The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Premieres: A Special Marvel Roundtable

Falcon and the Winter Soldier poster conspiracy

WandaVision may have wrapped up, but The Falcon and Winter Soldier has just begun. Join Rachel Stewart, Will Johnson, JP Nunez, and Don Shanahan as they sit down and discuss what may lie ahead for Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and Sharon Carter.

Rachel: Well, “Please Stand By” lasted all of two weeks, thanks to Disney+ dropping The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I’ll be honest, after WandaVision, I had average expectations and the first episode just knocked it out of the water.

Will: I feel like my constant harassment of Rachel via text and DM created a certain Stockholm Syndrome in her to watch the show!

Rachel: I mean, I was interested, but I wasn’t invested like I was with WandaVision.

Don: I’ll admit. I don’t do “expectations” to a large level. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t/didn’t watch any trailers. I went in pretty blind and still came out impressed.

JP: I loved this first episode. After the weirdness of WandaVision, this more traditional superhero story had a “what’s old is new again” kind of feel.

Rachel: Disney+ is proving to be the one subscription I won’t ever cancel.

Don: JP, I kind of knew not to try and compare the two as well. Absolutely, Rachel!

Will: I have a rule in my house that we (as in my kids and I) watch anything with Anthony Mackie in it so I was dedicated when the show was announced years ago. Plus, I love Falcon anyway.

Don: I have the same rule with Sebastian Stan.

Will: Interesting you bring up Stan. When it came to WandaVision, I wasn’t entirely invested in either Wanda or Vision before their show and their series made me love them. I was never hugely invested in Bucky (more in Cap’s investment in Bucky) but this show has me already loving what they’re doing with him and he is becoming an all-time fav now.

Don: What helped me invest in WandaVision was diving into some comic homework on their relationship dynamic. I need to do some of the same with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

Will: Ah, yes Don…I think there is an article on 25YL to help you with that.

Don: I do believe there is!

JP:  I’ve loved Bucky since at least Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The idea of someone having to live with the guilt of all the terrible things he did while brainwashed, and of how he tries to deal with it, is fascinating to me.

Rachel:  Bucky is a really interesting character. He’s radically different from the person we saw in the first Captain America film and I hope this series pulls back the layers and helps him find himself again.

Don: I’ll say it like this. How often in a superhero setting do we see two men dealing with their small and large mistakes to this detail and emphasis?

Rachel: The fact that we see him in therapy and dealing with his emotions and trying to find forgiveness—I’m not sure that’s been done in a superhero context on TV. The last time I saw it was with Dr. John Watson in the opening of BBC’s Sherlock.

Don: The first episode put character first and action second by a huge balance. Right on, Rachel. It wasn’t just a therapy session played for “going through the motions” laughs as being a waste of time. It was hard. It was urgent.

JP: I think they’re definitely going to pull back the layers on both of these characters. The first episode showed that while the show is going to have the action we expect, it’s also going to be very character-driven. It’s the advantage of a six-episode series over a two-hour movie.  You can go way more in-depth than we ever have before.

Bucky looks at something off screen while Sam stands behind him
Photo courtesy Marvel Studios/Disney+

Will: I personally love that Marvel isn’t afraid to show mental illness and therapy. Tony Stark did it in Iron Man 3 and we obviously dug deep into it with Wanda. The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier went intimate right away (after an exciting action sequence) and set up Bucky as even more of a tragic figure. Is anyone else a little worried when we see Bucky as the Winter Soldier and he says “Hail Hydra?” I breathed a sigh of relief it was a flashback

JP: I thought he was trying to infiltrate Hydra by pretending to still be one of them.

Don: I can’t say I had that trigger. It played too easily like a flashback, but I get the sensitivity.

Rachel: Going back to the point of pulling back layers, I think Bucky and Sam are both struggling in different ways. The fact that Sam felt like he wasn’t worthy of the mantle of Captain America, only to have it taken from him under false pretenses? And for Marvel to show racism for what it is, i.e. an Avenger can’t get a loan at a bank.

Don: I look forward to those layers of societal barriers and challenges adding up for Sam.

Will: Even when I say I didn’t love Bucky, I still cared about him so to see him killing people and saying “Hail Hydra” was definitely a trigger. I was like “Oh god, please give this guy a break!”

Don: I think it would be a mistake in this current climate NOT to “go there,” so to speak, with Sam, a Black main character. I know people bitch about “politics” showing up in TV or shows getting “political,” but I think “topical” and “political” are two different things and two different honesties.

JP: I don’t think they should just shoehorn a racism subplot just for the hell of it, but if it fits the story, then I say go for it.

Rachel: I think it’s important they dealt with it straight on. In fandom, there’s a lot of “I don’t want politics in my comics and sci-fi” arguments, but comics and sci-fi are exactly where these issues can be addressed and solved (i.e. Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Avengers).

Will: Yes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s head writer is a Black man so I fully expect the show to dig into the themes of what being Black in America is like, especially one in the spotlight who is admired but still considered “separate but equal.”

I remember people on Twitter making fun of the show before it aired because it would dare to address race. Some people even cherry-picked some of the white writers and said, “See, how serious can they be.” But the head writer is a Black man and the director is a woman—two forms of society that have always had an uphill climb. This series will be much more honest than people expect. 

Rachel: I think it takes a lot of guts to do what they’re doing here and it will have a big impact in media for generations to come. Kids will watch this and they’ll see how their superheroes deal with real-life issues. 

Don: I agree, Rachel, even after one episode. Where they are going is tangible.

Will: Absolutely. With Black Panther, young boys and girls could finally see themselves represented in a grand, superhero way. Falcon will now show the inherent “small” struggles Black people deal with every day. 

JP: I think you hit the nail on the head, Rachel. This series shows how superheroes deal with real-life issues, which is a genius way of following up the enormity of the threat in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Making it smaller but much, much more personal and relatable.

Don: Exactly, JP. These TV offerings are showing us small stories with length can succeed where not everything needs to be a blockbuster.

Rachel: I remember seeing Black Panther in the theater and the air was electric. You could feel how important it was. I think this series will do the same. I also really loved that quiet moment between Falcon and War Machine, too. Both are Black men who have lost their friends and mentors. 

Will: Like JP said, both with Monica in WandaVision and now Sam, we are seeing the ripple effects of Thanos’s snap and it makes for amazing dramatic fodder. Thanos was defeated, sure, but it isn’t like he just went away. What he did to the universe has major ramifications. Nazism didn’t die with Hitler, and so on. 

Wow, Rachel—yes, the scene with Rhodey reminded me how Marvel goes with character first. You didn’t need to see War Machine suited up blowing people up. It was just two dudes talking. Character first!

Rachel: And the whole bank scene felt like an encapsulation of the microaggressions BIPOC face all the time. On one hand, the banker wanted a selfie with Falcon but refused to give him a loan, despite the years of good credit pre-snap. This show is not an escape from the real world. It’s a reflection of it.

Don:  Well said!

Will: I like how it dug into many facets of society being manipulated by the snap. With Bucky, it was a Hydra-assisted politician abusing power. With Sam, it was a vile loophole where it was like “Oh, you haven’t been alive for five years… [you have] no credit.” It seems like something a sh*tty bank would do!

Rachel: Like real life, there’s still so much to be improved upon.

Don: And we’ve got two characters who mean to improve themselves with plenty of humility and regret tugging along the way.

Will: I was talking to Don about this the other day: the people behind the MCU narrative have pulled from a lot of the original storylines from the ’60s and ’70s (Bucky being an exception; he was created in the ‘00s) but what Marvel was doing in those decades was revolutionary: introducing Black superheroes, challenging social norms, and so on.

Rachel: And then there’s that “new” Captain America.

The new Captain America poses in costume with the shield

JP: I loved/hated that they ended on that shot of the new Cap.

Will: Wyatt Russell seems like a good guy who comes from good stock (Kurt and Goldie) but man, I hated him RIGHT AWAY.

Don: Give it time.

JP: I think we’re supposed to hate him. He’s replacing arguably the most beloved hero in the MCU. How can we not irrationally hate him without even giving him a chance?

Don: But that’s also their mission accomplished. They WANT you to hate him right away.

Rachel: I screamed at the end. I was in shock. I had this moment of dissonance because that should be Sam—he was the true Captain because he gave the power up. As soon as that kid walked out, I was MAD.

Will: Sure, Don…I’m being reactionary. In the comics, the new “Cap” becomes the eventual Avenger US Agent so…

Don: That’s the thing. He’ll grow and be fine. He’ll evolve and prove himself too, good or bad.

Will: That’s the beauty of TV. Remember Game of Thrones (before it was sh*t)? You could hate someone for three seasons and fall in love with them by the end.

JP: I suspect that by the end of the show, he’s not going to be Captain America anymore. He’ll either have his own unique superhero/supervillain identity, or he’ll be dead.

Rachel: It just felt wrong in the way that moment in Endgame where Steve gave Sam the shield felt right. It was just a strong gut reaction.

Don: Something I’m semi-skeptical on, but it’s early, is the international villain threat of the Flag Smashers. They need a little more definition that I’m confident will come with time and the arrival of the true promised villain. If all they end up being are these smash-and-grab robbers, that’s going to be weak sauce.

Will: JP, I actually suspect Marvel is playing the long-game here. I suspect him to remain the “official” Captain America for a long time to build suspense for future stories.

Don, I think the Flag Smashers are being manipulated by Helmut Zemo who is confirmed as a villain for the show. Also, MEPHISTO IS IN THIS SHOW. (Just kidding!)

Don: I see that coming too, Will, but I’m eager to be drawn into their motivations and Zemo’s leadership. “A hero is only as good as his villain.”

Will: I am highly anticipating Zemo. Like Thanos, Zemo’s machinations had long-term consequences in the universe. He is more than just a villain-of-the-week.

Rachel: My hope is Sam will come into his own and finally take up the mantle and somehow it will mirror that Avengers: Endgame moment. Marvel loves their callbacks.

JP: I actually don’t want Sam to be the new Captain America. For one, he doesn’t have any superpowers, so he doesn’t really fit the mantle. And two, he’s already the Falcon. I think Marvel should just let him be who he is and not try to turn him into someone else.

Will: The character of Joaquin Torres became The Falcon when Sam became Captain America in the comics. They may be setting that up based on their interactions earlier in the episode. Also, how dare you! As Tony Stark said, it isn’t the suit but the person in it.

JP: I’ve heard that about Torres, but I still think they shouldn’t do it. Exactly, it’s the person in the suit, and since Sam doesn’t have superpowers, he shouldn’t be in the suit. It would be weird seeing him do Captain America-esque things without the superpowers that made Steve able to do them (like all the cool stuff he was able to do with the shield).

Don: I’ll side with JP on this one.

Rachel: But Bucky Barnes also becomes Captain America in the comics, correct? I’m hoping it isn’t some big misdirection. Not that Bucky doesn’t deserve it. In my eyes, I think they are equally worthy of it.

Don: I’d be okay with evolution in a different direction.

Will: Of course you would Don. Betrayal at the highest level.

Don: Is there any better level of betrayal?

Will: Bucky became Captain America kind of “illegally” in the comics. The Punisher was Captain America too, haha. [That’s a] long story…

Don: Ha! Long story indeed!

JP: I’d prefer Bucky over Sam, but I think his past and his trauma from being brainwashed make him an unlikely choice.

Will: We have to remember: Steve chose Sam to be his successor. I believe in Cap’s judgment.

Don: This is why it might be interesting to see Wyatt earn it, much to our surprise.

Rachel: Well fine then, AGENT CARTER THEN. (We’re getting that in What If…?)

JP: Well, he chose Sam to have the shield, but that doesn’t mean he chose him to take over the mantle of Captain America. I think those are two different things. I’d be totally fine with Sam having the shield but still being Falcon.

Don: Me too, JP.

Rachel: So then, thematically, his journey is still understanding his worth and what Steve saw in him.

Will: Man, I just can’t agree with that. Captain America is a symbol but also a person of integrity and honor. Sam matches all those things, even without superpowers. If they are going to depict a “real” world, having Sam, a Black man, be that symbol of good would be amazing. And if it is taken away by a white man, even more powerful and tragic

Rachel: Will, I agree.

JP: I totally agree, Rachel, whether he ends up actually being Captain America or just having the shield.

Don: This will be interesting to see play out. Full confidence in a compelling story!

Will: I am very pro-Sam-as-Cap. And not just because they dealt with it so well in the comics. It is an automatic drama. There would be people who think he doesn’t deserve it simply because he is Black, and that opens up a whole new realm of topical discussion. The second major comic arc of Sam as Cap was called “not my Captain America” which is just a LOADED statement.

Don: That’s a worthy story to tell, Will.

Cap hands Sam Wilson his Shield
Photo Courtesy Marvel Studios

Rachel: I’ve told Will this story, but when me and my husband saw Avengers: Endgame and the moment came where Steve gave Sam the shield, I leaned over and asked about Bucky (because that was my point of reference) and my husband said, “No, this is the Captain America we need right now.” After this week’s episode, we went back and watched that Endgame moment and we both misted up. It’s incredibly powerful.

JP: For me, putting someone without superpowers in the Captain America suit is like putting a big S on the chest of someone without superpowers. Sure, they may fit the bill inner character-wise, but being Captain America (or Superman) entails being able to do certain things that a regular human just can’t do.

Will: Interesting point. But we have people like Hawkeye and Black Widow as Avengers so it shows it goes deeper than just powers. Plus, Tony Stark was powerless but augmented his abilities with tech. No reason Sam wouldn’t be able to do that, too.

JP: I’m not saying that Avengers all need to have superpowers. I’m saying that Captain America needs them.

Will: The super serum gave Cap his strength but he was chosen for his heart and dedication first.

Rachel: Steve was Captain America when he jumped on that dummy grenade, pre-serum. It’s about who you are inside.

JP: No, he wasn’t. He was a hero in his own way, but he wasn’t Captain America.

Don: Agreed, JP.

Will:  Of course you would Don. Et tu Don?

Don: What can I say? If I agree, I agree.

JP: It’s not Don’s fault that he recognizes the truth when he sees it.

Will: I say we resolve this with knives as Drax and Mantis suggest. You know the fact that I am kind of worked up about this is indicative of the show’s true potential. Whoever takes the mantle of Cap, everyone will have an opinion and that passion makes for compelling drama.

Rachel: Alright, so we obviously have two teams shaping up here. Any opinions on Sharon Carter and what she might bring to the mix?

Don: Too soon to tell for me, Rachel.

JP: Unsurprisingly, Don is right. Since she hasn’t even shown up yet, it’s way too early to have any idea how she’ll factor into it.

Will: I’d like to know if Sharon was part of the blip. In interviews, Emily VanCamp said she appears in the show as an angrier person. All three characters—Sam, Bucky, Sharon—have personal connections to Cap. I am interested to see how they deal with his absence.

Don: Want is a strong word, but I do hope she doesn’t become a cheap love interest.

Will: I doubt it, personally.

JP: I think she’ll play a more substantial role. This show has already shown that it’s going deep into its characters, so I doubt that Sharon will be so surface level.

Rachel: We’ve already gone down that route once in terms of “love interest.” Hopefully, Marvel learned their lesson.

Don: I doubt they would do her like that too, but I hold that worry. Call that my fake trigger to match y’all’s from earlier in the episode.

Will: True. I’ve heard a lot of online trolls saying Sam’s sister is a typical “shrew” to create drama. I couldn’t disagree more. 

Don: Definitely, Will.

Will: Oh good, you agree with me for once.

Don: Every clock is right twice a day.

Rachel: So, expectations for the rest of the series—what do we hope to see?

Don: Continuing emphasis on character and a compelling villain.

Rachel: They’ve proved they can do big spectacle and quiet emotional moments equally well.

JP Nunez: Basically, just more of the same. Great action and great character work.

Will: Well, sorry lads, Sam as Cap but I actually don’t think it will happen. And can Bucky just be happy?

Don: You rant all that you ranted and you think it won’t happen?  

Will: What SHOULD happen vs what will happen is a whole different thing, especially in Marvel who has constantly subverted expectations over the last few years.

Don: Great point, Will.

Rachel: Well, here’s to a great series, either way. We’ll all team up again after the finale, so stay tuned.

Written by TV Obsessive

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