'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' 1.03 Review: So we're just gonna sideline Sam Wilson now?

Why does Anthony Mackie feel like a sidekick in his own show this week?

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

What to Watch Verdict

This episode did Sam dirty.


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    💥 A nice connection to Wakanda.

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    💥 Solid action sequences.

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    💥 Sam's monologue in the end is reactionary, but not entirely untrue.


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    💥 Sam is relegated to the unsure sidekick in this episode.

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    💥 There's a line where Bucky says Sharon is "kind of awful now." And he's right.

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

A.K.A the one where Bucky makes a lot of unilateral decisions! There's no real sugar coating it, this episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was rough. We're halfway through the series and so far it's really good at acknowledging problems and terrible at reckoning with them. There's still plenty of time in the back half of the season, but it's hard to praise commentary when it's saying a lot of stuff without actually doing anything. 

The episode kicks off with the dreaded Zemo (Daniel Brühl) meeting, but their visit ends up being a little more than an interrogation. Bucky (Sebastian Stan) immediately helps Zemo break out of prison with little fanfare and zero communication with Sam. The former assassin knows that his partner would never agree to the move, and for some unfathomable reason believes he can control the dude who literally took down the Avengers. The single move could be a forgivable one. Sam and Buck don't have a ton of rapport yet, and they're still very much questioning each other. The thing is, it's not the only time the episode looks down on Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). 

When they make it to Madripoor to meet with Zemo's contact, it's Sam's phone going off that throws the deal (RIP to him when he gets back to New Orleans and his sister kicks his ass). Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) — who has been holed up in Madripoor since becoming an enemy of the state for stealing Cap's shield back form the government — manages to save her friends and their pet supervillain, at which point the episode spares no time in mocking Sam again. Sharon's new career seems to be a type of high-scale art dealer, and Bucky "helpfully" explains that museums don't have the real copies of artwork. We're just casually throwing in low-blow punches at Black characters in their own shows now, I guess.

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Back to Sam in just a moment! Our reunion with Sharon Carter is rough. Bucky has a moment where he points out that she's kind of awful now and, well ... he's kind of right. She's earned the right to some bitterness, to be sure. But the woman who spoke at Peggy's funeral feels long gone, and everything she says reads as a disservice to both her aunt and Steve Rogers. Now, once guns start going off, she's there to help! It was just an added level of frustration on top of a whole lot of other vexing choices made in this chapter of the story.

After Sam, Bucky, Sharon, and Zemo track down the creator of the retconned Super Soldier Serum, they're able to get some real answers. The scientist believes that he created a unique version of the serum without all the pomp and circumstance of Dr. Erskine's (Stanley Tucci) original formula. The Power Broker had high interest in the substance, so he funded his work after he returned from the blip. The 20 doses of the serum he created all sit with the Flag Smashers, who also happened to make some bad decisions this week! Everyone's making bad choices. 

Zemo quickly shoots the scientist in the head (because of course he did) while they all prep to run from the countless assassins sent by the Power Broker for the murder of Zemo's contact. While they flee in Madripoor, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) makes a unilateral decision of her own. After the rest of the Flag Smashers make it out of the building with the goods the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) had been hoarding, their leader blows up the building with all of the people still inside. Dovich (Desmond Chiam) — Karlie's trusted second — protests, but she insists that it's the only thing the rest of the world responds to.

The Flag Smashers would have continued to have been labelled as villains by the world by simply trying to help those in need. Choosing to make them actual villains in this story while both Zemo and the Power Broker are there to be the ultimate big bads feels both lazy and unfortunate.

As they fly to their next destination, Sam and Bucky have it out one last time. It's more calm than their other spats, but it's also a lot more meaningful. Sam has joined Team Sharon in the belief that the only thing Steve's shield ever represented was the fake ideal of America. That may be, no matter how hard Steve Rogers tried to ensure otherwise. It's supposed to suck to hear Sam say those things. Hearing him say he's going to destroy the shield rather than wield it is meant to be a gut punch. His speech in this moment and the action of the episode are the only things getting this episode the two and half stars it has. Because the thing is, both Sam and Bucky are correct. Bucky made a lot of choices on his own this week, so it makes him easier to be frustrated with, but he's right to believe in the shield. To him, it does represent the American ideal. The problem is, he hasn't quite grasped that the Americal ideal isn't offered to everyone.

Watching Sam realize that the tool is meant to be used to fight for that ideal rather than represent it will be just as thrilling as Bucky starting to realize his privilege. But, y'all... we gotta get there soon. It's getting to the point where it feels like this series just wants to point at a neon sign that says "ISSUES" without actually addressing any of them in a meaningful way. 

We do close the episode out with one hell of a surprise. Bucky splits off from Sam and Zemo when they reach their safe house when he hears the hum of kimoyo beads. Once in an alleyway, he's met by a member of the Dora Milaje. They want Zemo, and I can't imagine anything Bucky can say is going to sway them from bringing in the man who killed their king. It'd be lovely if Bucky didn't even try, given what he owes to Wakanda. Unfortunately, I suspect the White Wolf is going to make some unfortunate choices in the opening of next week's chapter. 

Amelia Emberwing

Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.