'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Gives Sidekicks Center Stage

The Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes' showcase finds the former Avengers re-integrating into regular life and picking up Captain America's mantle post-'Endgame.'

the falcon and the winter soldier
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

The Marvel shows premiering on Disney+ all have a clearly defined purpose: to link Avengers: Endgame and the conclusion of Marvel's Phase 3 with the start of Phase 4, and the new guard of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. WandaVision focused on one character's grief in the aftermath of the battle, allowing her multiple episodes to explore the effects of personal tragedy, and planting the seed for one of the upcoming movies. Loki, premiering in June, will show what the erstwhile villain has been up to since he Tesseracted away during Endgame's big time travel plot, and will add a new wrinkle to the expanding universe with the introduction of the Time Variance Authority.

Disney+'s newest series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with new episodes dropping on Fridays weekly, keeps things a little more earthbound, reminding us of the five years in which half the Universe's population vanished, and the effect that had on the ones who disappeared when they returned. The world is a different, stranger place now. Both Captain America and Tony Stark, co-leaders of the Avengers, are gone, and Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson are left to pick up the pieces. 

The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier re-introduces us to the Falcon, AKA Sam Wilson, a former Air Force pilot who fights terrorists using a pair of mechanical wings, and Bucky Barnes, formerly the Winter Soldier, a World War II G.I. injected with super-serum and brainwashed by Nazis into becoming an assassin, tricked out with a deadly metal arm. Both, if you recall, were disintegrated as a result of the Thanos Snap at the end of Infinity War, and reappeared just in time to take part in Endgame's finale. Fighting alien armies is all well and good, but when it comes to reintegrating back into the real world, Sam and Bucky are more than a little disoriented. 

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In the episode, Sam Wilson, after a fantastic opening fighting/flying/parachuting sequence, returns to Washington not to accept the mantle of Captain America's shield, but to reject it, believing that he's not worthy and, frankly, more concerned with his family's post-Blip financial troubles. (It feels more than a little like a post-COVID show, given that, with "the Blip," the MCU already has a built-in pandemic proxy.) Bucky Barnes, released from service, is working on making amends for his time as a HYDRA agent, but hunting down bad guys is a lot easier than asking the innocent for forgiveness. 

In the background, there are murmurs of a new threat, a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers, preaching the gospel of a world without borders. It's an attractive notion, but obviously these guys go about getting their message across with more than a little violence. You can tell that Marvel took the critical praise for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, whose directors were influenced by classics like The French Connection and Three Days of the Condor, to heart. This show has a similar flavor, far from the more psychedelic, experimental WandaVision.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more of an action-driven spy thriller, a more familiar genre for the MCU to play around in, but it's also haunted by an important question: How should a symbol like Captain America be used? What does patriotism mean to a world more concerned with putting its own broken pieces back together than which of its superheroes is preaching truth, justice, and the American way? Sam and Bucky have deep connections to Cap—Bucky was his first best friend, and Sam his second—and each has been a new version of Captain America before in the comics (Sam Wilson currently is). The shield carries a lot of weight for them both. Our leads don't meet up yet in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere, but when they do, they'll have something a lot more insidious than armies of gem-obsessed aliens knocking on their door. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.