“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” reception and review

Spoilers: ‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.’

Unlike my WandaVision review, this review will focus less on an examination of each episode and more on general plot points that make me feel things.

After falling in love with WandaVision, I found myself still saddened over its end to the point where I could not really enjoy the release of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (FATWS). Similar to WandaVision, I was not overly thrilled with the first episode.

I intentionally had been staying away from the internet after the episode dropped, as there were two things I did not care to see the internet’s opinions on: the bank scene and John Walker.

Going into this experience, the thing I was most looking forward to was seeing Sam Wilson as Captain America. I wanted him to kick ass as a winged Steve Rogers. I did not expect it to take a turn and instead show Sam being more or less tricked into giving up the shield, and for it to then be given to a nameless white man.

When I first saw the bank scene, I was angered for a number of reasons. First, I couldn’t believe they would be so blatantly racist. Second, I knew the internet was full of people that would say it was not an act of racism, but rather just an effect of The Blip ruining things when the vanished came back. These bootlickers are why I was afraid to look at discussions about FATWS.

Sure enough, they existed. Much to my chagrin, not only were these Thanos-stanning racist incel fiends defending the banker, but I also had to witness the rise of ‘#TeamJohnWalker.’

In the comics, John Walker is given the mantle of Captain America, does a lot of bad things and has it taken away, at which point he becomes ‘U.S. Agent.’ As such, one could guess from his first appearance at the end of episode one that he was going to do something very bad and be stripped of his title as Captain America.

In the second episode, we learn a little bit more about John Walker. We learn of his veteran status, his close friendship with Lemar Hoskins and most importantly, we learn of his anger issues. This is clearly seen when Lemar says to him less than five minutes into the episode, “You cannot just punch your way out of problems anymore.”

Walker’s anger comes to its climax at the end of the fourth episode, when he brutally decapitates one of the Flag Smashers after Karli kills Lemar. While this particular insurgent did not kill Lemar, he was the first one Walker spotted after realizing his best friend had just been killed. The insurgent runs for his life, and begs for mercy while Walker bludgeons his head with the shield over, and over, and over. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to watch as this man’s cry of surrender falls on deaf ears, and we see Captain America’s mighty shield now covered in the blood of an innocent.

An argument can certainly be made that the insurgent Walker killed was not innocent, and that would be correct; however, in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Steve Rogers faces a similar situation when he and his cohort go after Dr. Zola. To recap, Bucky is knocked off of the train by a random Hydra soldier and falls to his assumed death. Steve does not proceed to murder Dr. Zola. Instead, he allows for him to be captured, and Zola gives valuable information about Hydra’s plan to use the Tesseract to destroy the planet. The insurgent Walker killed could have and would have likely given information about Karli’s plan that could have saved lives. Walker put his own anger first, and it is evident that he is incapable of being Captain America.

One thing this show does an incredible job of is callbacks to past installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and creating parallels between past and present events. One of these is in the name of the fourth episode — “The Whole World is Watching.”

In Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther,” Nakia, Okoye and T’Challa go to South Korea to track down Klaue, a returning baddie to the MCU. When T’Challa finally catches Klaue, Klaue exclaims, “Oh, mercy, King. Mercy.” T’Challa expresses that he does not want to spare his life, but Okoye comes in and says, “King! The world watches,” at which point he submisses and they arrest Klaue.

While T’Challa was enraged by Klaue’s actions, he was still able to hear a cry for mercy and refrain from murdering someone. It is indisputable that Klaue is significantly worse as a person than the insurgent murdered by John Walker. T’Challa was able to spare the life of someone much worse, and while he did later regret it when Klaue escaped, the insurgent had far fewer resources and was not nearly as much of a threat as Klaue. Walker killed a defenseless man much more innocent than the one T’Challa was able to spare, and both did so while the entire world was watching.

Yet another parallel can be drawn to the Walker incident in “Captain America: Civil War.” T’Challa is face to face with his father’s murderer, Helmut Zemo. T’Challa says, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them. I am done letting it consume me.” He then proceeds to not only spare Zemo’s life, but stops Zemo from killing himself, saying, “The living are not done with you yet.” This moment is made all the more powerful by the fact that two of the “lead” Avengers are nearby beating each other nearly to death.

By the end of the show, however, I must say that I am disgusted with how John Walker is being treated. As has been established, the man suffers from PTSD. In episode three, he says his medals of honor commemorate the worst day of his life. He and Lemar have certainly seen things, and are certainly haunted by them.

The stripping of his title by the U.S. government was necessary. However, I find it disturbing that no one can see something so obvious: John Walker is mentally ill. Plain and simple. He needs help, more than he needs his title removed or to be placed in a prison. He needs to be admitted to an institution where he can work through his PTSD and his resulting anger issues and rehabilitate himself.

The main reason I am shocked no one can see that this man needs therapy is because they are forcing Bucky, by law, to go to therapy every week and work through his trauma. Especially after the incident, it baffles me how no one can see that John Walker very well has the potential to be at the very least an assistant to Captain America, if only he gets treatment.

In the post-credits scene at the end of episode five, we see Walker making his own Captain America shield, with his medal of honor welded to the inside of the shield. Walker has retreated to a place in his mind that is very dark, and that place believes he should still be Captain America. When he was Captain America, Lemar was alive. He is ritualistically making a shield because he simply does not know what else to do to cope with the loss of his best friend. He is so far out of it that he is trying to go back and make everything right again, which unfortunately is not possible at this point.

What makes me sick to my stomach about the John Walker situation is Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, known in the comics as Viper or Madame Hydra. She sees that John Walker is in a very dark place mentally, and takes advantage of his fragile state to recruit him for Hydra. Walker may be fairly dense, but he likely would never, in a normal and sound state of mind, work for or assist Hydra in any capacity. Hydra is capitalizing off of a mentally ill man’s fragile state of mind and using him, and it is horrible to watch. I really hope Marvel did this intentionally, and if they did, that they continue to explore how this relates to the stigma surrounding mental health in the United States and how people who are susceptible and easily persuaded due to mental illness are all too often taken advantage of.

The show also had a lot of commentary on racism in America. The scenes that stand out to me most are the bank scene from episode one, the Isaiah Bradley scene in episode two and the other scene with Isaiah Bradley in episode five.

I have already briefly mentioned the bank scene, but Isaiah Bradley is a character that needs to be talked about more. In everything I have seen online, there is almost no talk of him. For those that are not overly familiar with the MCU, Isaiah was a Black super soldier who was given the super soldier serum, then arrested and experimented on for 30 years until a nurse marked him as dead so he could escape. It is heartbreaking to hear him recount what the U.S. government did to him, and that alone is a testament to how phenomenal the acting was in this show.

I will never understand what it is like to be a Black person in America. That being so, it is not really my place to make bold statements about how these scenes made me feel. I cannot stand when other people spout out white saviorism, so I will not speak on things that I am not able to speak about properly as that is what makes a bad ally, and I am not really about that life. But, I do think it is worth noting that the show handles a lot of racial issues with tact and care, and I have seen on a few different occasions people better understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement after watching this show. I hate that it took an MCU television show to do it, but I am glad that Marvel is getting the message through to people.

The last plot point I have an issue with is Sharon Carter. Sharon is the niece of Peggy Carter, Steve’s love interest in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and the person Steve goes back in time to spend his life with at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.”

Sharon as a character was done pretty dirty. She is introduced as an awesome SHIELD agent, who is so good at her job that she was sent to watch over Steve Rogers himself. After SHIELD falls, she is seen trying for a position with the CIA. In Civil War, we see that she got the position. After stealing back Captain America’s shield and Sam’s wings, she kisses Steve Rogers, and then is never heard from again until FATWS.

When we finally see her again, she explains that she has been hiding out off-the-grid in Madripoor, on the run from the U.S. government. She is doing well for herself, but she is not doing so through moral means.

Sharon is revealed at the end of the final episode to be the Power Broker, this previously anonymous figurehead in FATWS that commissioned the super soldier serum to be made and had a hand in Karli and the Flag Smashers receiving the serum. This feels like a huge character change for Sharon. While I understand that she has been through a lot since we last saw her, I also do not think it totally makes sense from a creative direction for Marvel as a whole.

With the loss of Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) in “Avengers: Endgame,” Marvel is left with few to no female superheroes. Captain Marvel is still around, though God knows when we will see her again. We still have the Dora Milaje who, although awesome, are not really superheroes. Wanda Maximoff has successfully been villainized, and has already been revealed to be the problem-starter if not altogether the antagonist of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Gamora is more or less gone. Mantis does not really count. The only one we seemed to have gained is Monica Rambeau, who we see has gained supernatural powers via the Hex/Scarlet Witch at the end of WandaVision.

I fail to see how this was a good decision for Marvel. There were already so few strong female characters, and now there are even fewer female superheroes. WandaVision and FATWS have effectively gotten rid of two of the last female heroes the entire cinematic universe had, and I cannot for the life of me understand why. (It is worth noting, however, that there have been teaser images from the Loki show that seem to depict Natasha; whether or not she will somehow miraculously come back, I am unsure. It is my personal opinion that it would make sense if, when Steve returned the soul stone, Natasha was released into some sort of purgatory state — from the picture, it reminds me of Dormammu — but I digress.)

Overall, I think it was a fantastic show. The commentary was relevant to our world, and was very well done. The acting by all characters was, in a word, phenomenal. Everyone deserves an award. The cinematography was incredible, with stunning B-roll shots and perfectly executed fight scenes. The direction, the sets, the costuming — everything was extremely well done, and I enormously enjoyed the show.

In episode five, Isaiah Bradley says, “They will never let a Black man be Captain America.” Spoiler alert: they do, and I am so glad they did. With the announcement of Captain America 4, I can only imagine and anxiously anticipate what great things Sam Wilson will do as Captain America.