The second Phase 4 Marvel Cinematic Universe series is in the books. A lot went on in the series finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and it seems to be setting up future storylines as much as it concluded the series’ own. Unlike WandaVision, which seems to have a fairly direct trajectory, TFATWS felt like a bridge that Marvel might want to use between several different projects, which is perhaps why it was originally slated to be the first series and second project of Phase 4.
No discussion of this episode would be proper without recognizing that the episode is Sam Wilson as Captain America. While the previous episode teased us right up until the suit reveal, he comes in hard at the beginning of the episode with a brand-new suit set with wings and a shield in hand. Arguably, the whole series could be seen as Sam Wilson’s Captain America arc, but really it was played out over Episodes 1, 5, and 6, with a heavy emphasis on 5 and 6. What we get from this episode is the perfect outcome and a well-presented conclusion that we have been looking forward to for six weeks. Of course, the rise of the true new Captain America was always going to be given last, letting us celebrate the fireworks of the series. Sam is Captain America, and nothing in this episode will let you doubt or forget that.
The worthiness of his moniker graduation is certainly drilled into the episode and leaves no wiggle room as to the question of whether Sam is, could be, or should be Captain America. Outside of his sweet new suit, he gives an impassioned speech, broadcasted, on everything from the GRC needing to “do better” with the refugees of the world and him understanding the complexity of the situation they are trying to deal with because he is a Black man wearing the stars and stripes—no blonde hair, no blue eyes. Most striking perhaps is his acknowledgment that he knows millions of people will hate him for being Captain America every day. Crowds cheer him on throughout the episode: “It’s the Black Falcon!” “No, that’s Captain America!” And of course, Bucky looks on fondly as if to signify that Sam has the approval of the original Captain America best friend/expert.
It is somewhat a shame that Sam’s arc was not more fully fleshed out throughout the entirety of the series. When it hit, it really hit. But the lull between him giving up the shield and him (explicitly) grappling with what it would mean to actually be Captain America certainly diluted his storyline. However, the rest of the series was also trying to balance multiple villains, concurrent protagonist plotlines, and a series that at the end of the day was an open universe with doorways to other stories placed in countless places. While Sam’s story was the loudest, TFATWS was not, even by title, his series.
The episode was incredibly fun to watch, though. The majority of it was extremely fast-paced, the action was well done—Sam finally got a chance to really shine in this arena—and virtually every character in the series made some kind of appearance. As a consequence of that, it did feel like a bit of a whirlwind at times. During the main action sequences that took up a large part of the episode, it was sometimes hard to keep up with where everyone was from Sam to Bucky to John Walker to Karli to Karli’s followers to Sharon to Batroc to the hostages, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the Flag-Smashers’ plan to kidnap members of the GRC as hostages to negotiate a deal was also a bit underwhelming considering the intensity of the reaction of the heroes and the ensuing battles. Sure, Karli said they would kill them if they had to, but that was only after they were threatened by Sam’s appearance on the scene.
Still, the episode had maybe an unmatched number of moments that could make any fan smile, cheer, or otherwise just enjoy the show. Obviously, Sam’s debut as Captain America, including the return of redwing, had countless of these moments. For me, Steve Rogers’ fight scene with Batroc on the Lemurian Star in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is iconic, so watching Captain America go to head-to-head with him once again was a treat. At one point, Sam is told to “stay down”, and he bounces back up in the same way we saw Steve do in virtually every movie he was in, albeit without the catchphrase of, “I could do this all day.” While it was not a big reveal given the many hints the series gave us, Sharon Carter as the Power Broker opens up new possibilities for her role in the MCU, particularly given her full pardon and restoration to her previous government position in the mid-credits scene. John Walker finally became U.S. Agent in the dwindling minutes of the series, which almost certainly means there are specific plans for him in the future. We also saw him be able to shake off some of his super serum-induced fury and save a truckload of GRC hostages rather than chase after Karli, giving him a chance to potentially convince us he is an anti-hero rather than a villain.
The epilogue keeps it coming. If we were to look at the series as a whole, but focus on this ending, the series would come across as a feel-good story about the titular characters and their growth into better people and heroes worthy of their own spotlight. In the epilogue, Bucky finally makes the right amends to Yori and crosses off every name in the book, closing this arc from Episode 1. He also joins Sam’s family and community in Louisiana, looking happy and even playing with kids. His journey was clearly a mental and emotional one which was subtler in between the first and perhaps fifth episodes, similar to Sam’s arc. Sam, on the other hand, remained the same righteous man we always knew, but he grew in his ability to accept the challenge of growing into the role of Captain America, finishing the arc that began in Endgame or arguably his arc as the sidekick-type character that began in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only does the series end with him happy in Louisiana as well, but he also brings Isaiah Bradley’s series arc to as feel-good of a close his dark story could find as he shows him a new exhibit featuring Bradley in the Captain America museum.
4 Broken Shields out of 5
The series finale did a solid job in wrapping the series up nicely in a bow. While there are what feels like an unusual amount of side-plots ready to go somewhere in the future (Zemo, Val, U.S. Agent, Sharon as the Power Broker, the Flag-Smashers still seem to have support, etc.), there are no outstanding problems for Sam and Bucky who get to end this saga in peace, at least for now. Plus, it’s official: no more “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”—you’re looking at “Captain America and the Winter Soldier”. Better practice the new, still too long acronym, CAATWS.
- I have been wondering all this time why the face-shifting technology Black Widow used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was just sitting around being unused—good on Sharon.
- The Raft prison has now been mentioned by name too many times for it not to be a significant player in the near future.
- Honestly, John Walker’s homemade shield could have been worse.