This post contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Near the beginning of the series premiere, we see Sam give a speech in front of a giant poster of Captain America. Our assumption is that this is in the exhibit in the Smithsonian that we've seen in earlier Captain America films. In it we see memorabilia of Steve's life from the modern era to all the way back when he was lying on his registration card in an attempt to go fight the Nazis. The speech is as follows:
“We need new heroes. Ones suited for the times we’re in. Symbols are nothing without the women and men that give them meaning. And this thing… I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater symbol. But it’s more about the man who propped it up. And he’s gone. So today we honor Steve’s legacy, but also? We look to the future. Thank you, Captain America. This belongs to you.”
It's an exceptional speech from a man who, for all intents and purposes, had become as much of a brother to Steve as Bucky Barnes. While Sam's wrong in his belief that he is not yet meant to carry that shield, he's right in all the words he uses to honor his lost friend. Government officials on site agree with teary-eyed nods. They thank Sam for his tribute and they speak in favor of the United States of America's favorite son. There's just one problem with that.
The United States Government canonically hated Steve Rogers for 7 years (13, if you count the Blip, where enemies of the state didn't matter) before his disappearance.
Folks who misunderstand Captain America as a beacon of Nationalistic drivel believe him to be the government's puppet (that's John Walker, actually), but as both the comics and his stand-alone films prove — that couldn't be further from the truth. For all its flaws and propaganda-level depictions of the government Disney has, at the very least, gotten that part correct. Steve Rogers never, not once a day in his life, followed through on an order he didn't believe in. He was never a government lackey. He's the idealogical belief of a true American. You know, the one we put on the tin. One that embodies all of the things the Statue of Liberty actually says, and takes things like "land of the free" at their face value rather what many Americans really mean it as (land of the free so long as you're a white dude). In his famous monologue (delivered perfectly as a quote attributed to Peggy Carter rather than Steve in the MCU), Rogers said this:
Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — "No, you move."
And that's why Steve Rogers "died" an enemy of the state.
We'll undoubtedly hear nonsense about how he was pardoned for saving the world, and how the real patriots were always rooting for him, and that was all just one biiiigggg misunderstanding. But make no mistake — the American government hated Steve Rogers. Tony Stark helped them on that journey, but that's a different editorial for another time. The United States government would have tossed Steve Rogers in a black site prison and experimented on him till they managed to extract the super soldier serum if given the proper chance. Their love for Captain America died the second they realized they couldn't use him as a tool to carry out their inequitable, warped "values".
The idea of a single person in the American government weeping over the loss of Rogers when they spent all their time hunting him pre-blip is a joke, and a tremendously unfunny one at that. The fact that they used Sam's grief makes it even more infuriating. But the real question is whether or not Disney's going to do something satisfying about that.
Here's the thing: the annoyance at the government is meant to be there. If not because of the fact that their mourning over the loss of their "hero" is a boldfaced lie, then because they immediately plucked the shield from the exhibit and put it in the hand of a canonically White Nationalist piece of human garbage (yes, yes — John Walker gets "better" — irrelevant). But with how often Disney partners with the U.S. Military — a partnership that requires said military be depicted favorably — you've got to wonder if we're actually going to see anything real done with this moment. Given said history, it seems most likely that the same shady officials who barely waited for the shield to cool from Sam's touch will be written in a way that signals they never knew what they were getting into with their new lapdog. And what an exhausting story that would be!
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Amelia Emberwing is the Entertainment Editor and lead critic here at What to Watch. She survives on a steady IV of caffeine, rants, pixie dust and fangirling, and will probably sass you. You can find her on Rotten Tomatoes as an individually approved critic. She's also a member of the Television Critics Association and GALECA.
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