Spoilers ahead for the entire first season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Yep, we're doing the title convention one last time. After this it's being retired to a lovely farm upstate where it can play in the fields with other running gags.
Now that was a nice episode. Was it the platonic ideal of all television based on every possible metric ever? Nah. But it was good. Solid. It stuck the landing more than other finales we could name. Damning with faint praise, granted, but even so.
On the whole the episode felt like an epilogue. You can see why the producer, Nate Moore, said that episode 5 was the best. "Truth" brought everything to the point of climax - Walker being stripped of his title as Cap, Bucky being told how to make amends, Sam coming to the decision to take on the mantle - and "One World, One People" was about bringing all of that home. Yes there were some twists if you didn't see things like Sharon being the Power Broker three episodes ago like some people we could mention (me, that young girl was me) but the finale wasn't about twists. This wasn't about subverting expectations for the sake of pulling a gotcha unlike some shows we could mention (coughGameofThronescough). It was about understanding that plot and character progression should flow naturally and by the end of the story being told all of the outcomes should feel earned.
Which isn't to say that the series didn't have its weak points. It did! But as I said, in my opinion it managed those weak points much better than its sister series did.
The Bad Guys, Such as They Are
I think one thing which makes a difference in people's perception of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is how much they came into the series expecting and/or wanting it to be about good guys defeating bad. If you were looking for Steve Rogers fighting Hydra, or Tony Stark battling Aldrich Killian you were not going to get that here. The Flag Smashers never came together as anything more than a plot and character development MacGuffin: something which could be used to create excuses for cool fight scenes and for giving Sam reasons to show why his approach to being Cap was different from anybody else's.
But in the end could any of us give a coherent thesis statement about what the Flag Smashers wanted? What their goals were that Karli's increasing penchant for violence was messing with the mission of? We know that they liked the way things were before the blip and they were upset about being kicked out of their homes but... then what? Were they trying to find new homes? Trying to get resources for people who had been displaced? Hoping to get on Jeopardy now that LeVar Burton is going to be hosting? Other?
Part of the problem may have been due to Covid. As I mentioned before there were rumors in the spoiler community that plotlines on the show had to be changed because of the pandemic. Now I have yet to find an article which can be used as a citation for this (I'll update if I do) (Update as of 4/27/21: Malcolm Spellman confirms there was a cut storyline which they may try to repurpose into a comic but the story was not pandemic related) but the consistent scuttlebutt is that originally the Flag Smasher plotline was going to be that they planned on releasing a virus which would kill half the world's population thus bringing back the pre-blip life which they felt was better.
You can see why that story might not have played as well after, oh March 2020 give or take a month or two.
There are certainly issues with that as a plan and again this may just be a rumor that people assume is true because it's been repeated often enough. But you have to admit that true or not the idea that the Flag Smashers would want to bring the world back to its pre-blip state makes way more sense than anything we saw in the actual show. And, if you think about what we saw of the Flag Smashers in the finished product through the lens of the editors stitching together what they could out of already filmed scenes and reshoots, things like the Flag Smashers stealing trucks fill of vaccines and Mama Donya's death by disease also feel like they connect to a pandemic plotline more than anything we saw in the show.
That being said, I didn't come into the show looking for good guys vs bad. I wanted interpersonal character dynamics, Louisiana touches (that crawfish boil at the end was included for me specifically, I am taking no further questions at this time), and Sam becoming Cap. For me any villain, Flag Smashers or otherwise, was merely the ice cream which provided a vehicle for the delicious toppings. So I was fine with it.
But I can't fault people who wanted a more traditional superhero action plot and didn't get it. You can't say the show didn't fail on that end.
Karli Morgenthau and John Walker Specifically
Though the show was never about Good vs Evil I did like how Karli and John were handled in the finale. While I was watching the two of them fight each other I was thinking that it was interesting that in that moment you weren't really meant to root for or against either of them. They were both people screwed over by the lives they'd led and trying to find some sort of path to follow their own moral compass in spite of it all.
Naturally I did then ask myself why was I giving Karli and John a pass on "Cool motive, still murder"? After all, plenty of other people had lived through the traumas and difficulties that Karli and John had and hadn't turned into killers for it.
In the end - by which I mean when the final credits rolled - what did it for me is that, unlike Wanda, Karli and John wanted to do good things. They fucked up, no question. The murders they committed are horrible and nothing to be lauded. But at the same time I was left feeling as though deep down neither Karli nor John felt what they did was honorable. Sure both of them gave speeches about how they were justified in their actions, but when push came to shove and calmer heads prevailed both of them pulled back from those urges.
In Karli's case not only do we have how we saw her listening to Sam and weighing his point of view on multiple occasions but also how she made the decision to break away from Sharon (thus putting her own life in danger) to fight what she felt was the good fight. John for his part had his moments of rage but when the need arose he chose to let Karli escape so that he could try to save the people in the truck.
None of which excuses what Karli and John did. But when you compare those moments to Wanda and how her moments of clarity were only used to double down on turning an entire town into her mind raped playthings... yeah Karli and John get my sympathy and Wanda can still go fuck herself.
The thing I liked about the handling of Karli and John in particular is that ultimately they were both good examples of people who are not served by punishment. There's no benefit to throwing either of them into a cell for the rest of their lives. They are people who need help. They need counseling and outside support systems.
Sadly Karli was robbed of the benefit of that and John's darker instincts are probably only going to be encouraged by Val, but in the pocket of time represented by the finale, I liked how both of them had been handled. Karli was acknowledged to have valid anger and concerns. John wasn't "woo, crazy trauma means wacky murder!" They were characters with layers and depth. Maybe not characters that gave epic fights of good vs evil. but as ice cream to my sundae I liked them.
Sam Cap Best Cap
I'm gonna be honest with you: I love Sam Wilson as Captain America so much that finally seeing him take on the mantle has me feeling resentful I had to put up with Steve all this time.
I know. I KNOW. Put the pitchforks down. I know some people love Steve. I... am not one of them.
Look he's fine. As characters go he's perfectly okay and if that's the sort of thing you like I get why you like him as that sort of thing. But my own character kinks, in no particular order, are snark and mental trauma. This is why MCU Tony Stark and all forms of Carol Danvers are my favorites. This is also why I looked forward to this show because let's face it "Snark and Mental Trauma" could've been the working title for "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and would have, I cannot stress enough, had fewer goddamn letters for those of us trying to fit useful article descriptions in the same tweet as show related hashtags.
So characters like Steve Rogers (and Clark Kent) don't do it for me. I can appreciate their character type, I appreciate what they represent, but they are not what I personally care about.
But on top of that when you watch Sam do his thing as Captain America, to me (again, put the pitchforks down) I'm left thinking about Steve and what exactly he brought to the role of Cap that made him so special. Because when you remove the serum from the equation you're left with Steve's personality, and Steve's personality is... mostly okay.
Like Steve gave good speeches. Steve was fairly good at calling out who should do what in a battle. But other than that what about Steve was so unique? It can't even be argued that he was the only person never to be corrupted by the role of Cap because Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame point to plenty of things Steve did that were selfish and could be defined as "I'm right because I'm me."
Moreover, Steve did not have a point of view which brought anything to the role. Unlike Sam who comes from a history of having to fight to care about his country, personal experience of struggles, and the ability to empathize with others and, oh yeah, admit he's wrong from time to time, STEVE.
Sam is ideally suited to point out that the serum does not make the man. And, frankly, that it's not the shield which makes the man either. It's his cleverness and his heart which enables him to connect with other people, good and bad, and get other people to connect with each other.
I'm not gonna lie, I teared up on multiple occasions while watching the finale. Which granted may not be an impressive review from someone with disabling depression but still. Sam's speech, much though it went on way too long to be believable, moved me. Sam getting the Smithsonian to create a display to honor Isaiah moved me. Were these big and broad gestures aimed directly at pulling the heartstrings of even those in the cheap seats? Maybe. But they are big and broad gestures we haven't seen in superhero media before. And, as an entire show about who holds a shield has told us, symbols have meaning.
- If we're making a list of things handled sloppily on the show, one would certainly be what the heck is Bucky's public identity? He's greeted as Sgt Barnes by a random cop at the GRC yet later Yori acts like Bucky needs to hide from the cops. Is Bucky known as Avenger adjacent or as the dangerous Winter Solider or what?
- Handled with grace, though: Bucky's character development. I'm not made of stone, it's been nice to see him relearn how to smile. Also I appreciate the way the show didn't beat us over the head with the moments and instead let us be the ones to remember that in episode one Bucky didn't dare take his gloves off and by episode six he was letting little kids hang off his bare metal arm.
- I know there's a lot of debate about Sharon's role and morals at the end of this. By which I mean a lot of people who are using a ton of words when "I never liked Sharon because she's a female character" would do. For the record my take is that if we were doing an alignment grid Sharon is firmly True Neutral. She's in it for herself, which means she sometimes does things which are good (helping Sam and Bucky) and sometimes things which are bad (preparing to sell state secrets). Given what's happened to her since Civil War I can't blame her at all.
- Though again, in the realm of sloppy and/or things which may have been made confusing by Covid forcing plotline changes: Why would Sharon lead Bucky, Sam, and Zemo to Nagel? She had to know this wouldn't work out well for her supply of the serum. What did she gain from that which she couldn't have done by, I dunno, giving them some information to satisfy their curiosity and then send them on their way?
- Regardless, props to Sharon for being the only person smart enough to figure out that a whistled password is the least secure thing on the planet.
- I'm betting January 6th made quite a few people in production facepalm and moan about how they had the best of intentions, really.
- "I thought Captain America was on the moon" - even this random guy never thought of Walker as Cap. Sorry, John.
- Redwing!!! My baby! With little babies of his own!!! Thank you, Wakanda!!
- Early on in the ep the closed captions identified Sam as Captain America. I like to imagine the person writing those captions was as geekily excited about that as I was.
- I liked that John put his medals on the inside of the shield to serve as a focus/reminder. When we saw him with those last week I thought it meant he was melting them down for scrap. This was better and a nice touch.
- Oh to see the concept art of Sam holding up the truck like an actual angel.
- Sam's new suit was faster and more streamlined in its movements. Plus the vibranium added to the fighting techniques that wings gave him (as we saw in episode one). Credit to the FX and stunt coordinators who figured out how to show the subtle differences.
- Seriously, in no world would everyone have quietly listened to Sam that long. At least one jackass would've been shouting "Ba ba booey!" or something.
- I still teared up though.
- "We built this country" - damn right you did. We need to acknowledge that in our media and the real world as well. There is no America without the work of Black people, enslaved and otherwise.
- "Captain America and the Winter Soldier" - awwwww.
- Finally, Bucky as city boy who finds a home and a family in a small town continues the theme that Sam Wilson bonds with other characters through romance story tropes. In this essay I will...
And that's all for now! Next up for the MCU is Loki, which I do plan on covering. Should be fun.