Just like that, this season of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has come to an end. Below, Ringer staffers discuss the finale and whether it will leave fans disappointed, while also speculating on what’s next for Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spoilers ahead.
1. What is your tweet-length review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale?
Ben Lindbergh: “One World, One People” was mostly a mess that made a strong case for this season being a few hours longer or, in my preference, a few hours shorter than it was. But maybe the real finale was the flags we smashed along the way.
Arjuna Ramgopal: Another middling MCU property that tried to add in too many elements. This show had the potential to be great by focusing on its titular heroes, but all the time devoted to the Flag-Smashers, Power Broker, and John Walker watered it down into something solid but unspectacular.
Alison Herman: Men will literally put on silly costumes and beat up anti-nationalist refugees instead of going to therapy.
2. What was the best moment of the episode?
Adeniran: The conversation between Sam and Isaiah Bradley at the end of the episode was powerful. It was beautiful to see Isaiah realizing that having a Black Captain America can make a difference.
Lindbergh: Carl Lumbly’s portrayal of Isaiah as he grudgingly accepted Sam becoming Captain America. Given Isaiah’s decades of imprisonment, torture, and testing, though, I would’ve expected him to feel conflicted about being memorialized in a Captain America museum exhibit.
Surrey: Not a lot to work with, but Lumbly’s humane performance as Isaiah deserves a shout. It’s great to see such an underappreciated actor deliver under the Marvel spotlight.
Ramgopal: Sam taking Isaiah to see the new exhibit at the Smithsonian. Lumbly absolutely nailed the emotions as Isaiah finally received some recognition for all he had done.
Herman: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is so good that I can’t even be mad at her doing Marvel now. That said, having JLD without swear words is kind of like having a chef without a knife. Here’s hoping that the next U.S. Agent project is a Deadpool-style, R-rated situation.
3. What was your least favorite part?
Herman: The nonsensical rebuttals to the extremely sound arguments against the United States, the Avengers, and the existing global order posed by Karli Morgenthau, Isaiah Bradley, and more. Marvel clearly doesn’t care to actually incorporate critiques of the superhero system into its worldview, or even come up with an alternative to them besides offering a shrug and a distracting explosion. So why even bother with a villain like the Flag-Smashers, who managed to be more compelling than this show’s heroes despite not being especially compelling themselves? I’m not buying the idea that the real way to stick it to a racist, imperialist country is to become said country’s most visible symbol.
Surrey: Boy, that John Walker image rehabilitation moved quick. (This is not an attack on Wyatt Russell; watch Lodge 49!)
Ramgopal: The redemption of John Walker was downright baffling. The man murdered someone in cold blood for the whole world to see. He fought Sam and Bucky and tried to kill them. He was dishonorably discharged. I don’t care if he decided to try to save a bus full of people instead of going after Karli for revenge. The pat on the back to Bucky and the nod to Sam were just too much. This guy is a full-on villain. He’s not an antihero.
Adeniran: How much time do you have?
Between Karli and the Flag-Smashers attempting to carry out their foolish plan, John Walker kind of redeeming himself, Sam delivering an Aaron Sorkin–esque monologue, and Sharon Carter doing … uh, something (we’ll get to that in more detail later), there were many moments in this episode that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Lindbergh: The countless kicks and punches? John Walker showing up and basically being a good guy again? The undercooked confrontation between Karli and Sharon Carter? All strong contenders, but I’ll go with Anthony Mackie making a valiant attempt to deliver an impassioned, plot-resolving speech to the world while looking like this.
Sharon said to Sam, “For what it’s worth, suit looks good on you.” I know it’s faithful to the comics, but I’m not sure that Halloween-costume-ass suit would look good on anyone in real life.
4. Considering the story and characters featured, as well as Disney’s overall business aspirations, which series will have a bigger impact on the MCU—The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or WandaVision? Why?
Herman: Falcon seems more indicative of where the MCU wants to go, simply because it’s a clear continuation of what the MCU has done before. For all the tiresome debates about just how much of a departure it was from past MCU installments, WandaVision—a focused, largely internal story about one character’s emotions—really did deviate from the Marvel house style. With forced banter and incomprehensible action sequences, Falcon felt like a return to business as usual.
Adeniran: Falcon, because it furthered the stories of a larger number of characters. WandaVision spent virtually its entire season setting up what’s next for Wanda and Vision; Falcon did that not only with Sam and Bucky, but also with Sharon, John Walker, and Zemo.
Lindbergh: Probably Falcon, because it introduced, elevated, or complicated several characters who will play key roles in future MCU releases. But I wonder whether the weirdness of WandaVision will make Marvel more likely to take creative risks.
Ramgopal: WandaVision, because it wasn’t a typical MCU entry. That show embraced a different approach than Marvel usually takes, focusing on its characters and pushing them in ways that set up a lot more stories. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s greatest strength was when it centered on Sam and Bucky and themes of race and identity in America. But it veered away from those more often than not, defaulting to familiar MCU action sequences, forced twists, and setups for future properties.
Surrey: Is it fair to say both? Even if The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more likely to get additional seasons—or spinoffs focused on characters who were introduced in the series, like whatever the hell’s going on with Julia Louis-Dreyfus—the Disney+ shows are all part of the bigger picture with the MCU’s Phase 4.
5. What did you make of that post-credits scene, and what’s in store for Sharon Carter?
Surrey: At least temporarily, it means a heel turn not usually associated with the good Carter name, which is admittedly intriguing.
Ramgopal: I wish the post-credits scene made more of an impact. Sharon being the Power Broker could have been a really cool twist for a character who started off in a totally different place. But similar to the John Walker redemption and the light Zemo retcon, this character arc felt completely unearned. It’s nice to have Sharon back in the MCU fold, but part of me hopes that we see more explanation behind her villainous turn.
Lindbergh: Hopefully something that explains her heel turn and makes me care about the character, two things that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did not do.
Herman: Her character seems to completely transform every time she shows up, so … whatever is convenient for next time?
Adeniran: I’m a huge Agent Carter fan, so please keep that in mind as you read this next bit.
You mean to tell me that Sharon Carter—great-niece of S.H.I.E.L.D. cofounder Peggy Carter (and depending what Endgame timeline theory you subscribe to, possibly Steve Rogers’s niece), who fought against evil lurking in plain sight while working within powerful institutions in Captain America: Civil War and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has now become the evil lurking in plain sight while working within powerful institutions?
I won’t stand for it. The post-credits scene; Sharon being the Power Broker; none of it. She better be a Skrull or under the deepest of covers, because frankly, I’m not here for this character assassination.
6. What is the biggest question you still have after this season?
Lindbergh: So wait, what was the Flag-Smashers’ goal again? Truer words were never spoken than when Karli said, “It doesn’t even matter if we die.” Which means my biggest question is: Will we ever get confirmation that a rumored pandemic plotline was cut from the show, which could account for its occasional incoherence?
Adeniran: What’s next for all of the show’s side characters? Zemo, John Walker, Sharon, and maybe even Eli Bradley all have parts to play in the MCU’s future, so I’m interested to see how Marvel uses them.
Ramgopal: How do the physics of the shield work? How does a plastic chair stop it? Please, make it make sense.
All kidding aside, I’m curious what comes next for Zemo. I, along with our wonderful Ringer-Verse team, felt that Zemo was possibly being set up for the Thunderbolts. But he was chilling in the Raft with his butler, tying up loose ends with the Flag-Smashers. Clearly, he has more in store. I would’ve loved a Zemo post-credits scene, but perhaps we’ll just have to wait for Captain America 4.
Herman: Is Marvel planning to do more with its TV series than build connective tissue between movies that are themselves connective tissue between each other?
Surrey: If we’re going to (justifiably!) villainize John Walker for murdering a Flag-Smasher in broad daylight, why does Sam get a pass for killing all those terrorists in the premiere?
7. What’s next for Sam and Bucky?
Herman: Not sure! Time to take a big sip of coffee and check The Hollywood Reporter.
Adeniran: Captain America 4!
(Let’s leave the Flag-Smashers at home this time, though.)
Lindbergh: A bromantic sunset cruise on the Wilsons’ rebuilt boat. Oh, and Captain America 4.
Ramgopal: With the announcement of a new Cap movie, I assume Sam and Bucky will take on Sharon in some way. I’m sure the U.S. Agent and Zemo will be involved—and maybe the Thunderbolts will too? I think the theme of identity was the strongest part of this show, and I hope that exploration doesn’t get lost in whatever comes next for these characters.
Surrey: [Sigh.] A movie, and not nearly enough barbecue hangs.