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'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' 1.02 Review: That shield was everything

The Star Spangled fake's facade is already starting to crack.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
(Image: © Disney+)

For

  • 💥Sam and Bucky's therapy session is everything we could have hoped for.
  • 💥This series allowing its male characters be vulnerable is going to take it a long way.
  • 💥As will its willingness to call out systemic racism. It calls it out in a very Disney way, but credit where it's due for the baby steps.
  • 💥Empathizes with its current villains while setting up a future with other more nefarious parties.

Against

  • 💥Softening US Agent feels like the wrong move.
  • 💥Not Red Wing!

This post contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Check out our last review here

There’s a special kind of white hot rage that comes with watching a canonical creep don the colors of an iconic hero and say he’s earned it. Watching John Walker play this innocent farm boy who just wants to make his government proud… yikes. That initial wrath aside, our first real meeting of John Walker — who you will at no point ever hear me call "Captain America" — already shows us cracks in his facade. 

We kick things off at Walker's (Wyatt Russell) high school, where he sits in a kind of earnest discomfort before running out in front of the crowd. While those who aren't familiar with the comics might not have felt the same wrath as those who understand what US Agent is all about, it's almost like the expression we see on Bucky's (Sebastian Stan) face when we cut to him was a special shout out to those screaming at their television screens at home. Buck knows what's up with this Star Spangled creep, and there's no one on the gods' green Earth that's going to convince him that this twerp is worthy of that shield. 

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When Sam's (Anthony Mackie) isn't as ready as Bucky is to go in guns blazing and recapture the shield, the two find themselves on a mission against the Flag Smashers. Sam's got places to be, and Bucky's not ready to give up this fight just yet. Once the confrontation begins, the two quickly realize that Torres (Danny Ramirez) didn't get his butt handed to him before because he wasn't prepare. His orbital bone got smashed because he was going up against a super soldier. This revelation will take Sam and Bucky to the house of Isiah (currently uncredited — a former American super soldier that the government sent to take on the Winter Soldier in the '50s. 

Isiah got thirty years in prison and experimentation for his troubles when he was unable to bring the Winter Soldier in. 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will undoubtedly be flawed in its heartwarming (read: propaganda) depiction of the government, but it's not pulling any of its punches when it comes to the inequity of both America and the world. The Flag Smasher's very thesis is that the world was a better place when half the population disappeared and borders no longer mattered. Meanwhile, the systemic racism has been highlighted in both episodes so far. (Like, Disney highlighted, but it's still there.) We see Sam nearly arrested for simply talking to Bucky in the street before the cops realize he's Falcon and change their tone.

It's Bucky who's ultimately taken into custody for skipping his court-mandated therapy. Walker swoops in to try and curry favor with the only two who can give legitimacy to the shield he carries, but a session with Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino) has to go down before the Star Spangled Fake gets his moment.

Here's hoping this isn't the last time we meet Bucky's therapist, because her session with Bucky and Sam is one for the MCU history books. Both men want out of the situation, and she's not having one iota of their nonsense. Sam remains unresponsive to the therapy, but apparently Bucky's quiet time in Wakanda really helped him out, because we see him have the biggest breakthrough of his on-screen character history.

"That shield was everything, and Steve trusted you with it. And if you just gave it away then maybe he was wrong about you. And if he was wrong about you then he was wrong about me."

Sam's able to let go of the shield more easily than Bucky (at first, we know he regains control of it later) because Sam has a family outside of Steve Rogers. He's got Sarah (Adepero Oduye) and the boys and a whole community that's known him since childhood. Bucky Barnes had Steve Rogers, and when he came back from hell his best friend's belief in him helped pull him out the other side (that an a lot of help from Shuri). Sam can give it all up because he has other things to protect. Meanwhile, if Steve was wrong about Bucky, then he has nothing left. The sheer vulnerability of that acknowledgement is a much rawer moment than what we're used to seeing out of this franchise, especially when it comes to its male characters. 

The fact that Bucky's willing to let Sam see that side of him speaks volumes, but not in any verbal way that the super soldier will admit anytime soon. That vulnerability is gone the moment the two go outside to meet Walker and Battlestar (Clé Bennett) after the therapy session. Currently, it seems that Buck's willing to stare into Walker's soul until he admits that it's all just a photo op. Frankly? I support his methodology. 

This week's episode does a good job putting some good faith on the Flag Smashers. They're not stealing medicine just to steal it, they're trying to get it to the millions of displaced people around the globe who have been failed by the government response to the blip. While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier humanizes Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) and her men, it sets up a very near future where Sam and Bucky have no other choice but to meet with the man who bested the Avengers. That's right! Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is in our future, which means Bucky's bad day is probably about to get way longer.