On Friday, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will likely welcome a new Captain America to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It took the series five episodes and an interim Cap to reach this point, but Sam Wilson appears ready to become the franchise cornerstone, as Marvel continues to evolve at the dawn of Phase 4.
Falcon was originally meant to be the MCU’s first Disney+ show before pandemic-related delays shuffled WandaVision ahead of it. Through its first five installments, it’s clear why Falcon was slated to go first; the Anthony Mackie–starring vehicle is a direct response to the universe-altering events of Avengers: Endgame. Falcon takes place in a world still recovering from Thanos wiping out half of the population, while centering its story on the complicated legacy of Captain America, the shield he made famous, and the country that symbol represents. And unlike WandaVision, which Marvel plans to submit as a Limited Series in the 2021 Emmys race, Falcon may have more stories to tell in the future, too; Marvel producer Nate Moore recently spoke to IndieWire about the possibility of another Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes team-up after this season. “Falcon and Winter Soldier is really about dealing with, to me, the legacy of what a superhero is, through the lens of Captain America and his shield, but ultimately through the lens of all these different characters,” Moore said. “And that’s a story I think you can revisit in subsequent seasons because it’s an evergreen story. It’s a conversation.”
But before we can look ahead to the sprawling future of the MCU, Sam and Bucky still face a climactic battle in New York City in the season finale. Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers have already commenced their plans to attack the Global Repatriation Council ahead of its vote for the Patch Act, which would displace millions of people. And with Sam opening his mysterious gift from the Wakandans in the final moments of the fifth episode, he’ll surely be ready for a rematch with Karli—as well as with John Walker, when he comes for his own rematch against Karli—this time with the shield in his hands.
There are still a lot of loose ends to tie up and plenty of story left to tell in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. So ahead of the season finale, let’s assess what’s at stake for the major characters who are poised to collide in the final battle in New York, beginning with Falcon’s many antagonists and working toward our heroes.
When John Walker made his debut in the closing moments of the season premiere, the war hero appeared to have everything he could have dreamed of: the title of Captain America and his best friend Lemar Hoskins working as his partner. Now, following a disastrous series of events in Latvia, he’s lost both.
In the span of the past two episodes, Walker responded to Hoskins’s death by publicly executing a Flag-Smasher, losing the shield to Sam and Bucky, and losing the Captain America title. In those same two episodes, Walker also consumed the super soldier serum, met a mysterious potential ally or employer in Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, and began forging a new shield to match the knockoff Captain America outfit that he’ll likely debut in the finale. This could be the moment that Walker follows the path he takes in the comics after he snaps following his parents’ deaths and becomes the U.S. Agent, the darker, more violent response to Captain America.
When Val (don’t call her Val!) approached Walker just moments after he stood before U.S. government officials in the fifth episode, she told him that taking the serum made him “very valuable to certain people,” and informed him that she’d be getting back in touch. Dr. Wilfred Nagel succeeded where many had failed when he managed to recreate the super soldier serum, and thanks to Helmut Zemo eliminating both the remaining known supply and the scientist who created it, Walker may be the last of this new wave of super soldiers. (That is, until another creepy scientist inevitably picks up the trail some day.) Val’s call has yet to come, but their new connection could signal a future for Walker in the MCU beyond the conclusion of Falcon.
But before any potential team-ups, Walker will presumably seek vengeance for Lemar’s death. Although Walker told the Hoskins family that the Flag-Smasher he killed was the one who killed Lemar, Karli was the true culprit. Even before his first confrontation with Karli and the Flag-Smashers in the second episode, the pressure was already mounting for Walker as he stepped into Steve Rogers’s shadow as the new Captain America. “Everybody in the world expects me to be something,” Walker told his wife before his Good Morning America interview. “And I don’t want to fail them.” But that’s exactly what he did.
Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers
Karli and her Flag-Smashers are approaching their endgame. Their goal throughout the season has been to revert the world to statelessness, unified without borders, as it was for the five years when half of the global population turned to dust. After stealing all 20 vials of the Power Broker’s supply of super soldier serum, Karli’s methods have grown increasingly radical: Bank heists in Switzerland soon led to the bombing of a GRC supply depot in Lithuania, and before long Karli was even threatening the lives of innocent civilians like Sam’s sister, Sarah. And ahead of the finale, Karli has crossed the Atlantic to team up with the known LAF terrorist Georges Batroc in a final effort to take down the GRC, Sam Wilson, and whoever else stands in their way.
Despite all the good that Karli has done by helping desperate people who were displaced by the Blip, she has also grown accustomed to killing her enemies to get the job done, and she has been “radicalized beyond salvation,” according to the ever-perceptive Baron Zemo. Even her right-hand man, Dovich, seems to be questioning her every move at this point, as Karli appears to have lost her moral compass in the pursuit of her mission. Only six of the original eight Flag-Smashers juiced up with the Power Broker’s serum remain, but while their small army of super soldiers is dwindling, their legion of followers has grown ever larger.
While Karli and the Flag-Smashers begin to put their plans to prevent the vote in motion, the Power Broker has not forgotten what Karli stole to fuel her movement in the first place. Although we still somehow do not know who the Power Broker is, it would be a surprise at this point if the mysterious character is revealed to be anyone other than Sharon Carter.
The former S.H.I.E.L.D. and CIA agent has built herself a new life in the criminal underworld of Madripoor, where the Power Broker reigns supreme, and the fifth episode revealed that she has even aligned herself with the likes of Batroc the Leaper. Carter helped free Batroc from an Algerian prison and was last seen offering him a lucrative new gig over the phone. And while we never got to hear the end of their call, the next time we see Batroc, he’s delivering a case to Karli, the same person the Power Broker has been hunting all season. Unless Batroc really is teaming up with the Flag-Smashers in New York to get revenge on Sam after the Falcon lost him some money in the series premiere, Carter could be planting Batroc right in the middle of Karli’s conflict with the GRC to get revenge for the stolen serum once and for all.
James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, the best-looking 106-year-old man you’ll ever see, has experienced his fair share of trauma. The first time we saw him in Falcon, Bucky was in the middle of a nightmare, one of the many he’s experienced as his overwhelming guilt resurfaces from his days as Hydra’s top hit man. The premiere explored Bucky’s attempts to reacclimate to the world after knowing little but war and fighting for decades, but the court-ordered therapist’s guidelines to make amends and confront his past were doing little to provide Bucky with new purpose. Only after traveling the world with Sam, culminating in an adorable boat-fixing montage in Louisiana, was Bucky seemingly able to begin working to find peace and start a new life after his harrowing days as the infamous Winter Soldier.
In the fifth episode, Bucky helped Sam reclaim the shield, but they also finally came to an understanding and learned to work together. While Bucky and Sam casually hurled Cap’s shield back and forth off of trees the way most people might toss around a Frisbee, Sam helped Bucky find his most valuable therapy session yet. “You want to climb out of that hell you’re in, do the work,” Sam told him. “You weren’t amending, you were avenging. You were stopping all the wrongdoers you enabled as the Winter Soldier, because you thought it would bring you closure. You go to these people and say ‘sorry,’ because you think it’ll make you feel better, right? But you have to make them feel better.”
Sam advised Bucky to begin by picking one person from his long list of amends, and unless Bucky is thinking about bringing some Marvin Gaye records for Zemo to dance to in his new prison, he’s likely on his way to tell Yori Nakajima what really happened to his son on that fateful day when he crossed paths with the Winter Soldier years ago.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have become a true team just in time for the face-off with the Flag-Smashers in New York. And once this next fight is over, Bucky may be able to finally start that new life that’s eluded him for decades.
After Sam shared the spotlight with Bucky and even the scene-stealing Baron Zemo for much of the season, the fifth episode re-centered the show’s focus on Sam as the true star of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. As producer Nate Moore previously advertised, last week’s episode was the “culmination” of the show’s themes around Captain America’s complex legacy and how taking on the mantle means something entirely different for a Black man in America.
Sam finally had the chance to sit down with Isaiah Bradley and hear the full story of the horror and injustice he faced when the U.S. government wrongfully imprisoned him for 30 years and experimented on him, stealing his blood to try to synthesize a new super soldier serum. There’s no way for Sam to move past the racism and injustice that Black people face in America, and Sam may still decide that this symbol is not something he wants to stand behind. But, Sam also told his sister, “What would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting?”
Like any good origin story, “Truth” also featured Sam in a classic training montage as he learned to use Captain America’s shield. With inspirational music accompanying his training, Sam returned to his running roots and mastered the shield throw, as well as the required series of cool flips into the shield throw. There’s still a lot left for Sam to process, but right now he and Bucky are the only ones suited to face the Flag-Smashers in New York. Sam has done the training, and his partner (coworker?) is ready to stand with him. Will Sam decide he’s ready to don his iconic Captain America suit from the comics, which is likely the gift that’s awaiting him in that box from the Wakandans?
Sam passed off his broken wings to his potential successor for the likely vacant title of Falcon: Joaquin Torres. The U.S. Air Force lieutenant will almost certainly take the time to repair them, and may also revive the Falcon EXO suit’s accompanying drone, Redwing. In a strange twist of fate in the comics, Torres even has a psychic bond with Redwing—Sam’s actual living falcon—after his DNA is spliced with Redwing’s, transforming Torres into a mutated human-falcon hybrid in the process. But while Torres may take on Sam’s old mantle, Sam will likely still don a new set of wings, carrying his past as Falcon into whatever he decides he wants his Captain America to be.
It’s been a long journey for Sam since Steve Rogers first ran laps around him in Washington, D.C., during his debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier season finale, Sam Wilson will begin to forge a new legacy.