For those wanting high-adrenaline fights, the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier might be a disappointment. The central duo hasn’t joined up by the end credits. Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter hasn’t appeared. There’s only one action sequence, located at the episode’s start.
But that change of pace, to some, will be refreshing. A slower start gives the episode a welcome amount of breathing room to examine its characters and the issues they face. Sam, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie) turns down the mantle of Captain America and grapples with celebrity and racism in his Louisiana hometown, while Bucky (Sebastian Stan) tries to adjust to civilian life when his mind won’t let go of his past. Those are weighty themes for Marvel, and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the series addresses them as it moves forward.
In Cap’s Shadow
Sam’s now involved with the Air Force, and he’s using his wings to help save military liaisons from bad guys (as he does in the first 10 minutes, which depict a high-flying battle typical of Marvel films). But while he’s won the admiration of his co-workers, he’s having a hard time seeing himself as Captain America; he turns over Cap’s shield — given to him by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) himself at the end of Avengers: Endgame — to the Smithsonian to add to its Captain America exhibit.
He heads home to Louisiana only to find there’s trouble there, too. His sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye) kept the family’s fishing business alive when half the world’s population disappeared, but only just, and now she’s contemplating selling the boat that was a cornerstone of their family just to get by. “Every day, I’m making five and spending 10,” she tells her brother, who wholeheartedly believes he can make a difference in their financial situation. He wants to go to the bank and take a loan to consolidate everything.
But when the day arrives and they go to the appointment, the advisor is more interested in taking selfies with the Falcon than helping Sarah get out of debt. Ultimately, he tells Sarah and Sam that despite the fact that their family banked with them for generations, he cannot grant the loan because “things have tightened up” at the bank. “Funny how things always seem to tighten around us,” Sarah snaps.
Haunted by the Winter Soldier
Clearly, the Falcon doesn’t have it good — but Bucky’s situation in the first episode might be worse. The government has pardoned him for everything he did as the Winter Soldier (he was brainwashed into being an assassin), but he himself hasn’t: He’s having nightmares about atrocities he committed, which included the killing of innocent civilians. Unlike Sam, Bucky’s no longer in active duty, and he’s suffering as he adjusts to life outside the fight.
On the advice of his therapist, he’s made a list of amends, wrongs he can right from his past. He’s brought down a corrupt senator that the Winter Soldier and Hydra helped bring to power, but that, his therapist says, isn’t enough: He has to start making connections in the real world. “One day, you’re going to have to open up and see that some people really do want to help you, and they can be trusted,” she says.
Well, Buck does have one connection. He’s made friends with an elderly man named Mr. Nakajima. They go out to lunch together and, adorably, Mr. Nakajima sets Bucky up on a date with the waitress. But when he sees the mochi on the table, Buck watches as his pal is overcome with grief — his son loved mochi. Mr. Nakajima lost his child several years ago, and he doesn’t know for sure what caused his death (the police said, “wrong place at the wrong time”). Bucky does. As the Winter Soldier, he killed Mr. Nakajima’s son.
Bucky goes on the date, but he’s overcome with guilt. At one point he gets up and leaves and makes his way to Nakajima’s apartment, seemingly determined to tell him about how his child died. But when he gets there, he doesn’t do it. Later, he can’t cross the name off his list.
A New Villain Group — and a New Captain America
Trouble is brewing elsewhere, too. A group called the “Flag-Smashers” wants to bring the world back to how it was during the Snap (aka, eliminate half the world’s population), and one of Sam’s Air Force coworkers goes to one of its gatherings — which is really a heist — to gather intel. Unfortunately, this lands him some bruises courtesy of a very strong (perhaps supervillain-strong) man. He gets in touch with Sam about it, and they chat until they’re interrupted by Sarah, who says there’s something Sam needs to see on TV.
He tunes in to find the president saying the nation needs a new symbol of hope. And just like that, someone else is shown greeting a crowd as the new Captain America, despite the fact that Sam had the shield and was Steve Rogers’ choice to succeed him.