Since they were first announced, there was a lot of excitement about the Disney+ Marvel series. WandaVision was an amazingly surreal story about grief, loss, and eventually, trying to move on. Now the second series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, has premiered, and there are a lot of elements of weary heroes trying to move on after the events of Infinity War and Endgame. We get to see a bit of characters actually having lives, which has been largely lacking in the MCU (do I need to say why either Tony Stark or Wanda’s “homelife” doesn’t count?). Sam Wilson and James “Bucky” Barnes are trying to find their places in the “New World Order.”
The initial scene shows a very somber Sam getting ready for something, carefully ironing a shirt and putting on a suit, even placing Cap’s shield in its case. We don’t get to see what he’s preparing for, as next he’s off on a mission for the government. From the comments made, he’s been working with the Air Force for about six months, or since Endgame. It’s a nice bit of action that introduces us to Lt. Torres from Military Intelligence, shows off some serious upgrades to the Redwing drone, and is a nice reappearance of a Marvel villain. One of the problems so many superhero movies have is killing off the bad guys, making it hard to build a rogues gallery, but this sequence doesn’t do that. Torres is an adaptation of a character from the comics with a tie to Sam Wilson, although they are very, very different.
After the action, Sam is in a marketplace in Tunisia with Torres. Sam works a bit on Redwing, there are comments on Stark-Tech vs government issue, and Torres brings up a new issue, a group called the Flag-Smashers. In the comics, that’s just one guy, but now it’s a faction that believes the world was better during the five years of the Snap, communicating via hidden symbols you can scan with a phone. Torres talks about some conspiracy theories for comic relief, and then Sam says he has to get back to Washington. Sam gives a speech about Steve Rogers and turns the shield over to the Smithsonian, which I think is a really bad move. Later, he and Rhodey walk through the Captain America exhibit and talk about what the world is like. Rhodey asks why Sam didn’t take up the mantle, and we once again get the “Feels like it belongs to someone else” line Sam uttered in Endgame. After we see Sam wander the exhibit, the focus switches to Bucky. He’s having nightmare flashbacks to his time as the Winter Soldier. When he goes to visit his therapist, we learn Bucky has a conditional pardon, a list of names, and rules he’s supposed to abide by. In flashback, we see some of what the new, post-Soldier Bucky is doing to make amends. Dr. Raynor makes some observations about his life, then points something out that leads to a question showing just how lost Bucky is at this point.
It’s worth noting that Bucky was believed killed in World War II, was captured by the Russians, and turned into an elite killer for Hydra. After decades of that, he suddenly got some memories back, was framed for a murder, the subject of a global manhunt, arguably the cause of the Avengers breaking up, and then forced to hide out in a country, a continent even, that was foreign to him. Now that he’s back, his best friend and only connection to his earlier life is at best retired from active duty and possibly not around anymore. I don’t blame him for feeling disconnected and lost. I’m sure I would be too.
Walking home, Bucky breaks up a dispute between neighbors and then makes dinner plans. He’s apparently been spending a lot of time with an elderly man, and, eventually, we learn the sad reason why. The man, Yori, is a very amusing character despite a personal tragedy, and makes plans for Bucky in spite of him. Sam, we learn, is from Delacroix, Louisiana, and has a sister with a family business down there. He and his sister, Sarah, have a disagreement about what to do with some family property, and Sam is clearly doing his best to help out.
Bucky’s evening is fun to watch, and we see how out of touch he is with a lot of modern life. He doesn’t what a lot of people take for granted, is clearly old-fashioned (but to him, it’s normal), and confuses people when they ask how old he is. The evening gets cut short by some bad memories and he takes off, checks in on someone, and presumably goes home. Between this show and WandaVision, I’m wondering if all the remaining Avengers need some kind of therapy. There is at least one psychiatrist who specializes in superheroes in the comics. I wonder if this would be a good time to bring him in…
While Sam and Sarah bicker about family matters, Lt. Torres is on the trail of the Flag-Smashers. He ends up getting a lot more than he bargained for, and we see that at least some of the members of this group are a bit special. They also have a great plan to execute a robbery, and it’s a nicely done heist scene. Torres does his best, but he’s clearly out of his league. The Wilsons’ business goes badly. There are a few interesting questions about how heroes work in this world, a big fan, and an unfortunate answer. It seems some big organizations haven’t managed to adapt to the world of the Snap and the Blip, and that’s sadly believable.
The last few scenes of the episode are pretty much all bad news. Sam gets a tip about what a new enemy is up to, and it’s not great. Before he can really digest this, his sister rushes in to turn on the news. The government has made some decisions without bothering to ask him, and there’s a new player on the scene. Sam ends the episode looking deeply troubled and probably doubting a recent decision of his.
What I liked: The action was great. Sam working with the USAF made a lot of sense to me. Bucky’s many problems are believable, and he seems to be lacking support in Steve’s absence. The Redwing upgrades were great. The questions about how heroes work in terms of having a life were issues that have largely not been addressed, and I like that this show is dealing with them, at least in part. Torres was a nice inclusion, and pairing him with Sam was a nice nod to the comics. I don’t like what the government did at the end, but it’s very believable. Bucky’s modern day mission was really nicely done. It was amusing hearing someone give Sam condolences on Stark’s passing, since two of the last times they saw each other, Tony shot Sam, then helped put him in prison.
What I didn’t: While we’re learning about how Sam’s life works, they glossed over that for Bucky. He has some kind of apartment and enough money to eat out, but how? One thing that’s never made sense to me: Falcon’s wings were originally created by the government. Why is he still the only one who has them?
A lot of this was setup for what’s to come, but it was nicely done. I’m giving this a 4 out of 5 and eagerly awaiting the next episode.