The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 6 “One World, One People”
Director: Kari Skogland
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Daniel Brühl, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Carl Lumbly, Adepero Oduye, Georges St-Pierre, Danny Ramirez, Amy Aquino
Runtime: 49 minutes
As excited as I was for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier one thing about it that made me a bit concerned was the idea of Sam still going by Falcon and my weariness was influenced by my experience with past Marvel TV shows. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are both pretty much perfect in my book but the other MCU-adjacent Netflix series, despite all their strengths, struggled to find proper pacing and the right balance between superhero fun and character exploration. Many of the characters were saddled with identity issues so that the shows could justify either keeping them out of costume and or away from wholly embracing their superhero (or in the Punisher’s case, anti-hero) mantles until the end of seasons when these arcs really could have been wrapped up much faster so they could progress further. I was worried that the MCU proper was headed down the same path with Sam Wilson by holding off on letting him actually be Captain America but I’m glad to say I was wrong. Unlike on the Netflix shows the decision to not have Sam become Cap until the end of the season wasn’t about him having to earn the mantle, which he’d already done long before Steve Rogers gave it to him, but instead raised the question of whether there should be a Cap at all in a post-Steve world, which in turn allowed the show to present its powerful depictions of America’s troubled history, especially with race. Having Sam grapple with these ideas prior to suiting up makes his debut as the new Cap in this episode all the more rewarding, and it’s the triumphant center of an action-packed finale that is strong overall, despite some missteps and weird choices with supporting characters.
“One World, One People” begins in the midst of the Flag Smashers’ attack on the GRC conference. Bucky is on the scene in contact with Sam and also meets up with Sharon, who blends in with the crowd using the same kind of high-tech flesh mask that Black Widow employed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After glimpsing Sam flying above the city Karli orders the Flag Smashers in the building to take hostages, which they do via helicopter. Sam crashes into the building through a window in his Wakandan Captain America suit (which still has wings) to stop the abductions. I was never crazy about Sam’s Cap suit in the comics but it translates surprisingly well to live-action despite a nearly identical design and seeing Mackie suited up and wielding the shield is a real thrill. After dispatching Batroc, Sam engages the helicopter, eventually bursting into the cockpit and knocking out the pilot so a hostage with flight training that he contacted can take over. The Sam Batroc fight is fine but not especially unique and the action definitely takes a step up once it gets airborne. Sam using his wings and shield in tandem makes for some really exhilarating maneuvers and just as it did in the first episode Skogland’s direction does an excellent job of capturing Sam and the vehicles’ speed.
While the building is being evacuated Bucky is given a phone by an undercover Flag Smasher, with Karli on the other end. Karli rants to Bucky about how she’s prepared to die and is fighting for something bigger than herself and he unsuccessfully attempts to talk her down. Outside, many of the GRC representatives are loaded into armored trucks but Flag Smashers secretly lock them in before Karli and company hijack the trucks. Bucky pursues on a motorcycle while Sharon kills the Flag Smasher who locked them in with a gas bomb. Karli sets one truck on fire to occupy Bucky but John Walker then attacks hers. Walker’s homemade shield holds up surprisingly well and despite the Flag Smashers’ powers he manages to fight several of them off at once, intent on getting to and killing Karli. After saving the hostages in the burning truck Bucky joins the fight but is eventually knocked into a construction site. Karli attempts to drive the remaining truck off a ledge and let it fall down the deadly drop before she jumps out. Walker must choose whether to pursue her or attempt to stop it from falling and although it pains him he eventually makes the right choice. Karli and some remaining Flag Smashers attack him, sending everyone falling into the construction site. Thankfully Sam manages to catch the truck and lift it back to safety by pushing his jetpack’s power to its limits, to the cheers of a crowd of spectators. One man exclaims “That’s the Black Falcon right there,” but the guy next to him corrects him by saying “No, that’s Captain America.” This was a bit cheesy but still ultimately endearing due to its significance. Likewise, while some might think that Sam saving two groups of hostages essentially on his own makes Bucky look ineffective, but the former’s role in the action is more important to his arc. Just by being there, acting as a true superhero Bucky demonstrates tremendous growth (and he does get deserved recognition when saving his truck) but Sam’s public recognition as Cap is a crucial point in his story.
While the hostages are being secured Batroc uses smoke bombs to allow himself and the Flag Smashers to flee into a series of tunnels around the construction site. Sharon tracks down Karli, who is angry at the other woman for betraying her, referring to Sharon as the Power Broker. Batroc also confronts his boss but Sharon quickly shoots him. Sam arrives but though he attempts to reason with her one last time she again attacks him and when she prepares to shoot Sam Sharon shoots her, likely as much if not more to maintain her secret identity as to save Sam. Karli dies in Sam’s arms, after which he flies outside carrying her body, his outstretched wings making him look angelic. As he hands Karli’s body off to medics he criticizes Hyorth’s character and the other assembled politicians for allowing the system to remain so flawed that a child became such a radicalized threat in order to change it. Sam elaborates that he knows there are those who will see him as unworthy of being Captain America simply because of the color of his skin but he won’t let that stop him from fighting for justice and challenges them to do better by working towards equality and being more considerate of disenfranchised people (later on, it’s confirmed that the GRC vote doesn’t go through). It’s a great end to his debut as Cap, highlighting again why he is a different but equally necessary hero to Steve, and Mackie’s performance is commanding and inspirational.
Sam’s speech retroactively improves it a little but it’s not enough to completely redeem what the show did with Karli. The writers always seemed to think the character was more sympathetic than she really was and instead of giving us reasons to think she was redeemable only ever had her continuously become more ruthless, which limited the impact of her final downfall. The show’s use of Sharon is ultimately even worse, unfortunately. As I said in my review of episode 3 I very much like the idea of Sharon becoming bitter and less altruistic for a time in the wake of how she was treated but actually making her the Power Broker, not to mention her essentially committing a war crime when she gasses the Flag Smasher, go way too far. The creators had an opportunity to create a very nuanced antagonist with built-in audience support which in turn could have led to a hell of a redemption arc either here or in another property but instead, they reduced the character, who in the Captain America films proved herself a paragon of morality, into an overly evil villain. By the time a post-credit scene shows her accepting her pardon only to call her associates to talk about how this positions them to profit even more off weapons sales and other illegal activities, she might as well be twirling a mustache. Given the resoundingly negative reaction to the Power Broker reveal I expect that Marvel might backtrack in some way in her next appearances, likely by suggesting that at some point between Civil War and the start of this series Sharon was abducted and replaced by a Skrull impostor. That’s a trick that really should be limited in its use, as it risks reducing viewer’s investment in characters’ personal arcs but in this instance, I think it’s worth taking a chance if the Sharon character is to have any kind of positive future in the franchise. It’s also too bad that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s worst stories are those of its leading female characters. I don’t think the show can really be labeled sexist as there’s nothing offensive about their roles and Sarah and Ayo are written much better but it’s an unfortunate coincidence that both Sharon and Karli’s stories mostly fall flat.
The show’s other major supporting players thankfully receive much stronger endings, although Walker’s isn’t entirely flawless. While talking to his wife and Val he walks out in his comic accurate costume and in a self-aware moment questions what the point of a new suit that’s the same as his old one just with the blue replaced by black is. Val says it reflects the new purpose she has for him which seems to be taking on more covert, black ops style missions which she says require a “U.S. Agent” rather than a Captain America. This is definitely a bit of a forced way to give Walker his comic book name but the promise of these characters continuing as anti-heroes is exciting enough that the cheese can be forgiven. Rumors continue to fly that the MCU is setting up its versions of the Thunderbolts and or Dark Avengers (or maybe a hybrid of both teams) and while there’s no guarantee that’s where Walker and Val’s stories are going it seems pretty likely and the idea of the franchise exploring more morally gray characters is exciting. Speaking of which, after a bomb blows up the powered Flag Smashers as they are being driven to prison the camera reveals Zemo’s butler that we briefly met in episode 3 looking on before cutting to Zemo himself sitting content in his Raft cell, having quietly come out as maybe the most victorious character in the series. Again, putting Zemo in the highly escapable Raft was a rather forced way to ensure we’ll see him again but Daniel Brühl’s work has left me itching for more of the character so I don’t really care. Although they should maybe be kept separate for a little while I hope Marvel is smart enough to eventually match Zemo up with Bucky and Sam again. Brühl’s chemistry with Mackie and Stan is too good to waste.
But the characters that come off best here, and in the series as a whole, are rightfully the ones it’s named after. After the battle Sam returns to Baltimore to see Isaiah, telling him that after all the things previous generations of black people have gone through in America he won’t let anyone tell him he can’t take on the Cap mantle. He takes Isaiah and Eli to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian to see a newly added section about Isaiah, which brings the older man to tears. I think one could make the argument that the show might have been better off leaving Isaiah as dubious about whether Sam becoming Cap is a good idea, which definitely might have been a bit more realistic, unfortunately, but Carl Lumbly’s performance is so moving it’s hard not to enjoy the more optimistic ending the character receives. Furthermore, it shows that Sam taking on the mantle is having the kind of progressive effect he was hoping for, whether he was directly involved in the addition or not (he probably was). Bucky has the difficult conversation he’s been avoiding with Yori, revealing that it was him, as the Winter Soldier, that killed Yori’s son. After this Dr. Raynor is shown finding Bucky’s notebook in her office with all the names crossed off and a message thanking her for help. Bucky watches Yori from the window of the sushi restaurant while Leah comforts him before she briefly notices Bucky with a look of mixed emotions. I’ve seen people online describe Bucky’s actual talk with Yori, which is rather brief, as rushed because it doesn’t linger on Yori’s reaction to the revelation but I don’t really think that’s the point. Whatever Yori’s reaction is, the significance of the moment is the same for Bucky. Yori may be forgiving and or understanding or he may not but that’s going to be the case for everyone on Bucky’s amends list and the fact that he goes forward with meeting them all anyway is what makes Bucky’s redemption genuine and allows him to finally move on, at least to an extent.
And move on he does, as is shown by the series’ heartwarming ending. Back in Louisiana, the Wilsons are having a neighborhood cookout when Bucky arrives to join in the fun, bearing a cake and playing with Sarah’s sons, the happiest we’ve ever seen him, at least since Captain America: The First Avenger, if not ever. Before the credits, he and Sam look out over the horizon with contented smiles before the series’ last title card changes the name to “Captain America and the Winter Soldier”. This shift isn’t perfect as the new title is a bit too similar to the second Cap movie and most feel that still referring to Bucky as the Winter Soldier is wrong at this point (White Wolf probably would have been better) but I understand the sentiment and it doesn’t take away from the uplifting impact of the finale. Days after the episode aired Disney and Marvel announced a fourth Captain America film with Malcolm Spellman returning as co-writer alongside Dalan Musson, a staff writer on the series, and Anthony Mackie is presumed to be getting his well-deserved starring turn in the title role. One can only hope Sebastian Stan will also be included. As this show cemented Sam and Bucky are both excellent characters on their own but when they come together the results are some of Marvel’s strongest work.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Finale
Some supporting stories fizzle out but ultimately The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale delivers an emotional, action-packed ending elevated by the debut of a live-action black Captain America.