For every moment of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that honors the Marvel formula, there are two that ask viewers to open their minds a bit. The show’s premiere, aptly titled “A New World Order,” casts its eponymous heroes in a new light. It asks Marvel fans to sit with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) through therapy. It asks us to get behind Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) asking his family to let him help them. Because of small moments such as these, the series requires an open-mindedness of sorts, mainly because both of these men are now ships without anchors, soldiers without a Captain. The average Marvel fan isn’t used to that, so an adjustment period is vital to the show’s resonance.
A casual viewer may find this a risky direction in which to steer these characters, but the show, like its two leads, could benefit from some flailing. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier lets us flounder with its characters even as it wants us to see that these heroes are trying to clean up messes they didn’t make. Steve Rogers was a narrative tether to which both Bucky and Sam were always tied. That benefitted them when Steve was the centerpiece of that story. Now he’s gone, and the show has to grapple with what that means for Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie’s characters. It’s during these moments of failing and flailing that we can see that this is all completely intentional.
Of the two concurrent stories, Bucky’s arc is immediately made infinitely more compelling. Sebastian Stan brings levity and relatability to a character who, historically, has lacked both. It’s jarring at first, because we aren’t used to him getting such quality development. Is the series a welcome shift from the glowering super-soldier of Marvel films past? Yes.
If you found The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s first episode to be a meandering bore, then you’re probably expecting more explosions than even Marvel can promise. There’s beauty in the build-up, skill in the delayed revelations and steady hands of these seasoned card-players. Also, remember this: The series will surely remedy its lopsided quality after the heroes officially team up, which actually highlights key strengths rather than reinforcing crippling weaknesses. It helps to keep in mind that the series is asking a powerful question: Who are Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson without their marching orders? What makes Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie’s characters who they are? The Falcon and the Winter Soldier strives to answer that, and this first episode does a bang-up job with its table-setting. With five episodes of the show yet to hit our screens, we have quite a bit to which we can look forward.
A hero is nothing without a villain. So, who are the big bads of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? Who’s gonna give these two studs a run for their money? We know Zemo is scheming offscreen-and that he has been for a bit- but for now, Sebastian Stan’s Bucky and Anthony Mackie’s Sam have a new adversary. And the series is building them up to be astoundingly terrifying.
Enter the Flag Smashers, a group convinced that the world was better when half of its people were snapped away by a cosmic glove. A far cry from the blocky, almost Minecraftian Darkseids and melty DeSaads of Zack Snyder’s four-hour crapshoots, the Flag Smashers represent questions we didn’t know we needed to ask: How did the world actually function without half of its population? What Blip-specific issues need addressing?
The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier simply poses these questions, giving us glimpses of answers but still saving the big stuff for later. More compellingly, though, is the idea that the Flag Smashers and the two wayward Avengers are opposites in both ideology and organization. We have baddies with a leader fighting two soldiers without orders. It’s good stuff. Hopefully, it will only get better from here.
As comparatively quiet as this first The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode is, it is very clearly setting the stage for the team-up between Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie that we’ve craved for so long. That’s great, but it takes time. Still, regardless of your feelings toward they show so far, it’s tough to ignore its earnestness. These criminally underdeveloped characters are finally getting the love they’re due, and it’s high time they did. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier deserve nothing less.