Thanks to the Avengers, half the beings in the universe reappeared out of thin air five years after disappearing. While Marvel fans saw how that occurred in Avengers: Endgame, that film, and the ones after it, only scratched the surface of what it all meant in-universe. Well, the premiere of Disney+’s The Falcon and The Winter Soldier reveals more about the state of the world after “the Blip” than Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and WandaVision combined.
And that’s not even talking about the main characters.
Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), actually don’t share a scene in the first episode of Marvel’s second Disney+ show. That’s probably because the team behind it devotes the first episode to really defining what the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks like now, and digging into what Sam and Bucky are up to on their own. By separating them, you get a bigger view of this world we’re meant to explore over the next few weeks.
Sam kicks off the series thinking about those final moments in Endgame where Steve Rogers gave him, not Bucky, the shield and de facto title of Captain America. It’s obvious he’s still unsure about the situation but, before that’s really explained, the show jumps into a high octane action sequence. It seems Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) is back after his last appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and is working for an organization called the LAF. He and his team kidnapped an American captain (not to be confused with, you know, the reverse) and the Air Force needs Falcon to subtly rescue him to avoid an international incident. Of course, that’s not how it plays out as the rescue becomes part Top Gun, part Independence Day, part Point Break, and all awesome as Sam flies through canyons, planes, and helicopters to make a daring rescue.
On the ground, Sam and the infectiously enthusiastic First Lieutenant Torres (Danny Ramirez, previously seen in Fox’s X-Men series The Gifted) repair Red Wing and lay out several important plot points to catch up the audience. We learn Sam has been working with the Air Force now for six months and that Batroc’ group, LAF, isn’t nearly as bad as another called the Flag Smashers. They’re a radical group who believes life was better during the Blip, when only half the people were around. The revelation that people feel that way opens up a huge can of worms in regards to the psyche of humanity in this post-Endgame world. Torres also tells Sam there are conspiracy theories regarding Steve Rogers, with some people online saying Captain America was sent to live on the moon. Which, if we’re being honest, is more plausible than the truth, which is that he went back in time to return the Infinity Stones and chose to stay there, living a full life into old age.
Sam humors his new pal before heading back to DC where we circle back to the first scene with Cap’s shield. Turns out, he’s decided to donate Cap’s shield to the Smithsonian exhibit seen in The Winter Soldier. He gives a speech honoring his friend and notes that we need new heroes for the times we’re in, that symbols are nothing without the people behind them. He feels that with Steve gone, the shield is a symbol that needs retiring. All of which sounds noble on the surface but you can’t help but feel Sam is saying it just to convince himself he’s not worthy of the mantle (we know that’s certainly not the case, because we just saw him complete an incredibly heroic mission).
Nevertheless, he donates the shield, and thanks to a cameo by War Machine himself (Don Cheadle), the big question gets asked: why aren’t you becoming Captain America, Sam? He doesn’t really have a good answer. He simply says the shield still feels like it belongs to Steve as the conversation shifts back to the confused state of the world. Sure everyone is back, but no one is OK. After a few months, people are just slowly beginning to process what the hell just happened and who, if anyone, can fix it.
One of those people? Bucky Barnes. The show with his name in the title finally shifts focus to his alter ego, the Winter Soldier, performing an assassination sometime in the past. He even kills an innocent bystander before waking up and revealing it was a nightmare. Bucky and his therapist (Being Human’s Amy Aquino) later talk about his long string of nightmares (which he denies he’s having now) and we get more of that crucial information we all crave.
Since Endgame, Bucky has been pardoned; he no longer considers himself “the Winter Soldier,” and he’s trying to make amends for all the mistakes he’s made by checking names off a list. His therapist has also told him he must make those amends without doing anything illegal or committing violence. Something he’s...sort of following—we see a brief flashback of him threatening a corrupt politician he put into office by using just a little bit of both. The therapist really breaks Bucky down, though. He’s lonely. He’s shut off. He’s “free” but he doesn’t know who he is without a fight. Though he’s only half taking therapy seriously, there’s plenty of truth in the scene and I hope we get much more of this moving ahead. The MCU could use a bit more of The Sopranos in it.
After leaving therapy, Bucky meets up with an older man named Mr. Nakashima (Ken Takemoto) for lunch. It’s unclear how long they’ve known each other but they are friendly enough that Mr. Nakashima flirts with the server, getting Bucky a date in the process. However, we come to find out the man is the father of the innocent bystander Bucky remembers murdering in his nightmare and, of course, this man doesn’t realize it but Bucky befriending him was part of his recovery. It’s obvious he’s harboring not just a ton of guilt, but his own share of pain for all of the pain he’s caused others throughout his almost 100 years of being a super-soldier.
When we pick back up with Sam, he’s in Louisiana meeting up with his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) and her sons (who were just toddlers before Sam disappeared). Instantly, the tension between brother and sister is palpable as she talks about wanting to sell their family fishing boat (named Paul and Darlene after their parents) while he wants to restore it and keep the business literally and figuratively afloat. Sarah explains that while Sam was Blipped she was overwhelmed trying to keep the family together and raise her sons. Since he’s an Avenger, Sam assumes he can just fix everything, and the audience assumes that too. But that’s not the case.
Sam and Sarah go to a bank where the man in charge quickly recognizes Sam as a famous hero and is very excited about that fact. However, after pleasantries, this man condescendingly points out being an Avenger doesn’t actually provide income and he won’t approve the loan the Wilsons are asking for. The man claims that since everyone came back from the Blip, finances have “tightened up.” It’s a pretty shocking turn of events, the implication being that even if you’re an Avenger, if you’re Black, you’re not getting a fair shake. Sam can’t believe it but Sarah can, having obviously gone through this kind of racism before. Sam vows to keep fighting, and yet, you can tell he is taken back by what just occurred. But it’s about to get even worse.
First, Torres reports back from Switzerland. He’s been doing some reconnaissance on the Flag Smashers on his own and gets himself into some trouble. After getting what’s probably the beat down of his life, he tells Sam that some kind of super-powered person is in charge of the Flag Smashers and he’s going to need some help. Then, Sam gets some more bad news: The man who thanked Sam for donating Cap’s shield at the beginning of the episode is on TV going against everything Sam said at the Smithsonian. He proceeds to introduce a new Captain America to help protect the United States with the shield Sam thought was going to stay in a museum.
Episode one of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier quickly got to the root of these characters. They’ve done great things, they’ve done bad things, but then they wake up the next day. What does that mean? What does it matter? Does anyone care? Neither Sam, nor Bucky, nor anyone else is just normal and things are only going to get worse. Which is bad for them, but great for us to watch.
- Early in the episode, Torres says there’s way worse names/groups than the Flag Smashers. It’s just a throwaway line but seemed like a tease to something.
- We get a brief glimpse of Bucky’s amends list and one name stand out: “H. Zemo”—that’s Daniel Bruhl’s character, who we know is in the series.
- It’s beside the point but are there any deleted scenes of Bucky actually trying online dating? I bet they’d be hilarious.
- Sarah mentions that her and Sam’s dad, Paul Wilson, was a giant in the community and gets no respect. Though he passed away, I hope the show digs a bit more into the man who made these two who they are. Why was he a giant? Could it be something beyond just (obviously impressive on its own) owning a successful business?
- Anyone who follows the MCU would recognize this—but just in case you didn’t, during the credits there’s a poster that says “Cap is Back” with the name “John Walker” on it. That’s Wyatt Russell’s character, who’ll at least start as the new Captain America.
- We see Emily VanCamp’s image at the end of the premiere but not her name because she hasn’t appeared yet. I bring this up because Erin Kellyman is in the credits (she played Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story), and while you didn’t see her face in the episode, she was there in a mask—it’s believed she’ll be playing the leader of the Flag Smashers, named Karli Morgenthau.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.