Disney+ and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s muddled mess of a finale meant that, for all its endings, a few characters were going to get short shrift. But few got shrifted shorter than ex-Agent of SHIELD Sharon Carter.
And that’s in spite of the big “reveal” that’s going to give Sharon (Emily VanCamp) an interesting, prominent role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s future... depending on how that future handles it.
The show’s season one finale, “One World, One People,” offers many (almost too many) potential threads for future Marvel stories to tell, but the twist it leaves for its post-credit scene is both paradoxically the most interesting of all its choices and the one that feels most likely to be set up for failure. After Sharon comes to the aid of Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) to help bring the threat of Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and the Flag-Smashers to heel, the audience learns a secret she’s been keeping since she first reunited with our heroes back in Madripoor. The sinister “Power Broker” of the criminal haven who put the supersoldier serum in the Flag-Smashers’ hands in the first place was none other than Sharon herself.
After Sharon executes both Karli and Batroc the Leaper in a three-way standoff (in which she is also wounded, giving a bit more weight to her cover-up), The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s final post-credit scene reveals to us that not only did Sharon get the pardon Sam promised her for her role in stopping the Flag-Smashers, she’s now been re-embraced by the U.S. intelligence community. What exactly she will be an “Agent” of is left unsaid, given that SHIELD is very gone at this point and SWORD is, presumably, a bit busy after the whole New Jersey deal. But Sharon promptly goes about manipulating her new “hero” status, phoning up a mysterious figure to let them know that she now has access to every U.S. secret and its most dangerous tech to unleash to the highest bidder.
It’s a pretty radical swing for an individual who, when last we saw her before this show, was macking on Steve Rogers. But as deeply, grimly funny as it might be that Sharon got dumped by Steve for her great aunt so hard that she apparently just went full Joker Mode (Broker Mode?), her reveal as the Power Broker misses more than it hits. Primarily that’s because the show doesn’t feel like it has the confidence or the wherewithal to actually execute on it in the future (if there is a future for the show). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier spent its season proving more than a few times that it’s much more interested in brushing up against interesting commentary than it is actually taking the steps to make that commentary feel like it has any bite. Placing Sharon as a mole within the U.S. government for her own gains is no exception.
It should be interesting that, both metatextually and within the narrative, Sharon got so sidelined by both her homeland and the heroes she was helping that she was radicalized into an agent of chaos. Working against the state, she leveraged its sins against it for her own gain in Madripoor. But by bringing her back into the fold as “Agent Carter,” she’s once again an operative of the nation that previously tossed her aside. Except, not really.
Her dual-agency—and her desire to exploit her new position to launder U.S. technology and weaponry onto the black market—is an easy way out that contemporary Marvel projects deciding to cast commentary on world nations, the U.S. in particular, often take. The state looks bad on the surface, yes, but it is never the state itself that’s the actual problem, it’s an individual bad apple, an outside infiltrator, from folks like General Ross to Alexander Pierce, to John Walker, and now Sharon Carter. They’re responsible for the rot in these systems, and never the system itself, inherently presented as an innocent tool that’s just been subjugated by bad people. Sharon, as the Power Broker, is now just going to be the latest in a long line of corrupters of the U.S. government, the one-day future target we will point to when the long arm of American politics is touched upon in future Marvel works to go “No, but look! It’s her fault! It could never surely be American imperialism that is in the wrong.”
Speaking of Walker—now wholly embraced as the U.S. Agent—another of this series’ failings is that, when the day comes and Sharon is inevitably exposed as the Power Broker, she’s probably going to face a level of consequence more severe than John Walker did. His arc in the finale feels like an inverse reflection of Sharon’s, vacillating wildly in “One World, One People” from deranged vengeance-seeking villain to one of the lads, cracking Lincoln jokes with Bucky like he didn’t get stripped of all his titles and awards for extrajudicially executing a civilian an episode ago. But because he went from bad—comically, horrifyingly so—to good his sins have already been forgiven (it remains to be seen what Valentina de Fontaine is really up to with him, but the episode explicitly frames Walker’s arc as a heroic one). For breaking bad, and despite having incredibly justifiable reasons to do so, Sharon will one day be forced to pay for her duplicity.
Who can say, maybe that duplicity will push her on a path to redemption as Walker seemingly has been. But for now, even as she’s positioned as a potentially important future figure in either more The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or whatever Marvel TV shows and movies build off of it, Sharon’s return to the MCU stage feels as messy and muddled as her impromptu exit from it back in Civil War.
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