Sam Wilson has a brand-new suit, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its new Captain America. (No, not you, John Walker.) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concluded its first season on Friday with a bang, serving up nearly 50 minutes of action as it introduced Sam in his iconic Captain America wingsuit from the comics in a final confrontation with Karli Morgenthau and her Flag-Smashers.
The finale, “One World, One People,” was one of the weaker episodes of the season, with a bit of a Marvel™ formulaic finish that saw a season overstuffed with plotlines tied together hastily and all too neatly. The writers seemingly had no choice but to give way to the least compelling of its many antagonists, the Flag-Smashers. (This recapper honestly didn’t realize most of them had actual names until this episode.) Regardless of your opinion on whether the series stuck its landing, Falcon undeniably marked a significant turning point for the MCU. It changed the narrative around Captain America, finally replacing Steve Rogers with Sam Wilson. Marvel has so often struggled with representation, with nearly all of its 20-plus films starring white men in leading roles. Yet in Phase 4, which began earlier this year with Disney+’s WandaVision, the studio is making a concerted effort to course-correct its past failures with diversity and inclusion. WandaVision was somehow just the second female-led MCU project (not including the canceled-too-soon ABC series Agent Carter); the delayed Black Widow film will be the third, while Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will feature its first Asian lead. And now, Falcon has anointed the MCU’s second Black lead, following 2018’s Black Panther.
All that aside, there’s still our final Falcon recap to cover. As we’ve done the past six weeks, we’ll debrief another plot-heavy installment that saw Sam confront Karli in New York City. Then, we’ll conclude with a closer look at several characters that finish the season with new jobs—or should we say mantles?
Similar to the conclusion of WandaVision, Falcon wastes little time jumping into the action in the finale. Within moments, Bucky and Sharon Carter are on scene assessing the hostage situation taking place ahead of the GRC’s vote on the Patch Act. Not long after, Sam glides into the building wearing his new Captain America wingsuit, courtesy of the Wakandans.
Karli’s plan is to essentially divide the heroes and misdirect the hostages, as several of her Flag-Smashers disguise themselves as security, military, or pilots. Bucky and Sharon split up while Sam and Georges Batroc trade kicks and lackluster quips with each other in a rematch of their fight in the premiere. Karli’s crew shepherds the clueless GRC senators into police trucks for Karli to intercept elsewhere. Before long, Sharon rather gruesomely kills a Flag-Smasher, Bucky faces Karli, and Sam and his trusty Redwing drone—back from the dead after Karli destroyed an earlier version of it in a previous encounter—take to the skies in pursuit of a helicopter containing more hostages. Sam eventually frees the passengers and even saves another police helicopter in the process, much to the delight of many observing New Yorkers. (Marvel absolutely loves having New York civilians treating these major fight scenes like a spectator sport, so long as they aren’t being chased by aliens; Falcon goes one step further with every New Yorker either applauding Sam or whipping out their phones to take videos, seemingly unfazed by all the explosions and crashing helicopters around them.)
Meanwhile, Bucky is outnumbered by Karli and Co. as he attempts to free the remaining hostages. But John Walker soon reemerges in his old Captain America getup to confront Karli and avenge his fallen partner, Lemar Hoskins. Within a matter of seconds, his knockoff Cap shield is crushed as if it were little more than an aluminum can. (This is a pretty bad look for Walker after he spent all that time adorning it with paint and medals.) But only a couple episodes removed from his fall from grace, when he publicly executed a Flag-Smasher, Walker gets his moment of redemption; given the choice between attacking Karli and saving one of the hostage trucks, Walker chooses the latter, grabbing ahold of the vehicle just as it’s falling into a construction site—allowing Sam enough time to swoop in and bring it back to safety.
In the chase that follows, Carter locates Karli, and it’s clear that this isn’t the first time they’ve crossed paths. Carter is finally revealed to be the Power Broker. “You know, when you came to Madripoor, you reminded me of a young me,” Carter tells Karli, as she lowers her gun. “I took you in, gave you an opportunity, and you betrayed me.”
“You wanted to control a world that hurt you, but I wanted to change it,” Karli replies. “I’m not interested in power or an empire. I have bigger dreams.”
Carter tries to convince Karli to return to her service, forgiving her for stealing her supply of super-soldier serum. But Karli refuses. Batroc, who’d been secretly hired to work with the Flag-Smashers by the Power Broker, stumbles in to finish his betrayal of Karli—but he evidently never knew that Sharon was the Power Broker, and foolishly tries to blackmail her on the spot. Carter shoots and kills him, while Karli simultaneously shoots Carter in the waist. Sam arrives just when Karli is about to finish off Carter, and makes one final attempt to prevent her from going further down the dark path she has taken. Sam refuses to fight, but his act of mercy fails to sway Karli. Just as she’s about to gun down Sam, Carter, now briefly on her feet, shoots and kills Karli.
Sam flies back to the police holding Karli in his arms and makes a speech to three GRC senators in an attempt to convince them to reconsider their votes on the act that Karli died fighting against—one that would reset the world’s borders and displace millions. The speech, all caught on camera and broadcast over the news, also serves as Sam’s first public address as the new Captain America. “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,” Sam says. “This isn’t about easy decisions, Senator.”
“You just don’t understand,” the senator dismissively replies.
“I’m a Black man wearing the stars and stripes—what don’t I understand?” Sam responds. “Every time I pick this thing up, 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. No super serum, no blonde hair, or blue eyes. The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.”
Sam’s speech feels like a direct response to Isaiah Bradley, who told Sam that the country would “never let a Black man be Captain America,” and that “even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be [him].” Sam was betrayed by that very same dismissive senator earlier in the season when he gave the shield to Walker, and then learned Bradley’s traumatic story. After witnessing what the GRC’s actions have done to people across the world firsthand, Sam is well aware of the hypocrisy and failure of the government. Sam doesn’t want the sacrifices of those like Isaiah, or even Karli, to go in vain. This one particularly oblivious senator is so fixated on Karli’s misguided methods that he fails to consider why Karli and her crew were fighting in the first place.
The speech must’ve worked because soon after, the GRC scraps the Patch Act and Falcon begins to tie up some loose ends. John Walker gets a new costume, as he meets with Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and becomes the U.S. Agent; Baron Zemo gets the last laugh from prison, as his loyal old butler detonates a bomb that kills three of the surviving Flag-Smashers; Yori Nakajima gets closure, as Bucky crosses off a name in his list of amends by finally telling Yori about his part in the death of his son. And Sam pays a final visit to Isaiah Bradley and his grandson Eli, and provides Isaiah (played by the great Carl Lumbly) with at least a small piece of the recognition he deserves for his heroics in the war and the sacrifices he made. Although Isaiah is owed a lot more for everything he endured at the hands of the U.S. government, Sam has arranged for a special Isaiah Bradley section at the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian. This enshrines Bradley as a part of the mantle’s complicated legacy, and ensures his story will never be forgotten.
To conclude the season, Sam and Bucky return to Delacroix, Louisiana, to celebrate with Sam’s sister Sarah and her kids. The duo has come full circle after butting heads in previous films and most of this series, but both have now finally found new purpose, even in this post-Blip world without their mutual friend Steve Rogers to guide them. In Bucky’s case, it’s happiness.
New Job Titles
John Walker, a temperamental super soldier that has not always remained composed under stressful situations, actually manages to prove himself useful in the final confrontation with the Flag-Smashers. (And for a guy that just got his arm broken and shield stolen by Sam and Bucky, he’s very forgiving and still seems desperate to be friends with the pair.) When faced with the choice of chasing after Karli and avenging Lemar, or saving a van full of hostages, Walker makes the right decision for once: He sacrifices his own interests to prevent innocent people from falling to their imminent deaths.
Walker ultimately concedes the title of Captain America to Sam without a fight, but it doesn’t take long for him to find a new position. Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) makes a brief yet triumphant return and presents Walker with a new suit of his own. “Things are about to get weird,” Valentina tells him. “So, when they do, we’re not gonna need a Captain America. We’re gonna need a U.S. Agent. Keep your phone on.”
Despite playing it cool for much of the episode (save for his corny use of an Abraham Lincoln quote that probably made Bucky want to hurl), Walker can barely contain his excitement when appointed to this role—just look at that grin on his face in the screenshot above. Walker has finally donned his U.S. Agent costume and moniker from the comic books, and his partnership with Valentina marks a new beginning for him in the MCU—it seems likely that we’ll see actor Wyatt Russell in future Marvel series or films. In the comics, the U.S. Agent is a more violent version of Captain America, who toes the line between hero and villain. We’ve already seen as much from Walker in Falcon after he brutally executed a Flag-Smasher in one of the more shocking moments of the season.
From the moment Walker was ushered in as the new Captain America in the closing moments of the premiere, it was clear the title wouldn’t stick for long. It remains to be seen what “weird” future may be in store for his character, but if it means Louis-Dreyfus is along for the ride, it’s certainly a welcome one.
It was Sharon Carter all along. Though Falcon had teased Carter’s secret as early as the third episode, “Power Broker,” when she made her series debut, it waited until the finale to reveal her alter ego as the queen of Madripoor’s criminal underworld. While Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter played only a minor part for the majority of the season, the final episode’s post-credits scene signals a much bigger role for her in the future.
The first time Carter appears in the finale, she’s disguised as a different person entirely; Carter conceals her true self by using a transformative mask that might even impress a shape-shifting Skrull. (This would explain why everyone in Madripoor seems to think the Power Broker is a man, and why Batroc threatens to reveal her identity to the world in his poorly executed attempt at blackmail.) And despite the audience discovering Carter’s double life as the Power Broker, Sam and the U.S. government never learn of her secret identity. With Batroc and Karli dead, there’s no way Dr. Wilfred Nagel’s involvement in recreating the super soldier serum can be traced back to her. In the post-credits sequence, the government not only provides Carter with a full pardon for her past aid of then-fugitive Steve Rogers in Captain America: Civil War, but gives her back her old job in the CIA.
The newly reinstated Agent Carter barely makes it out the door before she begins setting up deals as the Power Broker. “Start lining up our buyers,” she commands over the phone. “Super soldiers might be off the menu, but we’re about to have full access to government secrets, prototype weapons, you name it. Should be something for everyone.” If Falcon returns for a second season, as Marvel producer Nate Moore recently suggested as a possibility, Carter could very well be the show’s next main villain.
Agent Carter is back home after spending years on the run as a fugitive, and following a major departure from the steadfast hero who once sacrificed her career and her personal life to help out superheroes like Captain America, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier. With all of the power she’s attained in Madripoor at her disposal, along with the newly-obtained access to the U.S. government and its secrets, Carter could be a compelling—and formidable—villain if the series returns in the future.
From the moment Sam gave up the shield at the start of the series, it was always a bit of a foregone conclusion that the iconic symbol would wind up back in his hands by the end of it. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s main theme figured to be about Sam’s processing of the past so he could eventually step into the Captain America wingsuit. Phase 4 continues to be about loss and, eventually, recovery following the trauma caused by Thanos and the Infinity Saga.
Despite the obvious outcome, the moment Sam flies into the finale wearing his new costume is still a triumphant one, and one of the highlights of the season. It’s been a long time since Steve Rogers passed on his shield in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, but Sam finally accepted the mantle of Captain America—and in doing so, becomes one of the most important characters in the MCU as it moves forward with new stars and leading superheroes.
As Sam and Bucky walk off into the sunset to conclude the season, the title sequence emerges one last time, but with a crucial adjustment: Captain America and the Winter Soldier. It still remains to be seen where the mysterious Phase 4 is heading, and what majorly ambitious crossover event lies ahead. But wherever that future takes us, Sam Wilson—superpowers or not—will finally be leading the way.