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Spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (FAWS) through episode 2. Turn back now if you don’t want to read them.
I continue to enjoy the slower pace that the six episode run is giving to FAWS. I realize “slower pace” is an odd phrase to grab when talking about an episode that involves, among other things, a truck fight scene on a highway. But still. Unlike what a movie can do, the show is taking its time to show us who everyone is and where they fit into the grand scheme of things. It’s the latter which particularly stood out to me so I’m going to talk about that for a bit. I’m breaking it down into the ep’s three biggest characters, only two of which are Sam and Bucky.
We’ll get the third out of the way first because yeah.
Did I or did I not tell you I was going to put a stool next to this joke and milk it to death? If you didn’t believe me that’s on you.
The thing I’m finding interesting about the introduction of John Walker is that when you look at him on paper he’s very much Captain America. Yet when we see him do these things which are most like Cap it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
For example: John is doing this big show with dancers and autographs. Feels wrong, but Steve did those too. Both John and Steve don’t like doing it but if it’s the way they can help out then sure they’ll grit their teeth and do it.
John’s white - so was Steve. John’s form of representation is a Black best friend which smacks of tokenism but then we remember Steve’s Black best friend didn’t come along until Steve’s second movie and most (not all, but most) in the audience saw no problem with that (or that the first Black representation in the MCU at all was Tony’s Black best friend of Rhodey).
John’s got a Black wife. Steve… kissed his grand niece. Who is white. But yanno, ew. Team #NotAmericasAss on this one.
Also let’s not ignore that in the realm of comic adaptations a Black female love interest is sadly still considered something people pitch fits over. And if you doubt that try looking at the bullshit Candice Patton has had to deal with on a regular basis. So even though it’s a small gesture it’s still one that gets credit for being groundbreaking and again Cap’s last non-Peggy love interest was someone he deliberately chose to make his relative so he loses this round forever and always amen.
Anyhoo - back on the comparisons there’s also stuff like John using a gun in a fight which feels wrong but Steve used guns too. He preferred relying on his super soldier abilities and his shield, but he wasn’t against bringing bullets into a battle if it was what was needed.
And let’s not forget John abusing his status as Captain America to free Bucky from jail which again felt skeevy except freeing Bucky is literally the plot of every fucking movie starring Steve.
So yeah, John feels wrong but he hasn’t done anything Steve hasn’t done, or which Steve not only did but worse.
And yet we don’t care for him.
I’m gonna zing this over to talking about costumes now because it’s relevant to the discussion.
Once again we have a costume department which knows how to do its job. Things aren’t as obvious as the genre and decade spanning WandaVision, but even in a show where most of the costumes are simply normal clothes there’s still a job for them to do. Like we talked about before, the costumes in a live action superhero show have to thread the needle (heh) of evoking their comic book counterparts, working with known color palettes for the characters, and telling stories about who is connected to who and what we should feel about them.
We can start with an obvious one: When we meet Olivia, John’s wife, she’s not only wearing patriotic red and blue but her coat and shirt have stripes, same as John’s Cap uniform. It’s an immediate cue to us in the audience that she’s more than a fan or former classmate that showed up that day, she’s connected to John. We can tell they’re in some kind of relationship even before we spot her wedding ring.
Now let’s talk John’s uniform. It’s been a bit of a meme that John looks like the version of Cap you order from Wish thinking you’re getting the real thing. Which is true. But people’s comments tend to be that it’s unfortunate that Wyatt Russell doesn’t look like Chris Evans because clearly only Chris Evans has the bone structure to pull of the uniform and helmet.
Except… no? I mean yes Wyatt doesn’t look like Chris Evans because nobody does except Chris Evans. But let’s take a look at Wyatt out of uniform.
Yeah he’s no Chris Evans but you can’t tell me in that shot he doesn’t resemble a member of the Hemsworth clan. The problem isn’t that Wyatt is an ugly dude. Sure he does better with a beard than he might when he’s clean-shaven but in a world where people mourned the loss of Steve Rogers’ facial hair more than they did their own relatives I don’t think that’s something we can hold against him.
The thing is that the costume Wyatt is wearing is designed to make him look bad.
Look, as any drag queen will tell you, makeup and clothing can do a lot. If the show wanted John Walker to look good in the Cap costume he would look sexy as fuck in the Cap costume. Yes, even the stupid helmet. If you doubt me I will remind you that Anthony Mackie wears a harness with giant bird wings on it and if you think “bird wing harness costume on an actual human being” doesn’t frequently take a trip into “the antidote for WAP” I invite you to look at this picture of Hawkman from Legends of Tomorrow and then will accept your apology.
So the fact that John Walker’s version of Cap bears a greater resemblance to Ed Grimley than it does to insert-object-of-your-spank-bank-desires-here* is 100% on purpose. The costume doesn’t fit because John doesn’t fit. We don’t 100% know why John doesn’t fit yet but we know he’s wrong. And we know he’s wrong not because of his actions - which again are exactly like if not better than Steve’s - but because visually he is wrong.
(* Unless you desire Ed Grimley and in which case God bless, no kink shaming here.)
Now let’s talk Sam.
First of all I cannot stress how much my white ass is not the expert here. I regret that Charles Pulliam-Moore isn’t covering FAWS the way he did WandaVision. If I find other Black writers doing deep dives on the racial issues of the show I will point in their direction and amplify accordingly.
[ETA: Since I posted this, Charles wrote this essay on the topic.]
In the meanwhile you’re reading me so here’s my take on it.
The key part of the episode for Sam is everything that happens in Baltimore. It is thus no coincidence that those scenes start, for Sam, with him being called Black Falcon.
Yes, Black Falcon is not his name. Yes, this is a riff on how many Black superheroes have “Black” in their names. But what this also is is a reminder that no matter what Sam does he is first and foremost always a Black man.
Tony Stark gets to say “I am Iron Man” and that’s the start and end of the discussion. Sam could say “I am Falcon” all he wants but it will never change the fact that he is a Black man living in the USA. Tony Stark gets pulled over by authorities to appear in front of Congress. Sam Wilson gets pulled over for being a Black man raising his voice to a white dude in the middle of the street. Tony can be a bratty baby about not handing over his personal weapons of mass destruction and walk out while blowing kisses to the cameras (huh, this sounds familiar). Sam has to worry that he’ll be killed if he dares to say he’s not going to hand over his ID to a random cop.
“Black” isn’t in the name but it’s in Sam’s life. It’s never not there. This is what Sam means when he starts to talk about how there are issues with him taking the shield that Steve and Bucky don’t understand.
Again: remember that the show established that Sam is directly descended from enslaved people. His relationship to America is never going to be the same as Bucky’s.
I use Bucky specifically here because, as Isaiah points out to Bucky, “It doesn’t work like that. Well maybe it does for folks like you.”
Let’s pull back a bit. I don’t want to get too much into Isaiah’s history in the comics both to avoid spoilers for those who don’t want them and because we don’t know how the MCU might change things. But even based on what Isaiah said in the episode you can get the general idea: Isaiah was turned into a super soldier. The government asked him to help. In exchange for doing what the government set him up to do, Isaiah was jailed for thirty years.
Now let’s contrast that with Bucky, the deadly assassin who worked for Hydra. Yes, I am 100% on board for how Bucky was brainwashed and forced to do this. I’m also on board for how punishing Bucky for what he was forced to do is not the answer. But do you think for one second that if Bucky looked like Isaiah he’d be walking around right now with his only real punishment being that he needs to do his therapy sessions or he’ll get a slap on his naughty little wrist? For real?
Sam’s not on the same playing field as Bucky by a long shot. Doesn’t matter that Steve handed the shield to Sam personally. Sam knows that even if he felt worthy of having the shield he’s not going to be allowed to be Cap. Not in the same way as a guy like John Walker who only ever had to prove himself to a Congressional focus group.
In addition to Sam’s relation to the role, there’s Sam’s relation to the history. He’s got good reason to be upset that nobody, Bucky included, ever told him about Isaiah. It’s not just about super soldiers, it’s about a Black super soldier. Sam’s grown up knowing about Captain America the Hero. Here in the real world that has an impact when Steve only exists in a comic book. Imagine it for Sam living in a world where super heroes are real and don’t look like him.
Again, I’m white so I can’t talk about it from a racial point of view. But I am queer so I do know what it’s like when we can point to people in history who were also queer. It means so much to be able to say look! They were there! They existed! I existed! I have a place on this planet and I always have.
It would’ve meant everything to Sam to know about somebody like Isaiah. The fact that Bucky isn’t even aware of why shows again how the two of them aren’t having the same experiences on this planet. No malicious intent on Bucky’s part, but it’s hand in hand with Bucky’s privilege that he gets to be oblivious about it.
To that end, I liked how the therapy scene didn’t end with Sam giving a “Let Me Teach You White Folks A Thing” speech to explain why he’s got issues with the idea of becoming Captain America. I assume at some point this scene is coming, but it’s good that they’re waiting. We get to see more of this reality unfold for Sam and fully appreciate it from his point of view. He doesn’t have to hold our hands about it.
(And by “our” I mean people like myself. Obviously there are people in the audience who are already living this experience and who didn’t need to be told.)
I’m going on a bit here but one more point I wanted to address again on the topic of the dynamics is that there is a running theme to the episode that Sam constantly has to be the one to play peacemaker with John. He’s the one most insulted by John’s very presence, but time and time again it’s Bucky who gets to be snippy and make no effort while Sam has to be the one to hold out an olive branch, to make a compromise, to suggest that maybe they - yup - all can just get along.
That’s not a coincidence. Bucky’s the white guy. Bucky gets to be angry. Sam doesn’t have that luxury.
Bucky Is Still A Character On This Show
Look these titles are just a running gag at this point. Sometimes I do things to amuse myself.
Anyhoo, as I’ve said before one of the things SebStan does best is suffer pretty. So this episode served him up some great moments to show the layers of what’s going on in Bucky’s cyborg brain, to borrow Sam’s turn of phrase. I loved how you could tell Bucky wanted to throw up while he was watching John Walker’s interview. I also loved how the line “If he was wrong about you he was wrong about me” was delivered like Bucky really couldn’t help that it came out of his mouth even though it’s an honesty he’s never shared even with his therapist.
Also, yanno, ow. Poor Buck. I’m not made of stone.
It’s interesting to see how they’re handling Bucky. Because obviously he’s got brooding trauma on lock but you can’t make a full story out of that. Sam is a great counterpart to Bucky both as a friend and narratively because Sam’s snark and refusal to put up with Bucky’s mysterious emo loner act forces both Bucky the person and Bucky the character to be human.
Though this is a fine line to walk. There’s a certain element of that meme of “The boss when you fight them in game vs the boss when you get them as a playable character” where now that Bucky is on the side of the good guys he’s gotten a nerf. As the Winter Soldier it was Holy Shit He Will Destroy Steve Without Blinking. As Sam’s friend he falls literally on his ass after jumping out of a plane.
And again it’s good to take the piss out of Bucky but at the same time you don’t want to undercut him so much you wonder why he’s even there. So I did like that things like Bucky’s distrust of Redwing turned out to be true.
(I WILL GET TO REDWING, BELIEVE ME.)
Getting back to the topic of costumes, let’s take a moment to - okay first let’s take a moment to appreciate that Bucky treats his clothes like he’s got a side hustle at Magic Mikes because ha. But then lets appreciate that subtle work by the costume department again. For example:
Bucky and Sam in the comics don’t really share a color palette. How do we indicate that they are connected on the show? By giving them subtle hints of similarity.
I’m not going to spam this article with pictures because I’m probably pushing the size limit for subscribers already. But look at the picture above and the various scenes the two of them are in and note the common points.
In this case they’re both in jeans. The blue accents on Sam’s coat literally connect to the blue in Bucky’s pants. There’s also how they wear their clothes. Note how often both Bucky and Sam have a coat or shirt unzipped or unbuttoned at the same time. Or that when they do the way the hem of the garment hits them in the same place and the same way. They may not have similar clothes but they’ll have similar collars, or similar layering, and so on.
It’s not huge, it’s not in your face, but it draws a visual connection between Sam and Bucky that makes them distinct and paired separately from John and Lemar even without the obvious thing of having John and Lemar in their costumes.
As always, things which didn’t fit anywhere else.
- I'm not saying this should be the criteria but if we were deciding this based on who has America's ass suffice it to say only one of the stars of this show could also do a stint playing Nightwing and it ain't SebStan.
- (Little shout out there for you DC fans. You know what I'm talking about.)
- Hipster nerd Bucky gives me life
- I can’t imagine the frustration of watching shows like this if you actually know how the military works. I know “They’re Avengers” probably covers a lot of ground but even so, I’m pretty sure OpSec means you don’t just blab out all the details of your secret mission before you invite your best friend’s other best friend to do a ride along in an Air Force plane.
- Related - Sam’s a free agent? Didn’t we just establish he’s contracted to the Air Force? Maybe he’s working in more of a freelance capacity but still.
- Two eps in and I haven’t seen Sharon yet which is some bullshit.
- How does Dr Raynor get to take over an interrogation room at the police station?
- I like the continuity that Sam knows therapy things like the soul gazing since he used to lead veteran’s groups.
- From the entertainment industry which brought you “drinking from empty coffee cups” comes the sequel, “loading empty cardboard boxes onto a plane!”
- Look I’m not saying they’re trying to make the slash canon but that scene in the field is right out of the “Person A falls onto the bosom of person B, whom they desire” playbook only Bucky and Sam have far more chemistry than anybody else in the MCU who has been forced to do a similar scene of that nature. Ahem.
- Closed captions were off this week which is odd since WandaVision had good captions the whole time. Nothing huge but still, a few places where the wording didn’t match exactly.
- Sucks to be in a secret organization if you can’t whistle the password, huh?
- I mentioned it already but still: ISAIAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ELI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! More of them please!
- It’s worth it to note when they bring in hero music cues for Sam. Not just at times like when he arrives to the fight on the truck but when he says “Can you accept that I did what I thought was right?”
- Finally, THAT WOMAN HURT REDWING SHE IS DEAD TO ME. DEAD I TELL YOU. I WILL NEVER FORGIVE.