When Steve Rogers handed over Captain America’s Shield to Sam Wilson aka The Falcon, it sparked an array of questions. Will Sam hold the title of next Captain America? Why did Steve choose Sam over Bucky Barnes when in fact, he was stronger? What does a White Soldier handing over the star-studded shield to a Black Man signify? Apparently, Steve knew all the answers, and the television series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was an exploration of Steve’s belief.
In Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), before the serum day, before Steve Rogers became Captain America, he asks the inventor of super-soldier serum, Dr. Abraham Erskine a very precise question that is going to rule the narrative of Marvel SuperHeroes till eternity. Steve asks him, “Why ME?”
“Because a strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength. And knows Compassion.”Dr. Abraham Erskine
Steve, before becoming a superhero, wanted just one man to believe in him. It was Dr. Erskine. Thus, when the question came to him to choose the successor who would carry his mantle, without a second thought, he chose Sam, because in him, he saw compassion and in his lineage, he saw the future of America. Steve told Tony Stark at the end of Avengers: Civil War, that his strength lies in faith in people, Individuals, and for the most part, they haven’t let him down. The series puts his faith to the test. Will Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes prove to be worthy?
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Summary
The events of the story happen 6 months after half the population of the world returned from the Blip (Thanos’ Snap). Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) now works for the U.S. army stopping aerial atrocities. He chooses to remain “The Falcon” and thereby gives away Steve Roger’s shield to an American Museum, thus, denying to continue the legacy. On the other hand, Steve’s childhood friend and war companion, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) aka “The Winter Soldier” is suffering from PTSD and therefore taking government-mandated therapy. He pleads that he was brainwashed for all killings he did as the winter soldier and thereby has been granted a pardon.
While the two are struggling with their private lives, the world witnesses a new terrorist group, the Flag Smashers, who are refugees living on the conflicted borderland waiting for countries to accept their existence. Pained by government inefficiency, the group takes measures into their hand. They wish to put up a demonstration so that the whole world would recognize their plea and for that matter of fact, these people inject themselves with super-soldier serum thus turning themselves into an army of super-terrorists.
In order to stop these terrorists, the Government assigns a new Captain America, John Walker, as the symbol of peace. Their stance completely destroys Sam’s sacrifice, and it enrages Bucky Barnes who fails to see Captain America in John Walker. Though the duo tries to find out the mystery behind the super-soldier serum that surfaced after so long. With the help of Avengers: Civil War Villain, Helmut Zemo, the duo reaches Madripoor, a criminal sanctuary city-island managed by a mysterious Power Broker.
They attain the knowledge that Power Broker hired a former Hydra scientist Dr. Wilfred Nagel, to re-create the serum and sell it in the international market. The leader of the Flag Smashers group, Karli Morgenthau was both the buyer and consumer of this Super Soldier Serum. Karli had been coming for the remaining serum by Dr.Nagel but in a fight against Zemo, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier, Nagel loses his life. Later, Zemo faces the Flag Smashers group and destroys the remaining super-soldier serum, thereby spoiling Karli’s plan to form an army of Super Soldiers. However, John Walker gets his hand on one of the last vials and consumes it secretly. In the fight, Karli accidentally kills Walker’s friend and mate, Hoskins, which enrages Walker, thus turning him into a monster. To avenge his friend’s death, John kills one of the flag smashers in front of the whole world, putting a bloodstain on the shield forever.
With the remaining folks, Karli plans an attack on the GRC conference in New York City. Meanwhile, Sam and Bucky take away the shield from John and he is discharged of his services by a U.S. senator. With John gone, Sam is faced with the most important question of the entire series, is the world ready to accept a Black Captain America? Sam is in a dilemma but Bucky isn’t. He trusts Steve’s decision more than anything else in the world, and therefore while arresting and handing over Zemo to Dora Milaje, he requests a new Captain America attire for Sam Wilson.
In the last and the sixth episode, the world finally witnesses a Black Captain America upheld by Sam Wilson. The duo stops the flag smashers from threatening the voters of the GRC conference. Sam also makes a plea with the members of the GRC to reinstate their refugee policy so that another Karli Morgenthau doesn’t stand up urging for their rights and existence. We as individuals should try to make the world a better place and that is the only way to stop violence and terrorism.
Major Spoilers Ahead
The Bigger Question – Faith of Steve Rogers
The threat of Karli Morgenthau or the Flag Smashers wasn’t the main plot of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series. It was supplementary packaging. Its real drama lies in the exploration of the question, “Who is going to be the Next Captain America?”
Let’s start from the end of Steve Rogers, where the answer to all the new beginnings rests peacefully with him. In Avengers: End Game (2019), Steve discloses his pleasure to leave his mantle and spend his life with Peggy Carter. In different installments of his appearance, whether it was the First Avenger or the Winter Soldier, Steve had been vocal about the missing element in his existence. He promised Peggy a dance night and he wishes to go back in time to fulfill his promise. Finally, he does so. Before going back, he hands over the shield to Sam Wilson, an aerial expert whom he met in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Symbolically, in that particular frame, one can witness a White American Superhero, the symbol of America, handing over the mantle, the star-studded American flag, to a Black Man. The visual in itself holds enough historical metaphors and celebrates the fight of Black People to find their place in the American structure. Steve was a visionary, and he could foresee what changes Sam would bring about in the society as the new Captain America. People needed to see new faces in American Society and accept them as their own. It was the need of the hour. But was Sam’s color, the only reason for giving him the shield? NO.
Steve resonated with Sam. When he met him first in “the winter soldier,” Sam was conducting a therapy session and was also being a part of the same. Sam lost his friend and companion in a combat mission for the army, just like Steve lost Bucky. In Sam, Steve saw compassion, the same compassion which Dr. Erskine saw in Steve back in the old days. As a symbol of peace, Sam had never killed anyone. In fact, Sam’s stature gels with Steve’s own beliefs like the way he told Dr. Erskine when asked about killing the Nazis.
“I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they are from.”Steve Rogers
In a few scenes, even Sam had used the word “bully” and Steve couldn’t help but notice. To be a symbol of peace like Steve Rogers himself, Sam Wilson passed all the tests. Like Steve, Sam was a protector himself and not a killing machine. Steve believed in one simple fact, that a hero or a symbol should evoke in the people a ray of hope. The belief is that even a common man like Sam could pick up the mantle and decide to change the fate of the world for good. To become a superhero, one doesn’t need a super serum or superpowers, to become a superhero one needs compassion and the ability to stand against the bullies.
“No super serum. No Blonde Hair or blue eyes. The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.”Sam Wilson
Why not Bucky Barnes or John Walker?
Bucky already had a lot on his mind and Steve knew that. Before saving the world, Bucky had to save himself from depression and guilt. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Bucky’s survival against his own retribution. From the start, he wasn’t in the league of becoming the next Captain America. Steve wanted Bucky to fight his nightmares and come out clean.
Other reasons were that Bucky’s hands were soaked in blood. As a symbol of peace, Steve doesn’t want to hand the future of America to a man who was struggling with his own PTSD and who had been a monster in front of the world. Bucky was too powerful to become another Captain America. He was a super-soldier with a metal hand. His superior strength often clouds his judgment. He wasn’t weak like Sam and therefore his struggles for strength weren’t as appalling as the Falcon. The word “deserve” has been numerous times used in Steve’s story, he deserved the shield, he deserved the Mjollnir. And all those worthiness never came from Steve’s strength but his resilience and faith in people. Something he learned before taking the super serum before Steve Rogers was a weakling. He knew Sam had time to learn this core ability but Bucky had already surpassed the phase.
Similarly, when John Walker was given the same test of becoming the next Captain America. He felt that holding the shield doesn’t give him any real power. He thought being Captain America was all about super strength and super-soldier serum and therefore, he did what he felt was right. John let the serum take control of him and later killed a man. A symbol of peace would never cross the line. Steve, no matter, how enraged never let anyone’s blood spoil the shine of his mantle. Again, Captain America was never a fighter, he was a protector, and many failed to understand this simple fact. John Walker also became the bully, the people against whom Steve pledged to fight. Like Bucky, John was never a weakling but a decorated soldier. It was another flaw in his ability to understand the compassion that came from weakness.
Inspirationally, being Captain America was all about the “Rags to Riches” character arc. In this journey, the weakest is the most powerful. Because he has a larger canvas to walk, and therefore, his journey holds more miles to learn the true meaning of life and humility. Steve walked the long road, and now it was Sam’s turn.
Sam Wilson – The Black Captain America
Sam learns about a black super soldier in the U.S. Army who fought against the winter soldier during Korean War. His name was Isaiah Bradley. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Isaiah acts as a hurdle to Sam’s misguided belief that America isn’t ready for a Black Captain America. Isaiah’s past torture and degradation in life fuels Sam’s alter ego, which defied Steve’s faith and belief in Sam.
First of all, why was Isaiah tortured? In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was laid down that the shield had been compromised and had been long operated by Hydra through an algorithm created by late Dr. Arnim Zola. Zola and Red-skull had been in pursuit of a super-soldier serum created by Dr.Erskine. But after Steve’s injection, all the serum was lost.
In a minute detail in Captain America: The First Avenger, a nurse could be seen extracting blood from Steve’s body in order to use it for experimenting. Peggy even spells out that without Dr.Erskine, all the research is lost but it isn’t impossible to re-create the serum. The serum was re-created and tested on many soldiers that included Isaiah Bradley. But Dr.Erskine had warned everyone that serum works only on a selected few weaklings and it isn’t for everyone. It worked on Isaiah and therefore, the shield secretly operated by Hydra put him under test until finally he ran away and started living like a dead person. Due to his experience with the U.S. army, Isaiah ends up hating the people and their government. He never knew that it was Hydra who was the mastermind behind all those tortures.
Nevertheless, it was Isaiah’s disbelief that clouded Sam’s judgment further. In episode 5th of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam and Bucky enter into a deep conversation that actually felt like they were speaking for each other rather than themselves. The discussion is about Steve but it would decide the fate of these two superheroes who are heading into a new future. Sam tells Bucky to stop looking for Steve and his advice because he is gone. He begs him to make changes in his life which he feels are correct and stop looking for inspiration from people of the past. Sam not only says this for Steve but for Isaiah too. He requests Bucky to dispose of Steve’s diary and stop walking on Steve’s path trying to become like him. Steve saved us so that we two individuals can live and walk on our own path and now is the time to lay down the foundation of our journey.
“You gotta stop looking to other people to tell you who you are.”Sam Wilson
Similarly, Sam speaks these words to himself that Isaiah might think that the world isn’t ready for a Black Captain America but deep down Sam knows that the world might never be ready but it is his duty to take the first step.
“We built this country. Bled for it. I’m not gonna let anybody tell me I can’t fight for it.”Sam Wilson
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Ending Explained
The black clouds disappear and like a silver lining, a new Captain America arrives on the scene. Sam has finally picked up the mantle and decided to be the next Captain America. The long-discussed question is finally put to rest, and even the series changes its name from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to Captain America and The Winter Soldier. A moment of cheer for everyone who was waiting for this final moment.
Sam, Bucky, and John Walker together stop the Flag-Smasher assault. Karli Morgenthau is killed in a fight with Sam and Sharon Carter. However, before dying, she let the audience know Sharon’s dark secret who was in reality, the Power Broker in disguise. It was her who choreographed all the super-soldier facades. She also hired Georges Batroc to spy on Karli but when Batroc blackmails Sharon, she kills him without a second thought.
Bucky and John arrest the remaining Flag-Smashers. But they are killed in a transport explosion planned and planted by Helmut Zemo’s butler Oeznik. Zemo had pledged to kill all the super-soldiers and this was another fulfillment of his decision. Throughout the whole series, Zemo had been destroying super-soldier serum and killing all the super soldiers he can get his hands on. A similar stance was visible in Avengers: Civil War.
On Sam’s appeal, the GRC announces changes in their overall policies of repartition and resettlement. Hopefully, it will provide some relief to the refugees who have been fighting against the government.
Bucky Barnes decides to take up Sam’s advice of closure. Till now, he has been avenging and stopping all the wrongdoers who enabled him as the winter soldier. But finally, to climb out of his hell, he visits Yori Nakajima, the Chinese man he had been comforting at the beginning of the series. He tells him the truth about his late son’s death who was killed by Bucky. The revelation brings peace to Bucky’s broken spirit and helps him to bring closure.
Sam takes Isaiah Bradley to Smithsonian, the Captain America Museum, and shows him his own statue under the roof. The figure brings peace and recognition to Isaiah that was long due. Sam finally completes his character arc with a positive end to his legacy.
After bringing closure to their personal and professional life, the duo is ready as Captain America and The Winter Soldier waiting for new adventures in their new skins.
In the post-credit sequence, we see Sharon Carter has been given a special pardon as promised by Sam in the series. However, she plans to use her newly attained position in the division to sell government secrets and prototype weapons. The second season of the series will explore Sharon as the new villain, while Zemo is waiting inside the raft, waiting for another havoc to happen.
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Analysis
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a brilliantly written piece of fiction. In the world of superheroes, the narrative has tried to create some astounding character and their respective arcs. In a superhero narrative, the issues and questions explored are truly a sign of progress on the part of writing we are today witnessing. With a superhero genre, the drama puts forward refugee issues, issues of black Americans, PTSD, symbolism, legacy, and hero worship. There are so many more underlying layers that we might have failed to notice but their essence is an integral part of the entire flow.
The only flaw of the series is its crooked flow. Sometimes, it shakes away from its motives, done entirely for entertainment but in such a deflection, the narrative loses its emotional impact. The last episode for example was extremely hurried on part of the refugee story which was sold off as the main conflict. Only, if the writers and creators would have put forward the hunt for Captain America as it’s an integral plot, the story arc would have been more fluent. Just an opinion from the fan who saw that flow in Captain America The first avenger and Civil War.
Nevertheless, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had some of the best moments of the MCU so far. Some really moving conversation between Sam and Bucky about Steve Rogers was something fans like me are going to play back again and again in the near future to pick up some life lessons from it. Overall, the series is going to stay with us for a long time, like Steve Rogers himself.
You can’t miss this one.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a 2021 superhero drama series narrated in six episodes of one hour each. The series is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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