by @holocronJosh for @mar_tesseract
Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier – Episode 1
“How does it feel?”
“Like it’s someone else’s.”
The final words exchanged between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson hold weight and are explored more deeply in the debut episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Fresh off of the season finale of WandaVision, the highly anticipated second Disney+ series from Marvel Studios premiered this week with a solid, albeit slow start.
The episode, titled New World Order, kicks off with a relentless action sequence that feels like it’s straight out of an MCU film, once again showing the cinematic qualities of the series released on Disney+ so far. The action is fast paced and reminiscent of some of the more bandheld work seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Speaking of that film, it’s a cool little parallel to see both Cap and Sam fight Batroc at the start of their respective projects. The sequence seems to last just a tad too long, but it serves as a great, tension-filled jumpstart to the series.
Perhaps a little unusually, however, that ends up being the only real action sequence of the whole episode. After his escapades in the Middle East, Sam repairs his tech and heads back to Washington, D.C., where he gives away the Cap shield to the U.S. government, believing that it would be put in a museum. This scene gives us the first surprise cameo of the show, as Rhodey (Don Cheadle) enters and he and Sam have an important conversation about taking up the Captain America mantle. Like the first scene of the episode, Sam’s internal conflict regarding his worthiness for the shield and title of Captain America shows and affirms that this thread is the most interesting part of his screentime in the premiere debut. He feels that being Cap is too much pressure and that he won’t be able to live up to Steve Rogers’ heroics, thus believing that the only way forward is to retire the mantle all together. This inner conflict is one that is ripe for a TV show, and is bound to be explored in later episodes of TFATWS. With the total runtime of the series expected to be around six hours, that’s a lot of time for Sam’s conflict to truly be explored and, ultimately, resolved. There’s a lot of potential here with this, although the premiere only touches the surface of Sam’s decision.
Unfortunately, the other Sam-centric content in the episode falls a little flat. It was inevitable that Sam was going to be given quite a bit more characterization in this series relative to his role in the MCU films, but none of it is particularly captivating, especially for a premiere episode. Sam’s relationships with his sister and her children, in addition to attempts to save the family business, are explored in a manner that really isn’t too gripping. It’s unique to see an Avenger like Sam taken out of the battlefield and into his personal lie, where the audience gets a look at him in a way we haven’t before. And it’s unique to see an Avenger do something as seemingly menial as going to the bank, but it ultimately results in a series of choppy, unadventurous scenes in which the audience is left wondering where it’s going or what effect this plot will have on the show overall.
Meanwhile, as the title suggests, the other half of the episode focuses on Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier. Similar to the episode’s approach to Sam, there is a very purposeful, slow-paced tone employed to highlight Bucky’s life beyond the battlefield. Bucky is seen dealing with the guilt of his past and his work with Hydra, waking up from a dream which sees him raid a public space and kill everyone in his vicinity (a scene beautifully reminiscent of his endeavors as the Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America; Civil War). Bucky visits a therapist later in the episode, another example of a hero doing a regular, everyday task. Although he denies having a nightmare, his horrific acts still weigh on his mind as he woke up in such a fright and even goes as far to befriend Mr. Nakajima, an older man whose son Bucky killed in the past, and is one of many on a list of individuals that Barnes hopes to make amends with. The scenes with Mr. Nakajima and Bucky really highlight the latter’s humanity and just how far he’s come in this universe. The audience really gets inside Bucky’s head in these scenes in a manner more interesting than Sam’s so far. It’s difficult to not empathize with Bucky as his guilt is so palpable. It was always assumed that he had this feeling of guilt in Civil War, Infinity War, and even Endgame, yet those movies had so many other moving parts that they were unable to truly focus on what was going on inside Bucky’s head. In TFATWS, the audience can really see his guilt and conflict, along with the way in which he’s trying to make amends. Overall, Bucky’s scenes are the best parts of this episode.
Towards the end of the episode, there is a tease of what is to come, as Sam communicates with a military colleague named Torres (who fans may recognize from the comics) seen earlier in the episode who outlines a bank robbery in Switzerland that was committed by a group of serial thieves. This is bound to come up again this season, and the set up is interesting enough to keep the audience’s attention. Also at the end of the episode, a new Captain America is revealed, played by Wyatt Russell, which only adds to Sam’s internal conflict. Mackie delivers the best acting episode of the episode in this scene, as he conveys complex emotions of regret, grief, loss, and fear all in a single moment without saying a word.
Overall, New World Order is an unexpectedly slow-burn of an inaugural episode. The premiere largely serves as a check-in with these two Avengers before we get into the meat of the show. Given that TFATWS is only six episodes, it’s slightly surprising to see the first chapter start slowly, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives the creators’ time to introduce the individual arcs for the two title characters, in Sam’s decision to hand over the shield and Bucky’s guilt about the lives he’s taken. It’s just a shame that the episode isn’t a bit more gripping and a bit less choppy.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier gets off to a solid start as it reintroduces us to Sam and Bucky, while providing new looks at their backstories. Although the episode struggles to find its footing, it provides enough interesting set-ups to have us eagerly awaiting next week’s installment.
Images Courtesy of Disney+ and Marvel Studios