Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - Episode 1

The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the latest Marvel series to hit Disney+, shows promise. It also shows an inability to focus not unlike that of a ADHD pre-teen on a sugar high without ever giving us time to settle in and get comfortable in any one aspect of the larger story. Jumping around quite a bit, "Episode 1" catches viewers up on both Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). The opening sequence, which feels more than a little reminiscent of the ship rescue in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (complete with the return of Georges St-Pierre as Georges Batroc), confirms Sam's role with some unnamed part of the United States Armed Forces while introducing a new character (Danny Ramirez) whose relationship to Sam is apparently to find trouble for the Falcon to solve.

We're also introduced to Sam's sister (Adepero Oduye) who has been struggling making ends meet after her brother (and half of the planet) disappeared for five years only to return and throw the world back into chaos (thanks Tony). I like the idea of developing both Sam's personal life as a black hero within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the impact of Tony Stark's decision making to allow the world to live through five years of hell and then suddenly have to readjust on the fly again without warning, but for what seems to be a very small part of a very short season I'm not holding my breath that the show will have time to give either much more screentime than we see here.

As for Bucky, freshly pardoned, he's working on both forgiving himself and attempting to earn forgiveness for his actions. This includes befriending the father of one of his victims, attending forced psychotherapy, and trying to figure out what his role in the world should be going forward. The episode also introduces the idea of multiple terrorist organizations. We get LAF, who the Falcon fights in the opening sequence, and the Flag-Smashers who look to have at least one enhanced human on their roster. If I had to guess, it seems like the latter are more likely to have the larger role in the story to come. There's also the Sam's struggle over giving up the shield which will play into the last-second twist to close out the episode by introducing John Walker (Wyatt Russell).

Given how the show is determined to keep its two stars apart for the first hour and beyond, I think a more focused approach of having the first episode truly examine Sam's life, followed up by an episode centered around Bucky, with a sprinkling of these other elements throughout, would have played better than the constantly shifting narrative we get here. It would also save the big reveal which feels too quickly sprung here. One episode in, I like the pieces of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier better than how director Kari Skogland and writer Malcolm Spellman choose to use them. With Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and Sharon (Emily VanCamp) still yet to be reintroduced, the odd couple pairing of Sam and Bucky still nowhere in sight, and the inevitable confrontation between the heroes and Steve Rogers' successor, I think it's very possible this will be the weakest of the six episodes. Even with these issues, "Episode 1" is a solid, although not great, introduction to the post-Captain America MCU.

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