Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Spoilers)

Maybe it’s just the way that his costume fits, but that helmet looks fucking goofy on him. The exposed mouth area looks like he normally wears dentures, but didn’t that day. It gives him a look like his face is too small.

For lack of a better description, it looks like this.

That’s absolutely deliberate. It’s supposed to look completely wrong, because this is a false Cap.

Yeah, he’s supposed to look goofy. He couldn’t even do stoic, like Steve mastered.
I’m speculating that he’ll turn out to be a total dud combat wise, with staged fights to make him look impressive, but his actual job will be the same as Steve’s original job - travel the country to drum up support for the military.

He looks like the old guy from Up in a helmet.

Yes! That’s what he reminded me of.

That is an interesting point. Presumably he has no powers now, but that one bad seemed to have super strength, so the super soldier serum might be floating around there.

In the comics,

John Walker/Super-Patriot/Captain America III/USAgent was enhanced but with a different process than Steve Rogers. He’s stronger, but not quite as fast or agile, and he’s about average intelligence and moderately skilled as a hand-to-hand combatant, while Steve Rogers was the ultimate super-soldier: tactical genius and one of the most skilled hand-to-hand combatants in the Marvel Universe.

Dude just has a less-than-He-Man-esque jawline, which is accentuated by the cowl and chin strap. If you look at pictures of the actor in normal clothes, he looks perfectly fine. Although he does usually have a beard, maybe to cover up that jawline…

Of course, in the comics

the Mandarin is a genius with 10 magical rings, not an out of work actor with a substance abuse problem. So the MCU is absolutely not above turning fans expectations right on their heads.

That’s true, although,

that was a fake Mandarin. Aldrich Killian thought “The Mandarin” was a folktale, and used the name and reputation for his fake terrorist. In the Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King short, we find out that the Mandarin is quite real, albeit still unseen.

And scheduled to show up for real in an upcoming movie, Shang-Chi

So, Episode 2.
They are definitely leaning into racial justice here, and not very subtly. They introduce a character (from after my comic reading days), who was the black version of Captain America - but the procedures to make him a super soldier hark more to the Tuskeegee syphilis experiments than to Erskine’s procedures for Steve Rogers. There is a strong undercurrent of resentment, and simmering anger, along with a pointed scene with some Baltimore PD questioning Sam and Bucky - saving most of their suspicion for Sam, at first.
It’s also looking to me like the Flag Smashers aren’t quite as evil as they’ve been made out so far - misguided, certainly, but not actually malicious. They’ve got a number of people who have obviously also had the super-soldier treatment. Who got it for them, and are they idealists who are being used? Or am I just off-base about their basically good intentions?
John Walker…haven’t formed a deep opinion of him, yet. Sam and Bucky view him as an interloper; at first, he seems genuinely interested in enlisting them in his efforts, and they rebuff him. Still, he’s got an undercurrent of…nasty, I guess, along with an air of someone in way over his head, covering it with bravado.

I agree with all of this.

Episode 2: Not quite as good as episode 1. Less elegant structurally and narratively. More plotty, less character focused. Clear effort to move story pieces around, with the writer’s hand evident. Still a good show, with lots of potential going forward.

I’m very surprised by how engaged I am with John Walker, both as a character and as a narrative wild card. The best part of this episode, for me, is how cleanly they threaded the needle of showing (a) why military and government leadership would think this guy is the perfect candidate to take Cap’s shield, and (b) why they’re wrong and he’s actually a terrible fit. It’s sort of a revisiting of the first Cap movie, exploring what would have happened if Colonel Phillips had been allowed to nominate a more typical soldier for the program.

Walker is not a bad guy, and he’s not an idiot. Within the very limited confines of his old role, he did well. He’s a dedicated soldier with good intentions, valuing service and trying to put others before himself. But placing him into this much bigger job exposes clearly how his perspective and his loyalties are narrow and constrained, and how he’s way, way over his head as a more independent operator.

He thinks of himself as a nice guy, and to some extent he sort of is. If he likes you and trusts you, he’s happy to be your friend. But it’s obvious that he’s basically a smiling macho dork with a gigantic ego (“I’ve earned this”), and under the right circumstances he has the capacity to become a raging thermonuclear asshole.

For anyone who doesn’t know the source comics, this is an excellent reflection of how his character is usually handled. He’s not a villain — but he’s frequently an antagonist. He makes dumb choices, gets in the way, and screws things up, because his priorities are wonky. In the end, he is usually, eventually, brought around to the main hero’s point of view, but there’s a lot of thrashing before we get there.

The moment toward the end, where he manages to royally piss off both Barnes and Wilson in the space of about thirty seconds, is a perfect illustration. He’s trying to be friendly, so he uses the nickname Bucky. And he wants to appeal to the familiar, so he calls Falcon “Cap’s wingman.” Both of these are precisely the wrong things to say, because he doesn’t get where they’re coming from. He’s not stupid, in terms of practical intelligence, but his point of view is so blinkered that he becomes a functional moron about relating to people and understanding the job of carrying the shield.

I’m really, really interested to see where they take him from here.

All that said, the episode itself is adequately serviceable, kind of necessarily utilitarian as it clumsily shoves pawns around the chessboard. The story’s a bit choppy, skipping key beats in the need to rush through its outline. (Why do Sam and Bucky need to attack the convoy right at that moment, instead of following the trucks to learn their destination? How and why does Walker show up right in the middle of the scene? Why do Sam and Bucky abandon the chase after they fall into the field of flowers? Stuff like that. It’s easy to headcanon rationalizations for all this stuff, but it becomes irritating when the episode skips over so much of it.)

In general, though, the characters are continuing to carry the show, and I’m feeling pretty positive about this apparent new direction for Marvel storytelling.

Terrific second episode! What a great surprise to see Isaiah Bradley – a character I knew about from the comics years ago when I was a semi-regular reader – but I had totally forgotten about him. And what a great portrayal. So far the MCU hasn’t shown this side of America… and America of the 40s and 50s DEFINITELY would have tested a dangerous super-soldier serum on black people first. In the comics, IIRC, it was even worse – hundreds of black men died during the testing, and Bradley was the only survivor (or something like that).

To me, the most off-bit narrative pacing-wise was the ‘odd couple’s therapy’-session. Not only did it feel weirdly wedged in there, introduced on the spot right in the police station, but Sam and Bucky have been reunited for, what, like a day and a half? And this sort of thing is something that would ordinarily come in a relationship with some history, after they’ve been through some stuff together, been at each other’s throat and whatnot. Also sort of weird how Bucky can just decide to tag along on Sam’s mission like that.

I felt like a bit more introduction of their relationship would’ve done a lot to smooth this over; as is, this felt weirdly bumpy and forced. Sort of like the relationship between Kirk and Spock in the new Trek movies: that’s how it’s gotta be, so they’re just stipulating that’s how it is, but it’s never actually established in any organic sort of way.

With WandaVision, I felt the setup took up too much space, and we spent too much time in fake sitcom land that didn’t end up mattering all that much, but it seems they’re going to the other extreme with this. I felt just giving the broad strokes of the full picture in the opener was a good move, it made it seem like there’s a real background to the universe, but it didn’t work quite as well in the second episode, perhaps because the relationship between Sam and Bucky is the centerpiece of the show, and not just another piece of background that it suffices to introduce by outline.

But I still liked it, also because there seems to be a bit of complexity with both the ‘bad’ guys and the new Captain America, and I’m hoping they’ll do a good job of exploring that ambiguity.

The leader of the Flag Smashers name checked Powerbroker this episode.

In the comics:

Powerbroker, Inc. is a deeply corrupt corporation that sells super strength enhancements to whoever can pay, but the process is often fatal or disfiguring, and they use various means to force people who they enhance to do crimes for them. Since the Flag-Smashers are being set up as fairly sympathetic, this might be the eventual “real” villain of the show.

The interesting thing is, in the comics, Powerbroker was responsible for enhancing John Walker and his buddy, Lemar. Probably not a coincidence that they’re introducing them both to the MCU at the same time. Assuming Walker isn’t already secretly enhanced, I’m guessing that his insecurity about being good enough to be Captain America is going to lead him to seek out Powerbroker, which is probably going to lead to him doing at least a temporary heel turn.

Two other things:

I really hope there’s a flashback at some point to Isaiah Bradley fighting the Winter Soldier in Southeast Asia.

“Androids, aliens, or wizards.” I loved Sam trying to describe comic book bullshit without using the phrase, “comic book bullshit.”

This was precisely the first moment in the episode where I thought, hey, wait a minute, they skipped a couple of essential beats in the story. Bucky is a civilian with a criminal-adjacent record, and yet he can somehow admit himself onto a military base, unaccompanied, and then attach himself to an active operation? Really? Then the same kind of things kept happening, where plot points got rushed through for the sake of the setup while leaving out connective tissue.

I get storytelling economy, but not when it feels like cheating.

(ETA: didn’t ruin the episode or anything. Still dig the show. But annoying.)

Based on what’s happened so far, Sam appears to be have some autonomous or semi-autonomous resources – most notably Torres and that airplane (and presumably the necessary support to maintain that airplane). It appears he can take that plane wherever he wants to go, which means he can bring Sam if he wants. Maybe that was part of his contract with the US government – a plane and the freedom to do what he thinks is best for US security?

Bucky can come along on Sam’s mission, because Sam doesn’t work for the US government - he’s an Avenger. He basically makes that clear this episode, when Walker says they should work together, and Sam says that he and Bucky can do things that Walker, as an agent of the US government, cannot. I think there was something similar in the first episode, about how using Sam to rescue the hostage gave the US some level of deniability for the mission.

The exact legal status of the Avengers is deliberately murky. They started out as part of SHIELD, which itself has unclear loyalty and authority - Nick Fury reported to a shadow council that had the ability and apparent authority to order a nuclear strike on New York City. They kept operating for some period of time between the collapse of SHIELD after the events of Winter Soldier and the break up of the Avengers themselves in Civil War, with no apparent legal authority at all. It seems that they assumed a lot of governmental powers during the years after the Snap, and still retain a lot of them after the missing people were restored. They are, to some degree, subject to the UN, since they’re expected to follow to Sokovian Accords, but the exact content of the Accords has never really been made clear. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any sort of reporting structure outside of the Avengers - when Natasha was running things, she didn’t seem concerned about having to answer or report to any superior authority.

So, at this point, they’re a largely unaccountable, super-national law enforcement group, about half of whom are living WMDs. Which is not at all terrifying.