murderous super-assassin but hey, at least he’s getting therapy! Unfortunately, while said therapy is a condition of his pardon it’s not going so great, as he’s still struggling to reconcile what he did in the past. Currently, he’s working on a list of “amends” meant to address said past as a murderous super-assassin, guided and driven by three rules:
1. Nothing illegal
2. Nobody gets hurt
3. Telling the people he is “contacting” that he’s no longer the Winter Soldier, and he’s trying to make amends.
Bucky’s list of amends includes one name he’s struggling to cross off: An older man named Yori, whose son was a victim of the Winter Soldier’s years ago (as we see in a flashback to Bucky’s murderin’ past). Yori doesn’t know that Bucky killed his son — in fact, he’s haunted by the fact that the police never told him what really happened — and he and Bucky seem to have developed a sweet friendship driven by Yori’s enjoyment of free meals, to the point where Yori has no problem whatsoever asking out Leah, the cute waitress at their favorite lunch place, on Bucky’s behalf.
Leah says yes to the date, though she too has no idea about Bucky’s past, something which really stands out as Bucky does his best to honestly answer standard first-date questions that night, but with the minimum detail required. The date seems to be going well until Leah starts talking about Yori’s dead son, at which point Bucky retreats, going to see Yori and almost getting up the nerve to tell him what happened… yet failing. Likely because Yori is one of the few people with whom Bucky has a real human connection these days.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Sam’s pal Torres is continuing to look into the Flag-steppers business, attending a flash mob/meet-up he learned about online that leads to a gang of masked folks (including at least one with beefed up strength and agility) stealing a whole bunch of cash. Torres tries to intervene but gets a beating for his trouble, and when he reaches out to Sam to reveal what he’s learned their call gets cut short by a shocking new development: That shield Sam thought belonged in a museum, a tribute to the man who originally carried it? Well the U.S. government disagrees, and so they’re announcing a new Captain America on live TV. If you look in the credits you can learn his name, but all we viewers know so far is that he’s white, and has no trouble with smiling for the camera with a little wink. And… scene.
There’s a reason, in writing my review, that I didn’t give this a letter grade — to judge the whole show on the basis of this first episode is pretty much impossible, especially when an essential part of the show, Bucky and Sam’s relationship, was totally absent. But there’s a lot of strong character work packed in here, and if that focus on Sam and Bucky as real men dealing with real problems can be maintained, this should be a fun six weeks.
Some Thoughts That Flew By
- Things you learn from reading the credits: There was a “skydiving unit” involved with that opening action sequence, which explains how they achieved some of those truly wild mid-air moments. Though — spoiler alert for an upcoming interview with director Kari Skogland — we have no confirmation as to whether or not Anthony Mackie himself actually jumped out of a plane for this show. (I 100 percent do not blame him for not doing so.)
- Shoutout to EW’s Chanelle Berlin for being the first person I saw to post this. That’s very likely just a sweet shoutout from Sebastian Stan to his I, Tonya co-star, but I must ask — what did Bucky do to Paul Walter Hauser??? Or, I guess, for him? Richard Jewell???
- Another shoutout, this time to Paste’s Allison Keene, who mentioned that there’s a good reason why this might sound familiar: “You know how you call a guy whose wife died a widower? Or, if your parents die, you’re an orphan. You know, there’s no word for someone whose kids die. Because it’s the worst thing that could happen.” As Keene astutely pointed out, a nearly identical thing was said in a first season episode of Six Feet Under — it’s not a verbatim lift, and it’s also not a unique idea. But it’s eerily close: “If you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow, or a widower. If you’re a child and you lose your parents, then you’re an orphan. But what’s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name.”
- So, when Bucky tells Leah about his confusion over online dating, he mentions that he keeps seeing “tiger photos.” This is of course a dating app profile cliche that’s been written about a lot over the years — but the thing is, it’s something usually only seen on men’s profiles, not women’s profiles. It could just be a goof or a mix-up by the writers. But hey, if FATWS wants to make Bucky canonically bisexual, I’m totally okay with it.
- The fact that rumors are running amok about what happened to Steve Rogers is pretty fun, especially when even Torres can’t resist asking Sam if he flew Steve up to the moon. But I wonder how many of the Avengers-adjacent people know what really happened to Steve? Seems like it’d be a hard secret to keep.
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiere Fridays on Disney+.
KEEP READING: ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Writer Derek Kolstad on Marvel’s Secret “Parliament” and Planting Seeds for Future MCU Projects
Catch up on the complete big-screen adventures of the Caped Crusader.
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