The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 3 (Disney+)
Written by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Kari Skogland
I overwhelmingly disliked this third entry of the series for a multitude of reasons and I’ve been reflecting on some of the race issues brought up by the first two episodes. We’ve reached the halfway point in The Falcon and Winter Soldier, so now we have an idea of what this is shaping into and I have to say it is not looking great. This episode especially felt like a mess in every possible aspect from dialogue to characterization to the plot.
Sam and Bucky visit Helmut Zemo and Bucky take the initiative to break him out. We suddenly learn that Zemo isn’t a man who lost his family and ties to Sokovia. He’s still super-rich and has access to multiple cars and a private jet. That felt a little jarring as Civil War gave the impression he was a man who had been ground into the dirt and was clawing his way back. Now he’s an effete aristocrat with an understanding of the subtleties of Marvin Gaye. It felt like an entirely different character for someone who I really enjoyed in that previous film. Now he’s sort of a generic super-villain. It also feels like he’s going to end up being the power broker behind the Flag Smashers. The series of deaths that occur in this episode are convenient enough to keep that figure’s identity secret for longer and Zemo has a hand in them all.
It was nice to see Madripoor in live-action. It was originally introduced in the pages of New Mutants, written by Chris Claremont. It has always been presented as a nation for freebooters & pirates. Criminals would hideout there willing to risk their chances with the local criminals knowing they couldn’t be extradited to the United States. Wolverine had a number of adventures there where he would go undercover in his Patch identity. It was even the setting for a story that told of the first meeting of Wolverine and Captain America during World War II. I wish I could say I enjoyed how it was portrayed in this episode but it ends up feeling pretty lame. I have never been someone that frequents dive bars or seedy places, but I feel like I can tell when someone writing a piece of media hasn’t either because nothing about the dialogue or characters feels organic at all. It felt like nerds cosplaying as edgy criminal types.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how Marvel is choosing to address issues of race in this series. I personally find it clumsy and amateurish, with the story involving a lot of rewriting character’s personalities to make it work. Back in episode one, we get the heart to heart between Sam and Rhodes about their conflict with being superheroes. One of the reasons for this is they are very much the exception, two Black men in superhero roles in a universe where white people dominate the landscape. We know Sam has a history of mistrusting the U.S. government, it was literally a major plot point in Civil War. So why would he give up the shield in the first place? The writing chooses to make him retroactively naive for the sake of the story. Sam served in the military, I highly doubt he never encountered racism during his service or fellow soldiers or commanding officers that were duplicitous. He is aware of the Pentagon and their lovely history of being run by rotten bastards I would assume.
The struggles of Sam and his sister with the family business aren’t allowed to develop in a meaningful either. It feels like we are getting that dreaded Hollywood version of racism but even more diluted by Disney erasure. Sam’s inability to get a loan is linked more strongly to him being a pro bono superhero rather than a Black man in a system which denies people that look like him loans on a regular basis. The series avoids addressing the economic hardships of Black people by hiding behind the Blip which it doesn’t even seem interested in going that deep with. We’re halfway through the series and I suspect the aftermath of the Blip will continue to be a plot device rather than anything of thematic relevance.
I keep going back to episode two where Sam and Bucky are stopped by police officers after leaving Isaiah Bradley’s house. I am worried Isaiah Bradley won’t have much more of a significant role in the story based on the direction things seem to be going. Also, I think it’s really weird to portray Sam, the main Black character in the series, as naive about the history of Black mistreatment in America. I get why it plays out that way but it’s an awkward decision in my opinion. It further emphasizes Sam’s naivety that is just introduced as a character trait in this series.
The moment where Sam and Bucky are stopped by the cops with the officers asking Bucky if he is okay is so ham-fisted. It doesn’t play out in a meaningful way because within seconds it’s Bucky that ends up arrested and Sam is basically never touched. There have been complaints about queer-baiting Disney has been doing in the Star Wars films. They hint that major characters might not be hetero but are never clear or actually just show that they are straight. When they do include gay characters they are background figures who can easily be edited for nations where being gay is either illegal or frowned upon culturally. Disney also has a history of masking Finn on international posters because it’s known that certain countries would be averse to seeing Black characters. If Marvel really wanted this show or the MCU to actually say anything significant about race here’s their chance. But I’m willing to bet they will keep things as rudimentary and meaningless as possible, lest they alienate any demographics.
This is why filmmakers like Martin Scorsese say these superhero movies are essentially very long amusement park rides. It’s because they are. They are fluff and evaporate. There’s nothing wrong with being that, but there is something very wrong with pretending you are going to address relevant issues of the day and then doing it in the most middling, corporate way. Yeah, we know racism is bad, what do you have to add to that conversation? Marvel has decided to talk about racism as a problem of individuals. By the end of this series, I expect the lesson will be: “See, John Walker was just a bad person and that’s why he shouldn’t have been Captain America” rather than the military is a system that produces rage bros on a daily basis and Walker was a victim like every other poor sap that gets recruited out of high school with promises of a better life. “Racism is bad but the military is not racist because we have cast diverse actors in the roles of soldiers” will be another one. I wish I could say I was surprised but this is sort of what Disney does best.