So, we’re finally here. Last week was the finale of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” a Marvel/Disney limited series that for the last six weeks has been absolutely dominating my television screen as much as it has my mind. Being a fan of Marvel’s live-action superhero ventures since I was a kid in 2008, it wasn’t hard for TFATWS to catch my eye. But while I came for the heroics, action, and quippy one-liners, what really compelled me (and many viewers) to stay were the mostly poignant and deep conversations about race, status, and the humanity of our favorite, godlike heroes. Key word: “mostly.”
The writers of TFATWS did a lot to highlight these topics and bring them to the forefront, all while trying to juggle several complex and interconnected storylines. While the show addressed many of these threads, the brunt of the discussions were left on the chopping floor due to time constraints and having to compete with each other for the spotlight. To put it plainly, TFATWS was ambitious, and perhaps too much so. There were a lot of chapters that needed closing, and in my opinion, the finale just doesn’t do a great job closing them all.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER” FINALE
That’s my quick two cents on the matter, and judging by the general consensus of the series finale, I’m not exactly going against the tide. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the finale, though. TFATWS highlighted several characters from Marvel’s past and future, giving or expanding upon arcs that emphasized their personal journeys. Highlighting their humanity, flaws, and all, and giving us a deeper glimpse into who they are as characters.
Unfortunately, many of these character’s journeys were cut short due to the limited nature of the series. Sure, every episode was at least 45 minutes long, which you would think would be plenty of time to solidify every arc in the show. But TFATWS didn’t really manage its time well, and as a result, a lot of topics and plot lines were either wrapped up abruptly or just not at all. The finale is perhaps the worst offender, with primary antagonists Karli Morgenthau and John Walker both receiving quick, heavy-handed conclusions that honestly didn’t feel like conclusions at all.
One character who thankfully didn’t suffer from this is Sam Wilson, the artist formerly known as Falcon. Our new Captain America (and believe me, it is VERY exciting getting to write that) had a very important role to play in the series. While his journey wasn’t the only important one, it did tackle some pretty heavy topics, like being a Black hero in America. And it even tied pretty nicely into the other themes and discussions the show attempted to have.
In fact, the main reason (maybe even the only reason) I still fairly enjoyed the finale was because of Sam’s incredible speech near the end. Yes, it was a little corny and on the nose, and some of Anthony Mackie’s line deliverance did result in an eye roll or two. But the message behind Sam’s first speech as Captain America was extremely important, and very clearly not just directed at the government or the people that exist within the confines of the MCU.
But after watching his speech and the events that followed, I was left to wonder: will it even matter? I don’t mean to sound too pessimistic in asking that question. Obviously, Sam’s voice matters. His role as the first Black Captain America, essentially a national symbol, is historic and necessary. And his way of getting there is just as important, reflecting the journey of countless viewers who, like me, probably teared up when the title card switched to read “Captain America and the Winter Soldier” at the end.
But as we’ve all been made well aware since, well, the founding of this country, actions speak much louder than words. As powerful as Sam’s speech was, the finale left us to wonder just how impactful it will really be moving forward. In some sense, this is a good thing. Just as the task falls on the laps of very GRC member and citizen Sam spoke to, so it does on our laps as well. We have to be the change that we speak so much about.
All around the U.S. and the rest of the world, there are minority groups that are speaking louder and taking even more action to make their presence and suffering known. This is a fact reflected by Karli Morgenthau and her group of Flag Smashers, a stifled group I wish the series would have done a bit of a better job establishing over the span of six episodes.
We truly don’t know if Karli’s death was in vain or if people will truly listen to Captain America’s words and fight toward a common goal together. That’s something I’m sure future Captain America projects, and MCU projects in general, will likely address. My issue with the finale, and why I find myself questioning the lasting power of Sam’s speech, is that it seems to be preaching to a choir that isn’t listening.
The government seemed to be rolling back a lot of the decisions that Karli and the Flag Smashers fought for. An act that can be seen as proof of a hopeful future for the MCU. That perhaps the events of TFATWS would usher in some real change in this world. However, several scenes after Sam’s speech seem to suggest that things in the world might not be very different from how they were at the beginning of the series.
One such scene is the transformation of John Walker into the U.S. Agent. A fitting name referencing Walker’s comic book persona, and a darker, more militant version of Captain America. The scene is quick, but it manages to completely change the impact of Walker’s apparent redemption scene in my eyes, which was already pretty rushed, lasting only a moment and presumably put there to prove his ability to even be redeemed. It’s confusing then, that Walker would choose to join forces with the people he blamed for making him the way he is, then don a suit similar to the one they gave him.
If the aim of John Walker’s role during the GRC attack was to show that anyone can be redeemed if they choose to be, and that he could make the right decision like Lemar thought he could, why show us a scene directly after that seems to prove otherwise? That he’s still putting himself in a position to make questionable decisions?
Another example is how the series treats Sharon Carter. Reintroducing her for the first time since Captain America: Civil War was great. But afterward, the show proceeded to use her as a catalyst for the idea that superheroes were given softer repercussions for going against the Sokovia Accords than regular folks, and only to cast her plight to the side. That is, of course, until the finale, where it’s revealed that Sharon Carter was the Power Broker all along. A shocking revelation that was just sort of placed in the middle of the finale’s most intense sequence. It’s cool that Sharon gets to play a bigger role in the MCU, and as the Power Broker (who has now infiltrated the U.S. Government) she’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. But it’s a shame that the series didn’t really try to further address the consequences of Civil War. Instead, the finale just seemed to accelerate her descent into villainy.
Honestly, I didn’t hate the TFATWS finale. In fact, I liked it quite a bit. The action was incredible as always, and while much of the episode after Sam’s speech tends to drag (save for that heartwarming scene at Sarah’s), his speech was amazing in principle. Seeing him in his Captain America suit was absolutely breathtaking. The main issue with the finale, and the show in general, is that it just tries to do too much.
There are many important topics and discussions being had in this show, and I can’t tell you which ones I’d rather they focused more on, but they really just needed to choose. In the middle of all of this is Sam’s speech. A speech that leaves us hopeful that things will change during a finale of a show that doesn’t really wrap things up neatly enough to suggest that.
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