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Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Ep. 6: One World, One People

Welcome back!  It’s the final entry in our episode-by-episode examination of Falcon and the Winter Soldier.  As always, spoilers abound, and this article assumes you’ve seen the sixth and final episode of the series.

It strikes me, watching ‘One World, One People,’ how Falcon and the Winter Soldier serves as a microcosmic example of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large.  Everything the MCU does well can be found in this series:  the quality and charisma of its actors; the self-assured polish of its cinematic craft; its notions about heroism and responsibility; and the sheer joy of seeing the characters and concepts of Marvel Comics brought to life.  Alas, the series also offers plenty of what the MCU doesn’t do well:  low stakes and a general lack of any real peril or consequences; the glossy blandness of a well-worn narrative formula; and a Game of Thrones-like disregard for time and distance, and cause and effect.  Like almost everything the MCU has ever offered up, it’s an uneven mix of excitement and disappointment:  thrilling, gratifying, maddening, and frustrating all at the same time.  As much fun as Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been — and it’s been a lot of fun, more often than not — very little of it holds up to even the most casual scrutiny, which pushes my particular needle closer to the maddening / frustrating end of the spectrum.  Not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the series, but enough that I find myself constantly wishing that this or that thing was done just a little differently.

The opening scenes and visual set-up of episode 6 made me realize that I probably haven’t given as much credit as warranted to director Kari Skogland and director of photography P.J. Dillon.  Look at this, from the opening seconds of the episode:

In addition to how good it looks — that lighting and composition! –the sequence lets us know who the players are among the Flag Smashers, and more important, lets us know where they are and what they’re doing, how they fit into this plan that’s still something of a mystery to the viewer, all in just a couple seconds.  We hear Karli’s the movement is ready pronouncement from last episode in voice over, culminating with It’s time and the appearance of the title card.  Nice stuff.

Would that this video extended ten or fifteen seconds in either direction.  We’d see Karli at the beginning, literally coming into focus, and at the other end, we’d see the suggestion of a heavy police presence and a lovely overhead tracking shot of the scene constrained by buildings at the margins of the screen.

Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) unfocused, entering from the right…
..and focused, moving to center.

I say suggestion of a heavy police presence because what we see on the screen suggests more than it actually shows.  A television news voiceover gives us further info:  “We have breaking news.  There’s a complete lockdown at the GRC meeting in lower Manhattan where authorities are saying they’re tracking multiple threats from groups seeking to stop the GRC’s vote on global resettlement.  There is a no-fly zone in effect and the NYPD has the area secured for the moment.  Everyone is urged to stay clear.”

A lot of people dressed as police officers in a limited area, with the red background to orient the eye…
…which gives way to this overhead shot, the distinctive red background now at the top of the screen, and our view constrained at the margins by the buildings on either side.

We’ll see variations on these same tricks applied to the GRC council meeting and its members.  The chamber the GRC members are meeting in is bathed in the same emergency red as the front of the building, as are the adjacent hallways and stairways.  As for the GRC members, both in this episode and the last, virtually all of our attention will be focused on just three members:  our ubiquitous Senator / Government Official from the USA, a representative from India, and a representative from the Philippines.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier is full of stuff like this — all the stills I’ve used here occur in the first two minutes of this episode — and for all my howling about the narrative and logistic lunacy that hangs over the series, it should be acknowledged here that Skogland, Dillon, and the series’ editors[1]Roseanne Tan and Marvel Studios veteran Jeffrey Ford were the editors for ‘One World, One People’ usually do a really good job of disseminating information in a visually clear, concise, and interesting way.  (Speaking of photography and set design, you may be wondering why the GRC meeting is at night.  Could be because there’s a pressing urgency to get the vote done…or it could be because everything looks cooler at night, and it’s easier to control the quality of light.  You be the judge.)

With Sam close, en route by way of a new flight suit we’ve yet to see, Bucky is the first to arrive on the scene  — interesting that he’s known to local law enforcement and given free rein to come and go behind police lines, instead of, you know, being arrested for aiding and abetting the recent prison escape of an infamous terrorist — and he’s joined by the fugitive (?) Sharon Carter, using the same Mission Impossible-like disguise the Black Widow used to infiltrate Alexander Pierce’s inner circle back in Captain America:  The Winter Soldier.[2]A Google search tells me this face and voice disguise is called a Photostatic Veil, also known as a Nano Mask.  Now we know!

Sam says he’s called in some backup, and I assume he means Sharon.  The only other backup he could possibly be talking about is John Walker, and given how things were left last episode, that strikes me as unlikely.  Assuming Sharon is the backup Sam’s referring to, it’s a little odd to see her here, considering that last we checked, she was in Madripoor, halfway around the world.  If Madripoor is where we’re told it is, on the Indonesian archipelago, that’s at least 9500 miles from New York.  So either Sharon was a lot closer than Madripoor when Sam called her — cooling her heels in Newark, say, or on Long Island, which would be curious in and of itself — or else she took the Drogon Express from Dragonstone to Manhattan.

Karli, spotting Sam from the air, orders her people to start the plan in earnest.  Said plan involves the evacuation of GRC representatives by two different modes of transport, truck and helicopter.  The helicopter is being piloted by a Flag Smasher, while there’s a plan afoot to hijack a pair of trucks with the GRC people inside.  The plan is a little fussy and improbable, sure — all of Karli’s schemes are a little fussy and improbable — but not the fussiest or most improbable thing I’ve seen in the MCU, or this series, or even this episode so far, so…sure.  Let’s roll with it.

Sam arrives in dramatic fashion, crashing through the window near the top of the GRC building and taking out a Flag Smashing minion, not as the Falcon…but as the new Captain America, in an updated flight suit done up in red, white, and blue.  Now we know what was in the case from Wakanda that Bucky delivered last episode!

The new Captain America (Anthony Mackie) makes his debut.

When Sam gets reports from Bucky and Sharon that no one is moving toward the building, he puts it together that Karli’s trying to force people out of it…and no sooner has he figured that out but he takes a hard kick in the chest from a Flag Smasher who whips off his mask to reveal his face:  Batroc has arrived.

“You cost me a lot of money,” he tells Sam.  “I wonder how much I can get for your new bird costume?”

“A baguette and a few French fries?”

“The robes don’t make the monk,” Batroc tells him — cool line! — and the fight is on.

While an overmatched Sam struggles with Batroc, Sharon recognizes Lennox, one of the Flag Smasher super-soldiers, dressed as GRC security.  She and Bucky split up, Sharon following Lennox, while Bucky tries to get ahead of the evacuation from another part of the building.  He’s intercepted by an official-looking woman with a call for him on a cell phone.  It’s Karli.

“Aren’t you tired of fighting for the wrong side, Mr. Barnes?” she says.

“I’ve done this before, kid.  I know how it ends.”

Karlie tells him that she’s fighting for something bigger than herself.  Bucky reminds her that she’s hardly the only one who’s ever done so, and that in the end she’s going to remember all the ones she’s killed.  He implores her not to go down that path.

“If that’s how you feel, you should sit this one out,” she tells him.  She thanks him for taking her call, telling him he’s been a big help.  The phone call has managed to delay Bucky from his assigned task of covering his end of the evacuation.

Meanwhile, Sharon has followed Lennox down to the parking garage, where the bulk of the GRC members (including the representative from India and our own extremely hard-working Government Official) are being loaded into the evacuation vehicles.  Lennox shuts each truck’s back door after the people have boarded, then surreptitiously places a high-tech locking mechanism on the back.

The trucks leave, Lennox reporting to Karli that the hostages are en route, ETA six minutes, while Bucky steals a motorcycle from the parking garage to pursue the trucks.  Sharon manages to plant a device on Lennox in a kind of reverse pickpocket move.  It goes off after Lennox gets in his own vehicle, emitting a lethal gas that Sharon calls a mercury vapor (“among other things”) that effectively burns the flesh off the poor fellow.  It’s a cruel way to go.  R.I.P., Lennox.

As Sam continues his fight with Batroc, some members of the GRC council are boarding the helicopter on the roof.  Sharon tells Sam he needs to speed things up, as the helicopter’s about to leave.  Sam appeals to Bucky for help, but Bucky’s engaged in his own high speed pursuit with his stolen motorcycle.  “I don’t fly, man.  That’s your thing.”

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in pursuit.

Sam elects to play it smart:  he disengages from Batroc, throws his shield through one of the windows, and uses his wings to catch it and then pursue the helicopter.  Not much point in sticking around to take an ass-whupping from Batroc while the Flag Smashers get away with valuable hostages.  Sam catches up to the helicopter easily enough, but of course the pilot is armed and has several hostages, so stopping the helicopter or taking out the pilot while leaving the passengers unharmed requires some ingenuity.  Sam uses the tech on his suit to determine that one of the passengers — it’s our representative from the Philippines! — has the training necessary to fly a helicopter.

Karli and the Flag Smashers on the ground have gathered at the rendezvous spot.  While they don’t yet know what happened to him, they do know that Lennox isn’t responding.  That throws something of a wrinkle into the plan, but Karli’s not ready to abandon it just yet.  “Worst case scenario,” Karli says, “we kill the hostages.”

This idea is met with doubtful silence and raised eyebrows.  Karli may have readily stepped over the line into murder, but her fellow super-soldiers, it appears, are somewhat less than eager to join her in this regard.

“We’re supposed to use them to negotiate,” one of them says.

“To stop that vote,” says Karli.  “Either way, our message gets out to the world.  It doesn’t even matter if we die.  The movement is strong enough to continue without us.”  It never seems to occur to Karli that her followers might not be quite so eager to kill and die for the cause as she is.

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.  Hold tight, move fast,” Karli says.  “One world.”

The slogan’s call is met with uncomfortable silence.  The lack of response seems to take Karli by surprise, but doesn’t everything?

One world,” she repeats.  This time she gets the grudging one people response she was expecting.  Her fellow Flag Smashers are committed, at least, if not exactly enthusiastic.

As Sam is saving a pair of NYPD officers from a helicopter damaged in pursuit of the GRC helicopter, Karli and her Flag Smashers stop and hijack the trucks with the GRC hostages…just in time for Bucky Barnes to catch up to them and engage.  Karli orders one of the trucks to be lit on fire:  “We need a diversion.  Give him someone to rescue.”  It’s a smart plan, and it does indeed divert Bucky from beating Dovich’s ass.  Bucky breaks off from Dovich and begins attempting to rescue the hostages from the truck, which is no easy feat what with the fire and the locking device Lennox placed on the back door earlier.

Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), Flag Smasher

Score one for Karli, but it’s a momentary victory at best, for John Walker has arrived on the scene, pissed off and looking for blood.  “Morgenthau!  Let’s finish this!”

“I didn’t mean to kill your friend,” Karli says, “I don’t want to hurt people that don’t matter.”

It’s a heartless, tone-deaf statement even by Karli Morgenthau standards, and it takes even the tactless John Walker by surprise.  “You don’t think Lemar’s life mattered?”

“Not to my fight.  I just want the people on that truck.”

If Karli was hoping to somehow calm Walker down with this ill-considered line of reasoning, she fails dismally.  Walker attacks, and finds himself taking on Karli and three other Flag Smashers at once while Bucky frees the hostages from the burning truck.

We’ll circle back around to the question of how on God’s green earth it’s remotely possible that Karli and her Flag Smashing companions could straight-up tussle with the likes of John Walker and Bucky Barnes.  For now, let’s say that Walker and Barnes get the worst of it, with Walker knocked down (but not out, as we’ll see) and Barnes knocked down into a nearby construction site.

Sam contacts the helicopter-qualified representative of the Philippines — he first texts her and then literally calls her — and outlines his plan to have her take over the controls of the helicopter once he removes the current pilot…which he does, using his hurled shield to open the helicopter’s door, and then flying through to take out the pilot, who he drops, still alive, in the Hudson River.  The representative from the Philippines conducts herself admirably, gaining access to the pilot’s seat and getting control of the helicopter in short order.

Meanwhile, in round 2 of Walker vs. Morgenthau and associates, John Walker is beginning to gain the upper hand after a shaky start.  Karli herself isn’t too doing too badly, but as angry as Walker is, she doesn’t seem to be able to manage much more than to slow him down.  She does well enough, however, that she’s able to reach the remaining, unburnt truck still full of GRC hostages.  She drives the truck off the road and through fencing, intending to sent it crashing down into the construction site where Bucky and Dovich are still squaring off, but the truck instead comes to a treacherous resting point on the skeleton framework of an unfinished building.

John Walker tries pulling the truck back to safe ground, but before he can manage it, he’s attacked by Karli and a pair of Flag Smashers, which sends all four of them plummeting down into the construction site below.  The truck begins to fall as well, but before the fatal plunge can take place, its fall is arrested.  Captain America has arrived.  With his flight suit and powered drones, Sam pushes the truck back up to safety.  A drone burns through the locking mechanism Lennox had placed, and the hostages are freed.

A crowd sees Sam do this — all faces of color — and one old fellow, beaming with pride, says, “That’s the Black Falcon there, I tell you!”

A younger man next to him, filming the event on his phone, says, “Nah.  That’s Captain America.”  It’s maybe a little cheesy, but there’s something wonderful about a cheesy moment that works.  I’m a sentimentalist at heart.  For all my criticisms about the frequent squirrelliness surrounding the plot and logistic elements of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the embrace of Sam Wilson as Captain America is something the showrunners have managed with purpose and deliberation to good effect.

Karli attempts to take advantage of the distraction by picking up a spear-like piece of iron and throwing it with deadly intent.  The Winter Soldier plucks it out of the air, similar to the catch Steve Rogers made on Proxima Midnight’s spear in Avengers:  Infinity War.  There’s a pause — I like to think it takes a moment for everyone to fully digest the startling martial mastery they just witnessed — and then Karli starts to charge, but is struck and knocked off her feet by Captain America’s shield.  It caroms off of her to her fellow Flag Smashers in turn, and returns to Captain America’s hand as he lands in the construction site.

Karli, regaining her feet, pulls her mask off.  She looks sad, tired, frustrated, a little beat up.  It’s been a tough day for Karli Morgenthau.  Seeing Sam for the first time up close, in his Captain America costume, she says, “You of all people bought into that bullshit?”

“I’m trying something different,” Sam says.  “Maybe you should do the same.”

Karli looks unconvinced by this appeal to reason, but whatever she was planning to say or do next, it’s interrupted by the appearance of Batroc on the street above, who begins pumping smoke grenades down into the construction site to cover the Flag Smashers’ escape.  Batroc’s not the only late arrival; we see Sharon Carter make her appearance as well.

Batroc jumps down into the smoke, hands Karli a pistol, and the Flag Smashers gather and flee into a “tunnel on Williams, heading south,” according to Bucky’s update to Sharon, where they split up, pursued by Sam, Bucky, and John Walker.  Once again, what would action movies do without empty factories and construction sites?

Sam pursues one set of prints — he can see the prints on the ground with his infrared-capable goggles — while Bucky and Walker pursues the other set.

Before anyone can catch up to anyone else, Karli encounters Sharon Carter.  The two women point their respective pistols at each other.  “I’m disappointed in you,” says Karli.

“That’s what I was going to say,” says Sharon.  Clearly, these two know each other.  They lower, but don’t holster, their pistols.  “You know, when you came to Madripoor, you reminded me of a young me.  I took you in, gave you an opportunity….and you betrayed me.”

“Because you wanted to control a world that hurt you; but I wanted to change it.  I’m not interested in power or an empire.  I have bigger dreams.”

“What?  Like this?  Come back and work for me again.  All of you.  We can make a difference together.”

“You just want me because you need your muscle back.  Without us super-soldiers, how much power does the Power Broker really have?”

Sharon considers Karli’s point.  “More than you,” she says.  She’s a cynical beast, this Sharon Carter.  She’s also, as predicted, the Power Broker, and I don’t want to say I told you so, gentle reader, but I think we can we at least agree that Sharon’s revelation shouldn’t be a surprise for you.

Batroc appears.  “So you’re the Power Broker.”

“You hired Batroc to spy on me,” says an indignant Karli.

“Karli, you know I’m always prepared,” says Sharon.

Karli tells Sharon to get out of her way, but Batroc’s had enough of everyone.  He points his gun at Karli, tells them both he’s done with games, and that he wants Sharon to pay him four times what she said she would, or he’ll tell the whole world who she is.

“I don’t do blackmail,” says Sharon, and promptly shoots Batroc[3]Apparently killing him, according to CBR..  Sharon in turn is shot by Karli, taking one of those action movie gunshot wounds that’s more minor inconvenience than actual medical problem.  The sound of the gunshots brings Sam to the scene.  Still aiming at Sharon, Karli tells Sam to stay back.

“So what’s next, huh?” Sam says.  “You kill ten this time, then, what, a hundred?  Where does it end?  Please.  Let me help you.”  As back in episode 4, while I don’t doubt Sam’s good intentions, I’m wondering what possible ‘help’ he could render, or thinks he could render, so far as Karli’s concerned.

Karli tells Sam not to try and manipulate her — Karli has a sensitivity to being manipulated, possibly because she knows deep down that she’s easy to manipulate — and moves to shoot Sharon.  Sam attacks to stop her, and a fight begins, with Karli motivated by anger (and perhaps shame), and Sam by a reluctance to fight with Karli.

While this fight is going on, Bucky and John Walker have arranged for the other Flag Smashers to be taken into custody by a clever use of the Flag Smasher app, leading Dovich and company straight to a small army of well-armed NYPD.  Live by social media apps, get corralled and arrested by social media apps.

Sam’s tactic of limiting himself to mostly defensive action in his fight with Karli leads to his defeat and separation from his shield, and looks like it’s about to cost him his life when Karli retrieves her pistol and points it at him.

Luckily for Sam, Sharon shoots first, mortally wounding Karli.  Sam rushes to her; Karli has enough life left in her to whisper, “I’m sorry,” before dying.

Sam gathers Karli in his arms, takes her out of the tunnel and flies up to the street, gently alighting like an angel on the street where the GRC representatives and sundry emergency personnel have gathered.  (You’ll note that Sam’s landing is shot slightly slower than normal, giving it a heightened importance.)  He gives Karli’s body to the paramedics, and ignores questions from the press (“What happened to the Flag Smashers?”  “When did the government make you Captain America?”  “Is it still Falcon, or is it Captain Falcon?”) as he walks towards the hostages he helped save.

“Sam, thank you so much, from all of us,” says Ayla, the representative from the Philippines.

“Sincerely,” says the Senator / Government Official.  “You did your part in dealing with these terrorists, now we’ll do ours.”

“Are you still going forward with resettling the borders?” Sam asks.

The representative from India affirms it’s so, that GRC peacekeeping troops will begin relocating people soon.  “The terrorists only set us back a bit.”

“You gotta stop calling them terrorists,” says Sam, the press capturing his words and broadcasting them live.  Sam points out that ‘peacekeeping’ troops carrying weapons are forcing millions of people around the world into resettlement camps.  “What do you think those people are going to call you?”

India asks Sam if he thinks it’s fair for governments to have to support people who were resettled five years ago, at the start of the Blip.

“Yes,” says Sam.

“And the people who reappeared,” says the Senator, “only to find someone else living in their family home, they just end up homeless?  Look, I get it, but you have no idea how complicated this situation is.”

Sam allows that the Senator has a point — Sam doesn’t know how complicated it is — but that everyone finally has a common struggle now.  “For once, all the people who’ve been begging, and I mean literally begging for you to feel how hard any given day is…now you know.  How did it feel to be helpless?  Now if you could remember what it was like to be helpless and face a force so powerful it could erase half the planet, you would know that you’re about to have the exact same impact.  This isn’t about easy decisions, Senator.”

“You just don’t understand.”

“I’m a black man carrying the stars and stripes.  What don’t I understand?  Every time I pick this thing up [meaning the shield], I know there are millions of people out there who are gonna hate me for it.  Even now, here, I feel it.  The stares, the judgment.  And there’s nothing I can do to change it.”

“Yet I’m still here,” says Sam.  “No super serum.  No blonde hair, or blue eyes.  The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.”  Out in Baltimore, Isaiah Bradley and his grandson Eli are watching Sam on television, disbelief giving way to deep pride and approval.

Sam reminds the GRC people that they control the banks; that they can move borders, or feed a million people with a phone call; but who’s in the room when they make those decisions?  The people who will be impacted?  Or just more people like themselves?[4]I couldn’t help but think of ‘The Room Where It Happens’ from Hamilton when Sam said this.  Sam reminds the GRC that Karli died in an effort to stop them, and none of them have even asked why.  They need to step up, or the next Karli will…and that’s not something anyone wants to see.

“You people have just as much power as an insane god…or a misguided teen-ager.  The question you have to ask yourself is, how are you going to use it?”

Sam joins Bucky at the periphery of the gaggle of press and emergency personnel.  He passes John Walker on the way, and the two give each other a respectful nod of recognition.  “Nice job, Cap,” Bucky tells Sam.  They find Sharon Carter nearby, leaning against a car; she’s busy tending to her gunshot wound and refusing to go to a hospital.

“I’m sorry for how things ended,” Sharon says.  Clearly, neither Sam nor Bucky realize that she was the Power Broker all along.  “For what it’s worth, suit looks good on you.”

Sam tells her he didn’t forget his promise concerning her pardon, and turns his attention to a city official as Bucky leads Sharon off, presumably in the direction of proper medical care.  The official tells Sam that they have eyes on the last Flag Smasher that fell into the Hudson; he’s hurt but not down.  “Can you help?”

“Always,” says Captain America, and takes majestically to the air.

The remaining captured Flag Smashers are being loaded onto a truck, destined for imprisonment at the Raft — the very same prison housing Zemo.  The soldier who shuts the door on the Flag Smashers goes all Hail Hydra with it:  “One world, one people,” he tells Dovich, who gives him a confident and conspiratorial nod in return.  An escape from captivity looks like it may be a real possibility…

…right up until the truck explodes in a lethal fireball, killing everyone in it.  In a nearby vehicle, we see Zemo’s man-servant, Oeznik, putting away his detonator.  Oh, that tricky Baron Zemo!  We see Zemo himself at the Raft some unspecified time later, getting news of the Flag Smashers’ demise on his transistor radio and looking mighty satisfied with himself.

Later, in Washington D.C., the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is also getting the news.  “Hey Walker, check your phone!” she says.  She shows Oliva, Walker’s wife, the report on her cell phone.  The two are waiting for John to emerge from where he’s changing.  “Looks like our friend Zemo kinda got the last laugh, right?  Wow.  Couldn’t have worked better if I planned it myself.  Oh, well…maybe I did.  No, I’m kidding.  I didn’t.  Or did I?  Anyway, it’s going to save people a lot of paperwork and a lot of redacting and a lot of shredding.”

Walker emerges in a black, red, and white version of his Captain America uniform.  “Now this is more like it,” says Val.  “Things are about to get weird.  So, when they do, we’re not gonna need a Captain America.  We’re gonna need a U.S.Agent.”  She tells Walker to keep his phone on.

John Walker, U.S.Agent (Wyatt Russell) and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Juia Louis-Dreyfus).

In New York, Bucky takes Sam’s advice and comes all the way clean to his friend Yori Nakajima about his part in the death of Yori’s son.  It’s intensely painful and unpleasant — is there any real way to make amends for something like this? — but perhaps both men are better, more at peace, for the admission.

Sam visits the Bradleys in Baltimore, the ever-surly (and always funny) Eli answering the door:  “What you want, Black Falcon?”  He ain’t a Falcon no more, Isaiah says, but he’s still black.

“I saw what you did out there,” says Isaiah.  “And so, it seems, did everyone else.  I heard the GRC was standing down on those plans of theirs, so you must have done something right.”  Isaiah tells Sam that he’s special — not Malcolm, Martin, or Mandela special — but special.  “So…a black Captain America, huh?”

“Damn right,” says Sam Wilson.

Isaiah tells Sam that the fight he’s taking on isn’t going to be easy.  Sam allows that he might fail, might even die.  “But we built this country.  Bled for it.  And I’m not gonna let anyone tell me I can’t fight for it.  Not after what everybody before me went through.  Including you.”

“Shit,” says Isaiah, sounding cynical but looking proud and emotional.  “I almost bought that.”

Sam tells Isaiah and Eli he has something to show them.  He takes them to the Smithsonian,[5]About 40 miles or so down I-495 from Baltimore, according to Google. where a new section has been added to the Captain America exhibit.  This new section tells the story of Isaiah Bradley and his until-now forgotten and ignored brothers in the super-soldier program.

According to Redditor blue10075 and Games Radar, this is what the plaque beneath the new bronze statue of Isaiah Bradley says:

Isaiah Bradley is an American hero whose name went unknown for too long.

Isaiah was one of a dozen African-American soldiers who were recruited against their will and without their consent for participation in human testing in pursuit of the Super Soldier Serum. Most did not survive. The few who lived through testing were sent on secret missions during the Korean War. During the conflict, against all odds, Isaiah Bradley rescued his fellow soldiers and 25 other POWs from behind enemy lines.

However, fearful of the ramifications of a black super soldier, some individuals within the government tried to erase Isaiah’s story from history. His family was issued a falsified death certificate. And for decades, the truth of his unflinching bravery was buried.

How cool is that?  (Answer:  it’s pretty goddamn cool.)

“Now they’ll never forget what you did for this country,” Sam tells Isaiah.  “Never.”  A visibly moved Isaiah Bradley shakes the younger man’s hand and then embraces him, tears in his eyes.

The Isaiah Bradley Exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Back in Louisiana, we’re seeing what one world, one people might look like, with what looks like a grand (re)opening for Wilson Family Seafood.  Lots of people, lots of food, lots of dancing, and even a Bucky Barnes appearance.  Sam takes pictures with the flirty locals, while Bucky plays around with A.J. and Cass, and chats up Sam’s sister, Sarah, all to the tune of Curtis Harding’s retro-sounding, horn-driven ‘On and On.'[6]You can find out more about Curtis Harding at his website, curtisharding.com.  His music is available on iTunes; the song ‘On and On’ is from his 2017 album, Face Your Fear.  Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes take stock of themselves and each other, the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico.

Cue closing title card — Captain America and the Winter Soldier — and end credits.  It’s an ending that sticks its landing for me.  However shaky the plot and narrative elements of the series may have been — and they were often plenty shaky — when the show worked, it worked because of the warmth and humanity of its characters.

A black Captain America?  Damn right.  Especially when it’s this Captain America.  I love that Sam Wilson is portrayed as consistently, unambiguously heroic throughout this entire series.  Kind, brave, responsible, and capable.  There’s never a moment where you doubt Sam’s good intentions or the kindness of his heart.

Can you help?

Always.

Sam’s not just worthy of being Captain America.  He’s perfect for it.  You may remember, way back in episode 1, the first words we hear in this series are the ones that were shared between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson at the conclusion of Avengers:  Endgame.

How does it feel?

Like it’s someone else’s.

It isn’t.

What that opening left out was what came immediately after:

Thank you.  I’ll do my best.

That’s why it’s yours.

Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Captain America (Anthony Mackie).

____

This, that, and the other…

  • Sam Wilson’s first appearance as Captain America was in Captain America #25 (Dec 2014), by Rick Remender and Carlos Pacheco.  Near as I can determine, Sam’s Captain America suit was designed by Pacheco.  The show’s suit, which hews pretty closely to Pacheco’s design, was put together by the series’ costume designer, Michael Crow; you can read about Crowe’s work on the suit and other costumes on the show here.
  • Captain America: Sam Wilson #1, Dec 2015, by Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna.

    As in the show, the comics too grappled with the notion of a black man wearing the mantle of Captain America, primarily in Captain America:  Sam Wilson #1 – 24 (Dec 2015 – Sep 2017) by writer Nick Spencer and various artists.  Spencer’s comic was more confrontational than the show, with most of the book’s villains espousing an unmistakably conservative / Trumpist philosophy, and the often-polarizing Spencer didn’t bother tip-toeing around anyone’s white male victimhood.  Plenty of characters — mostly white, mostly male — in the comics found plenty of reason to object to Sam Wilson, and plenty of people — mostly white, mostly male — outside the comics, in real life, found plenty of reason to object to Nick Spencer.  What Nick Spencer thought about it all, I couldn’t say, but my guess is that his reaction more or less mirrored our own collective national dismay at the rise — or exposure — of Trumpism:  you knew this sort of brain-dead, malevolent racist bullshit existed, but the sheer scale of it, the numbers of your fellow Americans who gleefully subscribed to it, was shocking.

  • As of this writing in the comics, Steve Rogers is Captain America and Sam Wilson is the Falcon.  Joaquin Torres is also the Falcon, and yes, I know it’s weird.
  • My Problem with MCU Fights, Part I:  Practically without exception and across the board, the inhabitants of the MCU are less capable than their comic book counterparts.  Not just in a physical way as it applies to doing super-hero or super-villain shit, but in every way.  The movie versions of Marvel characters aren’t as smart, aren’t as polished, aren’t as powerful, aren’t as formidable, functional, or dangerous as their comic versions.  My guess is that Kevin Feige, the guy ultimately responsible for Marvel Studios product, puts a premium on clear cause and effect:  whenever and wherever possible, x should lead to y in a direct and obvious way, and if that means leaving some nuance and complexity on the table, well, that’s the trade-off.  It’s a storytelling policy that largely limits the Marvel movies to working in and with one dimension at a time.  With rare exceptions, what you see is exactly what you get…even in cases where what you see ought to be something other than what you get (cf., Carter, Sharon).
  • My Problem with MCU Fights, Part II:  Along with this diminishment of functionality is a maddening ‘equalization’ of combatants, where almost everyone is roughly as capable as almost everyone else.  It’s like a video game where everything levels up at the same rate, resulting in an equality between foes that shouldn’t be happening.  Sam’s no chump, but he spends most of his time flying around on mechanical wings, whereas Batroc’s specialty is kicking people in the face.  Not a fight Sam should want to be in, especially indoors, where he can’t really use those wings to good effect.  Any Flag Smasher vs. the Winter Soldier?  (Maybe all the Flag Smashers vs. the Winter Soldier.)  That shouldn’t even be a fight.  Even if he’s not trying to seriously hurt or kill his opponent, Bucky Barnes has forgotten more about fighting than most of the Flag Smasher have been alive long enough to learn.  Karli vs. John Walker?  Marvel.com lists John Walker at 6′ 4, 270 pounds.  Big guy.  Wyatt Russell, the actor who plays John Walker, is 6′ 2, and nowhere near as bulky as the comic character; based on his body type, let’s put him somewhere in the 210 – 220 pound range.  Erin Kellyman, the actress who plays Karli Morgenthau, is 5′ 6.  She looks plenty strong and athletic to me.  Sam refers to her as a teen-ager, so after shaving a few pounds off for youth, Karli probably weighs in somewhere between 120 and 130 pounds.  Assuming all other things are equal — they’re not, or shouldn’t be, but let’s say for the sake of argument they are — Karli’s giving up nearly 100 pounds to Walker.  Just saying, 5′ 6 person who knows how to fight vs. 6′ 2 person who knows how to fight, the 6′ 2 person is likely to win that tussle.  And that’s fine.  It’s perfectly reasonable to have unequal combatants, and I’d argue it’d be more exciting to see characters coming up with ways to deal with opponents that are unlikely to be defeated in a fair fight.  Some things, you can’t just punch your way through it.
  • My Problem with MCU Fights, Part III:  People rarely get hurt in these fights, or show any ill effects whatsoever from being punched, kicked, pummeled, and straight up thrown through walls and the like.  They don’t even get tired.  Now, I’m not saying that I expect or even want the MCU to be ‘realistic’ when it comes to the effects of violence — super people are gonna be super people, after all, and these are PG-13 productions — but there should be some consequences.  A super-soldier with a metal arm punches you in the face, that should hurt.  There should be an immediate reaction to that, and the reaction in most cases should be crumpling to the ground devoid of consciousness.  Somebody call an ambulance.  The problem with the lack of consequences is that it diminishes the threat, and thus the suspense, of these confrontations.  It’s hard to care about what happens in a fight if there’s no risk of anyone getting hurt.  Most MCU fights, people barely get inconvenienced…and seeing as how all of these movies and shows devote a high percentage of their running time to climactic fights, the glaring absence of consequences winds up being a big deal.
  • Karli and her fellow Flag Smashers don’t seem to be immune or even resistant to small arms fire.  Why nobody thought to just bring a submachine gun or a pistol to deal with them, I couldn’t say.
  • Erin Kellyman, in these fight scenes revolving around the hostages, plays Karli as sad, tired, caught up in something that’s gotten out of her hands.  I’d love to know if that was the actress herself deciding to play it that way, or if it was a directorial decision.
  • I was this week years old when I realized that Wyatt Russell, the actor who plays John Walker, is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.
  • As of this writing, the Georges Batroc of the comics is alive and well.
  • The scene featuring Sam’s conversation with the GRC, from angelic touchdown to his walking away, lasts over four minutes.  I’m not positive, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s the single longest scene in the entire series.
  • It’s probably just a coincidence, but Baron Zemo and Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine favor the same color scheme, black and maroon.
  • John Walker’s first appearance as the U.S.Agent was Captain America #354 (Jun 1989), by Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer, and Al Milgrom.  The show leaves the runner on base with regard to Walker’s mental health, avoiding the subject altogether.
  • Neither here nor there, but in the course of asking Google some questions to bolster my nearly non-existent knowledge of basic New York City geography, I ran across this insanely cool site, Geek Trippers, which lists nearly every shooting location Falcon and the Winter Soldier has to offer, along with notes and pictures.  If you’re a fan of the show, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not going to look at it.
  • A post-credits scene shows Sharon Carter receiving the pardon Sam Wilson promised her, as well as an apology from the US government as represented by our very industrious but oddly nameless Senator / Government Official.
  • Sharon Carter as the Power Broker.  I’ve got questions.  So many questions.  If Sharon only became the Power Broker after the events of Captain America:  Civil War, then how does Zemo know anything whatsoever about her, even by reputation?  He’s been sitting in prison the entire time Sharon’s been in Madripoor.  If Sharon’s the Power Broker, why lead Sam, Bucky, and Zemo, as well as a small army of bounty hunters in pursuit of a bounty she herself appears to have placed, straight to her serum maker Nagel?  I don’t see any angle from which that makes a lick of sense.  If Sharon was working on her own in Madripoor, without CIA backing, wouldn’t the agency have some questions about her time there and her connection with this Power Broker business?  I’m not saying the CIA would know everything about the shenanigans Sharon has been getting up to, but you’d think they’d know something…and that something, added to her off-the-books theft of Steve Rogers’s shield and Sam Wilson’s flight suit back in Civil War, seems like it would be more than enough to keep them from just giving Sharon her old job back, no questions asked.  And whether she was or wasn’t backed by the CIA, either way, wouldn’t she provide more value just staying in Madripoor?  It tracks that the CIA would want or need its own player on the ground there.  Sharon has the cover story and plausible deniability already in place, and knows the local game and all its players.  Why not just keep Sharon in Madripoor in her rogue agent role?

Longest.

Post.

Ever.

Thank you reading.  Please hit me up if you’ve got questions or comments or yearn to argue to the death over fictional characters and the universe they inhabit, because your humble correspondent lives for that shizz.

Next up:  Loki!

References

References
1 Roseanne Tan and Marvel Studios veteran Jeffrey Ford were the editors for ‘One World, One People’
2 A Google search tells me this face and voice disguise is called a Photostatic Veil, also known as a Nano Mask.  Now we know!
3 Apparently killing him, according to CBR.
4 I couldn’t help but think of ‘The Room Where It Happens’ from Hamilton when Sam said this.
5 About 40 miles or so down I-495 from Baltimore, according to Google.
6 You can find out more about Curtis Harding at his website, curtisharding.com.  His music is available on iTunes; the song ‘On and On’ is from his 2017 album, Face Your Fear.

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