The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale poses a very important question that it doesn't quite know the answer to itself.
- 💥 A lot of very good speeches from smart people.
- 💥 Isaiah Bradley gets at least a sliver of recognition.
- 💥 John Walker is the picture of the white moderate and giving his "moment" — twice — is an infuriating narrative choice.
- 💥 The final battle feels anticlimactic.
- 💥 The season sets up but doesn't finish a lot of arcs.
Story pacing is important. So, when you create something that's meant to be a "six hour movie" and present it in six individual parts, you're already damaging what you've created. Solving their pacing problem wouldn't have made the sins of episodes three or four any more acceptable, but they may have been easier to swallow if viewers didn't have to wait a week to see whether or not the human embodiment of the white moderate would see justice or not. Perhaps it also would have made the season finale feel a little more impactful, too.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's finale is filled with a lot of very good speeches from smart people who you absolutely believe. Bucky's (Sebastian Stan) phone call with Karli (Erin Kellyman) is a meaningful one from the perspective of someone who's been forced to become a mindless killer in the past. So, too, is Sharon's (Emily VanCamp) discussion with the leader of the Flag Smashers.
That is, it starts that way. It ends with a white traitor murdering a mixed race woman fighting for a better life for her people and walking out the hero while the victim is labeled a terrorist. Sharon being the Power Broker isn't a surprising move, but the series deciding to go with her killing Karli without any introspection on the matter continues its unfortunate trend of hugely "yikes" worthy moments with zero acknowledgement.
Fittingly, Captain America (Anthony Mackie) gets the monologue of the night after carrying Karli's lifeless body to emergency teams. He calls out the GRC and their decision to do nothing outside of patrol refugees with armed soldiers, as well as their labelling of Karli and her soldiers as terrorists when they were fighting for a world that could easily exist for all but is constantly denied to so many. “You people have just as much power as an insane god or a misguided teenager. The question is, how are you going to use it?” he says to the head of the council. And they listen! They listen because they were called out by Captain America on national television. But they listen.
It's a very good speech. But it rings hollow next to other narrative decisions made in the same story.
Take John Walker (Wyatt Russell), for instance. Whether he's a watered down version of the monster he was in the comics or not, he remains the picture of the white moderate. And yet still, in a story about a Black man becoming Captain America, we get to see a murderer working with Madame Hydra (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) get his redemption when he chooses to save the truck rather than murder Karli. Later, he'll get to bring in the rest of the Flag Smashers alongside Bucky like he's no longer a total danger to everyone around him. It would have been a frustrating choice regardless, but his moment playing alongside Sharon's make the episodes great moments shine a little less bright.
Despite my frustrations with the rest of the episode, and how little a shiny statue means in the grand scheme of things, I will admit I got a little misty when Sam took Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) to the Captain America museum so he could see his dedication and statue. Isaiah's moments end up being the most emotionally impactful across the board, as a matter of fact. Watching a man with no hope see just a small glimmer of it while watching a Black man with a sliver of optimism left fighting the fight is a good scene.
Setting the finale's narrative faux pas aside, there's also the issue that it didn't really feel like the close of a chapter? We know that a Season 2 for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is basically a forgone conclusion at this point (though obviously with a different name). We also technically closed out the Flag Smashers arc. But there was so much about it that set up other stories that it didn't feel like an ending. The action also somehow felt a little drowsy? Sam rightfully gets plenty of moments to shine as Captain America, but it all happens so early in the episode that you kind of forget about all the high octane moments by the time it's all said and done. And if that complaint is coming from the woman who was perfectly fine with three boat fixing scenes in the penultimate episode, you've got some action problems!
In the end The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's finale is so frustrating because there is very little middle ground. The scenes that were good were exceptional, and the ones that were bad were, well... woof. The action kinda falls in the meh area, but when your series sets itself up as the one that's going to say something, it better come correct. This series gets it very right and very wrong in quick succession, and the whiplash can be a lot.
Who knows, maybe bingeing it in a six hour block will help ease some of that. Either way, we'll see you for the yet-to-be-confirmed Season 2!
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.
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