“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” deepens our favorite characters but blunders around too many plotlines

Two Union Street Journal editors discuss the disappointments and successes of the MCU’s newest installment

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Marvel Studios

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan star in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a new Marvel TV series, as sometimes conflicted friends. Following the loss of their friend and colleague Steve Rogers, known as Captain America, their paths cross a little more than they’d like and they find themselves saving the world from a cause they begin to believe in.

Carly Philpott and Hannah Edelheit

WARNING: This show contains some spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Following the immediate success of WandaVision (2021), many fans worried that Marvel’s next show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), wouldn’t live up to the hype that its predecessor created. Two of our editors, News Editor Carly Philpott and Editor-in-Chief Hannah Edelheit, sat down to discuss how TFATWS both exceeded expectations and left too many questions unanswered.

Regular text indicates News Editor Carly Philpott. Bold text indicates Editor-in-Chief Hannah Edelheit.

Carly Philpott: I was worried that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS) wouldn’t live up to WandaVision, because it was supposed to be closer in structure and plotlines to a normal MCU movie. I was surprised because it was actually pretty similar to WandaVision. Of course it doesn’t have the added mystery of the sitcom setting, but it does follow one single plotline the entire way through, while adapting on complex themes that we don’t get to see in two-hour movies.

TFATWS built on two characters that, like Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) from WandaVision, haven’t gotten their own movies yet and have barely gotten moments of significant development. All of these characters are kind of sidekicks, but now we’re getting them as main characters and it’s succeeding every time.

Hannah Edelheit: Yeah I’d agree with that because I thought that we would lose some of the raw emotion and trauma that we loved in WandaVision because I feel like we don’t generally see that in action packed MCU movies as much. I definitely liked the Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) dynamic because it felt like real, raw friendship. Even though they were both connected through Captain America, it was interesting to see their friendship evolve without him. 

CP: The adaptation of Bucky and Sam’s friendship was arguably the most interesting piece of the show, because it was the piece that actually developed and changed for the better over the course of the season. Plus, before this show, they primarily acted as sidekicks to Captain America and others and this series put them in the front, giving them the stage and developing their characters more than ever before.

HE: I actually did like the fact that it did follow that one plot line but it felt very disjointed to me. There wasn’t as much of a connecting flow between each episode for me like there was for Wandavision. 

CP: Yes, I completely agree that it did feel disjointed in parts. Episode to episode, there was some lack of compelling-ness. The adaptation of Bucky and Sam’s friendship was arguably the most interesting piece of the show, because it was the piece that actually developed and changed for the better over the course of the season.

Although I feel satisfied with the finale, there were too many conflicts in the show and the right ones weren’t really resolved. The main conflict in the show, at least on paper, was always the disputes over the Global Repatriation Coalition (GRC), and that felt like the storyline that was least resolved in the end.

HE: I also agree that the GRC felt kind of unresolved. When Sam’s speech at the end talked about how the GRC should question why the attacks and controversies were happening, it really struck the point in me that Karli Morgenthau’s (Erin Kellyman) message was bigger than just the current problem. I felt that her death was not necessary and I think that I would have really liked to see her and Sam’s friendship.

CP: I was also kind of bummed by the death of Karli Morgenthau. Karli was the villain we wanted to love, and I don’t believe she should’ve died. Her life, to her, meant little, but she shouldn’t have had the chance to end it, because she could’ve been the head of the next generation of heroes. And the storyline of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) was one of my favorites throughout, touching on issues the MCU hasn’t quite broached yet, but it was mostly sidelined throughout the series until the last episode. So I wish the show did those two characters and their stories a little more justice.

HE: I don’t ever really think I saw Karli as a villain because she felt more like someone trying to do the best they could to help others and it spiraled into something darker. I think that they really showed her as a dynamic character instead of being simply “the bad guy.” I appreciated that about her character and I think that it really helped TFATWS really feel like more than just a side story for the MCU. 

I felt that Isaiah Bradley’s story was also sidelined. I thought that it was really interesting that they introduced an African American supersoldier that was left by the US government. They tied in a lot of modern elements into the show that made it feel very relatable to the current generation. Seeing those people film John Walker killing someone in cold blood felt very real to me. It felt like it is something that happens today when we see injustice out in the world. I have never really experienced that with another movie or film before.

CP: The other main storyline, John Walker’s (Wyatt Russell) presence as Captain America, feels resolved in the episode before the finale, and when he shows up in the actual finale, it didn’t invoke any sort of emotion for me. And also, I had zero compassion or sympathy for him, so making him into some other hero (or agent/spy/bad guy?) didn’t feel right to me. I’ll look forward to seeing him in the next Captain America movie, but I didn’t care if I saw his story resolved in the finale. And what purpose did Julia Louis-Dreyfuss play, exactly?

HE: I strongly disliked John Walker as a character because he felt so forced. I had literally no empathy or sympathy for him especially when he disrespected the shield. Even when he kind of got a “redemption” at the end, I still think that they should have just stopped his storyline when he got stripped of the Captain America title. When he just kept coming back it got really tiresome and it felt like they were just adding him in so he could appear in a future movie down the line. 

On the topic of unresolved storylines, though, I thought that it was odd they reintroduced Zemo for two or three episodes and then turned him over to the Wakandans. I thought that they were maybe setting up for the next Black Panther movie but I’m not really sure. 

CP: Here’s what I think. I think this show was meant as a segue from Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) Captain America to Sam Wilson’s Captain America. And in that way, it actually did pretty well, because Sam and Bucky have both always been Steve’s sidekicks and partners-in-crime and never really gotten the chance to be their own people.

I think that the way this show went wrong was by having too many storylines. And, to be honest, I’m not sure how they could’ve fixed that. You need the classic MCU villain fight, but then they added Karli’s internal struggles and conflicting motives, which feel necessary to the complexity of the show. Then you have Sam and Bucky’s personal struggles – I mean, we haven’t even dived into Sam’s fight to keep his family’s boat and his constant juggling of family and military responsibilities, or Bucky’s visits to a therapist and his attempts to reconcile with his past. Those plotlines were important and necessary. Then you have the racial issues brought up – also extremely important, because of where we are in the world right now and the complicated this nation has, which ties into the patriotism intertwined with the very title “Captain American.” Then you have the GRC’s various issues, necessary because these are superheroes are living in a post-Thanos world. You have John Walker and his own personal struggles, Joaquin Torres, who disappears very early on, and, again, whoever Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is supposed to be (I feel like I’m missing something with this one). The fact is, this show just had a lot going on. And it’s hard to see what could’ve been cut, with few exceptions.

HE: I was worried that TFATWS wouldn’t add anything to the MCU universe and kind of just give Sam the shield. I liked that we got to watch the journey of him accepting that Steve left the shield for him. 

CP: Yes, all that being said, I wasn’t disappointed by this show. I could list off things I don’t like about any show, but I think this was more along the lines of what we can expect from MCU shows. WandaVision set my expectations very high, but this was definitely closer to my expectations for both. I truly do look forward to Captain America 4, and seeing these characters again, and I hope they continue to build on the storylines they began in this show.

Still, my favorite part of this show was Karli’s storyline and so I wish she’d been included in the segue to the next MCU – odds are she won’t return, meaning she was a one-time villain. But her character wasn’t written that way so I wish she could’ve been among the ones who came back, either as a hero or something else.

HE: Overall, I felt the show was a good transition into the next MCU movie and I can’t wait to see what Sam and Bucky do next. I think that it may have felt slightly disconnected and there were many pathways that this show could be leading too. 

I also enjoyed the fact that the show felt like it could be happening in our world. It covered many problems that we face currently and many of the scenes felt like they happened in our reality. I think that it really added another level of appreciation for the show. 

I really like that Marvel is exploring more of these characters with series instead of with a movie. I think that there is too much action to really see each individual character sometimes. This makes me excited to see what they do with Loki in the next series on Disney+.