So ends the saga of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with its sixth and final episode today. Heroes Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) are forced to confront the sometimes-present Flag-Smashers, as well as the disgraced temp-Captain America John Walker (Wyatt Russell) in a series of messy, hurried action setpieces that end the season on a genuine downer. Maybe they are the B-team after all…
The worst thing about Falcon‘s finale is how it betrays its characters. Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), the charismatic leader of the Flag-Smashers (freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on which side of the red, white, and blue you land) is done in worst of all by the sixth episode.
Karli, up until a botched meeting in the fourth episode, was characterized as a level-headed, worldly Robin Hood-like character, essentially fighting the militarization the world was facing in the wake of the Blip (still an incredibly dumb name) and the increasing fascism of groups like the Avengers. Yet in our finale, Morgenthau is comically villainous, touting the execution of hostages in her big NYC strike against a pending UN vote. She callously recalls the murder of Walker’s partner, saying he “doesn’t matter.” It’s mediocre scripting, plain and simple, and dumbs down a character who was, during some moments of Falcon‘s six episodes, a nuanced “villain.”
But the way in which Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s core struggle against the Flag-Smashers manifests so suddenly and loudly from the onset of the sixth episode is in itself a problem. Immediately, the episode is incoherent-yet-familiar blockbuster sound and fury, but what’s our point been this whole season? Earlier episodes of the series pivoted towards Morgenthau’s philosophy influencing Buck and Sam, allowing them to think freely from the titles they bear. We built to the dramatic murder in the streets by Walker, in-costume as Cap: Falcon and the Winter Soldier was warning us of the dangers of legacy, and how the mask doesn’t make the man.
Yet with Sam donning some hybrid Falcon/Captain America suit, flying around while lobbing that iconic shield around, the crux of the show becomes painfully apparent. Was the entirety of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just to decide who carries the Captain America mantle going forward in the MCU? It sure feels that way.
Particularly grueling is Sam’s sappy reconciliation on the streets of New York, following our action, with the senators voting in the UN. After some brash and glitzy punching, Sam lands on the pavement, surrounded by press and onlookers, and happens to give the voters a good, televised admonishing on their international migrant policies, exuding worldly, humanist values. Falcon and the Winter Soldier ditches any burden it might impose by adding nuance to Karli Morgenthau, instead having her “good traits” live on in Sam’s little lecture. It’s awful.
And all of the little side stories and seeds the MCU is constantly planting felt wholly unsatisfactory. Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) pops up to pat John Walker on the back, her Marvel comics lore as a key player in the Secret Invasion comics no doubt setting fan theories ablaze. Similarly, the exiled Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who’s been helping our dynamic duo, begins to take on a more sinister role: an afterthought side thread of the series’ run shoehorned in to make way for a big reveal this episode.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned taking up of the iconic vibranium shield by Sam Wilson certainly would imply more prominence for Mackie’s character, but I’m curious to see how Disney’s technicians will marry his winged Falcon antics with the boots-on-the-ground (literally!) brawling of Captain America. But in the way that WandaVision felt like a lot of fluff to get those two main characters -both Wanda and Vision- from point A to B for the sake of MCU continuity, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is ending not only in the same way but in a less consistent manner.
There were moments across the six episodes where it felt as if we were getting at some interesting questions for these shows and films. For all the good they do, what are the unwanted, ugly implications of a paramilitary force like the Avengers? Returning from the Blip, how has society been uprooted? The American government has been holding Black people down from its very inception, so how does that factor into this world of superheroes and villains? Superficially, the sixth episode loudly bangs the drum of Sam’s Black heritage and his newfound prominence as an American icon, donning the stars and stripes and title. But the rush to this conclusion for our finale is anything but satisfactory.
Following the wet blanket of WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a hodgepodge of lame Marvel action and weak writing, with some truly interesting moments that feel abandoned and half-baked. If the Disney+ shows are any indication, perhaps the MCU has indeed overstayed its welcome.