TV Review – The Falcon and Winter Soldier

The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 4 (Disney+)
Written by Derek Kolstad
Directed by Kari Skogland

With only two episodes left in this mini-series, it has gotten to the point where the story feels utterly bloated with characters and subplots that can’t possibly be resolved by the end. WandaVision had a tight focus on a single storyline; here, we have too many characters with a too complicated web of relationships. If this was a whole television season and characters were given spotlights, it could work. However, we’re getting established characters written to fit the plot (Sam Wilson), other characters having their arcs rushed (Zemo), and a bunch of other people not given room to breathe and showcase who they are in this narrative.

The fourth episode finds Sam and Bucky at odds with John Walker, the Dora Milaje, and the Flag Smashers. Zemo is a significant point of contention, and through all the conflict, Sam is trying to find an answer. We learn more about the global relocation program that has been the cause of many difficulties and led to the Flag Smashers’ formation. When the Blip occurred, nations worldwide opened up their borders to bring in people to help struggling economies and infrastructure. When the events of Endgame take place, it upset the world order again, and now these people who had made the journey across the world were suddenly unwanted and treated as refugees. Now the show doesn’t present it clearly as this, which is one of my major frustrations. It has way too many elements for us to understand the basic situations.

I think it’s pretty clear the introduction of Isaiah Bradley was just that. He’s introduced as is his grandson Eli who becomes Patriot of the Young Avengers in the comics. I think it stinks that he won’t be an integral part of the story from the direction things seems to be heading. I dunno; maybe they will find a way to squeeze him into the narrative? I think the Dora Milaje coming after Zemo would be something to see in a season two if this weren’t a mini-series so we could really dig into Bucky’s time in Wakanda and the bonds he formed with the people there. It would have served this series better to make the Flag Smashers and John Walker the two main plot points of the six episodes so we could have adequate time to get to know them.

This episode also gave us a scene that left me so infuriated at the way it played out. Sam chooses to go in and talk to Karli Morgenthau to have her stop going in the direction she is taking her group. The conversation between them was absolute horseshit, in my opinion. Sam is put in the position of a “centrist neoliberal” whose argument boils down to, “Hey, things are complicated, and everything is sort of morally grey, but your group are definitely bad guys who should stop.” If Karli had been written as sharper than she’s manipulated into being, she could easily have retorted, “The harm I have caused is an infinitesimal fraction of what the American military does to people all over the world every day. Just because they have uniforms and billion-dollar budgets, they’re considered legitimate.” But nothing Marvel makes will ever challenge the establishment because they are Disney. You don’t get more establishment than that. Instead, we will get this middling, “both sides” nonsense that liberals use to block an honest critique of American imperialism.

There was a brief moment where I thought maybe the show will illuminate some truths. John Walker and Lemar Hoskins talk after Karli escapes, and John mentions the horrible things they did in Afghanistan to get their medals. Okay, they had my attention. There’s no discussion of specifics, and I am willing to bet the show won’t go there. I would go all-in on the series, ultimately vilifying the individual over the institution because that is how imperialism persists. John Walker chooses to take the super-soldier serum, he is the one who overreacts and kills at the end of the episode, and everything he does is owned by him. I’m sure he’s never been conditioned in his life to be more aggressive and to see himself as above non-Americans by any institution. 

The Falcon and Winter Soldier wants to incorporate elements of the real world and global inequality and the consequences of actions on displaced people. But it doesn’t really want to say anything about them. For a few brief moments in the first episode, we get a hint that this show might delve into racism. I’m sure one of Sam’s motivations for handing over the shield are the optics of a Black Captain America. The show even undercuts the bank scene in episode one by pivoting to the loan being denied because he’s a superhero that doesn’t make an income and goes on missions for the U.S. military? Never do pro bono work for a $700 billion+ organization. Look at how a show like Watchmen addressed racism head-on with sensitivity, and it was the better for it. Marvel wants to appear that they have made something of import, but it’s just more cotton candy.

I can’t help but go back to previous episodes to think about the ideology being expressed. When a discussion of the Flag Smasher’s ideology is brought up back in that same first episode, Sam says, “Every time something gets better for one group, it gets worse for another.” This piece on NBC News’s website surprised me with its cogent critique of that statement, saying:

“Such zero-sum logic casually buttresses a reactionary status quo. If more civil rights for one group means less for another, the haves are fully justified by ethics and self-interest in crushing protest by the have-nots. The way the discussion hops from border controls to a blanket rejection of change is disturbing given our ongoing orgy of anti-immigrant sentiment and a call for strong borders that has led to concentration camps for migrants.”

We’ve barely had any time devoted to fleshing out the people around Karli in the Flag Smashers. We literally have two characters in this episode that we haven’t heard a peep from before episode four suddenly become important in her arc. One of them dies by the end of the episode after we just got to meet him. If the series intentionally distances us from these displaced people, then it asks us to side with Sam and Bucky by default. They provide the “centrist” point of view while actually upholding the status quo. There is no interest in this series of questioning American exceptionalism. At one point, the Dora Milaje are told they are out of their jurisdiction by Americans taking military action in Latvia. This is something Sam supports, his ability to just tramp into other countries and impose American imperialism on them because he’s a “good guy.” 

Also, Sharon Carter in the Power Broker. There’s literally no character left we’ve seen that would make any sense for that reveal. I would love if it was Isaiah Bradley, selling his blood so the super-soldier serum could be synthesized from it to empower a new generation to take down the institutions that wronged him.

One thought on “TV Review – The Falcon and Winter Soldier”

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