Where Can 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' Go From Here?
The finale's mid-credits scene hints at much more to come.
In its season finale (pointedly not a series finale), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did pretty much what we all expected the show to do. Sam Wilson, who used to be the Falcon, has finally taken up the Captain America shield, and, as far as the world is concerned, is the new Cap. Bucky Barnes is still the Winter Soldier (guess we gave up on that White Wolf thing, huh?), but a version of the character who is finally doing the hard work to atone for his past. But the violent end of the Flag Smashers and a cryptically rebranded John Walker are far from the neat little bow this show would have ended with if it had truly been designed to be a miniseries. The sixth episode's mid-credits scene is proof of that.
At the very end of the finale, we see Sharon Carter finally receive the official apology she's wanted from the U.S. government since being disavowed despite doing the right thing by defying orders to help Captain America in Civil War. But this Sharon Carter is different than the one we know from the movies—she's a tougher, more mercenary character who knows what it's like to have no one to trust but yourself. She is, after all, the Power Broker, the big string-pulling villain who's been behind all this bad stuff from the beginning. (That the show set this up and revealed it in a sloppy way is beside the point.) After she accepts her reinstatement as Agent Carter (a nod to her aunt Peggy), she makes a phone call to an unknown person, brazenly chatting about all the government secrets and technology she'll now be able to steal and sell to the highest bidder.
That she could be talking to pretty much anybody (besides Zemo; I doubt cell phones are allowed on the Raft) indicates that this is by no means the last we'll see of Captain America and the Winter Soldier—that very phrase shows up as the final title card of the season at the end of this episode. Unlike WandaVision, which we knew from the beginning would lead directly into 2022's Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, there is no officially announced next step for Cap and Bucky, possibly because they're leaving things open hoping for a second season. According to Indiewire, the show will notably be submitted as a Drama Series for this year's Emmys, not a Limited Series, so that it won't compete with WandaVision, which also means that Disney is leaving open the possibility for more installments.
"We've definitely kicked around ideas because we always like to keep thinking about where things can go, but we also, frankly, in the crush of the pandemic, we're just trying to finish the show and make sure it got out in a timely matter," Marvel Studios VP of Production and Development and Falcon executive producer Nate Moore told IndieWire. "Hopefully at the end of this season, you will see the potential for what we could tell in a subsequent season." The same afternoon the sixth episode premiered, Marvel announced that showrunner Malcolm Spellman will be working on a fourth Captain America movie, starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.
And there are plenty of directions a new season or a movie could go, given Episode 6's open ended conclusion. Our heroes have finally taken their places on the board, but they're surrounded on all sides by potential baddies, starting with Sharon Carter, whom they still consider an ally. John Walker has given up his Captain America dream and accepted a new suit and title from the power-hungry Contessa (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus): U.S. Agent, a Captain America foil much more violent than his predecessor. Baron Zemo is imprisoned in the Raft, but probably not for long, as even from prison he managed to get his butler to pick off the remaining super-enhanced Flag Smashers.
Speaking of the Flag Smashers, what the heck happened there?? The show managed to strip the nuance from a metaphor for the global refugee crisis and turn it into a band of comic book baddies, unceremoniously killing off their leader Karli Morgenthau, a character who should have had every opportunity to be more interesting than she was. Perhaps if the show hadn't tried to cram this stuff in, and instead focused on Sam and Bucky dealing with the bloody legacy of the shield, it would have felt a little more thought-through. Even the introduction of Isaiah Bradley, forcing Sam to reckon with America's racist original sin, felt tacked on, a hint at a more interesting story found elsewhere.
That's the problem with this series as a whole: There are so many fascinating angles to all of these characters, so many analogs to real-world affairs, so many visceral images onscreen (that shot of Walker holding the bloody shield is the most memorable of them all), but none of these things were given the time and attention to actually pay off. If this show gets another season, hopefully it will stop playing it so safe.