Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
It seems to be Marvel madness on Disney+. Two weeks after the finale of the hit series WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or as fans have dubbed it, TFATWS, premiered, breaking the Disney+ viewership record with 1.7 million households tuning in.
Marvel fans seem to love both shows. Every week after each episode premiered, the top trends on Twitter would be fans talking about what happened. However, these are two very different shows. WandaVision is a fantasy show that focuses on magic and different realities, while TFATWS seems a little more grounded and realistic – as much as a superhero show can be.
Before we dive deep into the show and how it relates to our lives much more than it seems, let’s go over the general plot of the show. Sam Wilson (portrayed by Anthony Mackie), AKA the Falcon, and Bucky Barnes (portrayed by Sebastian Stan), AKA the Winter Soldier AKA the White Wolf (an alias given to him during his time in Wakanda) are dealing with life after the events of “Avengers: Endgame.” Steve Rogers (portrayed by Chris Evans) went back in time to live out his ideal life with the love of his life and came back an old man, passing the shield and the mantle of Captain America to Sam.
However, Sam sees the legacy of the shield as complicated and doesn’t think that it would be right for him to take on the role of Captain America, so he donates it to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He’s also having trouble with his family back home in Louisiana. His sister is struggling to keep the family business afloat, and although Sam is an Avenger it seems like the world doesn’t want to help him in return for all that he has done.
Meanwhile, Bucky is undergoing court-mandated therapy sessions in order to clear his record from the crimes that he committed being brainwashed by Hydra as the Winter Soldier. He is making amends with the people he harmed as the Winter Soldier.
Although the show is called “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the titular characters don’t even interact until episode two, after it is revealed at the end of episode one that a new Captain America, John Walker (portrayed by Wyatt Russel), will be stepping into the role. The two have to team up in order to find out what is going on with a rebel group called the Flag-Smashers that has a few super soldier members.
This group is fighting for the way things were before Iron Man’s snap that brought everyone back. Before the “blip,” as it was termed in “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the population that was left from Thanos’ snap in “Avengers: Infinity War” united around the world; countries began to open borders, and everyone helped each other survive the massive loss that had just occurred. However, when Iron Man brought everyone back, the world began to ignore those who hadn’t vanished and turned all of its attention on those who returned through the Global Repatriation Council.
The Flag-Smashers, led by Erin Kellyman’s Karli Morgenthau, may seem like the main villains of the series, but TFATWS has been leaving breadcrumbs throughout its duration that they are not the enemy. At one point Sam even straight up says that he agrees with what they are fighting for; he just thinks that they’re going about it the wrong way. After episode four, “The Whole World is Watching,” and the mid-season trailer, it is clear that the main villain of the show is John Walker.
At the beginning of the show, it was made very clear that Walker is an excellent soldier; he became the first person to receive three medals of honor, was a captain and led many missions. They really want to hammer home the fact that he is almost a perfect soldier.
However, what Walker has in military skills, he lacks in empathy. He can’t find sympathy for Morgenthau’s cause and doesn’t seem to mind hurting people to get what he wants. This is only heightened after he decided to take the last of the Super Soldier Serum, and he brutally murders Flag-Smashers member Nico with the shield.
This scene was extremely disturbing and jarring to fans; when Steve Rogers had the shield, it was never used to kill anyone, but to protect him and what he stood for. Throughout the duration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, blood was never seen on the shield. It was scratched up, dirty, even broken at one point, but there was never any blood.
This truly shows the contrast between the two men. In “Captain America: The First Avenger,” just before Steve was injected with the Super Soldier Serum, he had a conversation with Dr. Abraham Erksine.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing,” Erksine said to Steve. “That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
The characters of Steve Rogers and John Walker are fundamentally different. Steve is the good man, and Walker is the perfect soldier. Only one of them is truly fit to be Captain America.
Just like WandaVision, TFATWS is full of side characters that have returned to play a bigger role. Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo is back, but this time he is actually helping Sam and Bucky track down the Super Soldier Serum after Bucky helped break him out of prison.
Emily Van Camp’s Sharon Carter comes back in an unexpected place. She’s been on the run since the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and has made a pretty decent life for herself in Madripoor as an art dealer. She saves the trio’s lives while they are being tracked down by bounty hunters and continues to help them find more information on the Flag Smashers.
Rhodey (portrayed by Don Cheadle) also makes a brief comeback, just for a quick cameo in the first episode.
Florence Kasumba’s Ayo makes an appearance with the Dora Milaje, both in a flashback to Bucky’s time in Wakanda and in the current time as they are tracking down Zemo, who killed their beloved king.
How it Relates to Us Today
TFATWS was written in 2019, but it has many plot points that seem to be ripped from the headlines today. Starting off with a deleted storyline that would have had the Flag Smashers release a deadly virus in order to bring the population numbers back down to what they were post-Thanos. This was not confirmed by anyone at Marvel, but we do know that there were major re-writes and that this plotline would fit into the story. However, as we are currently going through a global pandemic, it would have been in poor taste.
The series also does not shy away from racial inequalities, which have been at the forefront of the news since this summer. Besides the clear betrayal of the government taking the shield from a black man saying that it’s going into a museum just to give it to a white man, it features plots like Sam and his sister not being able to qualify for a bank loan despite him being a literal Avenger and there being a Black super-soldier named Isaiah in the 40s and 50s and rather than being hailed as the hero he was, he was put in jail for 30 years and was experimented on. There’s also a point where Sam and Bucky are arguing while walking and police officers interrupt, only to interrogate Sam until they realized who he was.
“My world doesn’t matter to America, so why should I care about its mascot?” asked Sarah Wilson, Sam’s sister, while on the phone with Morgenthau. The show does not shy away from confronting these issues within the U.S. and instead sheds a light on them.
Another topic that the show tackles is nationalism, specifically in the case of Walker and the symbol of Captain America. The show makes a point that America needs a new symbol of hope and that America is going to go to other places in the world and fix them. At one point, Walker tells the Dora Milaje that they have no jurisdiction in Latvia, where he too would have no jurisdiction given that he is American.
Walker also constantly brings up the fact that he is Captain America in foreign countries where it doesn’t really matter. He gets frustrated when people don’t recognize him or do what he tells them to.
The Flag-Smashers are completely opposite. Their slogan is “one world, one people.” They want to get rid of borders and have the world live as one, a stark contrast to how the world is today.