The Falcon and The Winter Solider Episode 1 Review: Back In Action But Exploring Characters’ Emotional Depths
“WandaVision” was a breath of refresh air for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it introduced the idea that these superpowered characters can grieve and experience loss during a great tragedy. It resonated with audiences in a way where they could themselves in those characters who are grieving. But “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” takes a different approach to how the other characters process their grief while expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though it may be a return to familiar ground, it is still an absolute action-packed thrill ride as Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) join forces – and get at each other’s throats – to save the world from a new threat while also honoring Captain America’s legacy.
For far too long, characters like Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) have been serving as supporting characters in some of the bigger films. And just like “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is the kind of miniseries that is perfect for its titular characters as they go on a world-saving adventure that will test their abilities, their patience with each other, and explore their humanity.
It all kicks off with an explosive action sequence that combines Sam’s flight abilities as the Falcon with real-life skydiving. Sam’s objective is to rescue a military liaison, in midair, from a terrorist organization known as LAF who is on its way to an enemy stronghold in Libera. The US military cannot be seen operating within that airspace or crossing the border. As such, it is up to Sam to make that interception and return the liaison.
Though the rescue is confined to a smaller TV screen, it any less cinematic. With the aid of his trusty Red Wing, Sam successfully breaks into the plane mid-flight. But he comes to find out that it won’t be a simple retrieval as he discovers that Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) is also on the plan. Soon they take the fight midair, with Sam’s high-tech flight suit going up against skydivers wearing wingsuits. The entire sequence puts the viewer in the heart of the skydive itself.
It’s a race against time as Sam has to rescue the liaison before Batroc can take him across enemy borders. And the rescue becomes increasingly difficult as the chase descends into a dangerous canyon, where the rocky terrain is the least of Sam’s concerns. There’s also the threat of the LAF terrorists and helicopters armed with machine guns and heat-seeking missiles.
While the rescue mission is a success, Sam learns that the LAF isn’t the only group out there that’s causing trouble. A new malevolent terror called the Flagsmashers are rising, and they are looking to return Earth to the way things were during the Blip. And finding these guys is almost like playing an augmented reality game on your smartphone. So think of it as Pokemon Go but for finding a villainous group in the MCU.
Sam then returns to Washington DC to give Cap’s shield to a memorial that’s dedicated in his honor. The thought of him becoming the new Cap has weighed on him heavily. But it is a name or a shield he cannot accept as he believes he cannot live up to Cap’s legacy. However, he recognizes what it means to be a hero through a touching speech that not only recognizes what the shield means as a symbol and that the honor was more about the man who wielded it.
We then turn to Bucky, the other hero in the latest title, who has recurring nightmares of assassination missions he carried out as the Winter Soldier. Returning to normalcy hasn’t been easy for the former brainwashed HYRDA agent, and he has been having trouble adjusting. But as the terms of his pardon and being a citizen, he must meet up with a therapist (Amy Aquino), with whom he has a contentious relationship, where he must talk about his PTSD. For him, these sessions are pointless, and he doesn’t take any of it seriously, which is clear through his passive-aggressive answers.
Bucky’s only connection with others is through his efforts to make amends for his past crimes. He doesn’t process grief the same way others do, given that he was a formally brainwashed assassin who has done nothing but fight for the better part of 90 years. And his only actions are through confronting those he’s been in contact with, whether that’s directly or indirectly. There is a three-step process for him to do this. The first is not to do anything illegal. The second being nobody gets hurt. Finally, he must person that he is making amends.
We get to see two sides to his approach to making amends when we get a small preview of a list of names he keeps in a small notepad. In one scene, Bucky cuts his ties with former Hydra agents abusing their power. The other goes to the heart of who Bucky is as a regular guy. Though we got to see some of his compassion for a few moments throughout the Captain America trilogy, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” digs real deep into his psychology and his quest for redemption. And he does this by spending time with Yori (Ken Takemoto), whose son was an innocent victim that was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Bucky was the Winter Soldier on an assassination mission for HYDRA.
As “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” drifts away from the heavier action, it turns into an emotional piece as we start to see what life is like for the titular characters living their lives outside of the battlefield. It’s a refreshing take that isn’t in a rush to get from one action set-piece to the next. By doing this, we get to see more of Sam and Bucky’s humanity. And that’s where showrunner Kari Skogland and head writer Malcolm Spellman’s vision for these characters shine.
And surprisingly, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” also more than just grief and PTSD, but also race and socio-economics. The former sees Bucky try to make those amends and be a good citizen. However, it’s an emotionally taxing process as he reveals the only time he was calm was when he was in Wakanda, and that was only momentary as he just went from one battle to the next for almost 90 years. It’s even more painful for him as he can’t reveal what he did to Yori’s son. However, we do get to see a softer side to him when he goes out on a date with Leah (Miki Ishikawa).
The show then takes a racial and socio-economic for Sam’s story. Because Sam’s sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye), is responsible for carrying on the Wilson family legacy, the Blip put them at an economic disadvantage. As a result, the banks have come to collect what they are owed. Sam believes he can save his family’s business by using his reputation as an Avenger and his family’s history with the New Orleans community to get a small business loan to save his family’s legacy. But Sarah doesn’t share his unbridled optimism. And soon, Sam finds out what Sarah’s known all along, that the banks are unwilling to help them. Instead, they focus on Sam’s celebrity status as a hero and are curious about how an Avenger gets paid.
The beauty of “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is that it finally gives its titular characters the chance to shine as superheroes while exploring their vulnerabilities. Though we didn’t get to see the buddy cop aspect, as we were only allowed to see one episode, one can only guess what it would be like through their 12-second interaction in “Captain America: Civil War.” And as much as “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” is a product of Marvel Studios, its emotional undercurrent gives it the kind of depth that will allow Sam and Bucky to evolve and become heroes who can step outside of Cap’s shadow.
“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” debuts exclusively on Disney+ on March 19, 2021.