The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Star Spangled Man

Talk about a tense carpool…

After a lot of delays, the Disney+ Marvel series finally got going with WandaVision. That show ended up being amazing, unexpected, and had some real emotional weight between the jokes and weird visuals. Next up was The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which started with a great opening episode. They keep that high bar going, and we learn about the new Captain America they introduced us to, with “Star Spangled Man.” Even the title is a callback to Captain America history, which happens a lot in this episode.

Obviously, the audience’s sympathies are going to lie with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, who we know were actual friends with Steve Rogers. The way the new Cap was introduced was kind of a dick move in a lot of ways, and it would have been easy to write him overtly negatively. Instead, we see a man who really does seem to be trying to do the right thing. We get a hint at his personal life, and meet Lemar Hoskins, who has a strong tie to John Walker from the comics. Disney took advantage of their corporate reach to show this new national hero being interviewed on Good Morning America, which airs on ABC, which is owned by Disney. It was a nice touch for the MCU that most fictional worlds couldn’t match. We see him making a public appearance at what turns out to be his old high school, and the marching band is playing a variation of the “Star Spangled Man” theme from the first Captain America movie during his bond rally appearances. Points to Mr. Walker here; he very clearly says for the record he didn’t know Steve Rogers and never even met him. From his beyond minimalist apartment, Bucky watches this and isn’t happy about it.

Not one to hold his tongue, Bucky decides to vent his feelings to Sam about giving up the shield. Sam isn’t in the mood to listen to this, and is preparing for a mission with the help of Lt. Joaquin Torres. Sam has seen the posters of the new Cap everywhere, and clearly isn’t happy about it himself. Their argument doesn’t really go anywhere, until it does physically. Not as in a fight, but Bucky, not done speaking his mind, tags along on Sam’s mission against the Flag Smashers. Torres seems bemused as the two bicker about the Cap situation and Sam’s plan for the mission. The wide-ranging discussion includes Sam’s theory of the “big three,” which as been in so many clips from the show already.

After arguing more about Redwing and the intel they’ve gotten, Sam takes flight. After some back and forth with Torres, Bucky decides he’s joining Sam, even lacking certain pieces of equipment most would consider essential. Amid more bickering and an amusing reference to Bucky’s time in Wakanda, they see the Flag-Smashers loading something onto trucks. Given that someone doing this in an abandoned factory is never a good thing, the two are going to take action, they just disagree on how to do it. Sam is a lot more inclined toward the stealth approach, and Bucky is more head-on. They end up sort of doing a hybrid model that showcases the fact that Bucky, during his time with Hydra, got similar enhancements to Steve’s Super Soldier Serum.

This eventually turns into a fight on, in, and around two semitrucks. There are a lot of surprising developments, including the versatility of Sam’s wings, the toughness of Bucky in general, what the Smashers can do, and the sudden appearance of Captain America and Battlestar, his partner. It’s a great fight, with fantastic choreography and special effects. There is one minor casualty that might affect a few things for one character involved. The fight doesn’t go great for the good guys, with more bickering between Sam and Bucky from the moment it stops. Credit where it’s due, the new Cap has definitely put in the time and work learning to handle the shield. Regrouping, Sam and Bucky trudge down the road and get an unexpected ride from Cap, Battlestar, and their support team. Their talk goes all over the place. Cap is trying, but he’s not hitting the right notes with either Sam or Bucky. We also get a bit better introduction to Battlestar/Lemar Hoskins. Hoskins was an important part of John Walker’s early story as Super-Patriot and then later Captain America in the comics. The talk goes badly, and our titular heroes decide they’d rather walk the roughly twenty miles. I guess that’s Sam being nice, since he could just fly it.

We see a bit more about the Flag Smashers as they meet up with some supporters. The woman who seems to be in charge, or at least one of their main fighters, is Karli Morganthau. Karl Morganthau, in the comics, was the character who became Flag-Smasher. They do seem to have some good organization behind them, and their members are skilled, not just thugs. They do have one mantra/chant that is a bit unnerving, although anything repeated cultishly can have that effect. On the flight home, Bucky is still not happy about the new Cap or Sam’s decision, and comes up with a really bad idea. Sam points out that it’s not a good plan, and reminds him of some of the events during and after Captain America: Civil War. Bucky then suggests a detour, and the plane changes course. The pair go to Baltimore, and meet a very important, and little known, piece of Marvel Universe history. In a run-down neighborhood, Bucky brings Sam to the home of Isiah Bradley, an early and virtually unknown Captain America. He has a tragic history in the comics, and looks like things weren’t great in the MCU either. They seem to have combined his history with the comic book story of William Burnside, and Isiah doesn’t fare any better here. Sam and Bucky do meet young Eli Bradley, a name you just might want to remember down the road.

It’s a very tense meeting that shows Isiah is still a bit more than average. Leaving, Sam is furious that this piece of history has been hidden from him. Bucky explains his reasons, and then the police show up. What seems like it’s going to be a bad racial profiling situation (not that there’s a good one) takes a turn for the worse in a very unexpected direction. This ends up with our heroes at the police station, dealing with paperwork and bureaucracy. We get a series of surprises at who turns up there, the first of whom is Bucky’s therapist Dr. Raynor. Raynor is quick to not take credit for getting the legal issues handled, pointing out who actually is. Then, she takes Sam and Bucky into a back room for a brief session. I get that she had legal authority over Bucky, but I’m really not sure why the clearly reluctant Sam agreed with this. The scene is mostly funny, but there’s a painfully honest moment from Bucky that explains a lot of what’s going on with him right now.

Outside, there’s a disagreement with some potential allies. I get why Bucky and Sam chose to do what they do, but there are a lot of things that would go smoother if they didn’t. There’s a parting on less than friendly terms, and I think there’s more conflict ahead for these two groups. In Slovakia, Morganthau gets a threatening text, and we learn that the Flag Smashers are on the run from more than just the authorities. A minor Marvel villain gets a namecheck, and that character has ties to at least one character we’ve seen in this episode. One of the Smashers makes a big sacrifice to do something good for the group. While it was noble, it was really foolish from a tactical standpoint. The episode ends with Bucky suggesting a lead to follow up on, which isn’t a good note for anyone involved.

What I liked: The writers did a great job of including bits of Cap’s history from several eras, both from the comics and the MCU. I loved the inclusion of Isiah and Eli. John Walker, at least so far, isn’t a bad guy, he’s a man put in a very tough situation that there arguably isn’t a right way to handle. I’m impressed with the amount of Easter Eggs they managed to work in that enrich the story, but you don’t need to know in order to follow the plot. Sam and Bucky are wonderfully entertaining together, and their scene with Dr. Raynor was great.

What I didn’t: Very little. I’m still not sure about turning one minor villain into a movement, but they seem to be handling it well enough. I’m not clear on how Sam is getting these rides all over the world. In the first episode, he was clearly on a mission, and it’s been suggested he’s a military contractor, or at least working with them. This second one seemed more self-assigned, and the diversion to Baltimore definitely wasn’t official. Also, if Sam’s working as a contractor, shouldn’t that have helped at the bank?

I thought this was another brilliant episode of a great series so far. I’ll give this a 4 out of 5, and am eagerly awaiting whatever comes next.

Since it seems to be in play in many ways for this series, I’m going to be doing a history of the various Captains America in the near future.