The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier CHUCK ZLOTNICK / MARVEL STUDIOS
Aaaaaand we’re back. (To an Earth in recovery mode from Thanos, that is.) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes a grounded look—by MCU standards, at least—at a post-Blip world following the events of Avengers: Endgame. In episode one, “New World Order” (budding conspiracy theorists, take a seat… we’re dealing with enough of your crazy asses as it is), we check in with our sidekicks-turned-headliners who are seen grappling with personal problems rather than a cosmic universe-destroying supervillain.

The titular characters were seemingly done and dusted in Thanos’ population culling snap, but returned to this plane of existence in all its shambles, minus five years of their lives. (Practically the blink of an eye to the 106-year old Bucky, but still.) The show was written pre-pandemic and racial reckoning, but it’s kind of astonishing how prescient aspects of it are to current events. There’s an interesting parallel between adjusting to a post-Blip society and our own return to “normal life” after a year of quarantining.

We find Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon (Anthony Mackie), still doing the superhero bit, now as an agent attached to the Air Force after the dissolution of the Avengers. We also get to see his family dynamic with the introduction of his widowed sister and nephews. Sam’s inheritance of THE shield has him waging an internal battle of whether or not to take up the mantle of Captain America. And at a time where white nationalists can often be seen co-opting Cap’s iconography, Marvel asks both in-universe and IRL: Is the country rEaDy for a Black Captain America? (Yes, the answer is yes.)

Bucky, AKA the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), is begrudgingly attending therapy to process all the atrocities he was brainwashed into committing as the Fist of HYDRA. It’s great to see mental health being addressed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I hope this through-line remains in the show. Although he is coming to terms with his dark past, the former Winter Soldier has several cheeky moments which is a reminder that Bucky Barnes actually has a witty personality. It also reminds us that Sebastian Stan has a criminally underrated range. When you couple the fact that Bucky has long been stripped of his sense of self with the character’s previously brief screen time, it hits that we hardly know him. I’m excited to watch him reintroduce himself.

The premiere felt a bit uneven in pacing and went through so many tonal shifts, it feels difficult to gauge how the show will ultimately pan out. It opens with a big Marvel set piece that caters to the action aficionados, and then settles down into a patchwork of quieter scenes. I get it though—sometimes you just have to push through to get to the good stuff and watch the first episode with a lenient lens. It’s a tall order to set a handful of plot points up in any pilot, and these new MCU shows have the added burden of having to tie in previously established canon. What I think Falcon will do successfully is cater to a variety of audiences, whether it’s the comic-book diehards or the MCU enthusiasts able to spot all the callbacks and Easter eggs, or a brand-new watcher, as well as those who prefer the superhero genre when it deals with real life stakes rather than colorful aliens.

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Six episodes feels like such a short amount of time to accomplish things, but then I remember that such a runtime essentially equals three feature length films. Anyone who watched WandaVision will know the absolute rollercoaster that six episodes can take you on. As with WandaVision, Falcon is lining up a host of baddies, and there’s sure to be a twist in who will end up being the Big Bad.

The premiere stands on shaky legs, because so far we’re missing the crackling odd-couple/buddy dynamic that the show promises. It’s one that Mackie and Stan have in real life (#stackie is a *thing*) and which religious Marvel viewers will remember from a couple of memorable scenes in Captain America: Civil War. (You know the ones.) Hopefully the show doesn’t wait another full episode to link these two up and see what their relationship is without the common denominator of Steve Rogers to tie them together.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.